Ultra-Orthodox woman fights for representation in Knesset.
She has created a political party of ultra-Orthodox women — the first in the history of the State of Israel — that ran for a seat in the Knesset on March 17. For many years, she has exhausted the legal system and other institutions with petitions, demonstrations and locally organized rebellions: for instance, in the municipal elections in the town of Petah Tikva, in the elections for the student council of a college and in struggles against various religious institutions. She does it all virtually alone, with her own two hands, fighting tooth and nail. She encounters defeat after defeat, gets up, dusts herself off and moves on. She knows that her victory will be measured by the clock of history. At some point, maybe in a year, or 10 or 50, an ultra-kosher Orthodox woman will get her very own seat in Israel’s Knesset, the legislative body of the State of Israel. When that happens, that woman will know that her path to the Knesset was prepared by Colian.
Intensive coverage has been accorded by Western media to women living under radical Islamic rule: Saudi women not allowed to drive a car, women disenfranchised of the right to vote, to express and realize themselves and women devoid of personal freedoms. The media devotes very little space to the condition of Jewish women in the ultra-Orthodox world. There are several large ultra-Orthodox communities in the United States, and in Israel a huge ultra-Orthodox community flourishes, with about 1 million members, about half of them women.
Ultra-Orthodox women are generally forced to bear on their own the burden of providing for the family (the men often devote their lives to holy studies). They raise a large number of children (an estimated average of six to seven per family), slave away around the clock to maintain jobs and the home, bear and raise children, clean, cook and so on, while hidden by their community inside their homes. These women are virtually not seen in public. They vote in Knesset elections but as far as their community is concerned they are not allowed to run in them (none of Israel’s three ultra-Orthodox parties — Shas, Yahadut HaTorah and the new party of Eli Yishai, Beyachad — have female lawmakers). They are not involved in political activity and do not take part in festivals and joyous occasions, unless they are discreetly hidden. Even at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, they are discriminated against: Their access to the area is from a narrow side entrance. They are banned from mixing with men in public. They are forced to cover their hair, sometimes their face, and wear modest clothing; the more radical among them force the women to shave their heads and to wear a scarf or a wig instead.
Colian is one of the first to dare come out against these phenomena in public, trying to breach the walls of the women’s ghetto. She tried to run in the elections for the student council at the college where she studied law and in the municipal elections in the town where she lives, Petah Tikva. She conducts bitter struggles in all sorts of areas and each time finds herself facing the entire ultra-Orthodox rabbinical establishment. They try to kick her young children out of the ultra-Orthodox institutions where they go to school, curb her activities, designate her a rebel, a heathen, a traitor. She was supposed to have broken down and given up a long time ago, but she hasn’t.
When the Knesset elections moved up to March 17, she decided to turn the tables on the establishment and established a movement called “Bizchutan, ultra-Orthodox women foster change.” She somehow managed to raise the required funds and put together a list of Knesset candidates. Together with three other ultra-Orthodox women she worked on getting through to ultra-Orthodox women and convincing them to pick her party as their representative when they find themselves behind the curtain at their polling station. Elections in Israel are conducted by secret ballot, and in principle, this could have been possible. But Colian, without funding or rich backers, had been unable to even film campaign commercials for television and social media (which all other parties produced). When she tried to place advertisements in the ultra-Orthodox press, she was turned down on the spot.
Two weeks before the elections, Colian had been holding discreet negotiations with Yesh Atid, the centrist party of Yair Lapid, one of the strongest liberal voices in Israel. The idea had been to sign a surplus vote-sharing agreement between the two parties. Such a move would position Colian at the top of the media agenda and provide her with the needed publicity. Lapid, who had yet to sign a surplus vote-sharing agreement with any party, gave the idea serious consideration. There is no electoral value of such an agreement with a party that will not reach the electoral threshold, but signing it would generate great ethical and moral value for Lapid, one of whose flagship issues has been the fight against the ultra-Orthodox establishment and the effort to impose a military draft on ultra-Orthodox men and to encourage them to go out into the workplace, instead of studying all day.
In the end, Lapid opted for investing his energies in an attempt to reach a surplus vote-sharing agreement with Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Camp. Simple politics trumped morality. Colian, in despair, considered a street demonstration with her party’s other candidates in the town of Beit Shemesh, with its particularly radical ultra-Orthodox community. “We want to stand on the sidewalk on which women are not permitted to walk, across from the synagogue, and see what happens,” she told Al-Monitor the week before the elections. “I know this could result in a big melee, but someone has to do this at some point.”
Beit Shemesh has often made the headlines in recent years after ultra-Orthodox radicals attacked women — cursing them, spitting at them and insulting them after they walked on sidewalks that had been designated off-limits. These are exactly the kinds of phenomena that Colian is fighting.
Following the elections, she sounded defiant. “I’m not naive. I know that the minute the elections are over, Yair Lapid and all the other politicians won’t give us the time of day, us ultra-Orthodox women. They will need the ultra-Orthodox parties in the government coalition and will forget our existence. But we are here. We are hundreds of thousands of women fed up with being a disciplined pool of voters. Women who want to realize dreams, who are sick of looking on from the sidelines, discarded in corners and used for the sake of procreation, cooking and cleaning. Every such woman is a whole universe. Among us are very talented women, who could be effective in public office. It’s about time that someone represent this large group in the legislature. Someone closely familiar with our distress. One day it will happen,” she said.
In the run-up to the elections, Colian’s party scored its first isolated victory when the Lod District Court complied with the party’s demand to require the ultra-Orthodox newspaper Yated Ne’eman to print a fully paid election advertisement in its name. The newspaper quickly appealed to the Supreme Court, which decided to overturn the decision until more exhaustive deliberations on the issue could be held. The women did not give up. Meanwhile, they received the unexpected support of reserve Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, former head of the National Security Council, who publicly declared his support for the party. Eiland even donated money toward their improvised election campaign.
But on the day of the election, they were less successful. The Bizchutan list (Hebrew for “in their merit”) garnered 1,977 votes. To meet the electoral threshold and earn four seats in the Knesset, more than 120,000 votes are required. But Colian and her friends are far from despair and will continue on the path they have set for themselves. The number of votes they received coincidentally represents an important historic year (1977) in the annals of Israel — it was the year of the first “great political turnabout” of the state. That was when the Likud Party rose to power and replaced the Labor Party, which had ruled Israel for the first 30 years of its existence. Someday, the turnabout of ultra-Orthodox women will also take place. The first baby step in that direction has already been taken. Now the journey begins.
Ben Caspit is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He is also a senior columnist and political analyst for Israeli newspapers, and has a daily radio show and regular TV shows on politics and Israel.
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Read more: www.al-monitor.com/pulse/original…
Moderate rebel groups are suffering. The Islamic State and Nusra are gaining ground. And Washington’s piecemeal efforts are worthless. Here’s a grand plan worth paying for.
By Robert S. Ford
The current U.S. strategy in Syria isn’t working. Despite the coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State, the group still has strategic depth in Syria to back its campaign in Iraq. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, meanwhile, isn’t fighting the Islamic State — it’s locked in combat with the moderate opposition. Despite Washington’s hope for a national political transition away from Assad, there is no sign of a cease-fire, much less a comprehensive political deal.
More than ever, Americans — and Syrians — need to ask themselves what has gone wrong and what can be fixed. U.S. strategy needs to center on taking back ground from the Islamic State and driving a wedge between Assad’s small ruling circle and his increasingly wobbly support base so that a new government can be established to rally more Syrians against the jihadis. Reinforcing Syria’s moderate rebels is still the key component in achieving these goals, but we — and they — have to get the strategy and tactics right.
The quiet end to the Syrian armed opposition’s Hazm Movement, with which the Americans had worked in northern Syria, was the latest signpost of the current failed policy. With aid coming too little and too late, the movement was easily knocked aside by al Qaeda-linked extremists who gained new territory and border crossings. It is far from the only moderate rebel group to suffer large setbacks in recent months: Others are simultaneously under attack from Assad regime forces (which are strongly reinforced by Iranian and Hezbollah troops), jihadis from the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, and the Islamic State.
Meanwhile, the Americans didn’t ramp up aid to the secular moderates when they needed it most. Instead, assistance to moderate Syrian fighters has been small and erratic, and the rebel fighters have been badly divided by foreign states parceling out desperately needed aid among multiple groups. This has created a vicious cycle, forcing the moderate rebels to compete against each other and to sometimes cooperate with al-Nusra Front. That in turn has aggravated foreign states and scared off any regime elements that might want to negotiate a deal, thus extending the war of attrition to the benefit of the Islamic State.
The larger package deal is vital. Simply increasing material aid to the moderate fighters in northern and southern Syria, even by huge amounts, won’t be enough. The key is settling on a revised strategy that establishes a unified command structure for the non-jihadi opposition.
This unified structure must be the sole conduit for external funding, arming, and training. It must include the main non-jihadi rebel groups and must be led by a Syrian who enjoys wide support from Syrians fighting on the ground and from foreign states. Those who refuse to follow orders from the unified command must be cut off from any assistance. This is the only way to end the fragmentation that has long plagued the moderate armed opposition and to ensure it will support any eventual negotiation.
Ankara has been trying to exploit extremists to fight both the Assad regime and the PYD, the terrorist PKK-affiliate operating in Syria. A U.S. strategy that provides greater support for moderate forces fighting Assad and the jihadis, and which also ends U.S. actions that foster Kurdish separatism in Syria, could convince Turkey to abandon this path. SustainabiliTank.info editor takes exception from this last proposition that originates with the author iof this paper!}
While U.S. military aid to the Syrian Kurdish fighters from the PYD helped to combat the Islamic State around the northern city of Kobani, it also fosters the PYD’s separatist ambitions. The PYD has already unilaterally announced an autonomous zone in northern Syria, which has spurred fearful Arab tribes in the area either to back Assad or the Islamic State. The U.S. emphasis on using Syrian Kurds against the Islamic State won’t end the jihadi threat — it will only aggravate it, and the broader Syrian conflict. The Syrian Kurds’ demand for decentralization may be the only way to reassemble a shattered Syria one day, but for now, the Americans and their allies must tell the PYD that autonomous zones only belong as part of longer-term political negotiations involving all Syrians.
Hugely boosted U.S. aid to the Syrian opposition should come with strings attached — a lot of them. In return for increased support, the Syrian opposition writ large must agree on these six conditions:
1) That armed groups receiving assistance from the newly created central command will obey its orders only.
2) That the armed opposition will stop atrocities against civilian communities that have backed the Assad regime and that the armed opposition command will accept responsibility for actions of its constituent groups.
3) That the armed opposition will sever all ties with al-Nusra Front.
4) That the armed opposition’s leadership must constantly reiterate that it is not seeking to destroy Christian, Alawite, or other minority communities and is prepared to negotiate local security arrangements, including with Syrian Arab Army elements, to protect all Syrians.
5) That it will negotiate a national political deal to end the conflict without Assad’s departure as a pre-condition.
6) That any political coalition purporting to lead the opposition must have genuine representation from minorities and top-level businessmen in Syria — communities that have, broadly speaking, supported Assad’s government — and that representation will not come mainly from long-term expatriates.
Implementing these steps would help create a moderate rebel force able to confront the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front, and also pave the way for a real national political negotiation. If U.S. regional partners and the Syrian opposition won’t accept the strategy and the tactics to make it work, or if the Obama administration won’t expand its level of assistance and the air mission, then Washington needs to drop the goal of significantly degrading the Islamic State in Syria over the next several years.
It would be better for American credibility to walk away than try more halfhearted measures in Syria.
It would be better for American credibility to walk away than try more halfhearted measures in Syria.
After two years of experience, we should realize that limited actions aren’t enough to address the major threats emanating from Syria. Our foreign partners want U.S. vision and leadership to contain extremists and launch a successful negotiation for a Syrian unity government, which is the only sustainable fix to the extremist threat. Let’s give it to them.
A Week before the Elections in Israel and it looks already that Democracy will be Reinforced by bringing the Arabs into the Israeli Government or at least make them the Official Leaders of the Opposition.
The following article expresses the realism we wrote about earlier – that the Palestinian issue will find a solution only if the Israeli Arabs will pick it up as part of the only democracy in the Middle East – the State of Israel. So, activism of the Israeli Arabs is a good thing for everyone as long as it is done as part of the Israeli democracy. Seemingly, the Arab citizens of Israel have found a true leader in Ayman Odeh of Haifa who understands how political democracy can help the cause of all Israeli citizens including its Arabs, and by doing so will help also the Arabs outside borders of Israel.
To be successful in bettering their own positions, the Arabs of Israel will now fight for the common interest on the side of all other citizens of Israel – these interests are SOCIAL JUSTICE AND PEACE. By playing their cards within the system they could be part of the new government or at least be recognized as the in-land political loyal opposition.
Ayman Odeh, leader of the joint Arab ticket, talks about equality, peace and a lasting settlement. Ayman Odeh’s Campaign
Until this election cycle there were four Arab parties represented in the Israeli parliament. They were very different, ranging from: the Chadash party, (originally the Israeli Communist party), which has always included Jews and Arabs; Balad-Ta’al, two highly nationalistic, but secular parties; and the Islamic party, whose platform is reflected in its name.
Previous attempts to unite these parties into a single list failed, due to the large ideological differences between the groups. However, the last Knesset passed a law, sponsored by the party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, that raised the threshold of votes a party is required to receive before it can be admitted to the Knesset.
Many believe that Lieberman’s unstated goal to was to push the Arab parties out of the Knesset. Indeed, in a debate held before this interview, Lieberman turned to the Odeh and said, “You are here for now.”
At the time of writing, polls show the United Arab List receiving 12 places in the upcoming Knesset, although many believe that that number will grow to as many as 15 seats as the existence of the United List will result in an increase in Arab Israeli participation in this election. For the Center-Left to win this election it is clear that the joint Arab slate will be key—minimally in blocking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ability to build a coalition.
I met the leader of Hadash who heads the joint Arab effort, Ayman Odeh, toward the end of long day. The fatigue was visible on his face, as well as on the faces of his weary campaign staff. With just two weeks to go until the election, there was no time to lose for this 40-year-old, who was born and grew up in Haifa, has a law degree and is married with two children.
Odeh has the personality of a natural politician. He immediately put me at ease. In a Clintonian manner, he knew how to make me feel that (at least for the moment) I was the center of his world. The mission he accepted—i.e. holding together his diverse coalition and becoming a significant player on the larger Israeli political scene, will be a challenge. Here is a condensed transcript of our conversation that took place in Hebrew:
Tell me a little about your background and why you got into national politics?
Odeh: I was a member of the Haifa City Council when I was 23 years old, which made me the youngest city councilman in Israel. When I began my political career, I identified with Malcolm X. After two or three years, I evolved—and not to a small degree—because of my service on the council in the city of Haifa, which is the most liberal multicultural yet homogenous city in Israel.
As a result of that experience I was transformed from being someone who believed that either the Jews or the Arabs could survive here, to someone who thought that Arabs and Jews must work together. I began to feel that I now must follow in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, who believed in working together.
So I began to look for the good in all the residents. I understood that what is generally good for people in distress is good for the Arab population; that democracy is good for the whole country, including the Arab population. I learned that social justice benefits the whole population, including the Arab citizens.
This attitude shift helped me connect to all sorts of groups. Four years ago, I sat for a whole month on Rothschild Boulevard (the place where the Israeli social protest movement began). I believe I was the only Arab to do so. I was the one who helped develop the slogan “The people demand social justice.” At the first demonstration, people were initially chanting all sorts of slogans. But in Egypt the people had already been demonstrating, shouting “The people want.…” so I borrowed the phrase “the people want” and added “social justice.”
My ideological transformation was part of my political maturation, choosing to become part of the greater whole. This does not mean that now I ignore the specific needs of the Arabs in Israel. On the contrary, as part of the greater whole, I can better address the needs of the Arab community.
Now, in every party meeting of our Joint List I say, yes, we will address the needs of Arab Israelis, but not only the needs of Arab Israelis. We will have 15 seats in the upcoming Knesset. We will raise our hands in support for the handicapped, for the pensioners, for all of the weaker sectors.
Do you think the four parties you represent who came together will be able to work together—minimally for the medium term, not to mention for the long-term?
Odeh: When our four parties began to work together we discovered that our positions are actually very close to each other. Together we developed both long-range and more immediate plans. The long-term plans talk about peace, based on the U.N. Resolutions: equal rights for everyone in the country; social justice for everyone; and equality between people in the State of Israel. As to our short-term achievable goals, I am developing a plan, which the other groups support. I have a ten-year plan to close the socioeconomic gaps between Jews and Arabs.
We have many disagreements on the nationalist level. I, Ayman, will not give up on any of my national rights. I will continue to speak about them. However, there are some things that we do not need to fight over—for example, equal civil rights, employment in general, employment of women, elimination of violence, recognition of the recognized Bedouin villages in the South and bus service to the underserved Arab towns. I put forth 90 new civil programs, and I have expert opinions from economists who agree that within two years the country would directly benefit from my plan.
When I speak about our national rights, people respond by saying, “How scary.” But it is not scary. It would be good for both of us. I tell you, I want two nations here by choice. I want two cultures here. That is good for me. It adds something important for me. We are all richer because there are two nations and two cultures here. Let’s focus on the positive things that unite us and not what separates us.
There was a recent Ha’aretz Newspaper poll showing that 70 percent of the Arab population in the country are more interested in matters of economics and daily life than questions about the Palestinian issue. How do you respond to those findings?
I will not run away from the nationalistic issue. Our society, our joint society will never be a moral society as long as we occupy another people, not only from a moral and democratic point of view but also economically. Instead of wasting money in the occupied territories, money should be spent here in Israel for the good of all of us—for education, for health and for social programs. However, all of what I just said here is secondary to the fact that the Palestinian people have a right, just like all people in the world, to have their own state.
What do you respond to Israelis who say, “Yes, we agree with you theoretically, but if you look at the state of the Arab world at the moment, this is not the time to make drastic any changes?”
Odeh: Let’s look at the reality of the world around Israel. Israel made peace with Egypt, the largest Arab State. There are militant Islamists there, but there is also law. There are agreements and also defense arrangements there. So, was it better to make an agreement with Egypt or not?
Now let’s look at Jordan, the country with which we have the longest border. Jordan is home to members of the Muslim Brotherhood. In Jordan, there are Salafim, and there are even some members of ISIS.
However, there is a monarchy that runs an independent government. In Jordan there is law and there is security cooperation. Where there is law, and where there is government, there is security. Therefore, I believe it is better for there to be clear borders and independence.
The Palestinian Arabs accept the framework that they will get a state on 22 percent of the land that they dreamed of. I believe that you cannot push them any further to the wall. There is an historic opportunity. Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization] is a pragmatic person, a peace loving person, in everyone’s opinion—other than the opinion of the Israeli government.
While Abu Mazen [Abbas] might have the image of someone who wants peace, doesn’t he have the image of being a weak leader?
Odeh: Abu Mazen has proved he can control the West Bank. There have been very, very difficult events for the Palestinian people, and despite these outbreaks and the ongoing occupation Abu Mazen has shown he can maintain order—even though in reality, that is not his job. If he successfully brings accomplishment to his people, his position will be strengthened. He is weak because he does not succeed. It is the Israeli government who prefer him weak.
Why do you think during the last few years there has been such a rise in racist actions against Arabs in Israel?
Odeh: I will explain something that might sound backwards. I believe that since the Bar-Ilan speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the right wing has understood that there is no choice (i.e. there will have to be a Palestinian State.) This realization by the right wing has fueled racism towards the Arab citizens of Israel. MK [Member of the Knesset] Avigdor Lieberman speaks every Monday and Thursday against the Arab citizens of Israel. Yet even Lieberman, when he repeats his slogan “Um-El -Fahem [an Arab Israeli town] to Palestine,” is implicitly recognizing that there will be a Palestinian State.
In 2006, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the main danger to Israel was not the Arabs in the territories but, rather, the Arabs inside Israel. In some ways I think he is correct. The Arab population does not want to turn inward and be isolated, it could throw all of its weight into the political process.
The Arab population should not sit on the side and wait until 50 percent of the Israeli population is convinced about some of our views. We can be satisfied if we are able to convince 30 percent of the Jewish population. Then together with our 20 percent we will be at least 50 percent. This is the reason the right wing attacks us.
All we have to do is become determined to get involved in the political game and the right wing will be in big trouble.
I have to ask the question that everyone asks—If you are asked by [chairman of the Labor Party and Leader of the Opposition] Yitzhak Herzog to join the government, will you?
Odeh: The most important thing is that the Netanyahu government, which has been so bad for all parts of the Israeli population, must come to an end. However, at the same time, we are not in Herzog’s pocket. If and when we get to that junction [where Herzog approaches us], then we will decide.
Assuming you have approximately 15 seats—which is (more or less) the number people expect you to have—what do you think you can accomplish?
Odeh: If Yitzhak Herzog is the one picked to form the government, he should have the courage to rely on us. His party (actually it was the Labor party, under the leadership of Yitzhak Rabin) had good experiences when they relied on us as a blocking guard. We want the next government to be one that seeks peace and equality. We plan to bring our population what they deserve.
If there is one large coalition government compromising Labor and Likud, we will be the head of the opposition. Then, for the first time in history, the head of the opposition will receive foreign visitors. I will bring up the issues facing the Arab population to those who visit.
The head of the opposition speaks after the Prime Minister in the Knesset and receives government briefings. All of this will happen for the first time in history—That will be a good position for us to be in.
Historian Marc Schulman is the editor of historycentral.com. An archive of his recent daily reports from Tel-Aviv can be found here. A longer version of this interview can be found at historycentral.
After Netanyahu Speech, Congress Is Officially High School
07 March 15
ears ago, when I was just starting in this business, I had the privilege to meet a well-known muckraker and columnist. I asked him the secret of his success.
“Two things,” he said. “One: when you’re hammered after a night out, drink an entire liter of water before you go to bed. An entire liter, do you understand? Otherwise the whole next work day is shot.”
“An entire liter,” I said. “Got it.”
“Second, never write about Israel. It just pisses people off. No matter what you say, you lose half your Rolodex.”
I frowned. How he could ignore such an important topic? Didn’t he care?
“Son,” he said, “we’re prostitutes. We don’t enjoy the sex.”
Mainly by accident, I sort of ended up following that advice, but I did watch the Benjamin Netanyahu speech and its aftermath this week. A few thoughts on one of the more unseemly scenes Congress has cooked up in a while:
First of all, the applause from members of the House and Senate was so over the top, it recalled the famous passage in the Gulag Archipelago about the apparatchik approach to a Stalin speech: “Never be the first one to stop clapping.”
Watching it, you’d almost have thought the members were experiencing a similar terror of being caught looking unenthusiastic. I say almost because in reality, it’s a silly thought, in a democracy: nobody’s getting taken out back and shot for showing boredom.
But then, no kidding at all, a gif apparently showing Rand Paul clapping with insufficient fervor rocketed around social media.
It got enough attention that the Washington Post wrote about it and Paul himself had to issue a statement on Fox and Friends denying he wasn’t clapping really, really hard. “I gave the Prime Minister 50 standing ovations. I co-sponsored bringing him here,” Paul pleaded. Is the Internet age beautiful or what?
But the telescreens weren’t just watching the Republicans. Cameras also captured Nancy Pelosi looking somewhat south of enraptured during the speech.
Those photos only circulated more after she said she was “near tears” because she was saddened by Netanyahu’s speech, which she termed an “insult to the intelligence of the United States.”
This in turn led to more social media avalanching and a cartoonish response from South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who told a donor at a fund-raiser: “Did you see Nancy Pelosi on the floor? Complete disgust. . .If you can get through all the surgeries, there’s disgust!”
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the U.S. Senate! If Kathy Griffin ever bombs out on Fashion Police, Graham will have a job waiting for him.
After Bloomberg traitorously reported on Graham’s locker-room joke about Pelosi’s face, a storm of criticism from Democrat members raged and the Senator was forced to walk his comments back (“I made a poor attempt at humor,” he said, in what is looking like the go-to lawyer-drafted apology line of our times).
All of this preening and adolescent defiance, all these bitchy homeroom-style barbs and insults: has the U.S. government ever seemed more like high school?
Indiana Republican Jackie Walorski apparently thinks school’s still in. This is her reacting after Netanyahu’s speech, according to Slate:
“Wooh, baby! That was awesome!”
Around the world, not everyone was so enthused. Several Israeli diplomats took to Twitter to voice their concerns over Netanyahu’s appearance. (Everybody tweeted about this speech. There were more Iranian officials on Twitter Tuesday than there were sportswriters at the Super Bowl).
Yigal Caspi, Israel’s ambassador to Switzerland, retweeted a line from an Israeli journalist: “Is it no longer possible to suffice in scaring us here in Hebrew? [Netanyahu] has to fly all the way to the US Congress and tell them in English how dangerous Iran’s nuclear program is?”
Caspi and two other diplomats got the ax for their social media responses to the speech. Meanwhile, British journalist Jeremy Bowen got caught in the Twitter Punji-trap when he made a comment about Elie Wiesel, the author and Holocaust survivor who sat in the Speaker’s box with Netanyahu’s wife, Sara.
A safe joke to make about Wiesel’s presence probably would have been something along the lines of, “I guess that book Elie was planning on co-writing with Barack Obama is on hold.” The BBC’s Bowen went in a different direction, bluntly declaring that Netanyahu was “playing the Holocaust card” by bringing the Nobel laureate and camp survivor.
Instantly accused of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, Bowen and the BBC insisted that he was just using “journalistic shorthand,” and that the wording was appropriate because Netanyahu was raising the “specter of another Holocaust.” As of this writing, Twitter warriors are still feasting on Bowen’s head and should have him skeletonized by nightfall.
Nobody came out of this week looking good. Regardless of where you stood on a possible nuclear deal with Iran, the whole episode this week made the American government look like what some in the Iranian press apparently called it: a clown show.
Once upon a time, the opposition party pursuing a second line of foreign policy for domestic political purposes was considered unseemly.
Think candidate Dick Nixon submarining the 1968 Vietnam Peace talks behind LBJ’s back, or the fabled October Surprise conspiracy theory. This was something one did in secret, preferably in trench coats instead of ties, with no press at all present, unless you count Sy Hersh’s future sources.
But this was like the October Surprise as a pay-per-view MMA event. That this sleazy scheme was cooked up mainly for the political gain of both the hosts and the speaker (who faces an election in two weeks) was obvious in about a hundred different ways, beginning with the fact that the speech was apparently timed so that Israeli audiences could watch it over dinner.
But the gambit only sort of worked for Netanyahu, whose Likud Party has experienced only a modest bounce since the speech, if it got one at all. American news outlets humorously had different takes on the same polls showing Likud gaining one or two seats (HuffPo: “Netanyahu’s Popularity Rises After Speech to U.S. Congress: Polls”; Washington Post: “Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress Fails to Jolt Electoral Needle At Home”).
Similarly, if the move had any benefit to the Republicans in congress, it was hard to perceive. Nobody in the media drew a link between Bibi’s speech and the Republicans’ surrender on the Homeland Security funding bill, but on some level there must have been one.
You can’t invite a foreign leader into the House Gallery to accuse a sitting president of being soft on terrorism in an event covered by 10 million journalists, and then turn around the same week and defund the president’s Homeland Security department over some loony immigration objective.
Even worse, the decision to try to conduct their own foreign policy in the shadow of the White House went over so badly with American voters, it actually gave Barack Obama a 5-point sympathy bump in his approval rating.
Put it all together, and the Republicans’ big roll-out this week had to be the most self-defeating political pincer move since the Judean Peoples’ Front sent their Crack Suicide Squad to the rescue in Life of Brian.
This was a week that made everyone look bad: congress, the media, Netanyahu, the Tweeting Supreme Leader in Iran, everyone. Obama only came out looking OK because he mostly stayed off camera and kept his mouth shut.
Mostly, however, it was just a depressing, circus-like demonstration of how schizoid and dysfunctional Washington politics have become. The logical next step after a caper like this is the opening of Republican and Democratic embassies abroad. Let’s hope it’s a long time before anyone tries this again.
SOME OF THE COMMENTS:
If Korea re-unites a lot of money will be lost by the US military industry. Will they let this happen? Can President Obama move on this? A call to action on this 70 years old “Forgotten War” is brought up now by an international women’s group.
International women peacemakers are planning a peace walk across the De-Militarized Zone to bring global attention to the unresolved Korean War and amplify women’s leadership to help reunify the country.
The year 2013 marked the sixtieth anniversary of the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War. The temporary ceasefire has never been replaced with a peace treaty, and the 2 mile-wide and 155 mile-long demilitarized zone (DMZ) continues to divide the Korean peninsula with recurring tensions that serve as a sobering reminder of the possibility of renewed war.
Traversing the seemingly impermeable border, five New Zealanders crossed the DMZ in August 2013. They rode their motorbikes from Mt. Paekdu on the northern border with China all the way down the peninsula to Mt. Halla on the southernmost island of Jeju. This inspired me to begin imagining a women’s peace walk across the DMZ by international women peacemakers – many from countries that fought in the Korean War – to bring global attention to the unresolved Korean War and amplify women’s leadership to help reunify the country. After talking to one of the organizers of the August 2013 crossing, I decided to sequentially follow their blueprint and reached out first to the North Korean government
A year ago, I went on this peacebuilding mission to Pyongyang to discuss an international women’s peace walk across the two-mile wide De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas. To my relief, Pyongyang responded very favourably towards our proposal, but with a stern caveat: only if the conditions were favourable.
Today, despite New Year calls for engagement by both Korean leaders, tensions remain very high. And this month, the United States and South Korea are conducting a two-month long period of military exercises called Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, which the North Korean Rodong Sinmun believes are “aimed to occupy the DPRK through pre-emptive strikes.”
The conditions are not favourable, but we are still planning the women’s peace walk across the DMZ this May. We have formed an organization called Women De-Militarize the Zone, and thirty women from more than a dozen countries have signed dup to walk for peace and the reunification of Korea. They range from Nobel peace laureates to artists, academics, humanitarian aid workers, and faith leaders.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the division of Korea by the United States and the former Soviet Union. For nearly seven decades, Koreans on both sides of the DMZ have long awaited a peace treaty to formally resolve the 1950-53 Korean War that only ended with a ceasefire agreement. Instead, 70 million Koreans across the peninsula, from the northern border of China down to the southern-most Jeju Island, have endured political repression and an endless arms race.
In 1945, after Japan’s defeat in WWII, the United States landed in Korea, which had been under brutal Japanese colonization for 35 years. Without the consent of Koreans, who were awaiting its liberation and sovereignty after an entire generation under Japanese occupation, the two Cold War powers – Washington and Moscow – divided the peninsula along the 38th parallel. It was supposed to be a temporary division, but instead the creation of two separate states precipitated the 1950-53 Korean War.
Despite the massive loss of human life and destruction, the Korean War has come to be known as the “forgotten war.” More bombs were dropped on Korea from 1950 to 1953 than on all of Asia and the Pacific islands during World War II, and President Truman came seriously close to deploying an atomic bomb. One year into the Korean War, US Major General Emmett O’Donnell Jr. testified before the Senate, “I would say that the entire, almost the entire Korean Peninsula is just a terrible mess. Everything is destroyed. There is nothing standing worthy of the name . . . There [are] no more targets in Korea.” According to University of Chicago historian Bruce Cumings, during the Korean War, U.S. airstrikes led to the destruction of 18 of 22 major North Korean cities. Cumings cites Hungarian journalist Tibor Meray, who recalled, “I saw destruction and horrible things committed by American forces… Everything which moved in North Korea is a military target, peasants in the field often were machine gunned by pilots, who, this was my impression, amused themselves to shoot targets which moved.”
In 1953, after nearly 4 million people were killed, mostly Korean civilians, North Korea, China and the United States, representing the United Nations Command, signed the armistice agreement with a promise within three months to sign a peace treaty. Over 60 years later, we are still waiting for a peace treaty to end war.
What has ensued instead for the past six decades is an endless arms race between North and South Korea. Whether we like it or not, the fact that the Korean War ended with a temporary cease-fire rather than a permanent peace treaty gives both Korean governments justification to invest heavily in the country’s militarization. According to the Ploughshares Fund World Nuclear Stockpile Report, North Korea possesses less than 10 nuclear weapons of the 16,300 worldwide that are predominantly held by Russia and the United States. North Korea invests approximately $8.7 billion — significantly higher than the $570 million Pyongyang claims — or one-third of its GDP in the military, according to the South Korean government-run Korea Institute of Defense Analyses. In 2013, to great surprise, Pyongyang acknowledged how the un-ended war has forced it “to divert large human and material resources to bolstering up the armed forces though they should have been directed to the economic development and improvement of people’s living standards.”
But it’s not just North Korea. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) 2014 Yearbook, South Korea was the world’s 10th highest military spender, with its expenditures reaching $34 billion for the year. World Bank data shows that in 2012, 13.6 percent of the central government’s expenditures in South Korea went towards defence spending. According to a North Korea expert at Seoul National University, Suh Bohyuk, in 2011, South Korea became the world’s number-two weapons importer. In September 2014, South Korea spent $7 billion for 40 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets. “The reason that we are building up our military is to counter North Korea’s attacks and provocations,” said a South Korean military official. According to political science professor Yang Seung-ham of Yonsei University, “The Park administration is rapidly purchasing many advanced weaponry for military security, which does not help in easing inter-Korea tensions.” Conservative hawks in Washington are also pushing South Korea’s militarization. According to the Friends Committee on National Legislation, although Washington withdrew 11 types of nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991, hawks in U.S. Congress are now advocating for the return of U.S. nukes.
North Korea’s heavy military spending isn’t just to defend against South Korea, but against the world’s most powerful military in the world: the United States, which has since it landed on Korean soil in 1945 maintained thousands of soldiers and bases throughout the southern half of the peninsula. Washington regularly conducts military exercises with Seoul, simulating the invasion of North Korea. In January, in order to promote dialogue on the Korean peninsula, Pyongyang offered a moratorium on nuclear testing in exchange for the United States to postpone war game exercises with South Korea. The olive branch came a day after the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s New Years Day speech in which he offered to meet President Park if “the mood was right” and that the two Koreas should promote reconciliation on the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese rule. North Korea’s gesture to lessen tensions was rebuffed by Washington, which recently passed another round of sanctions against North Korea for its alleged hacking of the corporation, Sony.
In 2012, Washington spent $682 billion on its military, or 39 percent of the world’s total spending. While the Pentagon uses China’s military spending, which has grown annually in the double digits, to justify Washington’s Asia-Pacific Pivot, the unresolved Korean War gives regional powers such as the United States, China, and Japan justification to further militarize, including expanding missile defence systems and building new military bases, as they continually lack funds for social welfare, such as education or childcare. Last year, at a March 25 Senate Defense Committee hearing on the 2015 budget, the commander of the U.S. Forces in Korea (USFK), General Curtis Scaparrotti, argued that while the 28,500 U.S. troops based in South Korea were “fully resourced,” he was concerned about the readiness of “follow-on” forces needed if fighting erupted. According to investigative journalist Tim Shorrock, during heightened tensions with Pyongyang in 2013, Washington deployed a new THAAD portable defense system to Guam and that plans are underway for a massive expansion of the U.S. missile defense system in Alaska and along the west coast as a “precautionary” measure against a possible North Korean missile strike.
Since military intervention is not an option, the Obama administration has used sanctions to pressure North Korea to de-nuclearize. Instead, North Korea has since conducted three nuclear tests, calling sanctions “an act of war”. That is because sanctions have had deleterious effects on the day-to-day lives of ordinary North Korean people. “In almost any case when there are sanctions against an entire people, the people suffer the most and the leaders suffer least,” said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on his last visit to North Korea.
International sanctions have made it extremely difficult for North Koreans to access basic necessities, such as food, seeds, medicine and technology. Felix Abt, a Swiss entrepreneur who has conducted business in North Korea for over a decade says that it is “the most heavily sanctioned nation in the world, and no other people have had to deal with the massive quarantines that Western and Asian powers have enclosed around its economy.”
A less obvious legacy of the Korean War is how governments use the state of war to justify repression in the name of preserving national security. Whether in Pyongyang, Seoul or Washington, the threat of war or terrorism is used to justify government repression and overreach, such as warrantless surveillance, imprisonment and torture in the name of preserving national security.
While repression in North Korea is widely known, less known is how the South Korean government uses the antiquated 1948-enacted National Security Law (NSL) to prosecute political dissidents, particularly those sympathetic towards or seeking to engage North Korea. In South Korea, the Constitutional Court recently abolished the Unified Progressive Party, a liberal opposition party, on charges of being pro-North. Amnesty International says that this case “has seriously damaged the human rights improvement of South Korean society which has struggled and fought for freedom of thoughts and conscience and freedom of expression.” And in January, the South Korean government used the NSL to deport and ban for five years Shin Eun-mi, a 54-year old Korean-American housewife who had written about her travels to North Korea, including describing North Koreans as warm-hearted and urging Korean reunification.
There is wide consensus that replacing the temporary armistice agreement with a permanent peace treaty would go a long way towards de-escalating tensions that have long plagued Korea and the region. In a 2011 paper, the U.S. Army War College warns that the only way to avert a catastrophic confrontation is to “reach agreement on ending the armistice from the Korean War” and “giv[e] a formal security guarantee to North Korea tied to nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.” U.S. Ambassadors to Korea since the 1980s have argued for engagement and a formalized peace process. James Laney, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea in the Clinton administration prescribed, “to remove all unnecessary obstacles to progress, is the establishment of a peace treaty to replace the truce that has been in place since 1953. One of the things that have bedeviled all talks until now is the unresolved status of the Korean War…. Absent such a peace treaty, every dispute presents afresh the question of the other side’s legitimacy.”
Perhaps most tragic about Korea’s division is the two-mile wide De-Militarized Zone that separates millions of Korean families. In April 2014, South Korean President Park said in her Dresden speech on Korean reunification that in 2013, “some 3,800 people who have yearned a lifetime just to be able to hold their sons’ and daughters’ hands — just to know whether they’re alive – passed away with their unfulfilled dreams.”
To end the state of war and help reunite families, international women peacemakers have come together to form Women De-Militarize the Zone, an organization dedicated to promoting the peaceful reunification of Korea through women’s leadership. From Northern Ireland to Liberia, we have seen how women’s participation in peace negotiations makes peace attainable, and that peace itself is inextricably linked with the advancement of women. We will work towards seeing the passage of a peace treaty to defuse dangerous tensions in Northeast Asia and de-militarizing our world. We must act now to give hope to Koreans that peace and reunification is tenable in their lifetimes and to the thousands of Korean elders that they will be able to embrace their loved ones across the DMZ before they pass away.
An Austrian Academic is worried that Europe might be in the process of losing its Jews – and worse – getting Muslims incited against the ‘non-believers’ in their place. His article appeared in Die Presse.
“Die Presse”, Print-Ausgabe, 24.02.2015
Ein Prediger in Saudiarabien verkündet, dass die Erde stillstehe. Bei uns werden massenweise Bücher verschenkt, die per manipulativer Vermischung von Islam und Wissenschaft im Stil des Kreationismus nachweisen wollen, dass Charles Darwin falschlag. So etwa „Der Evolutionsschwindel“ des türkischen Schriftstellers Adnan Oktar.
Aber der Islamische Staat tötet im Namen seines Islam massenhaft „Ungläubige“, und besagter Autor leugnet nicht nur die Evolution, sondern auch den Holocaust. Munter verbreitet er bekannte jüdisch-freimaurerische Weltverschwörungstheorien gegen den Islam. Und natürlich inszenierte der US-Geheimdienst CIA 9/11 selbst, um einen Anlassfall für einen Kreuzzug des Westens gegen den Islam zu haben. Leider werden solche lächerlichen Ideen weltweit von vielen Muslimen geglaubt – auch in Europa.
Der Kern jeder modernen liberal-aufgeklärten und demokratischen Staatlichkeit ist die Trennung von Glauben und Wissen, von Religion und Staat. Dies ist aber dem Islam systemfremd. Mittlerweile ist er zwar Teil Europas, viele Muslime sind aber noch immer nicht angekommen, weil sie die europäischen Grundprinzipien weder verstehen noch akzeptieren wollen. Mit ein wenig Integration ist es nicht getan, zumal 70 Prozent der heimischen Imame diese ablehnen und torpedieren. Um wirklich anzukommen, muss der Islam sich letztlich selbst aufklären.
Europaweit glaubt eine seltsame Allianz zwischen einem islamischen und einem rechtsradikalen Bodensatz an die jüdische Weltverschwörung. Dass die Hetze gegen Juden da wieder in Schwung kommt, braucht uns daher nicht zu wundern.
Der Exodus aus Frankreich ist nur die Spitze des Eisbergs. Antisemitische Beschimpfungen und Schmierereien sind in Europa längst wieder „Normalität“, auch in Österreich. Die Schwelle zur physischen Gewalt sinkt beständig. Satte europäische Bürger schauen irritiert(?) weg – so wie damals, als Juden in Wien per Zahnbürste die Straßen putzen durften. Und ach so humanistische Linke skandieren auf ihren Demos gegen Israel antisemitische Parolen, schweigen aber zum neuen Megaskandal.
Angesichts der langen Geschichte der Pogrome wäre jede Begründung für den Schutz jüdischer Mitbürger eine zu viel. Dennoch: Juden waren und sind maßgebliche Träger der europäischen Kultur, der Wissenschaften und Künste. Beim Islam muss man sehr weit zurückgehen, um Ähnliches behaupten zu können.
Wien etwa verlor mit der Vertreibung und Vernichtung der Juden das kulturelle und wirtschaftliche Rückgrat, die Universität ihr großartiges wissenschaftliches Profil, wohl eine der nachhaltigsten Verwüstungen durch die Nazi-Herrschaft. Das mag nach Semitophilie klingen, ist aber im Kontrast zum mangelnden kulturell-wissenschaftlichen Beitrag des Islam zur europäischen Bürgergesellschaft schlicht eine Tatsachenfeststellung.
Die neue Hetze gegen die Juden in Europa richtet sich gegen unsere zentralen Werte, gegen aufgeklärtes Denken und Liberalität. Sie ist ein alarmierendes Symptom für ein Europa auf Talfahrt.Ob wir alle Charlie sein wollen, bleibe dahingestellt, angesichts der Skepsis gegenüber dem Ausleben von Meinungsfreiheit mittels Beleidigung. Aber es ist hoch an der Zeit, dass wir endlich alle Juden sind. Je sui Juif. Ganz ohne Wenn und Aber.
Kurt Kotrschal ist Zoologe an der Uni Wien und Leiter der Konrad-Lorenz-Forschungsstelle in Grünau.
E-Mails an: debatte at diepresse.com
Kurt Kotrschal is an Austrian intellectual, professor at the Vienna University – product of the State of Salzburg where he studied with an Erwin-Schrödinger fellowship and followed up with a year at the University of Colorado in Denver – his topic was the evolution of fish and the development of nervous systems.
We found in our e-mails that Kurt Kotrschal participated in 2012 in a discussion we attended – a Karl-Renner-Institut backed event.
Montag, 19. November 2012, 20.00 Uhr
Podiumsdiskussion zu Richard Sennett: “ZUSAMMENARBEIT. Was unsere Gesellschaft zusammenhält.”
Moderation: CORINNA MILBORN
February 17, 2015
Tesla’s Disruptive New Plan to Power Your Home
From a surprising source – Dr. Kent Moors’ Oil & Energy Investor’s site we picked up the following:
February 17, 2015 – but we picked this up only February 25th because Google deemed the posting a “Promotion rather then “Primar
TESLA’s DISRUPTIVE NEW PLAN TO POWER YOUR HOME.
Dear Oil & Energy Investor,
The first is a major test of a joint project between Tesla Motors Inc. (NasdaqGS: TSLA) and SolarCity Corp. (NasdaqGS: SCTY) involving 500 California homes.
Sources have told me they expect this test to be the final “proof of concept,” followed by wider applications in both residential and commercial uses.
The lynchpin between the two is a family connection.
Tesla’s CEO is Elon Musk, one of the most innovative entrepreneurs of our time, while his cousin Lyndon Rive is the CEO of SolarCity. Musk is also SolarCity’s biggest shareholder.
Now the two are coming together in hopes of solving the industry’s biggest roadblock…
This was followed by:
Solar Power Comes of Age
Tesla, of course, needs very little introduction. The California-based company has a very visible position in cutting-edge electric cars.
SolarCity, on the other hand, is the market leader in residential solar power installations. In the third quarter of 2014, SolarCity led the pack in this portion of the business by grabbing 39% of the market. Meanwhile, SolarCity’s next-closest competitor came in at 16%.
The two market leaders are now combining some of their operations in a very serious attempt to bring solar power into more consumer areas. In short, SolarCity is working with Tesla to make rooftop panels that are fitted with Tesla batteries.
Now a major test is underway in California that may usher in a new age of residential solar battery use.
The California test will utilize a solar battery with the ability to power a home for two days in the event of a blackout. In everyday use, the unit is expected to allow homeowners to store solar-generated power for use during high-cost periods, giving them the flexibility to use the conventional grid for cheaper, off-peak electricity.
Storing generated power for use at other times – in short, perfecting a new line of cost-effective batteries – has been the industry’s single biggest hurdle.
So the California residential test may well usher in a whole new ballgame. Considering the batteries from the Tesla-SolarCity venture (involving more than the California test) utilize a new generation of silicon batteries, rather than relying on rare earth metals or lithium, is also a plus. This type of approach is already well advanced, and is based on considerable familiarity and history.
It also doesn’t hurt that Tesla is building the biggest battery factory on the planet right now. Dubbed the “Gigafactory,” the plant is expected to have a dramatic effect on the energy storage market, helping to bring battery costs down by as much as half by 2020.
So while the initial price of these installations may come in high, as with any generation-changing new technology, the cost will eventually come down. What’s more, there may be some credits and other inducements provided by the companies to stimulate usage.
This development, combined with the recent decisions by Apple Inc. (NasdaqGS: AAPL) to power its new Pentagon-like headquarters via solar and Google Inc. (NasdaqGS: GOOG) opting for wind power for its San Francisco Bay Area base, show that renewables are now moving into all aspects of electricity end use here in the States.
and the SECOND BIG NEWS OF THE INTRODUCTORY PIECE:
India Breaks Ground on the World’s Largest Solar Plant
The second major development for renewables is unfolding halfway around the world.
India has announced a major push to provide 15% of its electricity needs from renewables with an initial push into solar power, which is unfolding right now. It’s the first high-profile effort to provide concrete plans for a major Asian advance into solar power distribution.
The Times of India reported yesterday that the construction of the world’s largest solar power plant has begun in the central Indian Rewa district, within the state of Madhya Pradesh. The plant, a joint venture between state-run PSU Urja Vikas Nigam and the Solar Energy Corp. of India, will provide 750 megawatt of electricity. Once online, the plant will be 36% bigger than the largest plant currently in operation.
The current world leader is the 550-megawatt Desert Sunlight Solar Farm, which just opened in California’s Mojave Desert. Situated on 3,800 acres near Joshua Tree National Park, the plant produces enough energy to power 160,000 homes.
But the Indian push into solar power hardly ends there. The government has plans for two dozen solar farms strategically placed throughout the country.
In all, the State Bank of India has committed resources for the development of 15 gigawatt of solar power by 2020. The objective is to provide a full 15% of the nation’s energy needs from renewable sources within five years.
To be sure, there are some doubts that New Delhi can pull this off. For one thing, the price tag is very debatable. For another, the national electricity distribution grid is in a sorry state, and would require significant, pricey, and (at the moment) an unspecified amount of investment to be able to shoulder the anticipated new power load.
Still, with the Chinese committed to a similar 15 gigawatt goal from solar by 2020, Germany’s decision to end its reliance on nuclear power, and the continued growth pattern in the U.S., one conclusion is already abundantly clear.
The future of solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, and other renewables is longer dependent on the price of crude.
The News from Aleppo are that people there dream of rebuilding Syria. We wish them best of luck but know this dream will not be fulfilled because Syria was never a Nation State and thus can not be cobbled back together again.
A daring plan to rebuild Syria — no matter who wins the war.
Thanassis Cambanis, a fellow at The Century Foundation, is the author of the forthcoming “Once Upon a Revolution: An Egyptian Story.” He is an Ideas – columnist and blogs – at thanassiscambanis.com.
He writes from Beirut: With the battle still ongoing, a huge team of Syrian planners plots the restoration of Aleppo and beyond.
Then … The first year of Syria’s uprising, 2011, largely spared Aleppo, the country’s economic engine, largest city, and home of its most prized heritage sites. Fighting engulfed Aleppo in 2012 and has never let up since, making the city a symbol of the civil war’s grinding destruction. Rebels captured the eastern side of the city while the government held the west. The regime dropped conventional munitions and then barrel bombs on the rebels, who fought back with rockets and mortars. In 2012, the historical Ottoman covered souk was destroyed. In 2013, shelling destroyed the storied minaret of the 11th-century Ummayid Mosque. Apartment blocks were reduced to rubble. More than 3 million residents fled, out of a prewar population of 5 million. Today, residents say the city is virtually uninhabitable; most who remain have nowhere else to go.
In terms of sheer devastation, Syria today is worse off than Germany at the end of World War II. Bashar Assad’s regime and the original nationalist opposition are locked in combat with each other, and also with a third axis, the powerful jihadist current led by the Islamic State. And yet, even as the fighting continues – a movement is brewing among planners, activists and bureaucrats — some still in Aleppo, others in Damascus, Turkey, and Lebanon — to prepare, right now, for the reconstruction effort that will come whenever peace finally arrives.
Critics dismiss the ongoing planning effort as a premature boondoggle, keeping technocrats busy creating blueprints that will have to be revised when fighting finally ebbs. But Thierry Grandin, a consultant for the World Monuments Fund who has worked and lived in Aleppo since the 1980s and is currently involved in reconstruction planning, disagrees. “It is good to do the planning now, because on day one we will be ready,” Grandin says. “It might come in a year, it might come in 20, but eventually there will be a day one. Our job is to prepare.”
Across Syria, more than one-third of the population is displaced.
The task they have before them beggars comprehension. Across Syria, more than one-third of the population is displaced. Aleppo is in tatters, its center completely destroyed. The population exodus has claimed most of the city’s craftsmen, medical personnel, academics, and industrialists.
‘It is good to do the planning now, because on day one we will be ready. It might come in a year, it might come in 20, but eventually there will be a day one. Our job is to prepare.’ — Thierry Grandin, consultant for the World Monuments Fund.
To find a similar example of planning during wartime before the outcome was known, you have to go back to World War II. Allied forces spent years preparing for the physical, economic, and political reconstruction of Germany and Japan even before they could be sure who would win. Today, Americans tend mostly to recall the symbolic reconstruction after the war: the Nuremberg trials and the Marshall Plan, a colossal foreign aid program.
But undergirding those triumphs was the vast logistical operation of erecting new cities. It took decades to clear the moonscapes of rubble and to rebuild, in famous targets like Dresden and Hiroshima but in countless other places as well, from Coventry to Nanking. Some places never recovered their vitality.
Since then, a litany of divided and devastated cities has been left by other conflicts. Even those that eventually regained a sense of normalcy, like Beirut, Sarajevo, or Grozny, generally survived rather than thrived. Only a few countries — East Timor, Angola, Rwanda—offer what Syrian planners call “glimmers of hope,” as places that suffered terrible man-made disasters and then bounced back.
Of course, Syrian planners cannot help but pay attention to the model closest to home: Beirut, a city almost synonymous with civil war and flawed reconstruction. The planners and technocrats in the UN ESCWA tower overlook a gleamingly restored but vacant downtown from behind a veritable moat of blast barriers and sealed roads. Shell-pocked abandoned buildings stand as evidence of the tangled ownership disputes that have held back reconstruction a full quarter-century after the Lebanese civil war.
“We don’t want to end up like Beirut,” one of the Syrian planners says, referring to the physical problems but also to a postwar process in which militia leaders turned to corrupt reconstruction ventures as a new source of funds and power. He spoke anonymously; the Future of Syria team, which is led by a former Syrian deputy prime minister named Abdallah Al Dardari, doesn’t give on-the-record briefings. Since their top priority is to maintain buy-in from Syrians on all sides, they try to avoid naming names so as not to dissuade people they hope will use their plans when the war ends.
Syria’s national recovery will depend in large part on whether its industrial powerhouse – Aleppo – can bounce back. Until 2011, Aleppo had been celebrated for millenniums for its beauty and commerce. The citadel overlooking the center is a world heritage site. The old city and its covered market were vibrant, functioning exemplars of Islamic and Ottoman architecture, surrounded by the wide leafy avenues of the modern city. Aleppan traders plied their wares in Turkey, Iraq, the Levant, and all the way south to the Arabian peninsula. The city’s workshops, famed above all for their fine textiles, export millions of dollars’ worth of goods every week even now, and the economy has expanded to include modern industry as well.
Today, however, the city’s water and power supply are under the control of the Islamic State. Entire neighborhoods have collapsed under regime bombing and shelling: government buildings, hospitals, landmark hotels, schools, prisons. Aleppo is split between a regime side with vestiges of basic services, and a mostly depopulated rebel-controlled zone, into which the Islamic State and the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front have made inroads over the last year. A river of rubble marks the no-man’s land separating the two sides. The only way to cross is to leave the city, follow a wide arc, and reenter from the far side.
For now, said an architect who works for the rebel government in Aleppo under the pseudonym Tamer el Halaby, today’s business is simply survival, like digging 20 makeshift wells that fulfill minimal water needs. (He prefers not to have his real name published for fear that the government might target relatives on the other side of Aleppo.) Parts of the old city won’t be inhabitable for years, he told me by Skype, because the ground has literally shifted as a result of bombing and shelling.
Close to a thousand Syrians have consulted on the Future of Syria project, which comprises at least two ambitious initiatives rolled into one. The first and more obvious is creating realistic options to fix the country after the war—in some cases literal plans for building infrastructure systems and positioning construction equipment, in other cases guidelines for shaping governance.
At the Future of Syria, hospital administrators, civil engineers, and traffic coordinators each work on their given fields. They’re familiar with global “best practices,” but also with how things work in Syria, so they’re not going to propose pie-in-the-sky ideas. These planners also understand that who wins the construction contracts will depend on who wins the war. If some version of the current regime remains in charge, it will probably direct massive contracts toward patrons in Russia, China, or Iran. The opposition, by contrast, would lean toward firms from the West, Turkey, and the Gulf.
“Who will have the influence in Syria after the conflict? That will dictate who is involved in redevelopment. It all depends on who ends up being in political control,” says Richard J. Cook, a longtime UN official who supervised postconflict construction in Palestinian refugee camps and now works for one of the Middle East’s largest construction conglomerates, Dar Al-Handasah Consultants (Shair and Partners). Along with other companies, Dar Al-Handasah has offered its lessons learned from Lebanon’s reconstruction process to Syrian planners, and plans to compete to work in postwar Syria.
That leads to the second, more subtle, innovation of the Future of Syria project. For its plans to matter, they need to be politically viable no matter who is governing. So the planners have worked hard to persuade experts from all factions to contribute to the 57 different sectoral studies, hoping to come up with feasible rebuilding options that would be considered by a future Syrian authority of any stripe. Today, nearly 200 experts work full time for the project.
At the current level of destruction, the project planners estimate the reconstruction will cost at least $100 billion. Regardless of how it’s financed—loans, foreign aid, bonds—that’s a financial bonanza for whoever controls the reconstruction process. Some would-be peacemakers have suggested that reconstruction plans could even be used as enticements. If opposition militants and regime constituents think they’ll make more money rebuilding than fighting, they might have a Machiavellian incentive to make peace.
Underlying the details—mapping destroyed blocks, surveying the condition of the citadel, studying sewers—are bigger philosophical questions. How can a destroyed city be rebuilt, when the combination of people, economy, and buildings can never be reconstituted? Can you use reconstruction to undo the human damage of sectarianism and conflict? Recently a panel of architects and heritage experts from Sweden, Bosnia, Syria, and Lebanon convened in Beirut to discuss lessons for Syria’s reconstruction—one of the many distinct initiatives parallel to the Future of Syria project.
“You should never rebuild the way it was,” said Arna Mackic, an architect from Mostar. That Bosnian city was divided during the 1990s civil war into Muslim and Catholic sides, destroying the city center and the famous Stari Most bridge over the Neretva River. “The war changes us. You should show that in rebuilding.”
In the case of Mostar, the UN agency UNESCO reconstructed the bridge and built a restored central zone where Muslims and Catholics were supposed to create a harmonious new postwar culture. Instead, Mackik says, the sectarian communities keep to their own enclaves. Bereft of any common symbols, the city took a poll to figure out what kind of statue to erect in the city center. All the local figures were too polarizing. In the end they settled on a gold-colored statue of the martial arts star Bruce Lee.
“It belongs to no one,” Mackic says. “What does Bruce Lee mean to me?”
“You are being democratic without the consequences of all the hullabaloo of formal democratization,” says one of the Syrian planners who has contributed to the Future of Syria project and spoke on condition of anonymity.
What is certain is that putting Syria back together again is likely to be as least as expensive as imploding it. A great deal of money has been invested in Syria’s destruction— by the regime, the local parties to the conflict, and many foreign powers. A great deal of money will be made in the aftermath, in a reconstruction project that stands to dwarf anything seen since after World War II.
How that recovery is designed will help determine whether Syria returns to business as usual, sowing the seeds for a reprise of the same conflict—or whether reconstruction allows the kind of lasting change that the resolution of war itself might not.
We posted this out of admiration for people that seem to want to try to forget the terrible reality by drowning it in a lake of hope for which they have no good reason.
The reality is that Syria was never a Nation State in the Western sense – but its creation was only a sliver of the larger Levant region of the Ottoman Empire. The carving up of that region into would-be States of Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Iraq, was not done along National, Ethnic, Religious, or Language line – but rather according to future colonial administrative lines – and eventually the inhomogeneity of so called States had to find the cracks that broke up all these foreign pots. Lebanon had its explosion earlier and as Mr. Cambanis writes – Beirut could not be restored to its old true form. Syria is not like Germany that was in many sense united and then clearly defeated by a major power that led allies on which it imposed the notion that only by rebuilding but deNazifying it – peace can eventually be achieved in Europe. Having been split temporarily into two States Germany eventually reunified to become a power again. There is nothing of the kind in Syria where for years despots from a minority ruled over the very mixed majority. Now this majority has split along many lines and one future outcome will have to be a separate State for the Kurds that eventually will brake the French-British imposed borders, that did not respect the more logical Ottoman division of the region, and have been invalidated now.
Aleppo will eventually find its place in one of the resulting outcome states – separate from Damascus – perhaps indeed be the Capital of that State; it will be built again out of its ashes, but it will not be rebuilt in the sense of its becoming a direct continuation of a has-been that is no-more. Who knows – a connection of Aleppo to what is now Lebanon is not a farfetched idea.
This year, Tuesday March 3rd, happens on eve of Purim that young Jews celebrate with parties, this year it happens also that Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks before US Congress – it is all about an unsustainable attempt by Persians to persecute Jews.
As received from Lady Rabbi Judith Hauptman of the Ohel Ayalah community on New York City.
Dear Ohel Ayalah community,
P U R I M P A R T Y for 20s/30s
P U R I M, in a serious vein: The Scroll of Esther (the Megillah) will be read in synagogues on Wed night, March 4. One suggested (fun) venue is: JTS, 3080 Broadway, at 122 St. Time: 7 pm.
The danger that Memucan (one of the advisors) sees in Vashti’s refusal is preposterous. How will it provoke a rebellion by all the wives in the empire against their husbands? The burlesque of the great Persian empire, drowning in luxury, wine, courtiers, and incompetent management, reaches one of its high points here, with a touch of male sexual anxiety added for good measure (p17).
So read the rest of the Megillah in a communal setting on Wed night, Mar 4, or by yourself. Laugh but also cry. Here is a link to an online version of Megillat Esther: www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt3301….. You will need to click to get from one chapter to the next.
Please note: Passover is around the corner. Will be sending more information in a few weeks. Seder reservations open on Sunday, March 15. First night seder for all Ages, Fri April 3; Second night seder for 20s/30s, Saturday night, April 4.
Questions or comments? Write to me at Judith at ohelayalah.org.
Rabbi and Founder, Ohel Ayalah
by Maxim A. Suchkov – posted February 1, 2015 – Al-Monitor.
Maxim A. Suchkov, a former Fulbright visiting fellow at Georgetown University (2010–11), is currently a fellow at the Institute for Strategic Studies at the North Caucasian city of Pyatigorsk, Russia, and a contributor to the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Eurasia Outlook. On Twitter: @Max_A_Suchkov
Read more: www.al-monitor.com/pulse/original…
Summary? – Print Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman believes his country is uniquely positioned to negotiate with Russia and Ukraine.
On Jan. 26, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman visited Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. While the encounter took place during the 70th anniversary observance of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz, the two diplomats took the opportunity to check up on their busy bilateral agenda. They touched primarily on six main issues — the overall situation in the Middle East, Russia’s role in the region, the course of the “5+1” negotiations on Iranian nuclear program, Lebanon, the situation in Syria, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the eve of his meeting with the Russian foreign minister, in an interview with the Russian media agency RIA Novosti, Liberman said Israel would be prepared, if necessary, to mediate peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.
The statement drew mixed reactions from both Israel and Russia, but the very intent, if it is at all serious, could be interesting to think about.
Over the more than yearlong conflict in Ukraine, Israel turned out to be neutral when it comes to Russia’s actions in its neighboring country. Israel’s diplomats were not present during the vote on the US-supported UN resolution condemning Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which made it look as if Israel were avoiding showing its stance on the issue. Although Tel Aviv explained that the vote coincided with a strike of Israel’s foreign affairs workers, few believed this explanation. Later, Israel refused to join the US-led sanctions regime against Russia. In both instances, the Obama administration, which cannot boast good relations with the Netanyahu government, took it as a sign of ingratitude toward Israel’s prime strategic ally at a time when America needed it most.
Essentially, while certainly not an act of support for Russian policies, it also was a sign of no opposition. At the initial stages of the war in Ukraine, in early 2014, the Israeli foreign minister, speaking on a TV program, said that “everybody understands that the situation [in Ukraine] is about standing up for the interests of each party [Russia and the US] in accordance with their own foreign policy courses.” That was a message that Israelis see the situation as a conflict of interests, not a conflict of principles. At the same interview, he declined any meddling with this conflict as a mediator between Russia and the US over Ukraine, saying Israel had enough to worry about with its own challenges.
The Israelis insisted, however, that neutrality didn’t mean inaction. A year hence, Tel Aviv wants to raise its political profile as a peacemaker, not between the Kremlin and the White House, but between Moscow and Kiev.
Indeed, as surprising as it may sound, Israel is uniquely positioned to mediate the conflict and ease the “Ukraine-Russia fatigue” that dominates the European security agenda. In this regard, Israel has three principal advantages. First, it clearly enjoys equally good relations with both Russia and Ukraine — a political luxury few nations can boast in today’s much-polarized context. Certainly, Russian-Israeli relations are far from being ideal, with the majority of the discrepancies lying in different priorities in the Middle East rooted in their own vision of national interests and historic political trajectories. At the same time, the Israeli leadership believes good relations with Russia are a “perceived necessity.”
Second, Israel possesses a key foreign policy resource — the large Jewish diaspora both in Russia and Ukraine. The number of Jews in the two countries is hard to estimate. Due to a well-known history of oppression, many had to flee, while others decline to identify themselves. Current estimates vary: in Russia from 190,000 to 228,000 to 380,000. That represents approximately 0.14% of Russia’s population and 1.7% of the global Jewish population, making Russia the country with the seventh-largest Jewish population. In Ukraine, the Jewish population was historically greater. At present, the figures range from 67,000 to 80,000 (0.16% national share and 0.6% global share). Other accounts say the Jewish population is as high as 300,000.
Most important, many Jewish figures occupy top positions in politics and business and have had significant influence on the two spheres. Therefore, Tel Aviv has a direct interest in their security and peaceful settlement of the crisis. Several influential Israeli public figures and politicians, including some from the Knesset, are actively raising awareness against more frequent instances of anti-Semitism in Ukraine.
Finally, the number of Israelis of Ukrainian and Russian descent in Israel itself is high. Many Israeli natives of the post-Soviet states occupying top political leadership positions have contributed to shaping a balanced stance on the conflict. While opinions on the crisis in Ukraine within this group are split, their expertise and action helped the State of Israel shape a policy that remained firm to outside pressure, including that of the US.
Liberman, a native of the Republic of Moldova, said, “It is precisely because we are from these countries that we can understand both parties. … If someone told me some time ago that Russia and Ukraine would become enemies, I would have told them to see a doctor.” Therefore, for a large group of Israeli policymakers, the crisis in Ukraine has a clear-cut personal connection. Yet at the same time, being foreign statesmen, they take a neutral position that potentially makes them “natural mediators.”
This is the benchmark data. In the end, however, the proposal represents the intent of only a fragment of the Israeli political spectrum and society — those coming from the post-Soviet space — and finds opposition from other Israeli groups.
In truth, taking the mediator’s burden in the conflict that already involves — in one form or another — a dozen actors carries high risks for Israel’s reputation and would engender an enormous, perhaps impossible, responsibility; in other words, it is a thorny path that may bear little fruit. At the same time, when no negotiation format seems to be working, Israel offers a straw that Russia and Ukraine could consider grabbing. Israel’s image as a middleman in a conflict may be something not many are accustomed to, and it does have some legitimate limitations. But what it can do is offer an important channel of communication.
Bennett, Liberman battle for defense portfolio
Read more: www.al-monitor.com/pulse/original…
from the International Press Institute (Vienna, Austria, based) – Saturday, 21 February 2015.
A screenshot of the Al Monitor website featuring a video marking the news organisation’s first anniversary. Established on Feb. 13, 2012, the site provides reporting and analysis by prominent journalists and experts from the Middle East and draws from more than two dozen media partners.
VIENNA, Feb 26, 2014 – Opens external link in new window Al-Monitor, an edgy news and commentary site launched in the aftermath of the Arab Spring that brands itself as “the pulse of the Middle East”, is the recipient of this year’s International Press Institute (IPI) Opens external link in new windowFree Media Pioneer Award, IPI announced today.
“Al-Monitor’s unrivalled reporting and analysis exemplify the invaluable role that innovative and vigorously independent media can play in times of change and upheaval,” IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said. “Al-Monitor’s editors and contributors produce a must-read daily overview of a complex region in a coherent, introspective and independent way. Its team includes some of the best minds and analysts from around the world who cut through the daily chaff and give readers an insightful summary of what is happening.”
Al-Monitor is scheduled to receive the award at the Opens external link in new windowIPI World Congress, which takes place April 12 to 15 in Cape Town, South Africa. Also in Cape Town, IPI will present its World Press Freedom Hero award to Iranian journalist Opens external link in new windowMashallah Shamsolvaezin, the former editor of the banned Iranian newspapers Kayhan, Jame’eh, Neshat, and Asr-e Azadegan. He was jailed numerous times for his criticism of government policies.
With civil war engulfing Syria, turmoil in Egypt and political upheaval across the Middle East, Al-Monitor stands out as a one-stop source for diverse news and viewpoints. Recent features include a report on female journalists in the front lines of regional conflicts and an article highlighting the arrest of an Egyptian filmmaker, who – like numerous journalists in Egypt – was detained for spreading “false news”.
The 2014 Free Media Pioneer award marks a departure from past winners by honouring a regional news organisation.
“We believe this is where Al-Monitor stands out, providing an important bridge of information to a region where many of the individual nations face major press freedom challenges,” Bethel McKenzie said. “Its ability to draw on many voices from the region is unmatched in the Middle East.”
For the past three years, the award has been sponsored by the Argentinean media company Infobae Group.
Divers stumble across Israel’s biggest ever discovery of gold coins
By Jethro Mullen, CNN February 18, 2015
Nearly 2,000 gold coins were discovered in the ancient harbor of Caesarea, Israel.
Nearly 2,000 gold coins had sat at the bottom of the sea for around 1,000 years
(CNN)The divers initially thought the gleaming object they noticed on the seafloor off the Israeli coast was a toy coin from a game.
But they quickly realized they had stumbled across something a whole lot more valuable in the ancient Mediterranean harbor of Caesarea.
Their chance discovery a few weeks ago led to a trove of nearly 2,000 gold coins that had languished at the bottom of the sea for about 1,000 years, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Tuesday.
It’s the biggest hoard of gold coins ever discovered in Israel — and it could lead to further archaeological finds.
“There is probably a shipwreck there of an official treasury boat which was on its way to the central government in Egypt with taxes that had been collected,” said Kobi Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the antiquities authority.
He offered other theories about the origin of the treasure.
Perhaps the coins were meant to pay the salaries of a military garrison in Caesarea, Sharvit speculated, or came from a merchant ship that sank while traveling from port to port along the Mediterranean coast.
Marine archaeologists are planning to carry out salvage work at the site to find out more.
The coins themselves come in several different denominations and are very well preserved, the antiquities authority said. The oldest of them is a quarter dinar minted in Palermo, Sicily, in the second half of the ninth century.
Most of the pieces, though, are from the Fatimid Caliphate, the Shiite Muslim empire that ruled large parts of North Africa and the Middle East around the turn of the first millennium.
Sharvit said he believed the coins, of various dimensions and weights, had been uncovered by winter storms.
He thanked the people who found the treasure — members of a local diving club — for quickly reporting their discovery rather than trying to keep the coins for themselves.
“These divers are model citizens,” he said. “They discovered the gold and have a heart of gold that loves the country and its history.”
A photo shows 50 Shi’ite Muslim pilgrims from India pray at a shrine located on the grounds of Barzilai Medical Center in the coastal town of Ashkelon February 8, 2015. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
ASHKELON, Israel: About 50 Shi’ite Muslim pilgrims settle down to chant and prostrate themselves in worship near an ancient tomb.
Not an unusual scene in the Middle East, but this shrine is located on the grounds of an Israeli hospital known mainly for treating the casualties of conflict in the nearby Gaza Strip.
The Barzilai Medical Centre in the coastal town of Ashkelon is home to a tomb where, in the view of some Shi’ite Muslims, the head of Hussein ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, lay interred for centuries following his death in battle.
“We pray, first of all, to respect the head of Hussein because he was martyred,” the worshippers’ leader, Sheikh Moiz Tarmal, told Reuters. “And we believe that if we pray here, God will listen to you.”
The slaying of Hussein in the seventh century Battle of Karbala fuelled the split between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims that has recently erupted with renewed ferocity in conflicts in Iraq and Syria.
Many Shi’ites believe all of Hussein’s body was buried near where he died at Karbala in present-day Iraq. Others hold that his head was hidden by Sunnis in Ashkelon in the 10th century before later being spirited away to its final resting place in Egypt for safety as Crusaders invaded the Holy Land.
Among the latter are the Dawoodi Bohra, a Shi’ite sect with around a million adherents worldwide. Its members come annually on pilgrimage to the ornate marble enclosure marking the tomb on a grassy hillock within the Barzilai campus.
Moshe Hananel, an Israeli scholar who helps arrange the Barzilai visits, said some of the Shi’ite pilgrims who flock to the hospital come from countries that do not recognise Israel.
“Their entry is approved in advance,” he said, declining to name specific countries due to the political sensitivities.
Militant wings of both Sunni and Shi’ite Islam see a common foe in Israel. Shi’ite Iran backs Hamas, the Sunni Muslim faction that runs the Palestinian Gaza Strip.
“This is one of the absurdities of the Middle East. Here we have a sacred place for the Muslims, for the Shia Muslims, and on the other hand 12 km (7 miles) south of here we have other Muslims that shoot rockets at us,” said the hospital’s deputy director, Dr. Ron Lobel.
During last year’s Gaza war, Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system intercepted two Hamas rockets over Barzilai, he said.
Tarmal saw divine intervention in the hospital being spared.
“We believe it is a holy place,” he said. “Many rockets do come into Ashkelon, but that place has always been safe at the end, so we believe it is spiritual.”
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones – Reuters.)
At the EU, sponsored by the Kreisky Forum of Vienna, there is evolving a new idea about the direction of a road to Israel/Palestine peace – a peace of Human Rights for All as bridge between the competing Nationalisms.
The Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue of Vienna is lodged in what was the private villa of the Bunderskanzler of Austria who was the pragmatic – conscious-based father of the new Austria – who, while holding different and ascending post WWII positions – managed the establishment of the Second Austrian Republic and its becoming a neutral State in the Soviet and the West stand-off.
In 1955, the Austrian State Treaty re-established Austria as a sovereign state, ending the Soviet, French, British, and US occupation zones. In the same year, the Austrian Parliament formulated the Declaration of Neutrality which declared that the Second Austrian Republic would become permanently neutral. Bruno Kreisky (22 January 1911 – 29 July 1990) was Kanzler 1970 till 1983, but in 1951, when he returned to Vienna, Federal President Theodor Körner (1951-1957) appointed him Assistant Chief of Staff and political adviser – then in 1953 he was appointed Undersecretary in the Foreign Affairs Department of the Austrian Chancellery. In this position he took part in negotiating the 1955 Austrian State Treaty, which ended the four-power occupation of Austria and restored Austria’s independence by declaring neutrality. It is said that he was the brain behind this very important political maneuvering which showed his strength of purpose.
While Austrian Chancellor, Mr. Kreisky tried to build his country’s position as the neutral go between the two blocs – East and West – during the Cold War. He also took special interest in the Middle East – and this brings us to the topic we tackle in this posting.
Upon the prodding of Israeli maverick Uri Avnery, Mr. Kreisky became instrumental in what was said – an effort to make Yassir Arafat, the head of the PLO – the Palestinian Liberation Movement – “Salon Clean” which meant – honorably acceptable in the capitals of the West.
The idea here was that if there was to be peace in the Middle East it will come through negotiations between the two local warring sides – so the Palestinians must be helped to build a world-recognized leadership. We know how this led to the principle of a TWO-STATES solution, and we know today that it seems – honesty and pragmatism – tell us that possibility was lost because the Oslo agreements were not followed to fruition. Instead a closely intermingled situation came about and with every day that passes the return to the Oslo road becomes more difficult.
The Kreisky Forum that was formed by Chancellor Vranitzky one year after Bruno Kreisky’s death – with Karl Kahane – an industrialist and Kreisky friend – and Kreisky’s son Peter – on board and the Karl Kahane Family Foundation, with the City of Vienna, the Austrian Government, and the Austrian National Bank, as main funders, is led by a Board of Directors chaired now by Rudolf Scholten, former Federal Minister of Education, Science and the Arts, Member of the Board of Oesterreichische Kontrollbank AG. The former Austrian Ambassador to the US, Mrs. Eva Novotny is Secretary and Ms. Patricia Kahane Deputy Secretary.
The Executive power is as always in the hands of the Secretary General which is since 2005 Gertraud Auer Borea d’Olmo. The devoted personal secretary to Mr. Bruno Kreisky, Margit Schmidt, currently Treasurer of the Keisky Foundation, was Secretary General of the Kreisky Forum from 1991 – 2004.
And to the point – Gertaud Auer is all set to continue the legacy left by Bruno Kreisky – the legacy of a free thinker/pragmatist who is ready to take on the potentialities of the moment in order to reach out to long-term goals. As an aside, I feel compelled to mention that I found that on the basis of an interview here in Vienna, a Greek paper knew to say that Gertraud Auer of the Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue said that the new Greek head of Government – Mr. Alexis Tsipras – whom she knows as she had him over to Vienna to speak at the Forum – has the potential to be the Bruno Kreisky of Greece.
In the matter of our topic here – the Middle East – looking through the list of advisers to the Kreisky Forum Board I found – Galia Golan, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and Rashid Khalidi, University of Chicago, Head of the Center for International Studies – both very capable people that could help Ms. Auer in trying to be ahead of the pack of Middle East thinkers.
Ms. Auer initiated a two year study to Rethink the Middle East built around a Two-States Solution of the Kreisky days.
Eventually the group found in Mr. Bashir Bashir, an Israeli Arab intellectual researcher and lecturer at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the editor for its project and the resulted product, recently released, is titled: “RETHINKING THE POLITICS OF ISRAEL/PALESTINE: Partition and its Alternatives.”
The result does not just move from a Two-States Solution to a One-State Solution – but in effect to a Human Rights for All Solution that does not start from numbering States – the solution is within what may look like a one State – but besides the equal rights for all frame, it does allow for Multi-Nationalism and diversity rights for all people and communities as well.
Mr. Swoboda said that as eventually the European Union will have to evolve to become a one state with a diversified Multi-National reality, this could become the working example that the new Israel/Palestine or Palestine/Israel will emulate.
I attended several book-presentation events for this Kreisky Forum study these last two weeks, at the Kreisky Forum, and at the Diplomatic Academy. Then I was informed that the show moved to Brussels where the book was presented to many members of the European Parliament and Civil Society – and yesterday – back here in Vienna – at the local venue of the European Union.
The Event in Vienna, February 16th 2015, at the House of the European Union Representation in Vienna, included a Roundtable Debate – “TOWARDS A EUROPEAN PEACE INITIATIVE” – chaired and moderated by Ms. Auer with some of the main members of her team on board, and also new faces. Those of the book were besides Mr. Avraham Burg and editor Bashir Bashir, also Ms. Inbal Arnon, associate professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and Mr. Noam Sheizaf, a Tel Aviv based journalist who also runs a critical website - 972mag.com The new face is Mr. Muhammed Jabali, a young Israeli Arab from Taybeh who coordinates Art/Activist projects, occasional DJ, Adjunct lecturer at Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem, content editor at batuta.com (an Arabic language travel website), occasional project editor like when Coordinator of TheJaffaProject – an Aoutobiography of a City, by the Ayam association or when explaining that the Arab gay people of Israel did not participate in Pride Day because they did not want the foreign participants to think that being liberal when it comes to the issue of homosexuality there is also acceptance of human rights to the Arab minority.
Mr. Muhammad Jabali’s topic at the panel was: “From containment of imbalanced ethnic politics to co-resistance against it.”
I enlarged here on Jabali’s participation because I had an extensive chat with him after the meeting and explained to him that personally I believe that Israel itself, in its present structure, with its 20% Arab population – the Israeli Arabs with voting rights and for a long time already with 10 to 12 elected Members of the Knesset, could be the first example of this ONE-STATE FOR ALL SOLUTION. I believe that it is in the hands of the Israeli-Palestinians to make their presence felt in Parliament – not as thorns in the thighs of the Jewish citizens – but as full rights citizens demanding their place within the constraints of existing laws. That this is possible was shown last year when the 12 members of Parliament from the three Arab lists helped elect Reuven Rivlin as President of Israel against the will of Prime Minister Netanyahu who favored someone else. Why it took 50 years for the Arab Members of the Knesset to exercise their voting rights in this most positive way is beyond my understanding. In effect – the Arab vote could help build a government and get to be Ministers as well – really they are the only ones to blame for not having done this – and the answer that the Arabs outside Israel would never have forgiven them the effort to doing something for themselves first – does not hold water in my way of thinking, and I am sure not in Mr. Swoboda’s hopes to see change and the start towards a real target of peace. Israel will have new elections on March 17, 2015 and the Arabs expect to win 15 seats out of the total of 120 seats. Why not ask for the Ministry of housing in exchange for helping the challenger gather the needed 61 members required minimum? That is what we call rEVOlution – the evolution that is a quiet revolution; the achievement of the Kreisky Forum Study goals in an orderly democratic way.
Just a few further notions from the February 16th event:
From the introduction by Mr. Gerald Klug, the current Federal Minister of Defense and Sport (lucky Austria that can have the possibility to combine with impunity these two posts) said that we should talk not just on territory but also on “When and Why.”
Mr. Hannes Swoboda asked – “Is it for Israel and Palestine?” and answered “It is for the people of the region.” The issue before thee World and specifically before Europe is thus not merely the continuation of past efforts but a step forward with forward looking concepts.
Editor Bashir Bashir stressed that the exercise is not just wishful thinking but that the facts on the ground call for a new paradigm – one that switches from National Rights to Human Rights. This calls for rethinking Jewish Nationalism and Palestinian Activism. He stressed that he takes his Israeli citizenship very seriously and he is a product of the Palestinian Naqba.
So, it seems that the Kreisky Forum effort, as managed by Gertraud Auer Borea, can indeed move from being an ideal – to practical reality – if the Israeli Arabs move to do what is indeed in their best interest – and achievable – because despite the many shades of black and grey – Israel is still the only area in the Middle East that has a minimum of democracy, and the only Arab State that can claim some democracy in its structure is the very remote Tunisia. All the rest of the Arab World has imploded or is on a path of implosion witnessing acts of inhumanity – not just political disagreements. Let me repeat therefore that word I brought forward earlier – rEVOlution – this is not a misspelling – but a conscious effort to create a new path and my hope that the Kreisky Forum could adopt this word. This new paradigm presented by the Kreisky Forum to the European Parliament has in it the potential of saving the Arab World from itself – by starting first with Israel saving itself from itself.
New and promising technologies of renewable and alternative energy production are already here, waiting to be used. Knowledge based barriers stand in the way of this potential for the creation of a very large number of jobs. An OIKOS-International Summer Academy for Young Scholars will be held at Tel Aviv University with support from St. Gallen, Switzerland based, Oikos – June 7-11, 2015.
From: Adriana Troxler adriana.troxler at oikos-international.o…
Adriana Troxler, Program Manager
Email: adriana.troxler at oikos-international.o…
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An Indian Navy Commander and Student of Sustainability calls upon the the Arctic Council to adopt guidelines which impose limits and restrictions on shipping and resource exploration activities in the Arctic region.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT OF THE ARCTIC – IS IT POSSIBLE?
Author : Kapil Narula
The Arctic is a unique region which plays a very important role in the earth’s ecosystem. It regulates the earth’s climate, influences the ocean currents, has rich biodiversity and is home to a substantial indigenous population. Therefore, sustainability should be a prerequisite condition for development in the Arctic.
Let us consider two major issues which are threatening the sustainability of the Arctic region: ‘resources’ and ‘routes’. The scramble between Arctic nations to control both these and the intent of extra regional powers to share the trickledown benefits, have resulted in countries engaging in active geopolitics on the Arctic. While some countries like India are keenly interested in science in order to increase their understanding of climate change, other countries such as South Korea are looking at the economic benefits which they can reap as fallout of increased shipping in the region.
Let’s talk about resources first. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the region contains 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 15 per cent of its oil. These valuable energy resources have been fossilised over millions of years. From the viewpoint of sustainability, the ‘strong sustainability’ condition defines that the ‘economic capital’ (produced capital such as infrastructure, knowledge etc.), and ‘natural capital’ (environmental assets such as fossil fuels, biodiversity and other ecosystem structures) are complimentary, but not interchangeable. This implies that natural capital needs to be preserved sufficiently, as it has to be passed to the next generation and cannot be replaced with economic capital. Hence the amount of fossil fuels and minerals which can be extracted from the Arctic region should be limited to the regeneration rates of these resources. Obviously, this would mean that only miniscule amounts of resources can be extracted and therefore the strong sustainability condition is difficult to meet, in the case of energy and mineral resources. An alternate interpretation for resources can be as follows: the non-renewable resources which are extracted should be replaced by an equivalent amount of substitutes for that resource. This interpretation can however serve as a prerequisite condition for resource extraction, if the Arctic has to be developed sustainably.
The strong sustainability condition is often diluted to a ‘weak sustainability’ condition which allows unconditional substitution between economic and natural capital. This implies that natural resources may be used as long as economic capital is increased. Proponents of this approach claim that the energy which is extracted now, can be used to increase economic capital, so that the total amount of capital for the next generation remains unchanged. However, most often this weak sustainability condition is also violated and the extracted resources are consumed by the existing generation without a thought for the future generations.
It can, therefore, be concluded that there are many challenges to sustainable development of the Arctic region. However, such a possibility exists, provided stringent rules and regulations are followed for shipping and a limited amount of resource extraction is permitted in the region. How would this development unfold, is a question which none can predict, but one can only hope that the Arctic Council adopts some guidelines which imposes certain limits and restriction on shipping and resource exploration activities in the Arctic region.
(*The author is a Research Fellow at the National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Indian Navy or National Maritime Foundation. He can be reached at kapilnarula at yahoo.com)
PhD Research Scholar
The Clima East Expert Facility (EF) established by the EU proposes to help Climate Adaptation and Mitigation activities in associated countries of the former East bloc – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia – and Belarus, Moldova, the Ukraine.
from: Zsolt Lengyel – zsolt.lengyel at climaeast.eu
February 10, 2015
We are pleased to inform you that the Clima East Expert Facility (EF) has a new round for applications for support from eligible organisations involved with climate actions, targeting both mitigation and adaptation in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
In this round we will also accept collaborative applications from two or more beneficiary organizations. This track should enable sectoral ministries, other national or local administration bodies, and in particular civil society organisations, to contribute successfully to the definition, development and delivery of national climate policy and actions.