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The Guardian view on Putin in Syria: victory and desolation

www.theguardian.com

Vladimir Putin went on a victory lap of Syria and the Middle East this week, intent on showcasing his ability to secure the upper hand against the US in the region. On a surprise visit to a Russian airbase on the Syrian coast, he demonstratively embraced the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whose hold on power Russia’s military intervention has all but saved. “Friends, the motherland is waiting for you,” Mr Putin told a detachment of Russian soldiers. “You are coming back home with victory.”

Meanwhile, in eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held suburb of Damascus where Russia had announced earlier this year that a ceasefire would take hold, children living under siege are starving. Despite the “de-escalation” deal, Syrian government forces continue to pound the area, backed by Iranian and Russian allies in an attempt to score a decisive victory. These two scenes spoke volumes about Russia’s calculus, and about the realities it has helped create on the ground. That the Russian president has now announced a substantial troop withdrawal must be taken with a barrel of salt. Similar pledges have been made before and remain unfulfilled. On Tuesday a Kremlin spokesperson said Russia would retain a sizable force in Syria to fight “terrorists”. Russia’s definition of “terrorism” in Syria is like that of the Assad regime, which equates it to political opposition.

Mr Putin is keen to speak of victory. In Moscow he has announced that he will run for re-election next year. Bringing back some of the Russian forces – who are reportedly deployed alongside thousands of Kremlin-connected private contractors – can only be good for his political prospects. Russian casualties in Syria are a closely guarded secret, as are the financial costs of the operation. In geopolitical terms Mr Putin’s war in Syria has been a profitable investment for the Kremlin. He has capitalised on western strategic disarray and America’s reluctance to get drawn deeper into the conflict, an instinct that predated the volatile Donald Trump. After Syria, Mr Putin travelled on to Cairo, where he met Egypt’s president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, demonstrating Russia’s new clout in a country that since the 1970s has had privileged ties with the US. There is now talk of Russian military aircraft being able to use Egyptian bases.

It is no small irony that Mr Putin has claimed victory over Islamic State: the bluster does little to hide the fact that his forces focused much more on targeting the anti-Assad opposition than they did the jihadi insurgency. The retaking of Raqqa was not a Russian accomplishment, but the result of a Kurdish-Arab ground offensive, supported by US-led coalition airstrikes.
None of this has prevented Russia from claiming the diplomatic high ground. By changing the balance of forces and catching the west off guard when he sent forces in 2015, Mr Putin has built up his leverage. Whether he can deliver a peace plan is, however, a different question. The signs are that the Russian president would prefer to sideline, if not entirely obstruct, UN-sponsored talks in Geneva. It helps that these discussions have been convened in the hope, rather than the expectation, of peace. He has explored other formats, alongside Iran and Turkey, but these are complex partners. Iranian-controlled forces have grown more dominant in Syria than Mr Putin perhaps initially anticipated. It is also true that UN resources will be needed when – and if – Syria’s reconstruction is one day contemplated.

Geopolitical power games have not ended in Syria, nor has the fighting. In eastern Ghouta, according to the UN, 137 children, including babies, are in urgent need of medical evacuation. By propping up a dictator who starves and massacres his own population, Mr Putin surely owns the desolation in Syria, as much as he controls military bases. Russia has returned to the Middle East, but its responsibilities in the bloodbath are equally on display.

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How will US Jerusalem move affect Israel’s far right?

by Jonathan Cook

Trump’s seal of approval for Israel’s takeover of Jerusalem is likely to intensify the city’s religious symbolism for Jews – and the importance of Israeli sovereignty over al-Aqsa Mosque compound [Ronny Hartmann/Photothek via Getty Images]

Analysts fear Trump’s rubber-stamping of the right’s political goals will further radicalise both sides of the divide.

Jerusalem – Trump’s recognition this week of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, overturning seven decades of US policy in the region and effectively ending hopes of a two-state solution, has provoked dire warnings.

But the focus by commentators on Palestinian reactions, rather than the effect on the Israeli public and leadership, might have underestimated the longer-term fallout from Trump’s move, analysts say.

Predictions have included the threat of renewed violence – even an uprising – from Palestinians; the possible collapse of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians’ government-in-waiting, and its diplomatic strategy for two states; and the demise of Washington’s claim to be serving as a credible peacemaker.

But according to analysts, more far-reaching – and disruptive – undercurrents will likely be set in motion by Trump’s decision.

Few have factored in the likely effect of Trump’s new Jerusalem policy on the Israeli public, which has been shifting steadily to the right for most of the past two decades. The city and its contested holy sites have gained an increasingly powerful religious and national symbolism for many Israeli Jews.

The fear is that Trump’s effective rubber-stamping of the right’s political goals in Jerusalem will further radicalise both sides of the divide – and accelerate processes that have been turning a long-standing national conflict into a more openly religious one.

‘Tipping point’

“We may remember this date as the tipping point, as the moment when a new consensus emerged in Israel behind the idea of total Jewish supremacy,” journalist David Sheen, an expert on Israel’s far-right movements, told Al Jazeera.

Similar concerns were expressed by Yousef Jabareen, a Palestinian member of Israel’s parliament.

“We can expect to see a move rightwards across Israeli society,” he told Al Jazeera. “The centre-left parties were already tacking much closer to the right. They will now want to align themselves with Trump’s position. Meanwhile, the right will be encouraged to move to the extreme right.”

Both noted that Avi Gabbay – the recently elected leader of the Zionist Union, the official opposition and the party that was once the backbone of the Israeli peace camp – had begun espousing positions little different from those of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Last week, Gabbay backed Trump’s announcement, saying that recognition of Jerusalem was more important than a peace deal with the Palestinians.

WATCH: ‘Dangerous and unacceptable’ – Arab League condemns US move

Sheen said that traditionally, the centre-left had been restrained in its political positions by concerns about alienating the United States: “Netanyahu has shown that he can bring the US round to his way of thinking by staying the course. In many Israelis’ eyes, he has now been proved right. The centrists may decide it is time to come onboard. Allying with the Republican right and the Christian evangelicals in the US may now look like a much safer bet.”

The possible effects of Trump’s announcement on Israelis have been largely overlooked, even though previous turning points in the conflict have consistently resulted in dramatic lurches rightwards by the Israeli public.

Given Israel’s power over the Palestinians, these changes have played a decisive role in leading to the current impasse between Israel and the Palestinians, analysts note.

Most obviously, Israel’s seemingly “miraculous” victory in the 1967 war, defeating the armies of neighbouring Arab states in six days, unleashed a wave of Messianic Judaism that spawned the settler movement.

A new religious nationalism swept parts of the Israeli public, driving them into the occupied Palestinian territories to claim a supposed Biblical birthright.

Other major events have had a decisive effect too. Unexpectedly, the Oslo peace process, launched in the mid-1990s, persuaded many non-religious Israeli Jews to move into settlements in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, doubling the numbers there in a few years.

Into the arms of the far right

Alan Baker, a legal adviser to the Israeli foreign ministry in that period, explained Israelis’ peculiar reading of the Oslo Accords. In their view, Oslo meant Israel was “present in the territories with their [the Palestinians’] consent and subject to the outcome of negotiations”.

In other words, many Israelis believed that the Oslo process had conferred an international legitimacy on the settlements.

Later, in 2000, after the Camp David summit collapsed without the sides agreeing to a two-state solution, Ehud Barak, Israel’s then-prime minister, blamed Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians. He said they were “no partner” for peace.

As a result, Israelis deserted the peace camp and drifted into the arms of the right and far-right. Netanyahu has reaped the benefits, leading a series of ultra-nationalist governments since 2009.

Now Trump’s decision on Jerusalem effectively gives Washington’s blessing to Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem and five decades of creating facts on the ground there, said Jabareen.

“Trump has legitimised the far-right’s argument that Israel can control all of Jerusalem by sheer force, by denying Palestinians their rights and by creating facts on the ground,” he said.

With their policy of aggressive unilateralism now paying dividends in the US, the settlers and the ultra-nationalists were unlikely to be satisfied with that success alone, he added. “The danger is that the religious right’s narrative will now seem persuasive at other sites in the occupied territories they demand, such as Hebron and Nablus.”

Since Trump’s election a year ago, Naftali Bennett, the Israeli education minister and the leader of the main settler party, has begun calling for Israel to seize the opportunity to annex West Bank settlements.

Pressure is likely now to mount rapidly on Netanyahu to shift even further to the right.

On the 972 website, Noam Sheizaf, an Israeli analyst, observed that Trump’s declaration had boosted the settlers’ position that “in the long run ‘facts on the ground’ are more important than diplomacy and politics, and that Israel will eventually win legitimacy for its actions”

Effects in Jerusalem

The most immediate effects, according to Ir Amim, an IsraeIi human rights organisation, will be felt in Jerusalem itself. Government ministers have already drafted legislation to bring large West Bank settlements under Jerusalem’s municipal authority, as a way covertly to annex them.

There are also plans to strip large numbers of Palestinians of their Israeli-issued Jerusalem residency papers because they live outside the separation wall Israel built through the city more than a decade ago. That would cement a new, unassailable right-wing Jewish majority in Jerusalem.

Last week, Ir Amim warned in a statement that Trump’s move would be certain to “embolden” such actions by the Israeli right and provide a “tailwind” to those determined to pre-empt a two-state solution.

Assad Ghanem, a politics professor at Haifa University, told Al Jazeera: “Trump has given a legitimacy to the right’s Messianic agenda. He has adopted the language of the extreme right on Jerusalem – that it is Israel’s eternal, united capital. The far-right will declare this a victory.”

In parallel, Trump’s seal of approval for Israel’s takeover of Jerusalem is likely to intensify the city’s religious symbolism for Jews – and the importance of Israeli sovereignty over al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Ghanem noted.

In recent years, a growing number of rabbis have been overturning a centuries-old consensus that al-Aqsa compound is off-limits to Jews because it was not known where the ruins of an earlier Jewish temple lay. In Jewish tradition, it is forbidden to walk over an inner sanctum, known as the Holy of Holies.

Today, Jews regularly enter the compound and some even pray there. Settler rabbis and far-right government ministers have called for dividing the compound between Israelis and Palestinians, creating huge tensions with Palestinians.

Temple movements

Meanwhile, a once-fringe movement of Jewish supporters who wish to destroy the mosque to rebuild the ancient Jewish temple in its place, are gradually moving into the mainstream. Trump’s move will be a shot in the arm to their ambitions and their credibility, said Sheen, who has studied the temple movements.

He pointed out that immediately after Trump’s declaration, these groups had uploaded a cartoon of Trump standing in al-Aqsa compound, in front of the golden-topped Dome of the Rock, imagining the Jewish temple in its place. Trump is shown saying in Hebrew: “This is the perfect spot!”

Sheen said: “This will be treated as a call to arms by these groups.”

WATCH: Trump’s Jerusalem move roundly condemned at UN

Will the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital have similarly dramatic long-term effect on Palestinians’ public opinion? Analysts believe it will. The lack of an outpouring of significant anger – even after Palestinian leaders called for three days of rage last week – could be deceptive.

Israeli analysts have suggested that there is often what they term an “incubation period” – a delay between a major change in Israel’s favour and a popular reaction from Palestinians. That was true of the second Intifada, which came months after the collapse of the Camp David summit.

An expectation of knee-jerk anger to Trump’s decision may be misplaced, say analysts. The decision may result in a slower and much deeper process of adjustment to the new reality.

“Palestinians will now have to abandon the old tools of national struggle, because they have been shown to be ineffective. We need new tools of resistance, and that will require a grassroots struggle. We need a return to mass protests,” Jabareen said.

Ghanem noted the danger that, with the likely growth of a Jewish religious extremism in Israel and among the settlers, some Palestinians might drift towards violence.

But he expected that a more significant trend would be Palestinians reassessing the end goal of their struggle and opting for mass civil disobedience.

“The two-state solution is obviously now finished, and that is likely to mobilise a new generation to struggle for a single state,” he said. “Activists and the leadership will need to rebuild Palestinian nationalism.”

Republicans on Rape

A list purportedly offers controversial and embarrassing statements about rape made by Republican politicians.

CLAIM

A list collects statements about rape made by Republican politicians.

RATING

TRUE

ORIGIN

A “Republicans on Rape” graphic widely circulated online since 2014 collects various comments about that crime supposedly made by GOP politicians in recent years:

The remarks collected in that graphic were indeed all uttered by the persons to whom they have been attributed; below we offer the context in which those statements were made and any clarifying remarks subsequently offered by their speakers.


“Rape is kinda like the weather. If it’s inevitable, relax and enjoy it.”

On 24 March 1990, Texas oilman Clayton Williams, the Republican nominee in the Lone Star State’s upcoming gubernatorial election, was preparing for a cattle roundup at his West Texas ranch while undesirable weather conditions threatened to spoil the event. As he sat around a campfire with ranch hands, campaign workers, and reporters, Williams likened that day’s cold, foggy weather to rape, saying, “If it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.”

Later that day Williams asserted that his comment had been a joke, and a few days later his campaign offered an apologetic statement about it:

Mr. Williams said it was merely a joke and apologized “if anyone’s offended.”

“That’s not a Republican women’s club that we were having this morning,” he said. “It’s a working cow camp, a tough world where you can get kicked in the testicles if you’re not careful.”

Asked if some people might be offended, Mr. Williams said: “I’m not going to give you a serious answer. It wasn’t a serious deal. It wasn’t a serious statement.”

But his campaign issued a statement in which Mr. Williams said: “I feel just terrible about this. I had no intention in my heart to hurt anyone, especially those women who have been traumatized by rape.

“Looking back, I realize it was insensitive and had no place at the campfire or in any setting.”

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut that thing down.”

On 19 August 2012, U.S. Representative Todd Akin of Missouri, a Republican who was challenging incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill for her seat in the U.S. Senate, was interviewed by St. Louis television station KTVI. During that interview, Akin was asked whether he believed abortion was justified in cases of rape, and he responded by asserting that “legitimate rapes” rarely resulted in pregnancy: “It seems to be, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, it’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”

After his words touched off widespread outrage, Akin then issued a statement maintaining that his remarks were “off-the-cuff” and that he “misspoke in this interview”:

As a member of Congress, I believe that working to protect the most vulnerable in our society is one of my most important responsibilities, and that includes protecting both the unborn and victims of sexual assault. In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year. Those who perpetrate these crimes are the lowest of the low in our society and their victims will have no stronger advocate in the Senate to help ensure they have the justice they deserve.

I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action. I also recognize that there are those who, like my opponent, support abortion and I understand I may not have their support in this election.

Two years later, while appearing in another television interview with MSNBC to promote his new book Firing Back, Akin asserted that “legitimate rape” was a law enforcement term and that his original remark had been “intentionally misunderstood”:

“Legitimate rape is a law enforcement term, it’s an abbreviation for ‘legitimate case of rape,’” he told Chuck Todd. “A woman calls a police station, the police investigate, she says ‘I’ve been raped,’ they investigate that. So before any of the facts are in, they call it a legitimate case of rape,” explained Aiken.

Akin believes that everyone took what he said out of context. “This was intentionally misunderstood and twisted for political purposes. It doesn’t make any sense to say ‘a conservative is saying that rape is legitimate,’ that doesn’t even add up.”

Time magazine noted that they were unable to find a law enforcement official familiar with the term “legitimate rape”:

But is “legitimate rape” really a law enforcement term? We asked some experts.

“I’ve taught police officers, and worked with police officers on every continent in the world, and that’s something I’ve never heard in my 50 years in law enforcement,” says Dr. James A. Williams, former Chief of Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces for the U.S Department of Justice, who also worked in municipal law enforcement in New Jersey. “I’ve never heard of that. Never.”

Richard Lichten, a veteran of the LA County Sheriff’s Department and expert on sexual assault investigations agrees:

“I have 30 years of experience, I’m qualified to testify in federal court on the way to investigate sexual assault crimes, and I’ve never heard of that,” said Lichten. “In all my life I’ve never heard of that.”

“Rape victims should make the best of a bad situation.”

On 20 January 2012, Rick Santorum, a former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania who was then campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, appeared on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight program and was asked by that show’s host about his stance on abortion and whether he believed abortion was wrong even in cases of incest and rape. Santorum responded by saying that although a pregnancy resulting from a rape might be “horrible,” it was nonetheless a “gift of human life” and that “we have to make the best out of a bad situation”:

MORGAN: On abortion, you did harden your position on that as you got older. Why was that?

SANTORUM: Life. You know, when I decided to run for public life, I was informed very quickly people wanted to know what my position on that was. So I went through the process of trying to better understand the facts.

It became very clear to me that life begins at conception and persons are covered by the Constitution and since life — people, a human life is the same as a person, to me it was a pretty simple deduction to make. That’s what the Constitution clearly intended to protect.

MORGAN: But do you really — do you really — let me ask you this. Do you really believe, in every case, it should be totally wrong, in the sense that — I know that you believe, even in cases of rape and incest — and you’ve got two daughters. You know, if you have a daughter that came to you who had been raped.

SANTORUM: Yes.

MORGAN: And was pregnant and was begging you to let her have an abortion, would you really be able to look her in the eye and say, no, as her father?

SANTORUM: I would do what every father must do, is to try to counsel your daughter to do the right thing.

MORGAN: And they are looking at their daughter, saying, how can I deal with this, because if I make her have this baby, isn’t it going to just ruin her life?

SANTORUM: Well, you can make the argument that if she doesn’t have this baby, if she kills her child, that that, too, could ruin her life. And this is not an easy choice. I understand that. As horrible as the way that that son or daughter and son was created, it still is her child. And whether she has that child or doesn’t, it will always be her child. And she will always know that. And so to embrace her and to love her and to support her and get her through this very difficult time, I’ve always, you know, I believe and I think the right approach is to accept this horribly created — in the sense of rape — but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you.

As you know, we have to, in lots of different aspects of our life. We have horrible things happen. I can’t think of anything more horrible. But, nevertheless, we have to make the best out of a bad situation.

“Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

On 23 October 2012, Richard Mourdock, the Republican candidate for one of Indiana’s U.S. Senate seats, was engaged in a debate with his Democratic and Libertarian rivals when he expressed his view that “life begins at conception” and that he would only allow abortions in circumstances in which the mother’s life was in danger:

I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.

After the debate, Mourdock explained that when he said “it is something that God intended to happen,” he was referring to the creation of life and not the act of rape itself:

Mourdock, seeking to clarify his comments in a press conference following the debate, said he had intended to say that “God creates life,” and that any interpretation of his comments to mean God “pre-ordained rape” were “sick” and “twisted.”

“What I said was, in answering the question form my position of faith, I said I believe that God creates life. I believe that as wholly and as fully as I can believe it. That God creates life,” Mourdock said. “Are you trying to suggest that somehow I think that God pre-ordained rape? No, I don’t think that. That’s sick. Twisted. That’s not even close to what I said. What I said is that God creates life.”

“In the emergency room they have what’s called rape kits, where a woman can get cleaned out.”

On 23 June 2013, Jodie Laubenberg, a Republican member of the Texas House of Representatives, was debating a measure she had introduced to the House that included a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. When Rep. Senfronia Thompson proposed an exemption for victims of rape and incest, Laubenberg argued against that exemption, saying that when a victim seeks medical care after a rape, “they have what’s called rape kits, that the woman can get cleaned out, basically like” [a procedure known as D and C that is often performed after a miscarriage]. She also noted that emergency contraception is available.

A few days later, after she was mocked over her remark, Laubenberg said she was “confused by Democrats’ questions and misspoke” and meant to say that rape victims could “obtain emergency contraception and other treatment” at medical facilities:

Rape kits are used to collect evidence in hopes of prosecuting the perpetrator. They play no role in preventing pregnancy or serving as an abortion.

Laubenberg was widely mocked on social media, and opponents of the bill called her comments evidence of the misguided science behind Laubenberg’s proposal.

Laubenberg told North Texas talk radio host Mark Davis that she was momentarily confused by Democrats’ questions and misspoke. “What I was trying to say is, when a woman goes to the hospital, that they have the procedures there” to help her obtain emergency contraception and other treatment, she said. “No, rape kits do not cause an abortion.” As for the reaction, Laubenberg added: “If that’s the worst that you can complain about me, go ahead.”

“If a woman has (the right to an abortion), why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman? At least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t (in most cases) result in anyone’s death.”

In February 2014, the Maine Democratic Party called for the resignation of Lawrence Lockman, a Republican member of the Maine House of Representatives, when a liberal activist made a blog post detailing negative public statements about gays, abortion and rape that Lockman had made years earlier:

The post by Maine People’s Alliance activist Mike Tipping mined press clippings to unearth several offensive comments. In one, Lockman implied that HIV and AIDS could be spread by bed sheets and mosquitoes. In another, he said that the progressive movement assisted the AIDS epidemic by assuring “the public that the practice of sodomy is a legitimate alternative lifestyle, rather than a perverted and depraved crime against humanity.” In a 1995 letter in the Sun Journal in Lewiston, a reader quoted a press statement by Lockman, then part of the Pro Life Education Association, saying, “If a woman has (the right to an abortion), why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman? At least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t (in most cases) result in anyone’s death.”

Lockman responded to the controversy by issuing a statement affirming that he regretted his previous remarks:

Most of the comments were made during the 1980s and 1990s, but Maine Democratic Party chairman Ben Grant issued a statement calling for Lockman’s resignation. Grant said the comments were “hateful, vicious and offensive” and he called Lockman a “disturbed individual who holds some of the most abhorrent beliefs ever heard from a public official in Maine.”

Lockman released a written statement.

“I have always been passionate about my beliefs, and years ago I said things that I regret. I hold no animosity toward anyone by virtue of their gender or sexual orientation, and today I am focused on ensuring freedom and economic prosperity for all Mainers,” he said.

Sources:Alter, Charlotte.   “Todd Akin Still Doesn’t Get What’s Wrong with Saying ‘Legitimate Rape.’”
Time.   17 July 2014.Graff, Amy.   “Rick Santorum: Rape Babies Are Gifts from God”
San Francisco Chronicle.   24 January 2012.Jaco, Charles.   “Jaco Report: Full Interview with Todd Akin.”
KTVI-TV [St. Louis].   19 August 2012.Madison, Lucy.   “Richard Mourdock: Even Pregnancy from Rape Something ‘God Intended.’”
CBS News.   24 October 2012.

Mistler, Steve.   “Maine Lawmaker Says He Regrets Comments on Rape, Gays.”
Portland Press Herald.   27 February 2014.

Mohammed, Ravelle.   “Santorum: Rape Victims Should ‘Make Best of a Bad Situation’ and Choose Life.”
The Christian Post.   24 January 2012.

Moore, Lori.   “Rep. Todd Akin: The Statement and the Reaction.”
The New York Times.   20 August 2012.

Associated Press.   “Texas Candidate’s Comment About Rape Causes a Furor.”
The New York Times.   26 March 1990.

The Dallas Morning News.   “Rape-Kit Remarks Put Rep. Jodie Laubenberg in Spotlight.”
25 June 2013.

Israel’s Diamond Exports Continue to Slide

Oct 26, 2017 6:46 AM   By Rapaport News

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RAPAPORT… Israel’s diamond trade has slowed so far in 2017, as orders from the US declined, data from the Economy Ministry showed.

The country’s exports of polished diamonds fell 12% year on year to $3.38 billion during the first nine months of 2017, while the volume of goods sent out dropped 11% to 1.297 million carats. The average price of the shipments slid 1% to $2,608 per carat, according to Rapaport calculations.

Shipments to the US, Israel’s largest market, declined 15% to $1.26 billion during the nine-month period, while exports to Hong Kong slid 3% to $1.01 billion.

Meanwhile, polished imports declined 15% to $2.01 billion, so that net polished exports — the excess of exports over imports — fell 7% to $1.38 billion.

Rough imports dropped 12% to $2.09 billion, with rough exports sliding 10% to $1.8 billion. Israel’s net rough imports — calculated as the excess of imports over exports — fell 18% to $294 million.

The country’s net diamond account — a calculation of total exports of rough and polished less total imports, measuring the added value of Israel’s diamond industry during the period — declined 62% to $808 million.

During the third quarter, Israel’s polished exports fell 31% to $836 million, while its net diamond account slumped 76% to $82 million, according to Rapaport calculations.

The decline came in spite of the large amount of goods that were reportedly sent to the Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair in September. Israeli dealers noted steady demand for larger stones at the event, and also said that many goods had been sent to the US on consignment for the holiday season.

If being Jewish means catastrophe to the other


Children were the irrepressible vanguard of the first intifada, December 1987. Photo from World Bulletin. It lasted from 1987 to  1993

Trust Me, I Was Once a First-Year Jewish Student Too

By Robert A. H. Cohen, Writing from the Edge,
September 09, 2017

This month a new generation of Jewish students will begin their first term at University. Here’s my advice to them.

Congratulations/Mazel tov!

You’re off to university. First time away from home. First time away from your synagogue community. Or perhaps you’ve had a year out after school and have been in Israel soaking up your Jewish heritage. Maybe you’ve been on a Jewish leadership trip organised by your youth movement or a Birthright tour. But now it’s back to reality and you’re about to discover what it means to have your ideas challenged, your prejudices pointed out and your Jewish identity undermined.

But don’t worry. This is all to the good. It’s exactly what you need. Trust me, I was once a first-year Jewish university student too.

Your baggage

You may realise this already, but the baggage you’re taking with you to university is considerably more than what’s in your rucksack. It’s been accumulating throughout your life, it’s the stuff that’s made you who you are. Now you have the opportunity to unpack it, examine it, and decide if it’s still useful for the journey ahead.

Union of Jewish Students’ stall in Freshers’ week, Manchester Metropolitan University. Any UJS group is likely to support ‘the 2-state solution’ while doing nothing to bring it about.

I’m talking about that sense of being Jewish, the way you relate to your family history, the Jewish community where you grew up, what you think about Israel. In short, your Jewish identity. In an age where identity politics have become so central to our culture your Jewish identity has become almost sacrosanct, untouchable, beyond criticism. But is that how it should be? I’ll come back to this at the end.

I realise my credentials for offering advice about Jewish university life are now pretty thin. It was 1985 when my parents drove me from our home in Bromley, South London, to Manchester University in the north of England, then the institution of choice for a large slice of young Jews who’d grown up in the capital.

Before I pass on the little wisdom I’ve accumulated, let me provide some personal history and reflect on an event that set me on a path to Palestinian solidarity and Zionist dissent.

Ill at ease

Before starting at Manchester I had just come back from a long trip to Israel, my first, and I was already struggling with what the Jewish State meant to me. I didn’t have the words to articulate it at the time but something about my experience in Israel had left me confused and ill at ease.

I’d spent time on both religious and secular kibbutzim and at a project in the northern Galilee town of Safed that aimed to inspire young diaspora Jews to become modern orthodox in their religious practice and firmly Zionist in their politics.

While I could relate easily to the Jews of my age I’d met from America, South Africa and Europe, I found Israelis themselves difficult to get along with. As for the idea that I had somehow returned to my ancestral home – that feeling never kicked in. It turned out to be easier to take the boy out of Bromley than Bromley out of the boy.

Back home in the UK, two of my new flat mates in our student hall of residence had no such angst, no such dilemmas.

Phil and Andy had returned from Jewish leadership programmes in Israel ready to take up positions in the student union and advocate on behalf of Israel whenever the need was required. I recall being slightly in awe of their self-confidence and their self-belief as leaders and as advocates. It would be a long time before I found my own voice on the issue of Jews, Judaism and Israel.

During my first two years I went along to the Wednesday lunchtime political debates in the recently re-named ‘Steve Biko’ student union building. And when Israel came up I voted the way the Jewish Society (J-Soc) advised. Phil and Andy were good at their job.

Intifada


Children run from Israeli soldiers, 1st Intifada. Photo by Coutausse.

Then in my final year at Manchester (exactly thirty years ago) my understanding of Israel began to take a decisive turn.

With my exams approaching I should have been getting down to some academic work. John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, J.S. Mill and Karl Marx were all demanding my serious attention. But instead I was using the university library to follow, and attempt to fathom, the outbreak of the first Palestinian Intifada.

The uprising that began in Gaza in December 1987 quickly spread to the West Bank. It was an uprising from the streets of occupied Palestine provoked by frustration and disillusionment and it was characterised by strikes. boycotts, civil disobedience and, most notably, children and young people throwing stones at armed Israeli soldiers. The Israeli response from on high (Yitzhak Rabin, then Defence Minister) was to “break their bones”.

The first Intifada was a modern day re-working of David and Goliath from the bible. In fact the tale of the future Jewish king slaying the Philistine giant with just a sling and a stone was my favourite bible story, the one I’d ask my father to read to me again and again. Maybe that’s why this stone throwing rebellion caught my imagination in the first place.

But this time the Palestinian children were David and the Jewish soldiers were Goliath. It was an unsettling role reversal. After all, surely we had ‘written the book’ on what it meant to be the victims of oppressive power? How could this be happening?

Fathoming

You have to remember that in 1987 the internet, Facebook, Twitter and even email were still a long way off. To find out what was going on in Israel and the Occupied Territories I based myself in the first floor periodicals section of the John Rylands Student Library when I should have been one floor up in Politics & Philosophy.

On the shelves of the periodicals section there were current and back copies of the Guardian Weekly and the New York Review of Books, Commentary magazine and Foreign Affairs. I read articles by Americans and Israelis from the left and the right and in particular was hooked by the words of David Grossman and Amos Oz the two most well known Israeli liberal Zionists and opponents of the Israeli Occupation.

Until the first intifada I had little sense of the Palestinians as a community with a heritage and history as close to them as mine was to me. Now they were no longer just terrorists pursuing a militant cause I didn’t fully understand. My sense of unease about Israel that had begun during my first visit to the country was beginning to find its articulation. Here was a people suffering in the West Bank and Gaza because of what my people were doing.

Maybe if I’d walked up to the next floor Locke, Rousseau, Mill and Marx could have shed some light on the reasons for the Intifada too. Rights, liberty, freedom. Hadn’t I spent three years studying these things?

The first Intifada was for me the start of a long journey of reading, reflection and finally encounters and conversations with Palestinians that’s taken me to the place where I now stand.

The two-state fiction

So what’s changed between my leaving university and your arriving?

Well, for a while, the Palestinians were allowed to become a people rather than merely the creators of terror. But the ‘peace process’ that emerged directly from the first Intifada didn’t last long. Israel’s idea of Palestinian autonomy turned out to fall well short of rights, liberty and freedom. And all the time the Settlements expanded, the Jewish only roads grew longer and the checkpoints multiplied. The occupier continued to occupy.

Closer to home the Jewish leadership in the UK, including the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), adopted the two-state solution but then spent 25 years doing nothing to help bring it about.

There was never any serious public pressure on Israel from the Jewish community in Britain and never any attempt to prepare Jews here for the obvious compromises involved in making a Palestinian state, worthy of the name, a reality. Instead, our leaders, both religious and communal, did Israel’s bidding which became ever more right wing and intransigent as the years went by.

And where are we today?

When you get to your university you’ll see that UJS is keen to talk up its commitment to “peace” and “two-states for two peoples”. Through its campaign for “Bridges not Boycotts” it hopes to show itself as a liberal, compassionate defender of free speech. But in practice UJS behaves just like its elders in our Jewish leadership. It pursues tactics that define and constrict the parameters of acceptable student debate on Israel/Palestine; it dictates what antisemitism looks like; and attempts to ‘own’ the definition of modern Jewish identity by locking it into Zionism.

As for discussing one secular democratic state or some kind of federal constitution, no way folks. That’s all off limits. Because ultimately such thinking calls into question the privileged discrimination enjoyed by Jews in Israel, East Jerusalem and the West Bank and indeed for you and me as Jews with the ‘Right of Return’.

calling  for “two-states”, when it’s  clear it will never happen, becomes no more than an excuse for ethical passivity

By parroting “two-states” UJS kicks every moral consideration down the road and into the long grass.

Why worry about today’s land and water theft? Why be concerned about the pauperisation of Palestinian farmers? Or arrests without charge. Or children in prisons. All will be resolved when the moon and the stars are finally aligned and the requirements of Jewish security are satisfied beyond all possible doubt. So that means sometime never.

The truth is that the longer we cling to the fiction of two-states and the belief that Zionism is not merely an ideology but a part of our faith and identity, the longer it will take to bring anything approaching peace with justice to the land.

Making the call for “two-states”, when it’s become clear it will never happen, becomes no more than an excuse for ethical passivity. It allows you to wrap yourself in a banner with with the words “peace/shalom” painted across it and feel secure in your denial of Jewish culpability in the on-going destruction of the Palestinian people.

I know this is tough to hear for young Jews when you’ve been schooled on the innate goodness of all things Israeli. But now is the moment to confront the reality of the Jewish relationship with the Palestinian people – our defining Jewish relationship for the last 70 years.

Advice

So if you’re a Jewish student starting university this month here’s my advice:

Don’t confuse “peace” and “two-states” for justice and equal rights.

Don’t mistake Jewish nationalism for Jewish self-determination.

Don’t wait for the Chief Rabbi or the Board of Deputies to ever say anything remotely ethical about the treatment of Palestinians by Israel.

Don’t wait for Trump, or May, or Macron or Trudeau to say or do anything useful about this.

Don’t wait for another massacre in Gaza.

And don’t take as long as I did to work things out.

Instead, take the opportunity of being away from home to hear other voices and other opinions. Allow yourself to listen with an open mind and an open heart to Palestinian experiences. Check out the history of 1948 especially the last thirty years of Israeli academic writing including the expulsion of the Palestinians from Safed which nobody mentioned while I was living there.

And don’t allow people to tell you you should feel scared or vulnerable if other students talk about boycotts and sanctions against Israel. If you took modern history at school you should be able to work out the difference between Nazi boycotts of Jewish shops in the 1930s and a campaign for human rights in 2017. And if you hear things said that make you upset or confused or angry that doesn’t make it antisemitism.

Jewish identity has never been static and has always been questioned and challenged by Jews themselves in every age and every place where we have lived. Zionism itself is an example of just that tradition of challenging our own understanding of who we are and what our future should be.

You have the same right to challenge today’s received wisdom; to ask the difficult questions; and create a way to be proud of being Jewish that isn’t trapped in an ideology that’s long passed its sell-by date.

So be bold, be courageous and decide where you want to stand and who you want to stand with.

Finally, to return to the start, let me leave you this (exam) question to ponder:

What happens to your sacrosanct understanding of ‘being Jewish’ when it becomes another people’s catastrophe?

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Have a great first term.

Yours

Robert

 

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Ilan Pappe’s new book

Ilan Pappe talks about the Middle East: ‘Change will come’

Speaking to the Monitor about his new book ‘The Biggest Prison on Earth,’ historian Ilan Pappe says that – ultimately – he is ‘confident of a peaceful scenario.’

August 15, 2017 Historian Ilan Pappe’s new book The Biggest Prison on Earth: A History of the Occupied Territories continues his work of shining new analytical light on the seemingly intractable Israel-Palestine conflict, following up earlier books such as “Ten Myths About Israel” and the bestselling “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.” Pappe recently talked with Monitor contributor Steve Donoghue about his work.

Q: Your new book is already sparking the kind of controversy that greeted “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” and “Ten Myths About Israel” – this must be a familiar pattern to you by now, yes? Do you find that the tenor of this conversation has changed at all over the years? Is there more receptivity to your work, for instance?

It depends where. Around the world, yes, the tenor has changed. There is more readiness to change the language that describes Israeli actions in the past and the present; there is less disbelief when a systematic abuse or dispossession is shown as a structure or strategy rather than a policy. As for Israel, the same denial and unwillingness to face the unpleasant chapters of the past persists.

Q: That assertion – that Israeli dispossession of Palestinians is an outcome of premeditated state strategy rather than a policy adapted to circumstances – contradicts the attractive notion of a fledgling state merely doing what it must to survive. It paints a far uglier picture.

This is not an attempt to demonize the Israelis or Israel. My main argument is that the Zionist movement in Palestine until 1948 and the state of Israel are a settler colonial project that is still intact today. The nature of such a project is that the settlers in this particular case study see themselves as natives who return to their home and see the natives as aliens, who at best can be tolerated if they do not challenge to the settlers’ power and ownership. So this is not a matter of planning only or strategic clarity.

Q: Settler colonialism seldom bodes well for the natives, and it certainly hasn’t for the Palestinian population now living in what you describe in the book as “the ultimate maximum security prison.” In “The Biggest Prison on Earth” you’re careful not to offer false or cheap hope for any good resolution to this problem – but do you see any such resolution as possible?

To be honest not in the short run. However, I do believe that in the long run the basic features of the project will diminish and hopefully disappear. I am confident of a peaceful scenario: not in a big bang but in bottom-up evolution. Change will come first and foremost due to Palestinian steadfastness and popular resistance, the intensification of the international pressure on Israel, and it will be cemented by joint Palestinian and Jewish effort to reformulate the relationship between them on the basis of equality, democracy, and respect for human and civil rights.

Joint life on equal footing is possible – the main obstacle is the state’s ideology that dehumanizes the Palestinians and refuses to allow them equal and normal life for the sake of what is deemed “Jewish Security” – namely an ethnic Jewish state that forever has a Jewish majority by all means possible and provides privileges and exclusivity for the Jewish people in it. This is an obsolete ideology and world view which will not hold water for too long in a world that wishes and struggles to ensure that more and more people would be liberated from tyranny, bigotism, religious fanaticism, and racism.

When I Filmed Sheriff Joe Arpaio, He Was Cooperative and Horrifying

Beyond belief

Salt Lake’s Dem Mayor Goes Undercover As A Homeless Man For Three Days. Pledges Vital Assistance.

 This story has a ‘Brubaker’ feel to it.

It happened over four months ago, and until recently, was known by only a small handful of people.

Last March, Democratic Mayor Ben McAdams put into play something he long felt compelled to do. Due to a state law, he had to select possible sites for three new homeless centers/shelters. Two for men and one for women and children. Regardless of the choices, it would prove highly unpopular in the neighborhoods. Each perspective area arose in fury at the idea. But it had to be done. He needed a more personal perspective. And it was this catalyst that solidified his decision.

McAdams left work on a Friday with Patrick Reimherr, the Director of Government Affairs. They both wore three-day growth. No wallets, money, or I.D.’s  They were dressed in their oldest jeans, sneakers, sweatshirts and hoodies.

Each had a small bag with some clothes, a blue tarp and cheap disposable phones.

And they walked the miles from City Hall to Salt Lake City’s most troubled neighborhood, Rio Grande. They disappeared amongst the thousands of homeless persons in the city. And they immersed themselves with that population.

The first night, they slept in the street. They found a spot amongst hundreds in the area against a building. They wrapped themselves with their tarps.

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 “I didn’t feel safe,” he said. “I absolutely did not feel safe. It was a very chaotic environment. I wanted to understand why some people would choose not to go into shelter. It was cold. Below 40’s. And it was raining. You wonder why people would choose to do that, knowing that there were beds available in the shelter.” Fights broke out and their was yelling all night.

“Some of the folks i talked to said it’s better to be outside and get some space from the drug trade and shooting gallery that inundates the area immediately in front of shelter doors.”

After a fitful 4 hours of sleep, they headed to the shelter, named The Road Home. The closer they got to the shelter, the more drug dealers plied their wares…mostly heroin, meth, coke and spice.

 “The primary buyers are not homeless people. If you take the hundreds of people who are staying at the shelter and empty all of their pockets, there’s not going to be a whole lot of money to buy drugs.”

As bad as the night on the street was, the shelter was a nightmare. It housed over 1000 men. Though rules are in place, and employees and volunteers were present, it was riddled with violence and drugs. Reimherr was assigned a different dorm. McAdams’s bunkmate injected a needle into his arm in front of him. He saw similar in the dorm. The smell of the drugs was prevalent. He witnessed violence. He saw a man pulled from his bunk and heard the loud smack as his head hit the pavement.

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The first thing he was told when he entered was to not take off your shoes, use your bag as your pillow and never, ever go to use the bathroom at night.

He now saw why being outside in the rain and cold was preferable.  “At least it was warmer inside.”

The director of The Road Home, Matt Minkevitch, notes that though the area around the shelter is full of drug use, “…instances of people using drugs in the shelter aren’t incredibly common and don’t represent most of the clientele. For 80 percent of the 8,000 people who visited the shelter last year, it was a one-time, brief episode of homelessness before a quick return to stable housing. It’s hard to see that when you’re seeing this repetitive cycle of despair and desperation and the suffering that’s going on with the people who are living on the streets. Who are filthy dirty and confused.”

 His time was consumed by solving two pressing needs. “Where am I going to sleep? And where am I going to get food? You have to plan your day around that. It leaves little energy left to search for jobs or housing.”

They ate at Missions and had church sponsored meals. A group outside the shelter handed out sack lunches. A mystery-meat sandwich and a bag of Funyuns.

He met a family with a nine year old autistic child.  “She’s the age of one of my kids,” the mayor said. “It’s heartbreaking to see a young child who’s growing up in those circumstances. What psychological trauma is probably inflicted on a child who doesn’t know where he’s going to sleep or where his next meal is going to come from?”

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Mayor Benjamin McAdams. First elected in 2013. Re-elected in 2016. A good man.

McAdams ended his experience with one understanding. That “doing nothing is not an option, even if it’s the end of me politically.”

“I knew when I accepted this task that it would come with consequences for me personally. But this work isn’t about me personally. It’s about doing the right thing for people who are in crisis. If I have to pay a personal price for moving this work forward, it’s a price I’m willing to pay.”

 ”I ran for office to make a difference. Not to have a job.”

By mid-July of 2019, the three new shelters will open, and The Road Home will close. He vows to assist in every aspect of “the shelter experience” into one “focused on rehabilitation and recovery.”

In the meantime, The Road Home is having the area in front on Rio Grande Street made into a courtyard with a fence to help protect the homeless from predatory behavior. That meals will be nutritious with more fruits and vegetables. And he is trying to work out a deal for the local area’s state-run liquor store to move to a different location, away from it’s proximity to the shelter.

“I know that my three days and two nights is nothing. It was a helpful insight. But i knew that if something happened, i have health insurance. I have a family. I have a home. My backstop was a phone call away. I am very, very fortunate.”

Salt Lake, both the county and city, have been models for helping the homeless, compared to most other large cities and counties in the country. Mayor McAdams aims to raise the bar that much higher. In his years at the helm, he has already done so much to tackle this problem. Starting with having local law enforcement not unduly harass the homeless, but to help and assist. This has been something he has been passionate about since he became mayor in 2013. And it’s making a tangible difference. As the following clip shows….

Sorry I Drowned

The world has catastrophically failed millions of people fleeing war, persecution, and despair. Calculating politics won out over moral and legal obligations to offer protection and assistance to those in need. Like a contagious disease, walls, fences, and restrictive border measures rampantly spread causing countless thousands of people to die on land or at sea.

This 7-minute animated film is inspired by a letter allegedly found on the body of someone who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea due to the prevailing cynical politics of our day.

While we may not know the truth behind who wrote the letter, we do know that what it depicts is real. This reality cannot continue.

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