Tom Gross Mideast Media Analysis

Was Mary a virgin? Did she stay a virgin? How Christ’s early followers turned a biological necessity into a vice

December 26, 2019

 

“HOW CHRIST’S EARLY FOLLOWERS TURNED A BIOLOGICAL NECESSITY INTO A VICE”

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach two pieces below.

The first piece is by Diarmaid MacCulloch, emeritus professor of the history of the church, at the University of Oxford, and one of the leading church historians in the world.

He writes:

Did Jesus have two human parents? Well, he certainly grew up with a mum and dad, Mary and Joseph; but the story we hear in church at Christmas, amalgamated out of two different accounts in two of the four gospels, suggests that somehow Joseph didn’t get involved in the initial process of parenting, and that Mary had remained a “virgin”.

Yet those gospel-writers, Matthew and Luke, seem confused. They set out, at great length, Joseph’s family tree, which suggests that he was Jesus’s biological father – otherwise why would they bother with the genealogy?

Maybe because of this shaky knowledge of Jesus’s parentage, Christianity has tied itself up in knots about sex and marriage: it must often seem to outsiders that Christians do little else but argue about these questions…

Matthew tries to prove Mary was a virgin. Yet Matthew was writing in Greek, and unfortunately the original Hebrew didn’t talk about a “virgin” at all, just a “young woman”. On that slight shift in translation, Christianity built a great deal… Christians have been struggling with the fallout ever since…

***

The second piece below is about how The Hallmark Channel, known for its light and romantic Christmas movies, has come under fire from New York Times and Washington Post critics for its attempts at Hanukkah films this year. (The photo above is from the film “Double Holiday”.)

 

WAS MARY A VIRGIN? DID SHE STAY A VIRGIN?

Was Mary a virgin? Did she stay a virgin? The confusion goes back to Christ’s early followers, who turned a biological necessity into a vice

Why Christianity has been struggling with sex ever since the Nativity
By Diarmaid MacCulloch
The Guardian
December 24, 2019

At Christmastide you can’t escape from the fact that Christianity centres on the birth of a child, and glories in it. But Christians say that this Jewish baby from 2,000 years ago is also the supreme God, and then it gets complicated.

Birth generally involves sexual encounter, all messy and sweaty: what about this one? Did Jesus have two human parents? Well, he certainly grew up with a mum and dad, Mary and Joseph; but the story we hear in church at Christmas, amalgamated out of two different accounts in two of the four gospels, suggests that somehow Joseph didn’t get involved in the initial process of parenting, and that Mary had remained a “virgin”.

Yet those gospel-writers, Matthew and Luke, seem confused. They set out, at great length, Joseph’s family tree, which suggests that he was Jesus’s biological father – otherwise why would they bother with the genealogy?

Maybe because of this shaky knowledge of Jesus’s parentage, Christianity has tied itself up in knots about sex and marriage: it must often seem to outsiders that Christians do little else but argue about these questions. And frequently, confident Christian assertions about sex are made without understanding the history behind it all.

Matthew tries to prove Mary was a virgin by referring his story back to an ancient Hebrew prophecy from Isaiah, that “a virgin shall conceive and bear a son”. Yet Matthew was writing in Greek, and unfortunately the original Hebrew didn’t talk about a “virgin” at all, just a “young woman”. On that slight shift in translation, Christianity built a great deal.

Around a century after the first four gospels were composed, new Christian writings, also claiming to be gospels, began to emphasise Mary’s virginity, removing any taint of sex from her story. One of these is the gospel of James. It was never regarded as an official gospel, but it was hugely popular in its day for filling in the bits of a very patchy New Testament tale. It tells Mary’s story from her birth through to the birth of Jesus, and one of its main aims is to emphasise that Mary didn’t just start out a virgin – she stayed a virgin. So in a key part of the text, a midwife examines Mary after childbirth and exclaims in astonishment: “Behold, a virgin hath brought forth: which nature doth not allow.”

This “gospel” has another new departure: the idea that God had already intervened not just in the birth of Jesus, but in the conception of Mary herself. James tells us that Mary’s mother (called for the first time Anna, another detail not in the Bible) was infertile.

Then an angel appeared to Anna, saying: “Anna, Anna, the Lord has heard your prayer. You will conceive, and bear a child, and the child will be famous throughout all the world.” And immediately Anna fell pregnant with Mary. This is the origin of the Roman Catholic idea that Mary, let alone Jesus, was conceived without sin: the “immaculate conception”.

Take note: we’re not dealing with the original four gospels here. There are references in those biblical gospels to Jesus having brothers and sisters – which sounds as if Mary at the very least didn’t stay a virgin. Christians began to explain them away as Jesus’s cousins – or Joseph’s children by a previous marriage. As a result, Christianity came widely to accept Mary’s perpetual virginity: she stayed a virgin. This means that the most important marriage in the Christian story didn’t involve physical sex at all, which makes for a confused start to any Christian theology of marriage.

Christianity’s problem with sex goes back to these first centuries of its history, when early Christians turned sex from a biological necessity into a vice; from a pleasure into a sin. Christians have been struggling with the fallout ever since.

According to the gospels, Jesus Christ had very little to say about sex. He did insist on monogamy in marriage, and he decreed that there should be no divorce (something about which Christians began disagreeing with him straight away – including the apostle Paul). But beyond those two pronouncements, Jesus said virtually nothing – nothing, for instance, about homosexuality.

One gospel story, more than any other, sums up his attitude towards sex (John 8:3-11). Jesus was teaching in the Jerusalem Temple, where the Dome of the Rock now stands, when a group of men dragged in a woman caught in the act, they said, of adultery. They asked Jesus whether they should stone her to death – the ancient Jewish penalty. But all he said was: “He that is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” And when they’d all shuffled off looking sheepish, all he said to her was to go off and sin no more.

That is a story of forgiveness and mercy. Jesus was very hot on forgiveness and mercy. It would be nice if Christians were too.

 

AS HALLMARK DABBLES IN HANUKKAH FLICKS, JEWISH SCREENWRITER FENDS OFF CRITICISM

As Hallmark Dabbles in Hanukkah Flicks, Jewish Screenwriter Fends Off Criticism

Nina Weinman says ‘Double Holiday’ – which she wrote – and ‘Holiday Date,’ which critics say invokes anti-Semitic stereotypes and tropes, is just spreading holiday cheer

By Danielle Ziri New York
Haaretz
December 21, 2019

https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-as-hallmark-dabbles-in-hanukkah-flicks-its-jewish-screenwriter-defends-her-movie-1.8292905

NEW YORK – The Hallmark Channel, known for its light and romantic Christmas movies, has come under fire from critics for its attempts at Hanukkah flicks this year. Yet while some op-eds and tweets say the films are rife with stereotypes and portray the Jewish festival as another aspect of Christmas cheer, the Jewish screenwriter who penned one of them defends her work.

Last year, the Hallmark Channel announced it would include two Hanukkah-themed movies in its 2019 “Countdown to Christmas” programming – a lineup of cheesy seasonal films that has become the network's trademark and given it its highest annual ratings. But when the plots of the two movies, “Double Holiday” and “Holiday Date,” were released earlier this month, some of the excitement dimmed.

“Double Holiday” features a Jewish, career-minded, real estate project manager named Rebecca Hoffman (played by Carly Pope). She is tasked with organizing a Christmas party for a client alongside her office nemesis, Chris (Kristoffer Polaha), and has to juggle the job with her and her family’s Hanukkah plans. As their planning progresses, Chris learns about and embraces Rebecca’s Jewish Hanukkah traditions as he joins their celebrations all week. Of course, as the classic Hallmark formula suggests, the pair falls in love at the end of the movie.

“Double Holiday” drew criticism for what some saw as leaning on stereotypes – the Jewish protagonist has a loud, big family – but also for its Christmas imagery eclipsing its portrayal of Hanukkah. Rebecca’s office is decked in red and green, and her nephew performs in a Christmas play dressed as Santa.

These are not Hanukkah movies, writer Britni de la Cretaz kvetched in a Washington Post op-ed. “They are Christmas movies with Jewish characters. And they rely on some of the oldest anti-Semitic tropes in the book.”

A New York Times article by Nancy Coleman echoed the sentiment: “These are Christmas movies through and through, with Hanukkah portrayed as an afterthought. Instead of helping to make non-Jewish Americans more comfortable with Jewish traditions – which is what true inclusion looks like – they are trying to make Christmas more comfortable for Jews.”

But “Double Holiday” screenwriter Nina Weinman stands behind her movie. “All I can say, to speak for myself, is that I was really, really careful to try not to be very cliché, and to not be super stereotypical,” she tell Haaretz. “In this day and age, people can find fault in anything.”

Weinman, who was raised Jewish in California and has written over 20 movies for the Hallmark Channel, says she was very excited to include Hanukkah in one of her plots this season, and never intended to assimilate a Jewish narrative into a Christmas story.

“That was never something I was interested in doing, because what we really wanted to do is show a non-Jewish person assimilating into Hanukkah and really explore those traditions,” she says. “Hallmark was super encouraging about that, and they loved the story when we first came up with it and pitched it to them.”

She and her producer, Joel Rice, who is also Jewish, used their own experiences and traditions to create the scenario. Her being married to someone who isn’t Jewish also came into play in writing the movie's script.

“To say that something is anti-Semitic when it was made by Jewish people who were involved in this and took it very seriously, without having ever seen it, was really upsetting to me,” she adds.

Weinman was not involved in “Holiday Date,” Hallmark’s second Hanukkah movie and perhaps the more problematic of the two.

The film’s plot sees aspiring fashion designer Brooke dumped right before Christmas, leaving her dreading going home to celebrate without a date. She enlists the help of actor Joel to play the part of her boyfriend over the holidays.

Fully committed to the role, Joel enthusiastically participates in all the yuletide festivities. However, the family grows suspicious when he shows little knowledge of Christmas celebrations: He doesn’t know Christmas carol lyrics; fails at decorating the family tree; and makes a number of other faux pas during the visit. The movie portrays him as a clueless Jew who always wanted to celebrate Christmas, but has no idea how.

When her family eventually finds out Joel is Jewish, they incorporate his Hanukkah traditions into their plans. And yes, Brooke and Joel eventually fall in love.

“The trope of the sneaky, untrustworthy Jew, who is a perpetual outsider, is an enduring and pernicious stereotype,” de la Cretaz says of Joel’s charade. “In fact, it’s the cornerstone of anti-Semitism’s conspiratorial mode.”

The Jewish characters of both films, she says, are coerced into Christmas celebrations, and the tension only breaks once they learn how to properly embrace the tradition of the majority.

“This isn’t Scrooge waking up after a long, bad dream and deciding to give his employee a break,” de la Cretaz writes. “Forced assimilation is a form of violence, not an adorable caper or a heartwarming meet-cute.”

Addressing the Hallmark Channel, journalist Erin Biba tweeted: “I was pretty excited for your ‘Hanukkah’ movies, but these don’t actually have Hanukkah in them and even worse this one is borderline anti-Jewish and honestly now I wish you’d just go back to pretending we don’t exist.”

“Double Holiday” writer Weinman says she was never given a directive by the Hallmark Channel that the movie should include Christmas, but she viewed it as a “Hanukkah-Christmas” hybrid.

“I always knew that I was putting Hanukkah into this season and we were encouraged to weight it toward Hanukkah,” she says. “I think my producer and I both understood this is ‘Countdown to Christmas,’ so there’s gonna be some elements of both in it. But we weighted it more toward the traditions of Hanukkah with some Christmas sprinkled in the background too.

“What we wanted to do is have people come away with a little bit of better understanding of that celebration,” she says. “It’s about family, it’s about community, it’s about being thankful for the gifts, and sort of reflecting upon the end of the year and celebrating with the people that you love.”

Weinman adds, “I’ve never felt like, ‘We got one shot, we gotta get it right.’ I felt like this is the first of many to come.”

 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

There’s Gideon the cool Tel Aviv DJ, then there’s Gideon the nationalist

 

IN TODAY’S VOTE, NETANYAHU FACES HIS BIGGEST CHALLENGE AS PARTY LEADER FOR A DECADE

[Note by Tom Gross]

Today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces his biggest political challenge to the leadership of Israel’s ruling Likud party for over a decade, when he will be challenged in a Likud primary leadership contest by Gideon Sa’ar (a former journalist, lawyer and then a government minister). If Netanyahu loses, Sa’ar will likely become interim prime minister.

In the photo above from 2003, then Israeli Likud prime minister Ariel Sharon is flanked by Netanyahu to his left and by Sa’ar to his right (when we are looking at the photo), during a Likud party meeting. In many respects, ideologically too, Sa’ar is on the right of Sharon and Netanyahu on the left of Sharon, at least in some respects. (Contrary to the international media’s misreporting of Netanyahu, Netanyahu is many ways, for example with regard to international and military polices, politically centrist, and even to the left of some in the Blue and White and other center and center-left parties.)

I attach two pieces below, by Anshel Pfeffer in today’s leading left-wing Israeli paper Haaretz, and by Isabel Kershner in the New York Times, a paper that continues to obsess about Israel and devote enormous amounts of space to scrutinizing the small Jewish state while all but ignoring much of the rest of the world.

Pfeffer is a very knowledgeable journalist though sometimes he allows his disdain for Netanyahu and the Likud to cloud the impartiality of his reporting.

Gideon Sa’ar is unlikely to win today’s vote. However, if he makes a strong challenge, as expected, he will set himself up as the clear favorite to succeed Netanyahu should Netanyahu fail to win the Israeli election on March 2 (the third general election in Israel in less than a year) and Netanyahu is then forced from power. (Sa’ar would likely then form a unity government with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz.)

 

ARTICLE EXTRACT

Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz:

In his 13 years as an MK and a minister, Sa’ar constructed a dual persona. There’s the cool secular Tel Avivian with his glamorous second wife, television anchor Geula Even, constantly by his side. This cool Sa’ar occasionally did guest DJ stints in trendy clubs and is beloved by the media, where he has a number of friends and key allies who receive off-the-record briefings from him. Cool Sa’ar is a liberal whose first law in the Knesset curbed the police’s power to handcuff suspects brought to court. Cool Sa’ar is the only male MK to chair the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, and he pushed through legislation extending paid maternity leave to 14 weeks.

Then there’s Gideon the nationalist, who as education minister made high schools send their students on tours of the Jewish settlement in Hebron and upgraded the status of what would become Ariel University in the West Bank. Gideon the nationalist as interior minister set up the Holot detention center for African asylum seekers in the Negev and drastically reduced the number of bureaucrats handling their asylum requests.

But he was cool Sa’ar as education minister as well; for example, when he dramatically increased teachers’ salaries and extended free childcare to 3-year-olds. And he was cool as interior minister when he extended the boundaries of local councils – including those of the Negev Bedouin – to areas paying high local taxes, thus increasing the poor communities’ budgets.

The media loves cool Sa’ar mainly because he’s not Netanyahu. He plays by the rules and doesn’t overtly incite against leftists and Arabs. But his Likudnik supporters vote for Gideon the nationalist because unlike previous Likud leaders [including Netanyahu], he has never voted for a pullback or settlement freeze.

As Saar put it Tuesday evening at a meeting with supporters in Jerusalem: “I won’t just talk about extending sovereignty to the settlements in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] and the Jordan Valley. I’ll do it.” [Netanyahu often promises right wing policies but rarely actually carries them out.]

… Jabotinsky wasn’t just a nationalist, he wrote extensively on civil rights as well, and Sa’ar can quote Jabotinsky for hours.

His chances of beating Netanyahu this time around aren’t considered very high. Sa’ar is too calculated a politician to embark on a campaign just for a small chance of victory. This is part of a long-term strategy of positioning himself as Netanyahu’s likely heir, even though this strategy will probably need another leadership election after Netanyahu is forced out of office. Unless Sa’ar loses very badly Thursday, he will have placed himself in many Likudniks’ minds as their next leader.

His fans in the party liken him to Yitzhak Shamir, Likud’s most rigidly ideological leader, but also its least charismatic. When alone with his close friends, Sa’ar can be funny and engaging, but a stiffness plagues him in public. His speeches are competent, especially when it comes to mastering detail, but he’s incapable of casting a spell on an audience, as Netanyahu can in a way that seems almost effortless, or in the passionate way Menachem Begin had…

 

FULL ARTICLES

NETANYAHU COULD BE OUSTED BY THIS MAN

Cool Tel Avivian or Pro-settler Nationalist? Netanyahu Could Be Ousted by This Man

Gideon Sa’ar was an outsider far to the right of Likud, but he went on to help Netanyahu transform the party from a beaten shell of itself to a fighting parliamentary machine. Now he’s back to try to take over the party

By Anshel Pfeffer
Haaretz
December 26, 2019

https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-cool-dj-or-radical-nationalist-netanyahu-could-be-ousted-by-this-man-1.8317823

Last Wednesday, Geula Cohen was laid to rest on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. The former Knesset member and matriarch of the Israeli right wing had died just a week short of her 94th birthday. President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both attended and eulogized her, as did her son, Likud minister Tzachi Hanegbi.

One of Cohen’s oldest comrades sought out another Likud politician standing a few rows back. “Geula said many years ago that you would one day be prime minister,” the comrade whispered to Gideon Sa’ar, a former Likud minister and the only candidate running against Netanyahu in Thursday’s election for Likud leader.

Few remember it, but Geula Cohen was one of the earliest political influences and mentors of Gideon Zarechansky, as he was known then. Neither of the two were Likud members. Cohen was a leader of the smaller, far-right Tehiya party, and Sa’ar, a former national organizer of the youth wing, remained active in the party as a student. If Cohen had listened to Sa’ar and like-minded party members in 1992 and not pulled out of Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud government, Israeli history might have turned out differently.

The place that has become synonymous with Sa’ar’s image is Tel Aviv – where he was born and lives today. He’s the Tel Aviv Likudnik. Of course, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about Sa’ar living and socializing in Tel Aviv, except for the fact that in so many people’s minds, the Israel of Tel Aviv is the antithesis of the Israel of Likud. Being a consummate Tel Avivian makes Sa’ar, mistakenly, seem to many people somehow less of a staunch nationalist.

Sa’ar actually spent part of his childhood in a much more left-wing environment than Tel Aviv. When he was 2, the family, following father Shmuel’s job as a pediatrician, moved to the Negev town of Mitzpeh Ramon, and two years later to nearby Kibbutz Sde Boker, where they lived for five years.

Shmuel Zarechansky’s job as the kibbutz doctor meant he also came into regular contact with Sde Boker’s most illustrious resident, David Ben-Gurion, whose archives contain the medications and diet prescribed him in Zarechansky’s haphazard handwriting. His eldest son Gideon would sometimes join him when he visited the Old Man in his kibbutz bungalow.

Ben-Gurion, as leader of Zionism’s socialist wing, had an often tempestuous relationship with the leaders of the right-wing Zionist-Revisionist movement that later became Likud: Zeev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin. More than once he accused them of fascistic and even Nazi tendencies. His relationship with the young Gideon Sa’ar seems to have been much friendlier, replete with geography quizzes for the young boy, who already took a keen interest in politics.

Whatever effect getting to know Israel’s founding father may have had on Sa’ar, it didn’t seem to influence his politics. A few years after the family returned to Tel Aviv, he joined the youth wing of Tehiya, which had been founded in 1979 by Cohen, a Likud MK who broke with the party when Begin signed the Camp David peace accords with Egypt. This included Israel’s returning of the Sinai Peninsula and agreeing to hold autonomy talks over the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Tehiya, which means revival, was the party of Israelis who felt that Likud had lost its nationalist principles when it became the party of government in 1977. But as a nominally secular party (though it had prominent religious members as well) to the right of Likud, it failed to win more than a handful of Knesset seats in elections, flitted between the governing coalition and the opposition, and lasted only 13 years. During that period, Sa’ar and Zvi Hauser, today a Kahol Lavan MK, were leaders of Tehiya’s youth and student groups. A less prominent member of the youth wing was Naftali Bennett, now defense minister.

Each of them, Sa’ar, Hauser and Bennett, went on to join Likud, serve as a close aide to Netanyahu, and end up a bitter critic and rival of Bibi within the right wing.

In an interview with the daily Maariv as a high school senior, just before the 1984 election, Sa’ar was scornful of the two big parties, Likud and Labor. He said the two were “betraying the public and especially us [young voters] .... To achieve what they want, they ramp up fanaticism and hatred. How am I supposed to feel when I’m treated like an idiot and expected to choose who to run the country?”

Politics were everything for Sa’ar as a teenager. He loved music and began collecting for what would become his extensive record collection, but his social life was devoted to Tehiya. He even met his first wife, Shelly, at a right-wing demonstration.

In the interview, Sa’ar said he intended to join the Paratroopers for his army service: “I won’t be doing it for [Labor’s Shimon] Peres and not for [Likud’s Yitzhak] Shamir. But I’ll do it with all my energy so it’s clear that Jews can live here and that there are those who will defend them from those who think otherwise.”

He ended up serving not in the Paratroopers but in the slightly less prestigious Golani infantry brigade. After his discharge in 1987, he spent six years studying political science and then law.

He kept up his political activism, this time in the right-wing student union at Tel Aviv University, which was run jointly by Likud and Tehiya members. Right-wingers at TAU have always been a distinct minority, just as they were when Sa’ar went to Tichon Hadash High School in north Tel Aviv. But he never found his political activism a social disadvantage. His first job after the army was as a reporter and then a columnist in the mildly anarchic weekly Haolam Hazeh, from where he soon moved on to Hadashot, a daily tabloid owned by the Haaretz Group.

NETANYAHU’S LIKUD

The six years he spent as a part-time journalist would influence his future career. For a start, when he began publishing articles, he changed his last name from Zarechansky to Sa’ar, Hebrew for storm. And in the eyes of some, even though there is no evidence whatsoever that he moderated his political views, the fact that he worked for two newspapers clearly aligned with the left still taints him as a suspect leftist. His reporting also brought him in contact with Likud’s new meteor, former UN Ambassador Benjamin Netanyahu, who in 1988 shocked the party by winning the first round of voting for the party’s Knesset slate.

Tehiya was part of Shamir’s last government, formed in June 1990. But 18 months later, following Shamir’s decision under intense U.S. pressure to attend the Madrid peace conference with Palestinian representatives, the party left the coalition in protest.

“It was a controversial move to bail on a right-wing government,” said a senior member of the party at the time. “Geula Cohen, who was always more radical, was the main force behind it. Yuval Ne’eman and the group around him were more pragmatic and argued that it could lead to the left coming to power. Sa’ar was part of that group, but they lost the argument. And in the end they were proved right.”

Without the far right’s support, Shamir was forced to call an early election for June 1992. The vote took place during a period of Palestinian stabbing attacks. With Shamir’s credibility eroded by the ongoing intifada, Labor, once again under the leadership of “Mr. Security” Yitzhak Rabin, won the election. Tehiya, which had been blamed by many right-wingers for bringing down the Likud government, failed to pass the electoral threshold. Without any MKs, Tehiya disbanded after many of its members, including Cohen and Sa’ar, joined Likud.

Upon completing his law degree and passing the bar, Sa’ar abandoned journalism for a second short career at a place seen by many Likudniks as another bastion of the left – the Justice Ministry. He worked as an assistant to the attorney general and then to the state prosecutor, but politics remained his first calling.

At the end of 1998, Netanyahu, then in his first chaotic term as prime minister, found himself in a very similar position to that of Shamir seven years earlier. He had been forced by U.S. President Bill Clinton to attend the Wye River summit with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, and following the agreement signed there, the far-right members of his coalition pulled out. As preparations for an early election began, Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary, Danny Naveh, resigned so he could run for a spot on the Likud ticket.

Netanyahu offered the job to Zvi Hauser, who was loath to move to the cabinet secretariat, where he was sure he’d have a short tenure because Netanyahu was widely expected to lose the election to Ehud Barak. So he suggested his old friend from the Tehiya youth movement, Sa’ar.

Appointing Sa’ar, who had just moved to the Tel Aviv district prosecutor’s office, had a number of advantages from Netanyahu’s perspective. He was already a civil servant so he could be appointed immediately. He was politically reliable and the chronically suspicious Netanyahu already knew him.

The cabinet secretary, in charge of coordinating the prime minister’s agenda, the government’s legislative affairs and ministerial committees, is one of the most complex positions in the civil service. But the 32-year-old Sa’ar, with his political mind, wonkishness, lightning ability to master the most detailed briefs and by then high-level legal experience proved a natural fit. The only catch was that Netanyahu indeed lost the election and Sa’ar was out of the job in just six months.

Instead of heading back to the Justice Ministry, Sa’ar embarked on yet another brief career, this time as a lawyer in the private sector. But when Barak’s government turned out to be the most short-lived in Israeli history, and Ariel Sharon won a special election for prime minister in March 2001, Sa’ar was called back to serve as cabinet secretary once again.

SHARON’S WHIP

Sa’ar had not been close to Sharon, another Likud leader who demanded fanatical loyalty from his aides. And Sa’ar was widely seen as Netanyahu’s man.

But the newly elected prime minister needed someone with experience, as he was about to take control of a government in which Likud was of a similar size as the Labor and Shas parties. Sharon knew he would struggle to implement his agenda while dealing with the second intifada and fending off leadership challenges from Netanyahu. Sa’ar, however, had impressed Sharon when he served on Likud’s negotiating team in the coalition talks with Labor. Sharon convinced him to shutter his new law firm and return to public service.

Sa’ar’s success in gaining Sharon’s confidence can be gauged by the fact that two years later, Sharon tapped the newly elected MK as Likud’s floor leader and coalition whip.

The next few years would be stormy for the party, as the Sharon-Netanyahu rivalry tore Likud apart. And then there was the disengagement plan from Gaza. Unlike Likudniks such as Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni who went along with Sharon’s plan and gradually dropped the “whole Land of Israel” position they had been brought up on, Sa’ar remained faithful to the Tehiya principles, which he interpreted as Likud’s fundamental Jabotinskean values, and voted against the prime minister’s plan to withdraw from Gaza. But as floor leader and coalition whip, he had the responsibility of ensuring that the government had a functioning majority in the Knesset. Twice he resigned from the post and was pressured by Sharon to remain.

In November 2005, with the disengagement from Gaza complete, Sharon announced that he was leaving Likud and forming a new centrist party, Kadima. Sa’ar was offered by Sharon a prominent spot on the new party’s list, but he refused to leave along with Olmert and Livni, and even Cohen’s son Hanegbi. He knew full well that Likud, once again under Netanyahu, was heading for an electoral downfall. But even he didn’t expect it to win only 12 seats in the 2006 election. On election night, as the results came in, the knives were out for Netanyahu, but Sa’ar was one of the handful of MKs who joined the leader onstage as he made his concession speech.

It would not be exaggerating to say that Netanyahu owes his comeback, from the lowest point in his political career back to the prime minister’s office three years later, in large part to Sa’ar. Once again, Sa’ar was appointed Likud floor leader, where he helped rally the party around Netanyahu and fend off the challenges to his leadership, while also working to erode the Kadima coalition. It seemed at first an impossible task, with Likud so diminished and Kadima, now under Olmert, positioning itself as the new party of power.

But Sa’ar proved himself a master of both Knesset procedure and political intrigue, locating and exploiting every crack in the Kadima coalition, obstructing government legislation and prizing away rebels. He transformed Likud from a beaten shell of itself into a fighting parliamentary machine.

Sa’ar’s work in opposition would be recognized by party members when he was elected to the top spot in the party’s 2009 primary and once again in 2013. With Likud back in government, he was awarded by Netanyahu the senior ministerial portfolios of education in 2009 and the interior in 2013.

But ultimately, Netanyahu never lets others flourish around him for long, and Sa’ar was already being talked up as a future prime minister. Sa’ar was also proving a bit too independent for Netanyahu’s liking, as was another popular Likudnik and staunch Jabotinskean, Reuven Rivlin.

In June 2014, Netanyahu did everything in his power to prevent Rivlin from being elected president, going so far as to try to abolish the presidency. When that failed, he tried to offer it to an incredulous non-Israeli, Elie Wiesel.

It was Sa’ar who masterminded Rivlin’s successful campaign. Sa’ar could claim that he was only doing his duty: to ensure the election of the candidate endorsed by Likud’s Knesset representation. But his relationship with Netanyahu would never recover. Three months later, he announced that he was taking a break from politics. There was no doubt, however, that this was temporary. Five years ago it was clear that Sa’ar would be back and one day take on Netanyahu.

COOL SA’AR VS. GIDEON THE NATIONALIST

In his 13 years as an MK and a minister, Sa’ar constructed a dual persona. There’s the cool secular Tel Avivian with his glamorous second wife, television anchor Geula Even, constantly by his side. This cool Sa’ar occasionally did guest DJ stints in trendy clubs and is beloved by the media, where he has a number of friends and key allies who receive off-the-record briefings from him. Cool Sa’ar is a liberal whose first law in the Knesset curbed the police’s power to handcuff suspects brought to court. Cool Sa’ar is the only male MK to chair the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, and he pushed through legislation extending paid maternity leave to 14 weeks.

Then there’s Gideon the nationalist, who as education minister made high schools send their students on tours of the Jewish settlement in Hebron and upgraded the status of what would become Ariel University in the West Bank. Gideon the nationalist as interior minister set up the Holot detention center for African asylum seekers in the Negev and drastically reduced the number of bureaucrats handling their asylum requests.

But he was cool Sa’ar as education minister as well; for example, when he dramatically increased teachers’ salaries and extended free childcare to 3-year-olds. And he was cool as interior minister when he extended the boundaries of local councils – including those of the Negev Bedouin – to areas paying high local taxes, thus increasing the poor communities’ budgets.

The media loves cool Sa’ar mainly because he’s not Netanyahu. He plays by the rules and doesn’t overtly incite against leftists and Arabs. But his Likudnik supporters vote for Gideon the nationalist because unlike previous Likud leaders, he has never voted for a pullback or settlement freeze.

Sa’ar has never once criticized Netanyahu’s policies. On anything. He only criticizes what he claims is a lack of action and implementation. As he put it Tuesday evening at a meeting with supporters in Jerusalem: “I won’t just talk about extending sovereignty to the settlements in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] and the Jordan Valley. I’ll do it.”

Does this mean he could become the most right-wing prime minister in Israeli history, but one with a cool Tel Aviv exterior? Is he simply a slightly older, male version of right-winger Ayelet Shaked, who sometimes gets a pass because she too is secular?

Sa’ar’s supporters insist that this is the real Likud, which still goes by the official title National Liberal Party. To Sa’ar’s credit, he may even be more right-wing than Netanyahu in many ways, but unlike the prime minister, who only takes an interest in security, diplomacy and macroeconomics, Sa’ar has actual social policies, especially on education, on which he can expand in great detail and at excruciating length.

He’s a details guy, and he didn’t start to care, for example, about the rights of criminal suspects only when a Likud prime minister became one. Jabotinsky wasn’t just a nationalist, he wrote extensively on civil rights as well, and Sa’ar can quote Jabotinsky for hours.

His chances of beating Netanyahu this time around aren’t considered very high. Sa’ar is too calculated a politician to embark on a campaign just for a small chance of victory. This is part of a long-term strategy of positioning himself as Netanyahu’s likely heir, even though this strategy will probably need another leadership election after Netanyahu is forced out of office. Unless Sa’ar loses very badly Thursday, he will have placed himself in many Likudniks’ minds as their next leader.

His fans in the party liken him to Yitzhak Shamir, Likud’s most rigidly ideological leader, but also its least charismatic. When alone with his close friends, Sa’ar can be funny and engaging, but a stiffness plagues him in public. His speeches are competent, especially when it comes to mastering detail, but he’s incapable of casting a spell on an audience, as Netanyahu can in a way that seems almost effortless, or in the passionate way Menachem Begin had.

“You don’t feel any electricity when Gideon comes into the room,” said a supporter waiting for him Tuesday evening in Jerusalem. “He’s a quiet person. But after so many years of Bibi, we need a bit of quiet.”

 

BREAKING RANKS, A RIVAL TAKES ON ISRAEL’S NETANYAHU FROM WITHIN

Breaking Ranks, a Rival Takes on Israel’s Netanyahu From Within
By Isabel Kershner
New York Times
Dec. 22, 2019

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/22/world/middleeast/israel-netanyahu-saar-likud.html

OR YEHUDA, Israel — With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel politically weakened and steeped in legal troubles, a rival from within his conservative Likud party has emerged to challenge his grip on the party leadership.

After two inconclusive elections ended with Mr. Netanyahu unable to form a government, Gideon Saar, a seasoned if staid party veteran, is running against him in a primary leadership contest on Thursday.

Mr. Saar argues that only a leadership change can save the party, and the country, from doom in the unprecedented third election set for March.

“We see that we are going down in poll after poll,” Mr. Saar told supporters at his primary campaign launch last week in a wedding hall in Or Yehuda, a Tel Aviv suburb and Likud stronghold. “If we do not bring about a change, we are very close to getting a left-wing government, a government that will endanger everything we hold dear.”

Elections in April and September ended in virtual ties with neither Mr. Netanyahu nor his chief rival, Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, able to form a majority coalition. But polls show support for Mr. Netanyahu softening after he was indicted last month on bribery and other corruption charges, accused of trading official favors worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Israeli media moguls for lavish gifts and positive news coverage.

Mr. Gantz has not ruled out joining a coalition government with Likud but has said he would not serve in a government with a prime minister under indictment.

Mr. Saar, 53, is widely considered one of the next generation of Likud leaders, in line to take over after the departure of Mr. Netanyahu, 70, Israel’s longest serving prime minister. Mr. Saar has served as education and interior minister and tacks slightly to the right of Mr. Netanyahu, assailing him for not taking bolder action to assert Israeli claims on the occupied West Bank.

But his chances of replacing Mr. Netanyahu now are considered low. He inspires little of the emotion and adoration many of the party faithful reserve for the charismatic, media-savvy Mr. Netanyahu, the maestro of political theater who brought Likud to power four times and has led the party for the past 14 years, and a total of 20 years in all. Despite the three criminal cases against him, Mr. Netanyahu still commands solid support within the party.

Likud has had only four leaders since its foundation and rise to power in the 1970s. Likudniks have long prided themselves on their fierce loyalty to their leader, and have never unseated an incumbent before. Many buy into Mr. Netanyahu’s argument that he is the victim of a witch hunt by a left-wing elite that dominates the news media and has pressured the law enforcement authorities to pursue criminal investigations against him.

Still, cracks are appearing in Likud’s united front. While several other would-be Netanyahu successors are waiting for him to exit the stage before making their move, the Saar camp has the endorsement of a handful of lawmakers and a growing following of local party leaders, committee heads and mayors.

They joined hundreds of the party’s rank and file at the campaign launch, sitting under gaudy chandeliers at tables laden with sticky Hanukkah doughnuts. Classic Likud election jingles blared from the sound system and a group of activists tried to whip up the enthusiasm with chants of “Gideon, king of Israel” — a spin on a cheer frequently employed by supporters of Mr. Netanyahu, universally known as Bibi, who sing “Bibi, king of Israel,” to the tune of a popular folk song about King David.

“Bibi did a great job so far but it won’t work this time,” said Reuven Peleg, 67, a businessman. “People want an authentic leader with roots in Likud and a clear ideology. Saar is the cleanest man I know.”

Mr. Saar’s half-hour speech avoided any personal attacks on Mr. Netanyahu or any mention of his legal imbroglio.

“It’s not relevant,” said Michal Peled, 43, a lawyer who attended the launch. “We came for something else.”

Mr. Saar has tried to draw policy distinctions with Mr. Netanyahu. He derides the two-state solution, the internationally accepted idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, for instance, as a “slogan” and an “illusion.” Mr. Netanyahu grudgingly endorsed the idea of Palestinian statehood a decade ago, albeit with caveats, but has since retreated.

And while Mr. Netanyahu has expanded Israeli settlements in the West Bank and pledged to annex parts of it if re-elected, Mr. Saar says the prime minister has not been aggressive enough in pressing Israeli control there.

Mr. Saar has made campaign stops at an unauthorized Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank that Mr. Netanyahu has pledged, but failed, to evacuate as well as particularly contentious settlement projects in and around Jerusalem that have also long been on hold because of intense international pressure.

“Saar has elected to manipulate the 3 most problematic, potentially volatile issues to embarrass Netanyahu and garner support,” Daniel Seidemann, a veteran anti-settlement advocate, wrote on Thursday on Twitter.

Mr. Saar, a lawyer by training, began his political career with a stint as cabinet secretary for Mr. Netanyahu during his first term in office in the late 1990s.

As a minister, Mr. Saar raised teachers’ salaries, championed a tough policy toward unauthorized African immigrants and asylum seekers, and redrew municipal boundaries in remote areas to increase the tax revenues of poorer towns.

His dour image was softened a bit by his decision in 2014 to take a time out from politics.

In a second marriage with a popular Israeli journalist and news anchor, Geula Even-Saar, he said he wanted to be home to see his infant son David take his first steps, though many analysts attributed the hiatus to tensions with Mr. Netanyahu, whose habit has been to cut down potential rivals. He announced his comeback in 2017, saying he had returned “to strengthen the Likud.”

Mr. Saar won the No. 2 spot on the party list in 2008 and 2012, but slipped a few places down in February’s contest. Mr. Netanyahu last fought a leadership challenge against Danny Danon in 2014 and won 75 percent of the vote. Mr. Danon is now Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

In an odd twist, Mr. Saar has had a run-in with a professed clairvoyant who belittled his chances on television and hinted at fodder for a negative campaign against him. The clairvoyant has now been threatened with a suit by Mr. Saar’s lawyers.

Even if Mr. Saar loses, political analysts said that if he wins as much as 30 or 40 percent of the vote, he will be well positioned as a front-runner in the post-Netanyahu era.

Mr. Netanyahu has been leaving nothing to chance, crisscrossing the country on a whirlwind campaign tour and holding multiple meetings each night at homes and venues packed with loyalists.

He has accused Mr. Saar in the past of conspiring to oust him and some expect a dirty fight. Mr. Saar has requested cameras at primary polling stations and his camp has complained that thousands of supporters’ names had been struck from the voter rolls. Likud, which has up to 120,000 members, said many of them had not paid their dues.

The night of Mr. Saar’s campaign launch in Or Yehuda, Mr. Netanyahu appeared in three towns in central Israel and recorded a Facebook Live video.

“We will win big,” Mr. Netanyahu vowed, exhorting Likudniks not to believe the election polls that currently give a slight advantage to Likud’s main rival, the centrist Blue and White party and its allied center-left bloc.

Across the road from Mr. Saar’s kickoff at the wedding hall, a ragtag bunch of about a dozen Netanyahu supporters were yelling “Bibi! Bibi!” stomping on a Saar campaign T-shirt and branding his supporters as “traitors.”

 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

Tom Gross profiled in the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat

December 17, 2019



Photo above used by Asharq Al-Awsat: Tom Gross with Vian Dakhil, the first Yazidi MP in Iraq’s parliament, who drew the world’s attention to the plight of Yazidis forced into sex slavery. (The other photo with Asharq Al-Awsat’s piece here shows me when young interviewing actress Kathleen Turner.)

 

“POLITICAL JOURNALISM IS OFTEN A FORM OF POLITICS”

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach a profile of me (in Arabic) published yesterday in Asharq Al-Awsat, the Arab world’s leading newspaper. (It is edited from Beirut, printed in 14 cities, and owned by a member of the Saudi royal family.)

I was interviewed by Palestinian-Jordanian journalist Raneem Hannoush. She interviewed me in their London office. I am told that I am the first ever journalist who is broadly supportive of Israel to be profiled in the paper in a sympathetic way. (The other British journalists that have been profiled in their series are far more distinguished than me – John Simpson, Martin Bell and Max Hastings.)

***

Update:

Now in English here (January 22, 2020):

Tom Gross: Role of the Journalist Is to Report Events, but Some Media Have Now Gone Beyond That

 

ARTICLE

Tom Gross: The role of the journalist is to report events, but some media have now gone beyond that

Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with British journalist Tom Gross, who covered the uprising from Jerusalem and worked at the Telegraph at the same time as Boris Johnson

By Raneem Hannoush, London
Asharq Al-Awsat
16 December, 2019 AD / 19 Rabi’ Al-Thani 1441 AH

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, British journalist Tom Gross, who specializes in the Middle East, emphasized that the role of journalists should be to convey the truth, but he added that complete impartiality and objectivity by media is almost impossible to achieve.

Gross has written extensively on human rights around the world from North Korea to Mauritania, and he has criticized the United Nations for not doing more to advance freedom. He started his career as a non-political journalist, writing about entertainment, art, travel, nightlife and fashion. However, his destiny was to dive into the world of political journalism.

In Jerusalem, he covered the Intifada, and over the ensuing years he met with many international decision-makers who sought his advice due to his independent ideas and contacts within the world of diplomacy.

In an interview, we spoke about his career:

Q: Why did you choose political journalism despite the fact that you studied politics at Oxford?

A: Political journalism is in some ways just another type of politics. And there isn’t necessarily that much difference between working in politics and working in the political press which can encourage or stimulate constructive dialogue.

Q: What’s the role of the political press?

A: That’s a controversial question these days. People want a fair, impartial press. But journalists are human and often find it difficult to be impartial or neutral. Everybody has his own interests and views, even if they are subconscious or unintentional. The role of a journalist is to inform people and let them know what happened. Though right now this isn’t always the case, and in our world there is often more than one interpretation of events (whether accurate or not).

Q: You come from a family of journalists and your godmother was George Orwell’s widow who inspired the character Julia in his novel ‘1984’. [See footnote.] How did this impact your professional life and your choices?

A: It seems that my destiny was to be a journalist. Everyone in my family was a journalist expect they were literary or cultural journalists whereas I am primarily a political journalist. Ever since I was a child I have been interested in politics and human rights. Not just because my godmother gave me all of Orwell’s writings which I read. When I was a teenager, I went with my grandmother on a series of trips to Eastern Europe while it was still communist. This was something which opened my eyes to the reality of totalitarianism and the dangers of extremist political ideology – the poverty along with the oppression and denial of human rights.

Q: Tell us about your profession as a journalist.

A: Initially my journalism was mainly non-political. I conducted interviews with famous actors. I wrote articles about travel and art. I worked for fashion magazines including Harper’s Bazaar and Elle. After that, I worked as a correspondent in Prague and then Jerusalem. But after the tense years of the Intifada, the 9/11 attacks, and the Iraq War, I decided to stop doing field work and news reporting and started writing analytical pieces and op-eds.

Q: Tell us about your experiences as a Jerusalem correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph and New York Daily News.

A: It was exhausting due to the time difference between New York, Jerusalem and London. During the second intifada I’d be getting 3 am phone calls from the NYC office. Plus due to all the killing and destruction the situation was tense.

Q: At that time did you feel that your life was in danger?

A: Once or twice while bullets were flying all around me. But I wasn’t a war correspondent in the strict sense of the word.

Q: Through your work, you have met with a lot of world leaders and diplomatic figures. What was your role in these meetings?

A: I have met governmental figures (including those with important roles behind the scenes). And I also met with many human rights activists, reformers and opposition groups. I was able to give them some advice and suggestions in a number of areas including the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and the Kurdish-Turkish one, and there were others.

Q: Did you have a role in formulating any of the political decisions taken in some of these countries?

A: During my time as a political analyst I have been invited to attend private meetings with key decision makers. I doubt I was directly responsible for any of their subsequent decisions but I may have contributed in some small ways.

Q: I saw a photo of you and Shimon Peres. Tell us about your meeting with him.

A: I met with him more than once but of course such a wise man didn’t need any advice from me. Despite the fact he was well known there are other perhaps more influential people I have met in various countries’ governments. I also had lunch with Benny Gantz shortly before he entered politics. One of his advisors suggested he meet me. He wanted to understand more about the implications of Brexit and other international issues. I think he may be different from Netanyahu if he assumes power.

Q: How does Boris Johnson the journalist compare to Boris Johnson the politician?

A: We were both foreign correspondents for the Telegraph at the same time, he in Brussels, myself in Prague, and we also met socially on occasions. And his first wife was a family friend. I don’t think that his personality has changed since he entered politics. Boris was a successful journalist and now he’s a successful politician. But it’s too early to tell how successful he will be in the years ahead.

Q: Have you ever considered quitting journalism and working in the political or diplomatic field?

A: I was once offered [by a cabinet minister] the chance to run for the British Parliament but I said no because I’m very independent and I didn’t want to be a member of any party. Plus I’m more interested in foreign affairs.

Q: What newspapers do you read every day?

A: I read lots of them. I’m interested in being exposed to a wide range of news sources and viewpoints. I read the Guardian online and the Times in print form when I can. I follow the US press and Middle Eastern news websites on a daily basis. I also read government agencies which at times can be mere propaganda such as Iran’s English language state news agency. I’m interested in knowing all viewpoints. I don’t believing everything I read, of course.

 



“THE GIRL FROM THE FICTION DEPARTMENT”

Tom Gross adds for this webpage only, not in Asharq Al-Awsat:

My godmother Sonia, Orwell’s second wife, didn’t have children of her own, and as a result she was close to me.

Sonia (“the girl from the fiction department”) met Orwell when she was working at a literary magazine for which Orwell wrote. She is widely believed to have been the model for Julia, the heroine of Nineteen Eighty-Four, who brings love and warmth to the middle-aged hero, Winston Smith (modeled in part on Orwell).

As Orwell wrote in Nineteen Eighty-Four, “the girl from the fiction department... was looking at him... She was very young, he thought, she still expected something from life... She would not accept it as a law of nature that the individual is always defeated... All you needed was luck and cunning and boldness. She did not understand that there was no such thing as happiness, that the only victory lay in the far future, long after you were dead.”

 

Die Welt profile

* For those interested, a different profile was published by the German newspaper Die Welt in September.

“A leftist in the fight against left-wing hypocrisy”

https://www.welt.de/debatte/kommentare/article200099202/Tom-Gross-Ein-Linker-im-Kampf-gegen-linke-Lebensluegen.html

 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

Jersey massacre was “premeditated antisemitic hate crime” (& 1,000 Italian mayors march with threatened Holocaust survivor)

December 11, 2019

Above: Art. Banana stuck to wall. Tel Aviv supermarket. Bargain price.

Meanwhile in Miami, a comedian took the banana “art” that sold a few days ago for $120,000 and ate it: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZqdfUHtkk8

 

CONFIRMED: NEW JERSEY KOSHER DELI SHOOTING THAT KILLED 6 YESTERDAY, WAS ANTISEMITIC

[Notes by Tom Gross]

US media are now confirming that the two gunmen (one man, one woman) who targeted a kosher supermarket in Jersey City yesterday afternoon, were motivated by antisemitism.

The gunmen, who were African American rather than Middle Eastern or white supremacists, were killed in the shootout with police at the JC Kosher Supermarket.

Online social media postings by the gunmen contained antisemitic material.

Six people were killed, including a police officer and three orthodox Jews in the supermarket, during an hours-long shootout.

Jersey City is located just west of New York City across the Hudson River.

The Mayor of New York City has just confirmed that the Jersey City shooting was a “premeditated antisemitic hate crime”.

***

Update: it has now been confirmed at least one of the gunman was a member of an anti-Semitic breakaway sect of a group called the Black Israelites.

More on them here: http://journal.quilliaminternational.com/2019/12/11/black-hebrew-israelites-turn-to-antisemitic-terrorism/

 

ISRAELI STUDENT BEATEN UNCONSCIOUS ON PARIS METRO IN ANTISEMITIC ATTACK

An Israeli student was severely beaten at the Château d’Eau station in Paris after he answered a phone call from his father. As he started speaking Hebrew, two men, described as tall and of African origin, then beat him on his head, body and face before he lost consciousness. He was taken to Lariboisière Hospital in Paris after a fellow passenger called for assistance. The attackers escaped.

Last week, the lower house of France’s parliament passed a resolution that confirmed that some forms of anti-Zionism were indeed a form of anti-Semitism.

The French government also said that it would establish a special hate crimes office after large swastikas were painted on more than 100 gravestones at a Jewish cemetery last week.

 

 

THOUSANDS MARCH IN SUPPORT OF ITALIAN HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR TARGETED WITH DEATH THREATS

This is follow-up to the November 7, dispatch titled: “Why the Democrats don’t have to go the way of Labour” (& Italian Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre under guard amid death threats)

***

About 1,000 mayors from towns across Italy, each wearing ribbons in the colors of the Italian flag, marched through Milan yesterday in solidarity with, and alongside Liliana Segre. (Photo above.)

Segre is the 89-year old Italian senator and Holocaust survivor who has been targeted with antisemitic death threats.

Segre was 13 when she was deported to Auschwitz. Her father and grandparents were killed there, but she survived.

She has been under police guard since last month after receiving about 200 antisemitic hate messages and threats each day.

Thousands of ordinary Italians lined the streets alongside the mayors’ march in solidarity with Segre, according to the Associated Press

Meanwhile British Jewish lawmaker Ruth Smeeth – one of the few Jewish MPs to stay within Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party – has told a local newspaper that she is being bombarded with death threats, nearly half of them antisemitic. She says she now requires a security guard at all times.

 

FOR FIRST TIME, ANTISEMITISM IS A SIGNIFICANT ISSUE IN A BRITISH GENERAL ELECTION

A TV interview with me here from Monday:

https://youtu.be/_dOixxA7wYE

***

In reply to a reader who wrote to me that “since the 1930s black shirts, there haven’t been any political manifestations of antisemitism in the UK.”

In fact, even after the Holocaust, there were anti-Jewish riots in the UK in 1947.

See, for example, here: https://www.jta.org/1947/08/06/archive/anti-semitic-attacks-in-britain-continue-into-fourth-day-700-riot-in-manchester

https://www.newstatesman.com/2012/05/britains-last-anti-jewish-riots

(There was a Labour government in 1947 and some accused certain senior Labour politicians of encouraging the riots.)

 

This advert was placed in several British newspapers today. 15 Labour MPs urge people not to vote Labour in tomorrow’s general election, such is the extremism of party leader Jeremy Corbyn and his allies.

 

ISRAEL SET FOR THIRD ELECTIONS IN LESS THAN A YEAR AS POLITICAL STALEMATE CONTINUES

An interview with me here from Monday on BBC Arabic TV:

https://youtu.be/oHSqRSufBKI

 

ALBANIA’S PRIME MINISTER THANKS ISRAELI SOLDIERS FOR HELP AFTER EARTHQUAKE

Albania’s prime minister publicly praised Israeli army engineers who have been at the forefront of rescue efforts since a deadly earthquake struck Albania two weeks ago.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama on Monday singled out Israeli army engineers for special praise as they continued to work house to house to make sure buildings were safe for residents to re-enter.

Rama sent a video message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to thank him for sending support:

“Bibi, shalom from [the Albanian town of] Durres. We’re here with your fantastic guys. They are doing a great job in calming the people and telling them how to be resilient,”

The 6.4-magnitude earthquake that struck on November 26 killed 51 people and injured more than 3,000. Over 11,000 buildings were damaged, and 13,000 people were left homeless in this southern European country.

 

ISRAEL SENDING AID TO DISPLACED SYRIAN KURDS

As Turkey continues its bombardment and ethnic cleansing of Syrian Kurds from Syrian Kurdistan, Haaretz confirmed in a report today that the Israeli government has made good on its promise last month, and that Israel is sending displaced Syrian Kurds humanitarian aid, including coats for children and babies, as well as medicine, through various NGOs. As winter sets in, many homeless Kurds are now exposed to the elements.

 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

Kurdish women; Amazon removes Auschwitz items; Belgium carnival renounces UNESCO rather than antisemitism

December 05, 2019



 

[Notes below by Tom Gross]

Yesterday the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq released the poster pictured above. (It was sent to me by a member of that government who subscribes to this list.) It is rare for the words ‘Israel’ or ‘Israelis’ to appear on official posters or statements from government entities in Iraq.

The Kurds, however, have long been supportive of Israel, as the other more liberal nation in an otherwise illiberal Middle East. See the photo here for example, at a pro-independence rally in 2017, when the Iraqi Kurds voted by an overwhelming majority for independence in a free, fair and peaceful referendum. Yet the only government in the world to recognize Kurdish independence after that vote was Israel. (The tens of millions of Kurds in Iran and Turkey are too repressed to be able to hold such rallies.)

Among other related dispatches, see also: he Kurds deserve a state of their own

 





 

AMAZON REMOVES FROM SALE CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS WITH IMAGES OF AUSCHWITZ

Following a request from the director of the Auschwitz Memorial Museum, the online retailer Amazon has withdrawn sales of Christmas ornaments and bottle openers featuring the site of the former Auschwitz Nazi death camp. (The above image is from Amazon.com.) Over 1.1 million people, the vast majority Jewish, were murdered at Auschwitz, including more than 300,000 children.

In several countries, where in the past there were bloody clerical-organized attacks against Jews each year during Christian festivals, antisemitic hate continues to increase annually at the time of Christmas and Easter.

***

Earlier this year I reported on an online sale of miniskirts, pillow cases, bags and other items printed with photos of the railway tracks and gas chambers at Auschwitz. See photos here.

 

629 PAKISTANI GIRLS SOLD AS BRIDES TO CHINA

The Associated Press reported in an exclusive yesterday:

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Page after page, the names stack up: 629 girls and women from across Pakistan who were sold as brides to Chinese men and taken to China. The list, obtained by The Associated Press, was compiled by Pakistani investigators determined to break up trafficking networks exploiting the country’s poor and vulnerable....

Christians are targeted because they are one of the poorest communities in Muslim-majority Pakistan. The trafficking rings are made up of Chinese and Pakistani middlemen and include Christian ministers, mostly from small evangelical churches, who get bribes to urge their flock to sell their daughters. Investigators have also turned up at least one Muslim cleric running a marriage bureau from his madrassa, or religious school.

Full article here.

 

ANTISEMITIC BELGIUM CARNIVAL GIVES UP UNESCO STATUS

This is a follow-up to a previous dispatch item on this list, about the Belgium (Flemish) town of Aalst that sparked outrage for again featuring a viciously antisemitic float in its annual UNESCO-sponsored carnival.

The 2019 Aalst carnival featured life-size effigies of grinning Jews holding money, with rats on their shoulders.

The carnival often contains antisemitic floats. In the 2013 carnival, revelers dressed like Nazis and held canisters labeled “Zyklon B” while they walked alongside caged revelers in the guise of Nazi concentration camp prisoners. Zyklon B was the poison used by the Nazis to kill millions of Jews in gas chambers in Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor, Birkenau, Majdanek, and other extermination camps.

UNESCO had warned Aalst not to promote antisemitism at next year’s carnival, but the town’s mayor has refused telling UNESCO it would rather renounce its UN cultural heritage status than give up mocking Jews, the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported this week.

The mayor of Aalst, Christoph D’Haese, said it is “unavoidable” that Jews will be mocked again in the 2020 carnival as it was part of the town’s “heritage”.

The Mayor of Aalst had been summoned to UNESCO headquarters in Paris in September 2019, where he tried to argue that their previous carnival procession was not antisemitic after it depicted caricatures of orthodox Jews with hooked noses standing on chests of money surrounded by rats.

The carnival attracts tens of thousands of people each year. The centuries-old carnival was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.

 





 

‘GAME OF THRONES’ STAR CANCELS BELGIUM TV APPEARANCE OVER ANTISEMITIC CARNIVAL

Carice van Houten, the (non-Jewish) Dutch actress who starred on the hit series “Game of Thrones,” yesterday canceled a television appearance in Belgium over the continued use of antisemitc caricatures at the Aalst carnival. (See the item above.)

Van Houten, who portrayed Melisandre, pulled out of the panel on the TV talk show “The Appointment” after learning the panel would also include Christoph D’Haese, the mayor of Aalst.

Photo above: van Houten attending the premiere of Season 8 of “Game of Thrones” in New York, in April 2019.

 

13 COUNTRIES (INCLUDING 11 EU MEMBERS) VOTE WITH ISRAEL AT UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY FOR THE FIRST TIME

On Tuesday, the UN General Assembly in New York (as usual) passed five resolutions against Israel.

But following some astute diplomacy by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for the first time, 13 countries switched their positions and voted on Israel’s side.

The 13 are Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Lithuania, Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Brazil and Colombia.

11 of them are members of the 28-member European Union.

There was disappointment in Israel and the US that other EU countries, including the UK, France and Spain, did not join them, but instead abstained, as they do each year.

The U.S., Canada, Australia, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Nauru and Kiribati voted with Israel, as they have done before.

A host of dictatorships voted against Israel.

Netanyahu and Pompeo held meetings yesterday in Lisbon, Portugal where they discussed, among other things, the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Iran.

Amnesty international is now reporting that the Iranian government is charging families for the bullets used to kill protesters before agreeing to hand over the bodies for burial.

 


CORBYN ASSISTING CONVICTED TERRORISTS

The (London) Daily Mail reported on Tuesday:

“Jeremy Corbyn, the bomb-maker’s friend: IRA terrorist gloried in the Hyde Park bombing [in London, England] - yet after he left jail, admirer Corbyn helped create a council job for him and he jumped a 12,000-strong queue for genteel Islington council [government] flat [in one of London’s more prosperous neighborhoods].”

Full article here:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7752923/Jeremy-Corbyn-bomb-makers-friend-IRA-terrorist-admirer-Corbyn.html

 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

Iranian protests are about freedom, not fruit (& Russia eyes Libya)

December 03, 2019

Iraqi protesters burned down the Iranian Consulate in Najaf, Iraq last month, the second Iranian consulate to be destroyed as anti-Iranian regime demonstrations spread across Iraq

 

FINALLY…

[Notes by Tom Gross]

I attach four articles below (three from today, one from yesterday) on Iran, Iraq, Libya and China. There are extracts first for those who don’t have time to read them in full.

In the first piece, the New York Times finally reports that up to “450 people, and possibly more, were killed in four days of intense violence after the gasoline price increase was announced on Nov. 15, with at least 2,000 wounded and 7,000 detained.”

I attach this piece not because it is news to readers of this Middle East dispatch list, but to note that the New York Times is finally reporting that “Iran is experiencing its deadliest political unrest since the Islamic Revolution 40 years ago.”

The BBC has also finally begun to report that it is Iran, not Iraq, that has been coordinating the shooting dead of hundreds of pro-democracy protestors in neighboring Iraq these past weeks.

The failure of these two influential news organizations to report news in the Middle East accurately is part of a long-standing pattern of downplaying or appeasing the crimes of the Islamic regime.

In fact the New York Times, late as ever, is behind with the figures. At least 600 have been shot dead in Iran according to reliable reports.

Meanwhile (as not reported in the NY Times) the head of the feared Iranian Revolutionary Guards, General Qasem Soleimani, who controls large parts of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon on behalf of the Iranian regime, and also financed and directed last month’s Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket attacks on Israel, is ready to pick a new puppet prime minister for Iraq:

http://www.shafaaq.com/en/iraq-news/sheikh-ali-controllers-in-iraq-submitted-three-candidates-to-soleimani-waiting-for-his-approval/

 

IRANIAN PROTESTS ARE ABOUT FREEDOM. NOT FRUIT

Although the western “liberal-left” media are finally beginning to report on the deadly crackdown, many are still trying to persuade their readership that the unrest is primarily about a hike in oil prices.

As A.J. Caschetta writes in the Washington publication The Hill:

“Anyone who thinks that the recent protests in 100 cities throughout Iran were about gas prices did not pay attention to what the protesters were saying. The immediate spark that led to the Arab Spring was the 2010 self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit vendor, but the Arab Spring revolution was not about Tunisian citizens’ ability to obtain permits to sell fruit. Likewise, this unrest in Iran was not about the price of gas. Iranian protesters (and rioters) chanting “No to Gaza, no to Lebanon!” “Leave Syria and think of us,” and even “Death to Palestine!” indicates that something much larger than the price of gas drove their outrage.”

 

ARTICLE EXTRACTS

“THE GUARDS PILED THE DEAD ONTO THE BACK OF A TRUCK”

Farnaz Fassihi and Rick Gladstone report in the New York Times:

Iran is experiencing its deadliest political unrest since the Islamic Revolution 40 years ago, with at least 180 people killed – and possibly hundreds more – as angry protests have been smothered in a government crackdown of unbridled force…

In many places, security forces responded by opening fire on unarmed protesters... In the southwest city of Mahshahr alone, witnesses and medical personnel said, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps members surrounded, shot and killed 40 to 100 demonstrators – mostly unarmed young men – in a marsh where they had sought refuge…

Altogether, from 180 to 450 people, and possibly more, were killed in four days of intense violence after the gasoline price increase was announced on Nov. 15, with at least 2,000 wounded and 7,000 detained…

The gas price increase, which was announced as most Iranians had gone to bed, came as Iran is struggling to fill a yawning budget gap… protests had erupted in 29 out of 31 provinces and 50 military bases had been attacked, which if true suggested a level of coordination absent in the earlier protests. …

The property damage also included 731 banks, 140 public spaces, nine religious centers, 70 gasoline stations, 307 vehicles, 183 police cars, 1,076 motorcycles and 34 ambulances, the interior minister said…

When the [Iranian Revolutionary] Guards arrived near the entrance to a suburb of Mahshahr, Shahrak Chamran, populated by low-income members of Iran’s ethnic Arab minority, they immediately shot without warning at dozens of men blocking the intersection, killing several on the spot, according to the residents interviewed by phone.

The residents said the other protesters scrambled to a nearby marsh… The Guards immediately encircled the men and responded with machine gun fire, killing as many as 100 people, the residents said.

The Guards piled the dead onto the back of a truck and departed, the residents said…

 

IRAN DEMANDING MONEY TO RETURN BODIES OF CHILDREN KILLED BY SECURITY FORCES

Sune Engel Rasmussen reports in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Since the internet was reconnected [the Iranian regime shut it down last month in order to try and limit the protests spreading – Tom Gross], dozens of unverified videos have appeared online showing security forces beating and shooting at protesters, including from rooftops. Storyful, a social-media intelligence company that has a partnership with Dow Jones [publisher of the Wall Street Journal], verified the location of a video showing security forces firing at protesters from the judiciary building in Javanrud in western Iran.

Other videos showed protesters ransacking government buildings, targeting banks and burning gas stations… Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said that as many as 200,000 people participated in the protests, which damaged 50 police stations, 70 gas stations and more than 700 banks across the country.

Iranian protesters inside the country declined to speak to a reporter from foreign media… In audio files collected by Iranian journalists and activists outside the country, several people describe authorities demanding payment before handing over the bodies of relatives killed in the protests. Others report they were forced to say that their relatives were murdered by antigovernment thugs.

The tactic of demanding money from families for releasing dead bodies has been used to subdue protests in the past. In the 1980s the regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini charged families of victims of mass executions fees to pay for the bullet used to kill their relatives…

 

“A KREMLIN-BACKED STRONGMAN IN TRIPOLI WOULD BE A DISASTER FOR U.S. INTERESTS”

Emily Estelle writes in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Hundreds – maybe thousands – of Russian mercenaries joined the battle for Tripoli, Libya’s capital, this fall, fighting alongside aspiring strongman Khalifa Haftar. Russia’s primary interest isn’t Libya, but the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. President Vladimir Putin interpreted the Arab Spring, and particularly the NATO intervention that led to the death of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, as Western threats to the survival of his autocratic regime. His interventions in Syria and now Libya are attempts to shore up faltering strongmen. Putin wants to put a new Gadhafi in power to show that revolutions are doomed to fail and that he, not the U.S. or NATO, is an effective power broker in the region…

The U.S. has only worsened the situation by appearing to be an unreliable ally – to the Kurds in Syria and to the Libyan forces who fought ISIS with U.S. support but now face Haftar’s airstrikes…

The security implications of the Libyan civil war are real and dire. Haftar’s supporters argue that as a strongman, he would curb terrorism and control migration. Experience suggests the opposite. The violent suppression of nonviolent Islamists strengthens an extreme and violent alternative, Salafi jihadism. By crushing peaceful political expression and victimizing vulnerable populations – which Salafi jihadist groups then exploit – Haftar’s methods and those of his backers invite future insurgencies.

 

“COLD WAR II HAS BEGUN”

Niall Ferguson writes in today’s New York Times:

The New Cold War? It’s with China, and it has already begun… The one big risk with Cold War II would be to assume confidently that the United States is bound to win it. That is a misreading of both the first Cold War and the present situation. In 1969, an American victory over the communist enemy seemed far from inevitable. Nor was it a foregone conclusion that the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union would be so free of bloodshed.

Moreover, China today poses a bigger economic challenge than the Soviet Union ever did. Historical estimates of gross domestic product show that at no point during the Cold War was the Soviet economy larger than 44 percent of the economy of the United States. China has already surpassed America by at least one measure since 2014: GDP based on purchasing power parity, which adjusts for the fact that the cost of living is lower in China. The Soviet Union could never draw on the resources of a dynamic private sector. China can. In some markets – notably financial technology – China is already ahead of the United States.

In short, 2019 is not 1949. The North Atlantic Treaty was signed 70 years ago to counter Soviet ambitions; nothing similar will be set up to contain China’s. I do not expect a second Korean War to break out next year. Nevertheless, I do expect this new Cold War to get colder, even if Mr. Trump attempts a thaw in the form of a trade deal with China…

Cold War II has begun. And, if history is any guide, it will last a lot longer than the president on whose watch it started.


ARTICLES

WITH BRUTAL CRACKDOWN, IRAN CONVULSED BY WORST UNREST IN 40 YEARS

With Brutal Crackdown, Iran Convulsed by Worst Unrest in 40 Years
By Farnaz Fassihi and Rick Gladstone
New York Times
December 2, 2019

Iran is experiencing its deadliest political unrest since the Islamic Revolution 40 years ago, with at least 180 people killed – and possibly hundreds more – as angry protests have been smothered in a government crackdown of unbridled force.

It began two weeks ago with an abrupt increase of at least 50 percent in gasoline prices. Within 72 hours, outraged demonstrators in cities large and small were calling for an end to the Islamic Republic’s government and the downfall of its leaders.

In many places, security forces responded by opening fire on unarmed protesters, largely unemployed or low-income young men between the ages of 19 and 26, according to witness accounts and videos. In the southwest city of Mahshahr alone, witnesses and medical personnel said, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps members surrounded, shot and killed 40 to 100 demonstrators – mostly unarmed young men – in a marsh where they had sought refuge.

“The recent use of lethal force against people throughout the country is unprecedented, even for the Islamic Republic and its record of violence,” said Omid Memarian, the deputy director at the Center for Human Rights in Iran, a New York-based group.

Altogether, from 180 to 450 people, and possibly more, were killed in four days of intense violence after the gasoline price increase was announced on Nov. 15, with at least 2,000 wounded and 7,000 detained, according to international rights organizations, opposition groups and local journalists.

The last enormous wave of protests in Iran – in 2009 after a contested election, which was also met with a deadly crackdown – left 72 people dead over a much longer period of about 10 months.

Only now, nearly two weeks after the protests were crushed – and largely obscured by an internet blackout in the country that was lifted recently – have details corroborating the scope of killings and destruction started to dribble out.

The latest outbursts not only revealed staggering levels of frustration with Iran’s leaders, but also underscored the serious economic and political challenges facing them, from the Trump administration’s onerous sanctions on the country to the growing resentment toward Iran by neighbors in an increasingly unstable Middle East.

The gas price increase, which was announced as most Iranians had gone to bed, came as Iran is struggling to fill a yawning budget gap. The Trump administration sanctions, mostly notably their tight restrictions on exports of Iran’s oil, are a big reason for the shortfall. The sanctions are meant to pressure Iran into renegotiating the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and major world powers, which President Trump abandoned, calling it too weak.

Most of the nationwide unrest seemed concentrated in neighborhoods and cities populated by low-income and working-class families, suggesting this was an uprising born in the historically loyal power base of Iran’s post-revolutionary hierarchy.

Many Iranians, stupefied and embittered, have directed their hostility directly at the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who called the crackdown a justified response to a plot by Iran’s enemies at home and abroad.

The killings prompted a provocative warning from Mir Hussein Moussavi, an opposition leader and former presidential candidate whose 2009 election loss set off peaceful demonstrations that Ayatollah Khamenei also suppressed by force.

In a statement posted Saturday on an opposition website, Mr. Moussavi, who has been under house arrest since 2011 and seldom speaks publicly, blamed the supreme leader for the killings. He compared them to an infamous 1978 massacre by government forces that led to the downfall of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi a year later, at the hands of the Islamic revolutionaries who now rule the country.

“The killers of the year 1978 were the representatives of a nonreligious regime and the agents and shooters of November 2019 are the representatives of a religious government,” he said. “Then the commander in chief was the shah and today, here, the supreme leader with absolute authority.”

The authorities have declined to specify casualties and arrests and have denounced unofficial figures on the national death toll as speculative. But the nation’s interior minister, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, has cited widespread unrest around the country.

On state media, he said that protests had erupted in 29 out of 31 provinces and 50 military bases had been attacked, which if true suggested a level of coordination absent in the earlier protests. Iran’s official media have reported that several members of the security forces were killed and injured during the clashes.

The property damage also included 731 banks, 140 public spaces, nine religious centers, 70 gasoline stations, 307 vehicles, 183 police cars, 1,076 motorcycles and 34 ambulances, the interior minister said.

The worst violence documented so far happened in the city of Mahshahr and its suburbs, with a population of 120,000 people in Iran’s southwest Khuzestan Province – a region with an ethnic Arab majority that has a long history of unrest and opposition to the central government. Mahshahr is adjacent to the nation’s largest industrial petrochemical complex and serves as a gateway to Bandar Imam, a major port.

The New York Times interviewed six residents of the city, including a protest leader who had witnessed the violence; a reporter based in the city who works for Iranian media, and had investigated the violence but was banned from reporting it; and a nurse at the hospital where casualties were treated.

They each provided similar accounts of how the Revolutionary Guards deployed a large force to Mahshahr on Monday, Nov. 18, to crush the protests. All spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by the Guards.

For three days, according to these residents, protesters had successfully gained control of most of Mahshahr and its suburbs, blocking the main road to the city and the adjacent industrial petrochemical complex. Iran’s interior minister confirmed that the protesters had gotten control over Mahshahr and its roads in a televised interview last week, but the Iranian government did not respond to specific questions in recent days about the mass killings in the city.

Local security forces and riot police officers had attempted to disperse the crowd and open the roads, but failed, residents said. Several clashes between protesters and security forces erupted between Saturday evening and Monday morning before the Guards were dispatched there.

When the Guards arrived near the entrance to a suburb, Shahrak Chamran, populated by low-income members of Iran’s ethnic Arab minority, they immediately shot without warning at dozens of men blocking the intersection, killing several on the spot, according to the residents interviewed by phone.

The residents said the other protesters scrambled to a nearby marsh, and that one of them, apparently armed with an AK-47, fired back. The Guards immediately encircled the men and responded with machine gun fire, killing as many as 100 people, the residents said.

The Guards piled the dead onto the back of a truck and departed, the residents said, and relatives of the wounded then transported them to Memko Hospital.

One of the residents, a 24-year-old unemployed college graduate in chemistry who had helped organize the protests blocking the roads, said he had been less than a mile away from the mass shooting and that his best friend, also 24, and a 32-year-old cousin were among the dead.

He said they both had been shot in the chest and their bodies were returned to the families five days later, only after they had signed paperwork promising not to hold funerals or memorial services and not to give interviews to media.

The young protest organizer said he, too, was shot in the ribs on Nov. 19, the day after the mass shooting, when the Guards stormed with tanks into his neighborhood, Shahrak Taleghani, among the poorest suburbs of Mahshahr.

He said a gun battle erupted for hours between the Guards and ethnic Arab residents, who traditionally keep guns for hunting at home. Iranian state media and witnesses reported that a senior Guards commander had been killed in a Mahshahr clash. Video on Twitter suggests tanks had been deployed there.

A 32-year-old nurse in Mahshahr reached by the phone said she had tended to the wounded at the hospital and that most had sustained gunshot wounds to the head and chest.

She described chaotic scenes at the hospital, with families rushing to bring in the casualties, including a 21 year old who was to be married but could not be saved. “‘Give me back my son!,’” the nurse quoted his sobbing mother as saying. “‘It’s his wedding in two weeks!’”

The nurse said security forces stationed at the hospital arrested some of the wounded protesters after their conditions had stabilized. She said some relatives, fearing arrest themselves, dropped wounded love ones at the hospital and fled, covering their faces.

On Nov. 25, a week after it happened, the city’s representative in Parliament, Mohamad Golmordai, vented outrage in a blunt moment of searing antigovernment criticism that was broadcast on Iranian state television and captured in photos and videos uploaded to the internet.

“What have you done that the undignified Shah did not do?” Mr. Golmordai screamed from the Parliament floor, as a scuffle broke out between him and other lawmakers, including one who grabbed him by the throat.

The local reporter in Mahshahr said the total number of people killed in three days of unrest in the area had reached 130, including those killed in the marsh.

In other cities such as Shiraz and Shahriar, dozens were reported killed in the unrest by security forces who fired on unarmed protesters, according to rights groups and videos posted by witnesses.

“This regime has pushed people toward violence,” said Yousef Alsarkhi, 29, a political activist from Khuzestan who migrated to the Netherlands four years ago. “The more they repress, the more aggressive and angry people get.”

Political analysts said the protests appeared to have delivered a severe blow to President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate in Iran’s political spectrum, all but guaranteeing that hard-liners would win upcoming parliamentary elections and the presidency in two years.

The tough response to the protests also appeared to signal a hardening rift between Iran’s leaders and sizable segments of the population of 83 million.

“The government’s response was uncompromising, brutal and rapid,” said Henry Rome, an Iran analyst at the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy in Washington. Still, he said, the protests also had “demonstrated that many Iranians are not afraid to take to the streets.”

 

AUTHORITIES DEMAND MONEY TO RETURN BODIES OF THEIR CHILDREN KILLED BY SECURITY FORCES

Iran Takes Hard Line to Keep Protests Down
People describe authorities demanding money to return bodies of their children killed by security forces
By Sune Engel Rasmussen
Wall Street Journal
Dec. 3, 2019

The treatment of Mr. Rasouli’s family couldn’t be independently verified, but it fits a pattern of intimidation by Iranian authorities trying to stop a resumption of protests that rippled through the country before they were quashed, according to activists and Iran experts.

An information blackout during the protests made casualty numbers hard to verify, but Amnesty International says at least 161 protesters were killed. The Iranian-based opposition website Kaleme said at least 366 people were killed. Iran’s government has called the numbers exaggerated.

Such tactics may only amplify anger among some Iranians – particularly the young – as discontent over lack of political and social freedoms help intensify a cycle of unrest, analysts say.

The repression, which included shutting down the internet, “makes people think, is this the kind of society we want to live in?” said Amir Handjani, a fellow with the Truman National Security Project, a left-leaning national security organization. “It forces people to re-evaluate the social contract they have with the government.”

While Iran saw a long stretch of calm following the Green Movement protests, anger and dissent over the economy have become more frequent in recent years, in turn sparking more brutal repression by the government.

In 2017 and 2018, protesters across the country decrying poor economic conditions and government corruption were also met with violence. Authorities say they are fighting rioters supported by foreign powers.

The trigger behind the recent protests was the sudden removal of subsidies on gasoline that dramatically raised prices – but the discontent is deeper, as a sense of lost hope and political paralysis drive the dissent.

Mr. Rasouli, who lost his job as a factory worker, was struggling to make ends meet as a cabdriver. The skyrocketing gas price sent him out into the street.

“He didn’t make enough money, not even for a simple life,” Mr. Mehrani, who fled Iran after spending two months in jail during the 2009 protests, said.

The internet blackout, intended to prevent protests from spreading, coupled with the price increase likely helped fuel the protests, as both moves affected nearly all Iranians and cost local businesses significant income, Kevan Harris, a sociologist at the University of California with expertise in Iran, said.

Authorities have arrested nearly 7,000 protesters, a hard-line lawmaker said last week, including eight who authorities said were linked to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Iran routinely arrests Iranian citizens on such allegations without providing evidence.

Officials also said they arrested more than 200 “ringleaders” accused of conspiring with Islamic State terrorists, exiled opposition groups and Kurdish militants to foment unrest. They have offered no evidence to support such claims.

“The enemies had spent a great amount of money designing this conspiracy and were waiting for an opportunity to implement it with destruction, killing, and villainy,” Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said Wednesday.

Since the internet was reconnected, dozens of unverified videos have appeared online showing security forces beating and shooting at protesters, including from rooftops. Storyful, a social-media intelligence company that has a partnership with Dow Jones, verified the location of a video showing security forces firing at protesters from the judiciary building in Javanrud in western Iran.

Other videos showed protesters ransacking government buildings, targeting banks and burning gas stations. Some protesters were filmed handing flowers to security forces.

Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said that as many as 200,000 people participated in the protests, which damaged 50 police stations, 70 gas stations and more than 700 banks across the country.

Iranian protesters inside the country declined to speak to a reporter from foreign media. Mr. Rasouli’s family declined to talk, citing security concerns.

In audio files collected by Iranian journalists and activists outside the country, several people describe authorities demanding payment before handing over the bodies of relatives killed in the protests. Others report they were forced to say that their relatives were murdered by antigovernment thugs.

The tactic of demanding money from families for releasing dead bodies has been used to subdue protests in the past. In the 1980s the regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini charged families of victims of mass executions fees to pay for the bullet used to kill their relatives.

The recent protests vented pent-up frustration with an economic crisis that shows little signs of letting up.

When President Hassan Rouhani negotiated a deal in 2015 to restrain Iran’s nuclear capabilities in return for sanctions relief, many Iranians hoped it would break the country’s international isolation and open it to foreign investment.

But last year, President Trump withdrew from the accord, saying the pact didn’t sufficiently clamp down on Iran’s nuclear activities and did nothing to contain what the U.S. sees as Tehran’s aggression in the Middle East. The administration imposed heavy sanctions that have cut the country off from international financial systems.

Those dashed hopes, along with Iranian rulers’ longtime economic mismanagement, has sent the economy into recession. The International Monetary Fund projects a 9.5% contraction next year.

Sanctions have slashed the Iranian government’s revenue from oil exports to between $10 billion and $12 billion from $50 billion last year, the head of Iran’s budgeting department said this week. Oil exports will only make up 7% of the budget next year, he said, according to the state-run Press TV. About a quarter of last year’s budget relied on oil revenue, compared with about half before the sanctions. The central bank announced a record budget deficit of $5.8 billion last year.

For many Iranians, the recession has meant higher prices on goods and a deteriorating lifestyle. Meat is now a luxury, and some medicines have become hard to obtain. A young entrepreneur in Tehran, who declined to be named for security reasons, said that while the country’s currency had devalued by about 70% since 2018, her rent had doubled, forcing her to move into a smaller apartment.

Still, Iran’s economy isn’t yet on the verge of collapse, says Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, an economics professor at Virginia Tech with expertise in Iran. The dramatic currency slide spurred last year by the sanctions has stalled since the spring. Prices remains high but inflation is slowing, standing at 6.1% in September. Employment is even growing, likely because of the government’s focus on strengthening domestic industry over imports.

“I don’t get a sense that the middle class is hitting rock bottom,” Mr. Salehi-Isfahani said.

Subsidies have kept Iranian gasoline much cheaper than in neighboring countries. The decision to cut the subsidies was aimed at financing a cash handout program to 60 million Iranians to alleviate the economic pain.

Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad conducted a similar plan of raising commodity prices to fund welfare-cash handouts for the poor.

But while Mr. Ahmadinejad warned about it months in advance, Mr. Rouhani introduced gas rationing and higher prices without notice late on a Friday evening, before delivering the compensation for the poor, generating widespread outrage. The government this week said it had delivered welfare payouts to 60 million people, amounting to about $57 million at the official rate.

Such anger could boil over again, analysts warn. Since its inception in 1979, the Islamic Republic has heavily subsidized several areas of its economy, such as electricity, water and bread. If revenues continue to fall the government will likely have to cut other subsidies, too.

“They didn’t do a proper campaign to educate the Iranian people on what was coming,” Mr. Handjani said. This time fuel prices kicked off protests, he said. “Next time it will be another issue that sparks.”

 

DON’T LET RUSSIA DOMINATE LIBYA

Don’t Let Russia Dominate Libya
A Kremlin-backed strongman in Tripoli would be a disaster for U.S. interests.
By Emily Estelle
Wall Street Journal
Dec. 3, 2019

Hundreds – maybe thousands – of Russian mercenaries joined the battle for Tripoli, Libya’s capital, this fall, fighting alongside aspiring strongman Khalifa Haftar. Russia’s primary interest isn’t Libya, but the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. President Vladimir Putin interpreted the Arab Spring, and particularly the NATO intervention that led to the death of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, as Western threats to the survival of his autocratic regime. His interventions in Syria and now Libya are attempts to shore up faltering strongmen. Mr. Putin wants to put a new Gadhafi in power to show that revolutions are doomed to fail and that he, not the U.S. or NATO, is an effective power broker in the region.

Mr. Putin aims to undermine America’s post-Cold War leadership of the international order by casting the West as hypocritical and building an alliance system of like-minded autocrats. (China’s rise, and its development of technology that strengthens other autocracies, compounds this trend.) The U.S. has only worsened the situation by appearing to be an unreliable ally – to the Kurds in Syria and to the Libyan forces who fought ISIS with U.S. support but now face Mr. Haftar’s airstrikes.

The Kremlin today would probably like to install as Libya’s president either Gadhafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, or Mr. Haftar, a would-be autocrat in the style of Egypt’s Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. Either result would send the message that democracy has failed in Libya. If Mr. Haftar’s forces succeed, it won’t be for a lack of Libyan resistance – many have striven against the militias’ rise to power in the years after Gadhafi’s fall – but because the free world did not do enough to help them succeed when guns overcame ballots.

Russia isn’t alone in its fight against democracy in Libya. America’s Arab allies and partners – notably the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – are backing Mr. Haftar. They’re preventing the formation of a pluralistic democracy, a kind of government that could provide a model that their citizens could use to challenge them. These regimes are particularly threatened by the possibility of a democracy that allows the participation of Islamist parties like the Muslim Brotherhood. This is part of a larger competition to shape the future of governance in the Arab world. Islamist parties – often backed by Turkey and Qatar – bring their own challenges, but it is almost certainly better to let elections play out than to try to stamp out voters’ preferences through repression.

The security implications of the Libyan civil war are real and dire. Mr. Haftar’s supporters argue that as a strongman, he would curb terrorism and control migration. Experience suggests the opposite. The violent suppression of nonviolent Islamists strengthens an extreme and violent alternative, Salafi jihadism. By crushing peaceful political expression and victimizing vulnerable populations – which Salafi jihadist groups then exploit – Mr. Haftar’s methods and those of his backers invite future insurgencies.

The Trump administration is slowly waking up to this reality. The State Department last month strongly condemned Mr. Haftar’s forces and Russia. While this is an important step – needed to clarify the U.S. position after President Trump’s April phone call to Mr. Haftar was perceived as giving support for his offensive on Tripoli – a statement isn’t enough. Mr. Haftar’s forces and Russian mercenaries intensified their attacks on rival militias in Tripoli immediately following the U.S. denunciation. U.S. officials subsequently met Mr. Haftar to discuss a cease-fire, but his forces’ attacks have continued, including airstrikes on residential areas.

The U.S. has a choice: keep trying to improve Libya’s economy, security, and governance on the margins as the war rages on, or take measures to end the conflict – and to deny Mr. Putin and his fellow autocrats another victory. Europe is too divided on the subject to play this role. The U.S. should take the lead in convening Libyan and foreign leaders alike to reach a cease-fire in Tripoli. Washington should be willing to use some of its abundant leverage over Arab allies and partners to curb flagrant violations of the U.N. arms embargo on Libya. The U.S. should also step up efforts to curb Russia’s use of private military contractors and encourage European allies to impose sanctions on them as well.

These actions are a necessary first step to alleviate the suffering of innocent civilians, reassert American leadership and open a path to what the Libyan people have long awaited – the opportunity to govern themselves.

 

CHINA POSES A BIGGER ECONOMIC CHALLENGE THAN THE SOVIETS EVER DID

The New Cold War? It’s With China, and It Has Already Begun
By Niall Ferguson
New York Times
Dec. 3, 2019

When did Cold War II begin? Future historians will say it was in 2019.

Some will insist that a new Cold War had already begun – with Russia – in 2014, when Moscow sent its troops into Ukraine. But the deterioration of Russian-American relations pales in comparison to the rise in Sino-American antagonism that has unfolded over the past couple of years. And though the United States and China can probably avoid a hot war, a second Cold War is still a daunting prospect.

Pedantic scholars may say the new Cold War actually began with Donald Trump’s election in November 2016, or his initial imposition of tariffs on imported washing machines and solar panels, many of which are made in China, in January 2018. Others will suggest early October 2018, when Vice President Mike Pence denounced Beijing’s use of “political, economic and military tools, as well as propaganda, to advance its influence,” as a plausible starting point.

Yet it was not until 2019 that the Trump administration’s confrontational approach to China was effectively embraced by members of the policy elite on both sides of the partisan divide. With remarkable speed, Mr. Trump’s hostility went from foreign policy idiosyncrasy to conventional wisdom. Even Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate, began calling for a tougher line toward Beijing.

Public opinion made a similar shift. A Pew Research Center survey showed that the percentage of Americans holding an unfavorable view of China jumped to 60 percent in 2019 from 47 percent the year before. Only 26 percent of Americans held a favorable view of the country.

Something else changed in 2019. What had started out as a trade war – a tit for tat over tariffs while the two sides argued about the American trade deficit and Chinese intellectual property theft – rapidly metamorphosed into a cluster of other conflicts.

In short order, the United States and China found themselves engaged in a technology war over the global dominance of the Chinese company Huawei in 5G network telecommunications and an ideological confrontation in response to the abuses of Uighur Muslim minorities in China’s Xinjiang region, as well as a classic superpower competition for primacy in science and technology. The threat also loomed of a currency war over the exchange rate for the Chinese yuan, which the People’s Bank of China has allowed to weaken against the dollar.

Older readers will probably regard another Cold War as a bad idea. Their memories of the original might include near-Armageddon experiences, such the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, and multiple conventional wars fought in countries from Vietnam to El Salvador. But there is no obvious reason Cold War II should feature nuclear brinkmanship or proxy wars.

For one thing, China is so inferior to the United States in nuclear weaponry that any confrontation is much more likely to occur in cyberspace, or in space itself, than with intercontinental ballistic missiles. The People’s Republic does not have the same approach to global expansionism as the Soviet Union either. Chinese money goes into infrastructure projects and politicians’ pockets, not foreign guerrilla movements. The “One Belt, One Road” initiative – Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature overseas investment program – does not aim for world revolution.

If Cold War II confines itself to an economic and technological competition between two systems – one democratic, the other not – its benefits could very well outweigh its costs. After all, the economic spinoff from research and development operations associated with the original Cold War were part of the reason American growth was so strong in the 1950s and 1960s.

Back then, there was also a political benefit. Once the spasm of McCarthyism had passed, as Americans came to a consensus that they all faced a common foe, domestic divisions decreased notably. It is telling that one of the biggest sources of political and social strife in the Cold War era was a war against communism that the United States failed to win – against Vietnam.

If Americans are now waking up to a new external enemy, might it not reduce the notorious internal polarization of recent times, which we can see in the decline of bipartisanship in Congress as well as in the vehemence of discourse on social media? It is possible.

Maybe the notion of an external enemy could persuade politicians in the United States to devote serious resources to the development of new technologies, such as quantum computing. Evidence of Chinese espionage and influence operations in American academia and Silicon Valley is already pushing the government to reprioritize national security in research and development. It would be nothing short of disastrous if China won the race for quantum supremacy, which could render all conventional computer encryption obsolete.

The one big risk with Cold War II would be to assume confidently that the United States is bound to win it. That is a misreading of both the first Cold War and the present situation. In 1969, an American victory over the communist enemy seemed far from inevitable. Nor was it a foregone conclusion that the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union would be so free of bloodshed.

Moreover, China today poses a bigger economic challenge than the Soviet Union ever did. Historical estimates of gross domestic product show that at no point during the Cold War was the Soviet economy larger than 44 percent of the economy of the United States. China has already surpassed America by at least one measure since 2014: G.D.P. based on purchasing power parity, which adjusts for the fact that the cost of living is lower in China. The Soviet Union could never draw on the resources of a dynamic private sector. China can. In some markets – notably financial technology – China is already ahead of the United States.

In short, 2019 is not 1949. The North Atlantic Treaty was signed 70 years ago to counter Soviet ambitions; nothing similar will be set up to contain China’s. I do not expect a second Korean War to break out next year. Nevertheless, I do expect this new Cold War to get colder, even if Mr. Trump attempts a thaw in the form of a trade deal with China. The American president might have been the catalyst behind the big chill, but it’s not something he can just undo when he pleases.

In 2007, the economist Moritz Schularick and I used the term “Chimerica” to describe the symbiotic economic relationship between China and the United States. Today, that partnership is dead. Cold War II has begun. And, if history is any guide, it will last a lot longer than the president on whose watch it started.

 

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