The statement by Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh mourning Ben-Laden and condemning his killing is getting a lot of internet traffic. It’s instructive; optimists make much of the group’s occasional hints at softening and its conflicts with Al Qaeda. Worth remembering that it still sees itself as part of Jihad International. Here is Ynetnews.com’s report of what Haniyeh had to say.
By contrast, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority is calling Ben-Laden’s death a good thing. Ghassan Khatib, director of the Palestinian Authority’s Government Media Center (and co-editor with Yossi Alpher of bitterlemons.org), is quoted on Ynet as follows:
Eliminating Ben-Laden is good for the peace process. We need to overcome the violent methods that Ben-Laden created, together with others around the world.
I’ve seen a few references already to the Hamas statement as showing how you can’t trust Fatah, including one in a comment on my last post. Strangely enough, I haven’t seen any references in English to Khatib’s statement on behalf of the P.A., which puts things in a very different light. I guess it’s too off-message.
Two big nights in a row for Obama – White House correspondents’ dinner followed by the bin Laden press conference.
In the TV chatter after the announcement, NBC reported that the big lead had come from Pakistani intelligence last. I passed it along in the initial version of this blog post. This morning, as I was alerted in a comment by reader “Guest,” the N.Y. Times reports that the tip-off came from a detainee at Gitmo, who gave up the pseudonym of Bin Laden’s courier a few years ago, leading to several years of hunting for the guy, who was found last August.
Assuming that the Times is better informed Monday morning than NBC was Sunday night, which seems pretty safe, this clears up two things: first, Pakistani intelligence hasn’t gotten more cooperative since Obama announced he was changing gears; if anything, relations on that front seem to be getting more strained. Second, it sounds like it wasn’t a change of policy from Bush to Obama that led to this break-through, as I had speculated last night, but the opposite: a continuation by Obama of previous Bush administration security policies.
Back to my Sunday night post: Brian Williams just interviewed one Rob Fazio, identified as someone who lost his father on 9/11. Did Fazio agree with the assessment that “the face of evil is dead”? I know people are thinking that, Fazio said, but the face I’m thinking about is my dad’s. It feels strange to be celebrating someone’s death. Next guest, former Bush-era Homeland Security director Tom Ridge, said the Special Forces “did what they had to do.” That sounds right.
There is a feeling in the air of snowballing change in the Middle East: revolution in Egypt and Tunisia, bloody deadlock in Libya, Yemen and Syria, reconciliation in the Palestinian Authority. Hard to put it all together at this point, but here is a usefully sobering analysis from the Washington Post: ‘Doomsday scenario’ if Syria fails. The gist: Syria is too big to fail. If Assad goes, it will lead not to a smooth democratic transition but to chaos that will impact the region and could even make Iraq look like a picnic. Well worth a read.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed his cabinet ministers to stick to a single message regarding the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement, Israel’s Channel 10 News reports on its Nana-10 website. The message: “there is no possible positive component in the reconciliation agreement.” That’s right:Cabinet ministers are forbidden even to speculate on any conceivable upside.
You can tell he cares about this, because he rarely makes any effort to rein in his cabinet. His foreign minister, alert readers recall, got up in front of the United Nations General Assembly last fall and laid out a foreign policy vision radically at odds with the prime minister’s, including exchanges of population in a future peace agreement, which he said was decades away. He didn’t even get a slap on the wrist—just a laconic statement from Bibi’s office that the prime minister, not the foreign minister, articulates the country’s foreign policy. Which is a weird thought in itself. Moreover, the interior minister repeatedly attacked the settlement construction freeze that the prime minister had imposed last year.
So this is something Bibi cares about. Unlike gestures toward peace which he makes in response to American pressure, and which his ministers attack mercilessly without consequences. He really doesn’t want it suggested that there could possibly be an upside to the Palestinian reconciliation agreement.
It’s not like he can keep the lid on things forever. Abu Mazen, a.k.a. Mahmoud Abbas, has said repeatedly in the last few days that he, not Hamas, is in charge of foreign policy, that he still wants to negotiate and make peace with Israel, he still sees Bibi as his partner. He’s even said that the pact calls for elections in a year; if Fatah wins, it should end Hamas control of Gaza. Bibi can’t keep that from the Israeli public, but maybe he can prevent his ministers from smiling when they hear it.
Well, maybe you can’t keep Abu Mazen’s words totally concealed from the public, but you sure can try. David Bedein, an American-born settler activist and head of what he calls the Israel Resource News Agency (and very nice guy and good friend when he’s not talking politics), sent out a mass email tonight furiously attacking the JTA for its report on what Abu Mazen is saying. He’s mad that JTA reported the news without spinning like a good Jew should.
Boy oh boy, Jews say the darnedest things, don’t they? You’ve got to love it. We’ve been hearing for years now that the Palestinian leadership under Mahmoud Abbas isn’t capable of making peace with Israel even if it wants to because, among other things, it doesn’t speak for Hamas, which controls Gaza (see here, here and here, for example).
It’s a bit confusing, I know, but life is like that. For the moment, the best response would be to make sure they put air-sickness bags in front of the seats in shul alongside the chumashim tomorrow morning, in case congregants start to experience vertigo from the sudden, abrupt shifts in position..
It’s like the old joke about the beggar who asks the rabbi for a ruble to buy a meal. Later that day the rabbi walks past the inn and sees the beggar eating a big slice of cake. “This is how you waste my money?!” the rabbi demands. “Excuse me,” the beggar replies. “Yesterday I couldn’t eat cake because I had no money. Today I have money but you tell me I shouldn’t eat cake. Tell me, rabbi, when can I eat cake?”
Now, as soon as the deal was announced yesterday, my mailbox started filling up with evidence that it had killed any hopes for the peace process, which presumably was thriving up to now. Exhibit A was this statement by Mahmoud a-Zahar, the Hamas foreign minister, who said it would “not be possible for the interim national government to participate or bet on or work on the peace process with Israel.” The morning after (today) reinforcements started arriving in the form of links to this statement by Zahar’s boss, Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, calling on Fatah to renounce its recognition of “the Zionist entity.”
On second thought, though, this actually indicates that stopping the peace process was not part of deal. If it were, Haniyeh wouldn’t need to be asking for it now.
Well, here it is, Saturday night. Some time around 8:30 I observe that Shabbes is over, so I crank up the old laptop to see what’s new and catch up with my Forward fan mail. My latest column on Palestinian statehood had some pretty lively back-and-forth going on as of Friday evening, and I’m eager to see what new pearls of Torah have been shared while I was off-line.
One comment sort of took my breath away, I must admit. A faithful reader named Howard informs me that I am “an enemy of G-d, Torah and Judaism.” This comes as a shock. I take the Good Book pretty seriously, as those who know me are aware, and I go to considerable lengths to stay on the right side of the Big Guy. It would be a drag to discover that all my efforts were so unappreciated.
But then I look again, and I see that Howard’s comment was posted 22 hours ago, or about 10 or 10:30 Eastern Time. Unless Howard lives in Hawaii, he’s been posting on Shabbes. So now I’m wondering, what Torah is he such big friends with that I’m not?
The truth is, I sort of know the answer. It’s no big secret that much of today’s Judaism consists not of Judaism per se but of political support for Israel. But not merely support for Israel. It’s the right kind of support for Israel. It’s commonly described as support for the government of Israel and its policies, but that’s not it either. The same mentality that attacks you if you criticize the policies of the Netanyahu government just as vehemently attacked you if you supported the policies of the Olmert government.
The bottom line is, you are judged not by how much you love Israel but by how much you hate its enemies. If you can see common cause or shared interests between Israel and the Arabs, you are a traitor.
Jeffrey Goldberg blogged the other day about Richard Goldstone, speculating on what made the judge recant. Among other things, Jeffrey asks, rhetorically, whether Goldstone was “really naive enough to believe that people in ‘his community’ wouldn’t be upset with him” for the accusations in the Goldstone report. To shed some light on this, take another look at Howard’s comment to me. There’s upset, and then there’s loony-upset. We all expect robust debate, even sliming, but as a wiser man than I once said, Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.
Say what you will, the guy has class. Ynetnews.com reports that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman took his contrarian, defiant behavior to new heights, or perhaps to new depths, on Monday by flushing the toilet during a radio interview.
The report on Ynet’s Hebrew website, here, includes a 14-second clip of the event, plus an outpouring of reader response at the bottom, about evenly divided between readers who are furious at Ynet (the website of Yediot Ahronot) for attempting to demean the foreign minister, mostly in potty-type invective suggesting that Lieberman has given the media what they deserve, and readers who think he showed his true colors.
A few choice selections:
No. 2: Nu, really. How low can you get? Maybe it was a noise from another room?
No.3: Maybe this is the ringtone on his cellphone.
No. 10: He was showing us what he thinks of the media here and he was right.
No. 60: Showing that Ynet is not CNN
No. 69: Get used to it, he’s the next prime minister
Recently published analyses teach the following lessons:
Lesson 1. The Arab uprisings are not necessarily democratic in nature, and liberal readiness to back them — morally or with arms and material aid — is at best foolhardy romanticism. We should stand back and avoid getting involved. Why undermine existing regimes when the replacement might be no better and possibly much worse?
Lesson 2. The Arab uprisings show that ruthless dictators are finished, and proves the wrongheadedness of previous administrations’ willingness to work with them rather than seek their removal. The failure of the Obama administration and the rest of the liberal West to back the brave Syrian rebels shows the liberals’ hypocrisy and unwillingness to stand up to tyranny.
Lesson 3. The uprisings show that the Arab street never cared about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What Arab citizens care about are their own lives and welfare, not the Palestinians. It is misguided and reckless to assume that granting concessions to the Palestinians will improve Arab attitudes toward America or the West. Palestinian rights are just not on the minds of ordinary Arabs.
Lesson 4. The uprisings show that peace agreements are foolish because any regime that signs an agreement with Israel could be gone tomorrow and you can’t expect the replacements to honor the agreements. Successor regimes will be under more pressure from the Arab street to turn against Israel, if only to gain popularity with the public. Not that the Arab public cares about Israel (see 3 above). Agreements with Arab governments are unreliable because Arab governments are unstable. Successor governments will be more vulnerable to popular moods and less able to defy public hostility toward Israel.
Sub-Lesson 4(a). The Palestinian Authority’s refusal to commence negotiations with no preconditions is unreasonable. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is naturally unwilling to resume talks where they broke off during the former government of Ehud Olmert and rejects the terms that Olmert had already put on the table — including a future border based on the 1967 Green Line, the Jordan Valley under Palestinian control and a divided Jerusalem. Netanyahu has a different assessment of Israeli security needs and is not bound by his predecessor’s assessments. The Israeli electorate repudiated the Olmert concessions when it chose Netanyahu as its prime minister in 2009. Elections have consequences (except U.S. elections, which should not affect undertakings by previous presidents — they’re supposed to be sacred).
Note: All of the linked articles making the above arguments are taken directly from the Daily Alert, a comprehensive digest of news and commentary chosen to discredit Palestinian moderation and maximize fears of Israeli vulnerability, prepared daily for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Your charity dollars at work.
My weekly column, “Good Fences,” will not appear for the next two weeks. Readers who are pleased that the world will be spared my flawed judgment should not leap to celebrate, however; I am participating even more directly in the flow of events by serving on Grand Jury duty. Unlike jury duty, I don’t sit on a trial but rather hear several cases a day of people who were arrested and vote with my fellow jurors on whether to indict and send to trial or dismiss and send home. Disclosure of our doings would be a felony, but I think I can say the experience so far hasn’t improved my feelings toward the justice system.
The Associated Press has a fascinating, must-read report today about an international gathering of scholars convened last month by Britain’s Royal Society to consider the last-ditch prospect of preventing global warming by developing ways of blocking out the sun.
The meeting brought together 80 earth and atmospheric scientists, legal and political scholars and philosophers to consider ways it could be done, possible side effects, political fallout and moral implications of massive “geo-engineering” projects. It was co-sponsored by a German environmental group and a federation of developing-world scientific societies,
The organizing premise was that the international community won’t be able to summon the political will to stop global warming before it reaches catastrophic levels, in large part because of U.S. rejection of the underlying scientific finding that the danger exists. The sun-blocking ideas are in the nature of desperate measures, a sort of literal Hail Mary pass.
Some possible technologies are purely speculative, like putting giant mirrors into orbit. Others are already being tested experimentally, including salting the upper atmosphere with sulfate particles that would reflect the sun’s rays back into space. Engineers at the University of Bristol are experimenting with the idea of pouring sulfates into space via a gigantic hose held up by balloons. They worry, though, that this would also reduce the ozone layer and raise the threat of cancer from ultra-violet radiation.
Another idea, soon to be tested by scientists at the Woods Hole center in Massachusetts, is to add iron to the oceans in order to increase their ability to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
One of the worries is that if any of these shows promise it would simply give politicians another excuse to delay action against carbon emissions.
The AP reporter said the dominant mood at the conference was not excitement but gloom.
The liberal blogosphere is all worked up about a budget bill proposed by the Study Group, made up of conservative Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, that appears to deny food stamps to any family with a single adult member who goes on strike. The draconian measure was first brought to light by ThinkProgress.com (here) and has since gotten blog play at AFLCIO.org (here), InTheseTimes.com (here) and Salon.com here, as well as the Chicago Sun-Times, (here), the MSNBC “Ed Show” and even in a New York Times editorial.
The trouble is, it’s apparently not true. The sponsors told CBS News that the bill does not cut off families from food stamps when a member goes on strike—it merely prevents strikers from applying for food stamps to make up for lost income that results from a strike.
The confusion is sort of understandable, since the language of the measure states unambiguously that “no member of any family shall participate in the food stamp program at any time that any able-bodied eligible adult member of such household is on strike.” It goes on to say that families that were eligible immediately before the strike do not lose their eligibility as a result of a strike. But that “at any time” language makes it sound like families are going to be cut off, and the nuance of continued eligibility—which basically means that no family on food stamps will be cut off as a result of a strike—is lost on most of the reporters, including the Times editorialist.
The original March 23 ThinkProgress.com blog post on the bill has an update (undated, which is ironic since “date” is part of its name) reporting that, “Believe it or not,” the anti-strike language “is actually part of a 1981 Reagan era law.”
Speaking of wacky legislation, Israel’s religious affairs minister, Yaakov Margi of Shas, wants to introduce legislation in the Knesset stipulating that “there are no streams in Judaism, only one that has been passed down to us from generation to generation,” namely Orthodoxy. The Jerusalem Post reports that Margi’s legislation would also make Israel’s Chief Rabbinate “the supreme rabbinical institution in Israel and the world.” The Masorti movement of Conservative Judaism and the Jewish Agency for Israel are fighting the bill, according to another Post report.
Sarah Palin has been raising eyebrows in Israel since she set out Monday morning, on her second day in Israel to visit the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem. According to several news reports, which appear to trace back to this one in the London Telegraph, her car headed south from Jerusalem but stopped just short of the Israeli military checkpoint at the entrance to Bethlehem, hesitated for a moment, then did a U-turn and scooted back to Jerusalem. The news reports say nobody left Palin’s car before it turned and left. There’s no mention of any sort of communication her party and the soldiers at the checkpoint. Why did they leave? It’s a mystery.
The Telegraph story and others indicate that Palin’s party had not applied to the Israeli army’s West Bank civil administration for permission to enter the West Bank city, citing officials at the civil administration. The application is described as customary, though apparently not mandatory. The army had no record of anyone from Palin’s staff asking for the permit. Was there a last minute cell-phone communication between Palin’s people and the authorities when they got to the checkpoint? No indication.
The likeliest answer comes from the Israeli news site Nana10, which reports that Palin and her staff apparently were unaware that Bethlehem was not in sovereign Israel but in occupied Palestinian territory. I mean, who knew? Palin’s itinerary is just full of historical goodies like that.
Palin is said to be taking this rare overseas trip, which began in India, in order to burnish her foreign-policy credentials in advance of a likely presidential run next year. Good start.
I’ve always loved the sight of Bethlehem at night as it appears in the distance when you stand on the back patio of the dining hall at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel. I go there sometimes to visit relatives who live there. In fairness, you can’t really see Bethlehem from Wasilla, Alaska, where Palin lives.
The Israel Internet Association warns in a court filing, reported on News 1 (Hebrew only) ,that freedom of expression in Israel will be “mortally wounded” if the police are allowed to go ahead with an order blocking access to eight Internet gambling sites.
The Internet Association’s lawyer, Web freedom specialist Haim Rabia, presented his arguments in a meeting at the Bet Mishpat Le-Inyanim Minhaliyim (“court for administrative affairs” – a new one on me) on Wednesday March 16 to discuss the association’s appeal. “At a time when social networks are driving revolutions around the world, the idea that the police should be entitled to determine what constitutes permissible expression is simply terrifying,” Rabia is quoted as saying.
He argued that if any of the eight sites had been charged with criminal activity, there would have been no appeal against a police order blocking access. Instead, however, the police decided to be the investigator, prosecutor and sentencing judge all by itself.
If the order is allowed to stand, he said, it will serve as a legal precedent for future police actions to close other Internet sites promoting forms of expression that the police find objectionable, with no due process.
The state attorney’s office replied that the police are authorized under Section 229 of the criminal code to shut down locations where illegal gambling is going on. The state defines a gambling website as a location and does not consider Internet gambling to be a form of expression.
The judge set a new court date for final arguments. None of the news accounts say what that date is.
Here is Rabia’s own version on his website, it-law.co.il. He appears to specialize in Internet law.
Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, warned this week that the government he helps to lead is leading the country to disaster. Speaking to the Institute for National Security Studies Tel Aviv on Sunday March 13, he said that the country faces a “diplomatic tsunami that the majority of the country is unaware of.” He sounds upset. Not so upset that he would consider quitting the government he accuses of bringing on the disaster. But, you know, upset. He wants us to know.
He said that the Palestinian quest for international recognition was gaining momentum and would crest in September, when the U.N. General Assembly convenes. He laid much of the blame on his partner, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for refusing to make a clear choice for peace. According to the Washington Times’ report on the speech, he said Netanyahu’s indecisiveness was “pushing Israel into a corner from which the old South Africa’s deterioration began.”
The Washington Times story said that more than 110 countries have announced their recognition of the Palestinian state, and that the Palestinian Authority was hoping to reach 150 by September, when it plans to ask to General Assembly for formal recognition.
Now, here’s what seems to me to be the real stunner in all this: What Barak wants Netanyahu to do is offer to begin genuine negotiations. Barak acknowledges that Israel hasn’t been willing to discuss the main issues in dispute with the Palestinians. Netanyahu has been insisting that negotiations begin with Israel’s security considerations and only then proceed to Palestinian concerns on borders, refugees and Jerusalem. Here’s Barak, as quoted in Ynetnews.com:
The major American Jewish civil rights organizations are reacting strongly to Rep. Peter King’s congressional hearings into American Muslim radicalization, which opened Thursday on Capitol Hill.
The Anti-Defamation League issued a public statement (here) arguing that the hearing has “engendered an unfortunate atmosphere of blame and suspicion of the broader American Muslim community.”
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism publicly decried the hearings in a blog post on its website (here) by associate director Mark Pelavin, charging that the hearing “singles out one religious community for investigation, rather than exploring the dangers of radicalism wherever it may be found.”
And the American Jewish Committee weighed in with an op-ed article in the New York Jewish Week praising King’s hearing as “a welcome development.”
AJC also submitted five pages of formal written testimony to King’s committee, cataloguing incidents of Americans carrying out attacks or, more often, trying to. The list includes Muslim immigrants, American-born Muslims and Americans who became converts “to extremist Islam.” (Who knew there was a separate ceremony for the extremist kind?)
Bert and Ernie, as portrayed by Burt (Visotzky) and Arnie (Eisen), have fun arguing over who’s got the bigger Hamentash.
Coincidentally or no, one is an ordained rabbi, former PBS star, friend of Bill Moyers and author of an unlikely hot-selling 1997 re-examination of Genesis. The other is a professor of the sociology of religion, friend of Steven Cohen and author of a modestly selling 2000 re-examination of the Torah. On the other hand, one is the Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies and director of the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary. The other runs the Jewish Theological Seminary. Guess who gets the bigger Hamentash? See how they handle the allocation of their uneven assets.
In this rare piece of footage, Adolf Hitler is informed about the fake Koch brothers crank call to Scott Walker.
I’m getting a headache trying to figure out whether or not to be mad at President Obama for his position on Libya and the Middle East’s big democratic moment. The biggest problem is that I can’t figure out what his position is. The second problem is that every time I think I’ve figured out where he’s headed, I can’t figure out whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.
In a report in the Saturday Wall Street Journal, Adam Entous and Julian Barnes flatly state that the administration has decided to support the existing regimes.
After weeks of internal debate on how to respond to uprisings in the Arab world, the Obama administration is settling on a Middle East strategy: help keep longtime allies who are willing to reform in power, even if that means the full democratic demands of their newly emboldened citizens might have to wait.
Instead of pushing for immediate regime change — as it did to varying degrees in Egypt and now Libya — the U.S. is urging protesters from Bahrain to Morocco to work with existing rulers toward what some officials and diplomats are now calling “regime alteration.”
On the other hand, the Washington Post’s lead foreign policy columnist David Ignatius writes on Friday, with just as much assurance, that Obama is quietly backing the rebels and looking toward dumping the autocracies.
President Obama has been so low-key in his pronouncements about events in Egypt and Libya that it’s easy to miss the extent of the shift in U.S. strategy. In supporting the wave of change sweeping the Arab world, despite the wariness of traditional allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, Obama is placing a big bet that democratic governments will be more stable and secure, and thereby enhance U.S. interests in the region.
What if the new orders that replace the old ones in Egypt and elsewhere turn out to be Islamic republics that take power democratically only to end democracy and spread jihad? Ignatius hears from his intelligence sources that it’s not going to happen.
There are near-term tactical dangers, said one counterterrorism analyst, such as the escape of prisoners in Egypt and the potential weakening of the intelligence service there. But this official says there’s no evidence that al-Qaeda has been able to take advantage of the turmoil. It took a week for Ayman al-Zawahiri, the group’s No. 2 official, to publish his windy and out-of-touch analysis of events in Egypt.
Change will have its downside, but a second U.S. intelligence analyst offers this estimate: “This is a world we can live with. Our relationship with Egypt may be different and rockier, but I don’t think it will be inherently hostile.” As for the much-feared Muslim Brotherhood, it is currently planning to run parliamentary candidates in only 150 of Egypt’s 454 districts, and no candidate for president.
Don’t be so sure, says Michael Scheuer, who headed the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit during the late 1990s. He thinks the winner in these putatively democratized Arab states will turn out to be Al Qaeda and its Islamist ilk:
If you missed the Jordanian ambassador to the United States on Jon Stewart tonight (Tuesday) be sure to catch it tomorrow (Wednesday) at 2 or 7 p.m. on Comedy Central or on the Web. Simply speaking, the ambassador, Prince Zeid Ra’ad, is a hoot. For a prince and ambassador, at least.
Here’s how they started:
Jon Stewart: I understand that the king, Abdullah II, who was supposed to be on the show tonight, couldn’t be here because he has to do Letterman first.
Prince Zeid Ra’ad: Well, Dave is very persuasive.
And later on, when Stewart says it’s time to go to commercial:
Prince Zeid Ra’ad: Please let me plug his majesty’s book one more time. I have to get it to Number One within a few weeks or I will end up ambassador to Trenton, New Jersey.
In between they talk about the unrest in the region. The prince’s message is that rulers had better start listening to their people or they’re finished. As for Abdullah II, he said that it’s fashionable in Hollywood right now to talk about The King’s Speech, but this king prides himself more on his listening skills.
Worth a look…
New climate research indicates that food shortages caused by climate change are creating a tide of “environmental refugees” heading northward, along with unrest in the stricken countries. The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are the latest indication of what’s to come. Yes, the yearning for democracy plays a role, but food and climate change are a big part of the story. So reports Agence France Presse’s Karin Zeitvogel from the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which took place in Washington over Presidents Day weekend.
“In 2020, the UN has projected that we will have 50 million environmental refugees,” University of California, Los Angeles professor Cristina Tirado said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
“When people are not living in sustainable conditions, they migrate,” she continued, outlining with the other speakers how climate change is impacting both food security and food safety, or the amount of food available and the healthfulness of that food.
Southern Europe is already seeing a sharp increase in what has long been a slow but steady flow of migrants from Africa, many of whom risk their lives to cross the Strait of Gibraltar into Spain from Morocco or sail in makeshift vessels to Italy from Libya and Tunisia.
The flow recently grew to a flood after a month of protests in Tunisia, set off by food shortages and widespread unemployment and poverty, brought down the government of longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, said Michigan State University professor Ewen Todd, who predicted there will be more of the same.
“What we saw in Tunisia — a change in government and suddenly there are a whole lot of people going to Italy — this is going to be the pattern,” Todd told AFP.
“Already, Africans are going in small droves up to Spain, Germany and wherever from different countries in the Mediterranean region, but we’re going to see many, many more trying to go north when food stress comes in. And it was food shortages that put the people of Tunisia and Egypt over the top.
“In many Middle Eastern and North African countries,” he continued, “you have a cocktail of politics, religion and other things, but often it’s just poor people saying ‘I’ve got to survive, I’ve got to eat, I’ve got to feed my family’ that ignites things.”
If you were following the brouhaha over the naming of Israel’s new military chief of staff (here is my take on it from February 5), the outcome was more peaceful than it threatened to be when Bibi and Ehud Barak pulled back at the last minute from a bizarre decision they had planned to bring to the cabinet. On the other hand, several other military-related appointments are raising eyebrows, to say the least. Astonishingly, they’ve almost no play here.
On Sunday February 6 at the weekly cabinet meeting, Bibi and Barak, under pressure from the General Staff and key ministers, pulled back at the last minute from their plan to appoint a temporary Chief of Staff, current deputy chief Yair Naveh, and throw the search back open for two months of promised chaos and intrigue. Instead Barak named Major General Benny Gantz, who served as outgoing chief Gabi Ashkenazi’s deputy chief and stepped down last fall.
(Here is the official IDF backgrounder on Gantz. Here is a very smart take on who he is and what he’s up against by Amir Oren of Haaretz. Here is an acerbic backgrounder from Wikipedia that focuses mainly on his warts.)
Gantz was one of the three finalists in the first round of vetting, along with Northern Command chief Gadi Eizenkot, favorite of the dovish Ashkenazi, and Southern Command chief Yoav Galant, the blood-and-guts choice of Barak. Interestingly, Gantz was nobody’s first choice, which is probably why he was everyone’s second choice. He shares Ashkenazi’s views on the use of force, but he is also a firm believer in keeping his opinions to himself, which accords with the democratic ideas of civilian control but also means that the politicians don’t necessarily get to hear the professional, apolitical evaluations of their paid experts. In any case, his demure approach toward politicians is described as equal parts scrupulousness and timidity. One thing for sure is that Gantz is very, very tall for a Jewish soldier. His security detail is a specially chosen squad of very tall soldiers to make it harder for a sniper to pick him off. Seriously.
Bear in mind that commander who keep their views to themselves is a very high priority for Barak and Netanyahu. They have gotten endless grief from the outgoing class of senior commanders who just stepped down — Ashkenazi, Mossad chief Meir Dagan, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin—all of whom favored negotiating peace with Syria and opposed a military attack on Iran.
Now here’s the weird stuff. Major General Yair Naveh, who succeeded Gantz as deputy chief and was Barak’s choice for acting chief. He was hand-picked for the deputy post last fall by Yoav Galant, back when Galant thought he was going to be chief. Naveh is, among other things, the highest-ranking religious soldier in the IDF. He was appointed chief of Central Command in 2005 by Ariel Sharon, by most accounts because it was thought that the disengagement from Gaza and the northern West Bank would go more smoothly, with less resistance from settlers, if a religious commander was in charge. Instead he and his family got death threats.
His views are eye-popping (his Wikipedia page outlines a few of them). Most notably, as Wikipedia reminds us, he “predicted that King Abdullah would fall and that he would be Jordan’s last king, drawing an angry reaction from Jordan, for which Israel had to apologize on Naveh’s behalf.” So much for keeping your views to yourself.