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Ed Webb

So Why Did I Defend Paul Bowles? | by Hisham Aidi | The New York Review of Books - 0 views

  • Long a sanctuary for Spanish and French writers, American writers began visiting Tangier in the late nineteenth century: Mark Twain on his way to Jerusalem in 1867, the painters Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1870 and Henry Ossawa Tanner in 1912, and Edith Wharton in 1917. In 1931, when Bowles first visited, the American artists living in Tangier were primarily black: Claude McKay, Anita Reynolds, Juice Wilson, Josephine Baker. These African-Americans came to Morocco from Paris, where they had formed a community after World War I, and as the Harlem Rennaissance spread to France. Upon arrival, Bowles began to socialize with both McKay and Anita Reynolds. Like the other Americans, he had also discovered North Africa through France. In high school, he had read Marcel Proust, Comte de Lautréamont, and André Gide—the latter’s accounts, in particular, of his travels and sexual trysts in Algeria and Tunisia had conjured North Africa in Bowles’s teenage imagination.
  • in December 1923, France, Spain, and the United Kingdom signed the Tangier Protocol in Paris, setting up a new administration and placing the city at the center of a 150-square mile International Zone overseen by a committee of nine Western powers. The city was henceforth governed by a court that included French, Spanish, and British judges, along with the mendoub, the Moroccan sultan’s representative. It is this international period, from 1923 to 1956, especially postwar, that has shaped the image of Tangier as a free port, a tax haven, and a place of international intrigue and excess.
  • His first novel, The Sheltering Sky, told the story of an American who flees the numbing modernity of New York and meanders through the Algerian desert, only to disintegrate psychologically. Published in the fall of 1949, it became a bestseller and made Bowles a household name. Three more novels and a handful of short stories set in Tangier followed.
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  • Bowles did not create the “myth of Tangier,” but he gave it a literary respectability and an American cast.
  • In the early 1950s, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Bryon Gysin, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and Susan Sontag all gravitated to this “portal to the unknown,” as one author christened Tangier. So did European writers like Genet, Juan Goytisolo, and Joe Orton, but Bowles’s influence was not limited to the literary community. In later decades, his recordings and promotion of Moroccan music would draw producers and recording artists from Patti Smith to the Rolling Stones.
  • Through the 1960s and 1970s, he focused instead on recording and translating from darija (Moroccan Arabic dialect) the oral histories of men he met in Tangier’s cafés. By the time of his death, in 1999, the idea of Tangier as a place for self-discovery had become received wisdom in the West and the Arab world, and Bowles was established as a giant of American letters despite decades of silence.
  • I gave him a copy of my thesis. He looked up from the title page: “‘Orientalism’?—that’s a bad word, isn’t it?” Faux-naïveté, I would learn, was part of his manner. He told me to come back the following day.
  • I was, he said, the first Moroccan researcher—a Tangier native, to boot—to defend him. He added his signature beneath my printed name. (A few weeks ago, I got goosebumps when I found the same copy that I gave him, albeit coffee-stained, in the archives at the University of Delaware’s Paul Bowles Collection.) Later, the thesis was included in a collection titled Writing Tangier (2004). I still see citations occasionally in student dissertations on Bowles noting that one Tanjawi, at least, did not regard him as an Orientalist.
  • Tangier’s collective memory is steeped in nostalgia and centered around the medina, the old city. The medina, the elders told us, was once the epicenter of the Islamic world: it was from the port where the medina meets the sea that Tariq ibn Ziyad had set sail and conquered Spain in 711. After the fall of Granada in 1492, it was to Tangier’s medina that the Jews and Moriscos fled, settling in its alleyways, preserving the mosaic of Islamic Spain
  • The economic misery and political repression of the 1980s and 1990s made it hard to believe that the medina was ever a free space. Most locals had never heard of these famous writers. I only heard of Bowles when, in 1988, a film crew began working in front of our family restaurant at the entrance to the Kasbah as Bernardo Bertolucci began filming The Sheltering Sky. As teenagers, we came to wonder what truths the books from the Interzone contained, and if Tangier had indeed been better-off under Western rule, as the nostalgists, local and foreign, seemed to imply
  • The narrative we learned at school was that the monarchy had liberated the north from colonial oppression. But what liberation did the regime (makhzen) bring? After independence, as a local intelligentsia began forming in Tangier, many came to see the American corpus of writings about 1950s Tangier as an invaluable record of a lost golden age.
  • I made a point of reading the American authors who had written about Tangier’s Interzone. Besides Bowles, I was intrigued by the Beats, especially the Columbia University alums—Kerouac, Ginsberg, Lucien Carr—students of Lionel Trilling and fans of Arthur Rimbaud who had somehow mapped Greenwich Village onto Tangier, turning the Boulevard Pasteur into a “North African Bleecker Street.” But even as a college sophomore, I realized that their writings were more about the straitjacket of McCarthyite America that they were running from, rather than about Morocco as such.
  • It was even gratifying to see that Tangier, like Berlin, had played a significant role in launching a gay literary movement—in some ways ahead of the West, in having its finger on the “prognostic pulse of the world,” as Burroughs called it. But what was startling was that, while these writers basked in the city’s pleasures, they—with the exception of the Bowleses—didn’t really like Tangier. The Beats had a casual disdain for the natives, invariably describing Moroccans as “rakish” or “raffish.” Capote found Tangier too alien, describing the men as “noisy heathens” and the women as “anonymous bundles of laundry.” He warned friends in New York about the “smell of the arabe.” Burroughs referred to the locals as a “bunch of Ay-rabs,” and in 1958 he pronounced: “Tanger [sic] is finished. The Arab dogs are among us.”
  • Paul Bowles traced the history of the medina from the early 1930s to independence. He chronicled how the sultan’s crackdown on Sufi practices (“the great puritanical purging”) in central Morocco inched northward.
  • Bowles’s defense of the Amazigh, or Berber, population was daringly transgressive. Morocco’s culture “is not predominantly Arabic, but Berber,” he insisted—in the face of Arab nationalists who acted as though they believed “Berbers have no culture at all,” as they tried to drag the country into the Arab League. “The general opinion is that the autochthonous population must at all costs be Arabized if it is to share in the benefits of independence,” he observed acidly. “No one seems to have conceived of the possibility of an independent Berber Morocco. In fact, to mention the Berbers at all qualifies one as a pro-French reactionary. At present, to become modern means to become Egyptian.”
  • Reading these words in my dorm room in wintry Pennsylvania in 1992 was both thrilling and frightening. We as Moroccans—especially those of us from the northern Berber region—grew up in a climate of fear, and I had never heard or read anyone publicly criticize Arab nationalism, or speak so openly of the Moroccan hinterland’s animus toward Fez, the city of the interior regarded as the seat of the regime. To hear this American writer openly excoriate the Moroccan ruling elite for its cruelty and skullduggery was exhilarating
  • Bowles prompted me to think beyond the binary of “Western” versus “Arab.”
  • Bowles, in the mid-1960s, had begun translating the memoirs and stories of down-and-out illiterate youth in Tangier. (While he could not read Arabic, Bowles did understand darija, the spoken dialect.) The most prominent of these were Larbi Layachi’s A Life Full of Holes (1966), about a petty thief and male prostitute and his experiences dodging police and servicing tourists (the book was made into a BBC film); Look and Move On (1967), the tales of Mohammed Mrabet, a hustler and golf caddie who worked for an American couple; and the best-known, Mohammed Choukri’s For Bread Alone (1972), an account of his migration from the Rif to Tangier, his life as a street kid in the International Zone, and his becoming a schoolteacher, which he recounted to Bowles in Spanish. These books were marketed in the West as “Moroccan literature,” and for many in the Anglophone world, this was their introduction to it.
  • The Ministry of Culture, which almost blocked his recording project in 1959, published a remarkable essay in 2009 on the tenth anniversary of his death defending Bowles against criticism from Moroccan nationalist intellectuals, underscoring how he presciently warned of the threats that modernization posed to Morocco’s cultural and physical landscape. Government mouthpieces such as Hespress run flattering pieces about “the American who loved Morocco.”
  • in effect erased an earlier literary tradition that had seen Moroccan writers published in French and Spanish since the 1930s, let alone the preceding centuries of poetry and other writing in Arabic
  • Laroui acted as an adviser to the king and was a strong proponent of Arabization. Tangierians saw his attack on Bowles as another attempt by the Arab nationalist elite to subdue the “sin city.” Ben Jelloun also had a complicated relationship to Tangier. The son of a merchant, a Fassi (a person from Fez) who settled in Tangier in the early 1960s, he had attended the French lycée and was seen as part of the new Francophone Fassi upper class—comprising the Alaoui, Alami, Ben Jelloun, Berrada, Omrani, and Tazi families—that had fanned out across the country as the French departed, assuming top government positions. Like Laroui, Ben Jelloun spoke neither of the two common local tongues of the north, Spanish and Tarifit (the Berber language). A paradox of Ben Jelloun’s work, in particular, was that it often featured the very tropes of mysticism, violence, and sexual deviancy he denounced in Bowles’s work. For his part, the American writer dismissed his Moroccan critics as “confirmed Marxists.”
  • The Moroccan reaction against Bowles began to take form in the early 1970s. His earliest critics were the philosopher Abdallah Laroui and Ben Jelloun, who both chided the American writer for promoting an image of the country as a land of primitivism, drugs, and unlimited sex. Laroui also lambasted the Moroccan bourgeoisie for buying into and reproducing Bowles’s “folkloric” portrayal of their country. Ben Jelloun, writing in 1972, accused the American of belittling the nation’s literary patrimony.
  • I myself was part of this trend—defending Bowles against the Arab nationalists who were trying to tear him down and impose their political preferences on us. In his final interviews, when asked if he was an “Orientalist,” Bowles would often cite me, noting that a Tangier-born scholar now in America had judged him not to be.
  • “Paul Bowles loves Morocco, but does not really like Moroccans.” Choukri had some powerful evidence on his side. Over the decades, Bowles had made countless derogatory remarks, speaking of Moroccans as “childlike,” “purely predatory,” and “essentially barbarous.” He claimed also that Muslims aimed for world domination through “the sword and the bomb.”
  • He was sympathetic to the Amazigh, whom he saw as the original inhabitants of North Africa, a fiercely independent people only “partially Islamicized.” This affection nevertheless rested on some unsettling ideas about racial hierarchy. Bowles was profoundly influenced by the “Hamitic hypothesis,” a late nineteenth-century anthropological theory that saw almost everything of value in Africa as imported by the Hamites, a branch of the Caucasian race, who were held as superior to the Negroid peoples. Berbers, whatever their actual skin tone—even the typically dark-skinned Tuareg—were for Bowles essentially a white “Mediterranean race.”
  • In Bowles’s idiosyncratic hierarchy, it was Berber music that encapsulated Morocco’s true African identity—and this cultural essence was threatened by the Arabs and their music. The recently released Music of Morocco collection reflects this bias, giving credence to Choukri’s claim that Bowles deliberately misrepresented local culture to reflect his personal vision of Morocco.
  • I began to realize that Bowles’s fondness for the Berbers and his animus toward Arabs was, in many ways, a reflection of French colonial policy. Although he was well aware of the violence of French imperialism, he enjoyed its amenities—“the old, easygoing, openly colonial life of Morocco”—and as early as the 1950s, Bowles began to lament the loss of “colonial Tangier.” Above all, he believed in the International Zone, seeing its “anarchy” and “freedom from bureaucratic intervention” as an extraordinary political experiment. But these liberties, which is what drew many of the Beats, were the privileges of Europeans and Americans—ones generally not enjoyed by the city’s Muslim and Jewish natives.
  • In 1972, Tahar Ben Jelloun publicly accused Bowles (and the Beats) of exploiting illiterate, vulnerable youths in Tangier not just artistically but sexually. Choukri in 1997 would echo this charge, claiming Bowles suffered from a sexual illness. These allegations became more commonly heard once Farrar, Straus and Giroux published Bowles’s correspondence in 1994, although he expressed some reluctance about its release. The volume included letters in which he described the boys he slept with, in one letter even bragging about how cheap sex was in Algeria. “Where in this country [America] can I have thirty-five or forty people, and never risk seeing any of them again? Yet, in Algeria, it actually was the mean rate.” (In the correspondence, he reminisced about how he “never had sexual relationships without paying,” and viewed paying for sex as a form of “ownership.”)
  • Although the letters simply lent credence to rumors long circulating in Tangier, Choukri and other Tanjawi writers were still shocked by them. The literary reaction in Morocco fed into a larger effort there by human rights activists campaigning against sex tourism and child prostitution. Whereas Bowles had always seemed more judicious and reputable than the Beats—in contrast, say, to Burroughs’s open bragging about buying “pre-pubescent gooks” and Ginsberg’s boasting about “paying young boys” for sex—it became increasingly difficult to defend him. For a man who had called Moroccans “purely predatory,” his own behavior now appeared in rather grotesque relief.
  • The more time I spent at the Schomburg Library uptown, the more I discovered an alternative American literature about Tangier. I stumbled upon Claude McKay’s memoir A Long Way from Home about his time in Tangier in the late 1920s, where he completed his novel Banjo; the actress Anita Reynold’s diary about life in the Interzone in the 1930s; Josephine Baker’s papers, where she talks about filming Princess Tam Tam (1935) in the International Zone, and jazz recordings produced by African-American musicians living in Tangier. Although they had their own dreams about a “Mother Africa,” the African-American writers did not see Tangier as a brothel, or its residents as primitives who needed to be contained or civilized. Most wrote and produced art in solidarity with the disenfranchised local population, connecting the civil rights struggle to North Africa’s anticolonial movements.
  • In 1998, armed with this newfound knowledge, and as a conscious revision of my earlier guiding, I began giving walking tours of “Black Tangier.” We would would meet at Cinema Mauritania, the theater where Josephine Baker had performed many times, up until her last show there in 1970. She had lived in the International Zone, then joined the French Liberation forces during the war, and later had an affair with the vice-caliph of Spanish Morocco. On the first floor of the Mauritania, pianist Randy Weston had once operated African Rhythms, a music spot that drew the likes of Max Roach and Ahmed Jamal. Then we’d walk down to the Fat Black Pussycat café where the poet Ted Joans, one of few black writers in the Beat movement, played trumpet and “blew” jazz poems.
  • Next, we’d hit Galerie Delacroix, where Joans once hosted a four-hour tribute to his mentor Langston Hughes, and had the late poet’s verse read in Arabic, English, French, and Spanish. (In 1927, Hughes had visited Tangier and written a lovely poem about travel and unrequited longing, “I Thought It was Tangiers I Wanted.”) Then we’d walk to the majestic Teatro Cervantes built in 1913, where Weston had organized the first pan-African jazz festival in Morocco in June 1972 (revived in 2002), which brought Dexter Gordon, Odetta, Billy Harper, and Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers to the city. Our last stop was the Hotel Chellah, where, as local legend had it, the Martinican anticolonial thinker Frantz Fanon stayed overnight on July 3, 1959, following a car crash on the Morocco–Algeria border rumored to be the handiwork of La Main Rouge, the paramilitary group run by French intelligence to assassinate leading supporters of Algerian independence. Fanon was flown to Rome the following day on a Moroccan passport.
  • Paul Bowles and King Hassan II died in 1999, a few months apart. The novelist and the tyrant who had towered over Tangier for generations had more in common than either would have admitted—and that in part explains the reverence Bowles still enjoys in official Morocco
  • both shared a disdain for leftist, Third-Worldist politics. Both hated pan-Arabism, and loved Berber culture as long as it was “folkloric” and apolitical. They each thought Moroccans were congenitally ill-suited for democracy.
  • both Bowles and the monarch celebrated a “primitive,” mystical, unlettered, unfree Morocco, sharing a special appetite for the intoxicating rhythms of the Berbers. No wonder King Hassan II, who expelled numerous critics—from Arab intellectuals to French journalists and American professors—never bothered Bowles.
  • as long as America was seen as a political friend, Bowles was viewed favorably. Not surprisingly, after the Gulf war of 1990 and the release of Bertolucci’s film of The Sheltering Sky that same year, more articles started to appear across the Middle East critiquing Bowles’s representations of Morocco, accusing him of racism and Orientalism
  • The Morocco that Bowles dubbed a “land of magic” is one the Ministry of Tourism sells to the West
  • his emphasis on Morocco’s “African” essence suits the country’s recent geopolitical turn and reentry into the Africa Union
  • for all his misgivings about Western modernity, he thought Morocco as an African country would be better off attaching itself to the West. This is now the position of a significant segment of Morocco’s ruling elite.
  • That the regime celebrates Berber folklore and the oeuvre of a novelist who wanted an “independent Berber republic” even as it imprisons Berber activists across the country is evidence for many of the regime’s fraudulence and bad faith. In this respect, Bowles’s continuing eminence suggests how little has changed in the kingdom since the colonial era, with an authoritarian regime and repressive social order remaining largely intact.
  • As for Bowles’s work, I had come to realize that it reflected poorly on Morocco and America. Yes, he had brought attention to the suppression of Berber history and made invaluable musical recordings, but decolonization was supposed to dismantle colonial representations, and instead, the Moroccan regime was validating and institutionalizing Bowles’s depictions of Morocco
  • today, a new generation of Moroccan writers—among them secularists, Berber activists, music critics, and pan-Africanists—are claiming Bowles as an ally. And that is why I found myself writing about Bowles once more.
Michael Fisher

Living in the Shadows - Video // Current - 0 views

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    Under pressure from Spain and the European Union, Morocco has begun a crackdown on the wave of sub-Saharan Africans trying to reach Europe. Mariana van Zeller visits with immigrant communities who are living in the shadows of Moroccan slums.
Ed Webb

How bus ban reflects Morocco's broader migration policy - 0 views

  • a poster in a Moroccan bus station. Apparently hung by the major transport company CTM, it announced it would be "strictly forbidden to sell CTM tickets to Africans" traveling to cities near Europe if they couldn't produce a valid Moroccan residency permit. It was clear “African” referred to black sub-Saharans and not Moroccans.
  • Though the poster’s words came as a shock to most, the policy behind them has been in practice for several years, migrants say. And rather than the intended effect of curbing migration, such policies have only cultivated illegal trafficking networks. 
  • Tens of thousands of sub-Saharan migrants have passed through Morocco to Europe in recent decades. An estimated 700,000 currently reside in the kingdom, many without legal permission to do so.
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  • Morocco, a country of both origin and transit for migration, is a tense middle ground. The kingdom is the closest African country to Europe and shares land borders with two Spanish enclaves, making it a practical conduit for migrants. After Turkey and the European Union signed a border deal in 2016 and Italy closed its southern ports in 2018, scores more migrants headed for Morocco. 
  • after hundreds of sub-Saharan migrants breached the border fences of the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in mid-2018, Morocco cracked down. 
  • Morocco, facing pressure from Europe, has aggressively policed their presence. Since 2018, authorities have taken sub-Saharan migrants from their homes and the streets in border cities and bused them hundreds of miles to the south. The EU has given 232 million euros to Morocco to manage migration, most of which is spent on border policing. 
  • “When international deals were at stake, financial compensation to the kingdom was at stake, we started to see hardened migration policies.” 
  • Whether or not an official directive, the CTM poster hit all the wrong targets. Sub-Saharan Africans buying the company’s relatively expensive tickets are likely regularized and working in Morocco, not undocumented, Magallanes-Gonzalez said. “It’s like a slap in the face. It reminds documented migrants that the policy that promised them integration and access to social services — the policy they thought offered them hope in this country — may not be fully in practice," she added. Moreover, she said, “It reminds them that because they’re black, they’re being targeted.”
  • Thirty-one percent of migrants who crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in 2018 were Moroccan; 70% of Moroccans under the age of 30 have considered leaving, according to Arab Barometer.
  • Lacking legal options, they turn to traffickers who may exploit them and put them in deadly situations. EU border policing, combined with a broken Libyan state, led to migrants being sold as slaves in Libya in 2017 and 2018. 
Ed Webb

EU's Mediterranean, southern European leaders meet in Malta on migration | Migration Ne... - 0 views

  • Paris is hoping Friday’s so-called Med9 summit, attended by the leaders of Malta, France, Greece, Italy, Croatia, Cyprus, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain, will offer a “clear message” that migration requires a response at the European level
  • EU is poised to agree a revamped Pact on Migration and Asylum, which will seek to relieve pressure on frontline countries such as Italy and Greece by relocating some arrivals to other EU states
  • Both Meloni and Macron also want to prevent boats departing from North Africa by working more closely with Tunisia, despite questions over the country’s human rights standards and treatment of migrants.
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  • Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi met with his Tunisian and Libyan counterparts in Sicily on Thursday for talks on stopping the boats
  • There are fears arrivals could spiral further if instability in the Sahel affects North African countries.
  • also discuss regional challenges posed by natural disasters following a devastating earthquake in Morocco, a flood disaster in Libya, and extreme weather events in Southern Europe
Ed Webb

More than 2,500 dead, missing as 186,000 cross Mediterranean in 2023 | Refugees News | ... - 0 views

  • More than 2,500 people have died or gone missing while trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year, the UN refugee agency said, while approximately 186,000 people have arrived in European countries during the same period.
  • of the 186,000 who had crossed the Mediterranean, 83 percent – some 130,000 people – landed in Italy. Other countries where people who had crossed the Mediterranean had landed included Greece, Spain, Cyprus and Malta.
  • the land journey from sub-Saharan African countries to sea crossing departure points on the Tunisian and Libyan coasts “remains one of the world’s most dangerous”.
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  • “Lives are also lost on land, away from public attention,”
Ed Webb

In many countries, Millennials more inclusive than elders in views of national identity... - 0 views

  • Across a number of countries that are wrestling with the politics of national identity, younger people are far more likely than their elders to take an inclusive view of what it takes for people to be truly considered “one of us” – whether the measure is being born in their country, sharing local customs and traditions or being Christian.
  • The divide between the young and the old over birthright nationality is quite wide in certain European countries: 21 percentage points in the United Kingdom and 16 points each in Greece and Spain
  • Views on the importance of culture to national identity also split along generational lines. A majority (55%) of older Americans but only 28% of younger adults believe it is very important that a person share U.S. national customs and traditions to be truly American. There is a similar 20-point generation gap in Australia, Canada and Japan.
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  • In these predominantly Christian countries, older people are generally much more likely than younger ones to link national identity to being Christian.
  • only in Greece (65% of those ages 50 and older) does a majority of any age group believe it is very important for one to be Christian to be a true national
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    Important data for thinking comparatively about the relationship between certain aspects of identity and perceptions about national belonging.
rklingerman18

Syrian Refugee Tripped in Hungary Denies Extremist Ties - 2 views

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    A Syrian refugee who was tripped by a Hungarian journalist while carrying his young son this month, prompting an outpouring of sympathy and an offer of employment in Spain, dismissed claims by supporters of President Bashar al-Assad that he has ties to Islamic extremists.
Ed Webb

The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment | The New York Review of Books - 2 views

  • They had imbibed some of the defining values of American Jewish political culture: a belief in open debate, a skepticism about military force, a commitment to human rights. And in their innocence, they did not realize that they were supposed to shed those values when it came to Israel.
  • For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead
  • Every country manifests some kind of ideological divide. But in contemporary Israel, the gulf is among the widest on earth
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  • while American Jewish groups claim that they are simply defending Israel from its foes, they are actually taking sides in a struggle within Israel between radically different Zionist visions
  • In 2006, Foxman called an Amnesty International report on Israeli killing of Lebanese civilians “bigoted, biased, and borderline anti-Semitic.” The Conference of Presidents has announced that “biased NGOs include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Christian Aid, [and] Save the Children.” Last summer, an AIPAC spokesman declared that Human Rights Watch “has repeatedly demonstrated its anti-Israel bias.” When the Obama administration awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson, former UN high commissioner for human rights, the ADL and AIPAC both protested, citing the fact that she had presided over the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. (Early drafts of the conference report implicitly accused Israel of racism. Robinson helped expunge that defamatory charge, angering Syria and Iran.)
  • Hebrew University Professor Ze’ev Sternhell is an expert on fascism and a winner of the prestigious Israel Prize. Commenting on Lieberman and the leaders of Shas in a recent Op-Ed in Haaretz, he wrote, “The last time politicians holding views similar to theirs were in power in post–World War II Western Europe was in Franco’s Spain.” With their blessing, “a crude and multifaceted campaign is being waged against the foundations of the democratic and liberal order.” Sternhell should know. In September 2008, he was injured when a settler set off a pipe bomb at his house.
  • Israel’s vice prime minister, Moshe Ya’alon, called the anti-occupation group Peace Now a “virus.” This January, a right-wing group called Im Tirtzu accused Israeli human rights organizations of having fed information to the Goldstone Commission that investigated Israel’s Gaza war. A Knesset member from Netanyahu’s Likud promptly charged Naomi Chazan, head of the New Israel Fund, which supports some of those human rights groups, with treason, and a member of Lieberman’s party launched an investigation aimed at curbing foreign funding of Israeli NGOs.
  • by downplaying the significance of Avigdor Lieberman, the settlers, and Shas, American Jewish groups allow these older Zionists to continue to identify with that more internally cohesive, more innocent Israel of their youth, an Israel that now only exists in their memories
  • America’s Jewish leaders should think hard about that rally. Unless they change course, it portends the future: an American Zionist movement that does not even feign concern for Palestinian dignity and a broader American Jewish population that does not even feign concern for Israel.
  • In a more recent report on how to foster Zionism among America’s young, Luntz urges American Jewish groups to use the word “Arabs, not Palestinians,” since “the term ‘Palestinians’ evokes images of refugee camps, victims and oppression,” while “‘Arab’ says wealth, oil and Islam.”
  • In the world of AIPAC, the Holocaust analogies never stop, and their message is always the same: Jews are licensed by their victimhood to worry only about themselves. Many of Israel’s founders believed that with statehood, Jews would rightly be judged on the way they treated the non-Jews living under their dominion. “For the first time we shall be the majority living with a minority,” Knesset member Pinchas Lavon declared in 1948, “and we shall be called upon to provide an example and prove how Jews live with a minority.”
  • the dilemmas you face when you possess dozens or hundreds of nuclear weapons, and your adversary, however despicable, may acquire one, are not the dilemmas of the Warsaw Ghetto
  • a challenge as momentous as any in Jewish history: to save liberal democracy in the only Jewish state on earth
Ed Webb

Israel rebuffs Turkish demand for raid apology - CNN.com - 0 views

  • Turkey would "cut off relations" with Israel unless "they either apologize or accept an international commission and its report." "(The) Israelis have three options: They will either apologize or acknowledge an international-impartial inquiry and its conclusion. Otherwise, our diplomatic ties will be cut off," Davutoglu told Hurriyet early Sunday in an interview on his plane returning from Kyrgyzstan,
  • Foreign Ministry later claimed the minister had been misquoted, saying he actually said that without an apology or inquiry, "it will not be possible for our relationship to improve."
  • the foreign ministers of Spain, France and Italy will visit Gaza this month
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  • Zapatero made the comment at a news conference in Madrid with visiting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said the Zapatero aide. But the French Foreign Ministry said the visit had not been confirmed. Italy did not immediately respond to CNN requests for confirmation.
  • Turkey had not yet reached the point of cutting off relations with Israel but made it clear that even a full apology would not itself repair damaged relations. The point of an apology would be to lead to compensation for those who died and to the lifting of the blockade of Gaza, government
Ian Mandell

BBC News - Egypt starts building steel wall on Gaza Strip border - 0 views

  • Egypt has begun constructing a huge metal wall along its border with the Gaza Strip as it attempts to cut smuggling tunnels, the BBC has learned.
  • The land beneath Egypt and Gaza resembles a Swiss cheese, full of holes and tunnels through which the Palestinians smuggle the everyday items they are denied by the blockade. But the Israelis say the tunnels are also used to smuggle people, weapons, and the components of the rockets that are fired at southern Israeli towns. The wall is not expected to stop all the smuggling, but it will force the Palestinians to go deeper and it will likely cut the hundreds of superficial tunnels closer to the surface that are used to move the bulk of the goods.
  • Egypt has begun constructing a huge metal wall along its border with the Gaza Strip as it attempts to cut smuggling tunnels, the BBC has learned.
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  • gypt has begun constructing a huge metal wall along its border with the Gaza Strip as it attempts to cut smuggling tunnels, the BBC has learned.
  • Egypt has begun constructing a huge metal wall along its border with the Gaza Strip as it attempts to cut smuggling tunnels, the BBC has learned
  • Egypt has begun constructing a huge metal wall along its border with the Gaza Strip as it attempts to cut smuggling tunnels, the BBC has learned.
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  • When it is finished the wall will be 10-11km (6-7 miles) long and will extend 18 metres below the surface
Ed Webb

Informed Comment: Nearly One in Four Persons on Globe is Muslim - 0 views

  • If current demographic trends continue, moreover, the world could level off at about 9 billion persons in 2050, and nearly 1/3 of those could well be Muslim. The really big Muslim populations are not in the Middle East, which is largely arid and wouldn't support such populations. It is in relatively well-watered places such as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Indonesia in Asia where the bulk of Muslims live.
  • One of the implications is that the US is a little unlikely to thrive as a superpower in the 21st century if its more venal and bloodthirsty politicians go on barking about "Islamo-fascism" (they never said Christo-Fascism even though Gen. Franco in Spain was a good candidate for the label) and denigrating Islam and Muslims and seeking to militarily occupy their countries and siphon off their resources. That kind of behavior may have worked in the 19th century before Muslims were mobilized, but it does not work now.
Ed Webb

Syria: Has it won? | The Economist - 0 views

  • Under its surprisingly durable leader, Syria has stubbornly nudged its way back into the heart of regional diplomacy. It can no longer be ignored
  • Mr Assad is increasingly viewed as an essential part of the region’s diplomatic jigsaw. He is fast coming back into the game. Even America would like to embrace him.
  • A flurry of foreign dignitaries has recently courted Mr Assad, including the Saudi king, the French and Croatian presidents, the prime ministers of Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Spain, and a stream of ministers and MPs, plus a string of prominent Americans. Mr Jumblatt himself is expected in Damascus soon, as is another Lebanese leader with a personal animus, Saad Hariri, now filling his slain father’s shoes as Lebanon’s prime minister.
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  • Mr Assad’s regime has not only endured but thrived, along with Syria’s economy. Its GDP, its foreign trade and the value of loans to its private sector have all nearly doubled in the past four years, as reforms have tapped suppressed entrepreneurial vigour. For decades Damascus looked as dour as Bucharest under communist rule. Now it pulses with life. New cars throng its streets. Fancy boutique hotels, bars and fully booked restaurants pack its rapidly gentrifying older quarters, while middle-class suburbs, replete with shopping malls and fast-food outlets, spread into the surrounding hills. The revenue of Damascus’s swankiest hotel, the Four Seasons, is said to have doubled between 2006 and 2008. Bank Audi Syria, one of several Lebanese banks prospering there, made a profit within six months of launching in 2005. It now boasts $1.6 billion in deposits, and recently led Syria’s first-ever private syndication to finance a cement plant, a joint venture between France’s Lafarge and local businessmen costing $680m. In March Syria relaunched its stock exchange, moribund since the 1960s and still tiny. But with new rules allowing foreign ownership of equity, investors are showing keen interest.
  • Syria is a natural transit hub for the region’s energy exports. In October it signed a series of agreements with Turkey. A decade ago the Turks had threatened to invade; now they can drive across the border without visas. Last month the EU also abruptly signalled its eagerness to sign a long-delayed association agreement, leaving the Syrians to ponder whether it needs revision in light of their stronger bargaining hand.
  • The reforms so far have been the easier ones. Pervasive corruption and creaky infrastructure will impede progress. So will a school system that, despite the opening of some 15 private universities, is far from supplying the skills needed for a modern economy.
  • although Syrians whisper about palace intrigues and bumps in the night, a striking number reckon silence is a reasonable price to pay for stability. Punishment is harsh but at least the rules are clear. Syrian society is as complex in sectarian make-up as neighbouring Lebanon and Iraq, and harbours similarly volatile groups, including jihadist cells that the government ruthlessly squashes. Yet it has experienced minimal unrest in recent years. The most serious incident was a car bomb that killed 17 people in Damascus last year. The calm, say some, results less from heavy policing than from clever intelligence, including the co-opting and manipulation of extremist groups. With the exception of the Kurds, Syria’s minorities enjoy a sense of security envied elsewhere in the region.
  • Frightened by the invasion of Iraq, Syria nevertheless yanked the American lion’s tail by letting insurgents slip into the fray. Such nerve, along with Syria’s generous accommodation of Iraqi refugees, improved Mr Assad’s Arab nationalist credentials just when America’s moderate Arab allies looked callow and spineless.
  • Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, tried to provoke a reaction from Mr Assad, when visiting President Nicolas Sarkozy in France, by calling for negotiations without preconditions. Syria had no preconditions, answered Mr Assad on his own Paris visit, but rather rights that everyone recognised. Indeed, Mr Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, seemed to accept that the Heights would one day have to be returned to Syria.
Ed Webb

Sisi's final act: Six years on, and Egypt remains unbowed | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • For three weeks Sisi’s image has been trashed by an insider turned whistleblower whose videos from self-exile in Spain have gripped and paralysed Egypt in turn. 
  • Mohamed Ali is, by his own admission, no hero. One of only 10 contractors the army uses, he is corrupt. He also only left Egypt with his family and fortune because his bills had not been paid. Ali is no human rights campaigner. 
  • Egypt’s new folk hero likes fast cars, acting, film producing, real estate developing.
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  • when he talks he talks the language of the street and the street listens to him. That's Sisi's problem.  
  • Sisi  was a "failed man", a "disgrace", a "midget" who uses make up and hitches his trousers up too high, Ali told Egypt. Sisi was a con man who lectured you on the need to tighten your belt while building palaces for his wife Intissar.
  • Ali listed them: a luxury house in Hilmiya ($6m), a presidential residence in Alexandria ($15m), a palace in the new administrative capital, and another one in the new Alamein city west of Alexandria.
  • A report published by the World Bank in April calculated that "some 60 percent of Egypt’s population is either poor or vulnerable". 
  • Most Egyptians have seen their real incomes fall, while Egypt under its IMF-backed austerity programme is racking up huge foreign debts. It was $43bn during Morsi’s presidency. It is $106bn now. Seventy per cent of taxes now goes into paying these debts off. Internal debt is over 5 trillion Egyptian pounds ($306bn).
  • Every Egyptian remembers the lectures Sisi gave them on the need to tighten their belts. When the IMF forced the state to reduce subsidies, Sisi’s response was: "I know that the Egyptian people can endure more... We must do it. And you’ll have to pay; you’ll have to pay," Sisi said in one unscripted rant a year into his presidency.
  • "Now you say we are very poor, we must be hungry. Do you get hungry? You spend billions that are spilt on the ground. Your men squander millions. I am not telling a secret. You are a bunch of thieves."
  • Ali’s YouTube channel has done more in three weeks to destroy Sisi’s image than the Brotherhood, liberals and leftists, now all crushed as active political forces in Egypt, have done in six years of political protest. 
  • To their credit the opposition did not crumble, paying for their stand with their lives and their freedom. To their shame the Egyptian people did not listen.
  • Sisi thinks he can ride this out, as he has done challenges in the past. Hundreds of protesters have been arrested since last Friday.
  • The initial demonstration in Tahrir Square in January 2011 was smaller than the ones that broke out in Cairo, Suez and Alexandria last Friday. They called for reform, not the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. Last Friday, Sisi’s portrait was torn down. “Say it, don’t be afraid, Sisi has to leave!” they shouted on day one of this fresh revolt. 
  • the "opposition" is everybody - ordinary Egyptians, disaffected junior ranks in the army, Mubarak era businessmen. This is a wide coalition of forces. Once again Egypt has been reunited by a tyrant
  • unlike 2013, Sisi’s bankers  - Saudi Arabia and the UAE - have run out of cash for Egypt. Today each has its own problems and foreign interventions which are all turning sour - Yemen and Libya.
  • The steam is running out of the counter-revolution.
  • popular protest is re-emerging as a driver for change across the region. We have seen it topple dictators in Sudan and Algeria. Both have learned the lessons of failed coups in the past and have so far managed the transition without surrendering the fruits of revolution to the army. This, too, has an effect on events in Egypt.
Ed Webb

The city fit for no-one - BBC News - 0 views

  • Tales of an “indiscriminate” bombing campaign, flattened buildings and hundreds of alleged civilian deaths rattled the local population. In June, Raqqa’s siege was completed and the US campaign was in full swing. Civilians were trapped inside with IS fighters. “America is a superpower. It was supposed to use laser-guided bombs and precision munitions. What did we get instead? Massive bombs, mortar rounds and countless artillery strikes. Is that how you liberate Raqqa? You’re murdering civilians instead,” Hatem says, his voice now quivering with a mix of anger and despair. Airwars, a group monitoring civilian deaths in Russian and US-led coalition air strikes Iraq and Syria, says that US-led forces dropped 5,775 bombs, shells and missiles in Raqqa in August alone, resulting in at least 433 likely civilian casualties.
  • the Islamic State group was quick to use civilian deaths to its own advantage and pumped one propaganda video after the other showing burnt corpses and maimed civilians.
  • “We know that for IS, the blood of civilians is very cheap. But is it the same for Americans? There was no-one operating the mortar that day. There were no IS fighters nearby even. It was there for nearly a month and their drones were flying night and day. Why bomb us? Why?”
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  • “There were 20, 30 civilians being killed every day. People were getting buried under the rubble of their own homes,” he says. Islamic State fighters, he says, we getting aggressive with the locals. At one point, they stopped sending bulldozers and trucks to move the rubble and rescue civilians. “They’d ask, ‘You want me to sacrifice the life of a brother for a corpse?’ How can you argue with animals like that?”
  • The SDF has its own sniper unit. Four foreigners, from Germany, Spain, the US and the UK.
  • IS fighters have mined the buildings and the roads, so few have been cleared. They’ve left motion sensors in some buildings so that when SDF forces enter, or open a cupboard door, a bomb detonates. Every home and workplace has been damaged. Even a captured IS weapons store has been left untouched for fear of booby traps.
  • Civilians in Raqqa, there may be as many as 20,000 in IS territory, are used as bait as well as human shields.
  • Time and time again, entire buildings are taken to kill a single fighter. It’s unsurprising so little of Raqqa is left. The SDF lacks the manpower to clear buildings themselves, so coalition bombs do the work.
  • IS had promised to grow a new empire from these streets. Instead, the bodies of its fighters clog the gutters. Every few hundred metres, there is another one. Some cut in half, some still with their weapons. Two men were hiding in a building doorway, but they were spotted. They lie dead where they stood, one, his legs sliced from his body. The fins of the missile that killed them stick out of the concrete pavement. There are scorch marks on at the building's entrance. An Arab fighter, with a skull and crossbones patch on his uniform, steps over the bodies, he has to check the building for booby traps.
  • They think it is mostly foreign fighters left inside Raqqa now. When I ask how many, most seem to agree: 400, no more.
Ed Webb

'All of them means all of them': Who are Lebanon's political elite? | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • From Tripoli to Tyre, and Beirut to Baalbek, Lebanese have been chanting the same slogan: “All of them means all of them.” Since its independence, Lebanon has been ruled by a clique of politicians and political families who have used sectarianism, corruption and clientelism to cling to power and amass incredible wealth. Now protesters are calling for them all to be removed, from Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah to Prime Minister Saad Hariri, with nervous responses from the leaders themselves. Middle East Eye takes a quick look at some of the more prominent figures and parties in the protesters’ sights.
  • The Hariri family was once the darling of Saudi Arabia, but apparently no longer
  • Aoun is one of Lebanon’s many leaders who played an active and violent part in the country’s 1975-90 civil war. As head of the army in the war’s latter years, Aoun fought bitter conflicts with the occupying Syrian military and the Lebanese Forces paramilitary headed by his rival, Samir Geagea. In 1989, Aoun found himself besieged in the presidential palace in Baabda, where he now resides as president, and fled Syrian troops to the French embassy, which granted him exile.
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  • The Amal Movement was founded in 1974 by Lebanese-Iranian cleric Musa Sadr to represent Lebanon’s Shia, who had long been marginalised as one of the country’s poorest sections of society. Though originally notable for its efforts to pull Shia Lebanese out of poverty, during the civil war it became one of the country’s most effective militias and controlled large parts of the south.
  • Amal is a close ally of fellow Shia party Hezbollah, and their politicians have run on the same list in elections. However, they occasionally diverge in opinion.
  • Birthed from the resistance movement that followed Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Hezbollah has since become the most powerful political and military force in Lebanon. Iran-backed and Syria-allied, the movement was the only militia to keep its arms at the end of the civil war, as it waged a deadly guerilla war against the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon.
  • Though Israel was forced out in 2000, Hezbollah’s military capabilities have only increased, and its war against Israel in 2006 and ongoing involvement in the Syrian conflict have divided opinion among the Lebanese. The movement and its allies did well at the ballot box in 2018 and Hezbollah now has two ministers in the cabinet.
  • Hassan Nasrallah lives in hiding due to the constant fear of Israeli assassination.
  • Known as “al-Hakim” (the doctor), Geagea is a medically trained warlord-turned-politician. During the 1975-90 civil war, Geagea was one of the most notorious militia leaders, heading the Christian Lebanese Forces. He was a close ally of Bashir Gemayel, who was assassinated days before being sworn into the presidency in 1982 with Israeli support
  • he was convicted of involvement in a number of assassinations and attempted murders in widely condemned trials. Geagea was kept in a solitary windowless cell for 11 years until his pardon in 2005 following the Syrian pullout
  • The Lebanese Forces, which is an offshoot of the right-wing Kataeb party, is the second-largest Christian party after the FPM. Its three ministers resigned early in the protest movement, and the party has now attempted to join the demonstrators and help block roads, though many protesters have rejected its overtures.
  • Feudal lord and socialist, advocate of de-sectarianising Lebanese politics but also a fierce defender of his Druze sect, Jumblatt is a difficult man to pin down. Often described as Lebanon’s kingmaker, his allegiances have swung several times, a trick that may have helped keep him alive.
  • The Kataeb party has fallen a long way since its civil war heyday. Also known as the Phalangists, the party used to be the dominant Christian party, and was inspired by its founder Pierre Gemayel’s trips to the 1936 Berlin Olympics and Franco’s fascist party in Spain. The Gemayel family has suffered a series of assassinations, most notably president elect Bashir Gemayel in 1982. Bashir’s brother Amin then went on to claim the presidency, and Amin’s son Sami is now heading the party. In recent years however the Kataeb party has struggled to attract votes from its offshoot the Lebanese Forces and the FPM
Ed Webb

How the Suez Canal will continue to change Mediterranean Sea - 0 views

  • Since the opening of the Suez Canal, the renowned waterway connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, its environmental impact has been a matter of concern, with the arrival of nonindigenous species from other regions. Since the official inauguration 150 years ago, the number of species that have arrived through the canal — known as Lessepsian or Erythrean species — is estimated to exceed 400, according to different studies. This is a substantial migration that some observers warn is causing the most significant biogeographic change currently underway worldwide.
  • “This has caused a substantial change in the traffic [food] webs of the Eastern Mediterranean, and such kind of life chain change has not been observed anywhere else in the world.”
  • Even if the introduction of Erythrean species started as soon as the canal opened, only a few established in the Mediterranean back then. It has only been in the last decades that the process has skyrocketed, and the number of alien species in the Mediterranean — not only Lessepsian — more than doubled between 1970 and 2015, bringing a new sense of urgency.
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  • acceleration has been facilitated by a Mediterranean Sea that is now more welcoming for alien species in terms of temperature and salinity. But also because the possibilities to arrive are higher due to the successive enlargements of the Suez Canal since its inauguration and the increase of maritime transport and aquafarming
  • Until now, there has not been any basin-wide extinction of indigenous marine species recorded in the Mediterranean, but there are cases of local disappearances and gross reductions in numbers. This has been particularly the case in its eastern basin, where the ratio of alien to native species is the highest.
  • there are nine species recorded that pose human health hazards, all of which are considered to have arrived through the Suez Canal. Their presence is particularly high in the Levant, but a lethally poisonous pufferfish has been found as far as in Spain. In the summer of 2009, one of these species caused 815 documented hospitalizations along the southeastern coast of Turkey,
  • “The major changes are in the shelf water, where artisanal [fishermen] used to fish. … So you are not only changing the economy in [quantity] but depriving people’s livelihood,”
  • “Egypt is now building huge desalinating plants near the canal and their outflow is high salinity affluent, which should be used in the Bitter Lakes [in the center of the Suez Canal] to reintroduce the salinity barrier that used to be present in the early days, and that we know was efficacious in stopping at least some of the invaders."
Ed Webb

Business as Usual in Western Sahara? | MERIP - 0 views

  • potentially promising peace talks took place in Geneva in December, 2018 between the Polisario Front liberation movement of Western Sahara and the Kingdom of Morocco in an effort to kickstart the stalled peace process for the nearly 45-year conflict over this North African territory
  • The two claimants to the territory, Morocco and the Polisario Front, sent delegations. In addition, and as at previous talks, neighbouring Algeria and Mauritania were also invited to attend
  • UN peacekeepers have been on the ground in Western Sahara for nearly three decades as part of the mandate of MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara), which has been renewed regularly since 1991 even though the Secretariat’s negotiators have made little progress toward a solution to the Morocco-Sahrawi dispute
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  • the forces protecting the status quo, and thus Morocco’s ongoing colonization of Western Sahara, remain durable
  • If formal talks have been sporadic and often lacked clear outcomes, the parties have been pursuing other initiatives in the past few years. Polisario has achieved favorable outcomes in legal cases calling into question Morocco’s exploitation of resources from a non self-governing territory.[3] Morocco is focused on increasing its reach and influence in Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa. In January 2017 the Kingdom rejoined the Africa Union, which it had left in protest at the admission of SADR in 1984.
  • Algeria not only hosts the exiled SADR government, but also the thousands of Western Saharans who were exiled by Morocco’s invasion in 1975 and who now number 173,000.
  • In the world after the September 11 attacks, the North Atlantic community, led by Paris and Washington, began to view the stability provided by the UN mission in Western Sahara as an end in itself. Since at least 2004, the Council—unable to take independence off the table (because of international law) yet unwilling to force Morocco to contemplate it (because of geopolitics)—has opted to keep the parties talking in the hopes that a new reality will someday emerge.
  • Facing a Moroccan military invasion of its desert colony and with the dictator Franco on his deathbed in October 1975, Spain abandoned its plans for a plebiscite and arranged for Morocco and Mauritania to divide the territory. Mauritania renounced its claim in 1979 and later recognized the government for Western Sahara which the pro-independence Polisario Front founded in 1976, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). War between Morocco, supported by France and the United States, and the Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, lasted until a ceasefire was established in 1991, which still holds today.
  • While this consensus-based process has been part of the dynamic reinforcing a status quo that has provided international political cover for Morocco’s ongoing colonization and economic exploitation of Western Sahara, it has rarely been met with anything short of a unanimous vote from the entire Security Council and especially the Permanent Five. In breaking with this tradition, the US resolution elicited almost unprecedented abstentions from two permanent members of the Security Council with little historical interest in the Western Sahara issue, China and Russia, as well as the de facto AU representative on the Council, Ethiopia, a state that also recognizes SADR.
  • Operating under Chapter VI of the UN charter, the only material leverage the Security Council has in Western Sahara is to tie the fate of MINURSO’s peacekeeping force to progress at the negotiating table. The Council, however, has always been loath to terminate a mission that appears to be keeping the peace in Western Sahara. In past few years, several nearby countries—Mali, Chad, Niger, Libya, and Nigeria—have witnessed increasing levels of terrorism and armed conflict which have raised international concerns about the possible destabilizing effects of a UN withdrawal from Western Sahara.
  • the new US attitude toward Western Sahara appears to be driven by John Bolton, who became Trump’s National Security Advisor shortly before the April vote on MINURSO. Bolton has a long history with the Western Sahara conflict, from his days in heading the State Department’s UN office at the end of the Cold War, to serving as an aide to Baker’s Western Sahara mission in the late 1990s, to his controversial interim appointment as the US representative to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006. It is no secret that Bolton has been sympathetic toward Polisario, a cause that became popular among the UN-bashing conservatives in the mid-1990s. While Bolton’s “get tough” approach to Western Sahara might be framed in terms of sensible UN cost-cutting, his recent statements on the issue, where he framed the Western Sahara question as a simple matter of organizing a vote on independence, have sent the Moroccan diplomatic corps, Washington D.C. lobbyists and media apparatus into a frenzy.
  • There has been no fundamental change to the basic geopolitical architecture of the conflict to suggest that Morocco and Polisario Front are more willing to accept an outcome they view as existential annihilation (respectively, independence for Western Sahara or some kind of political-economic integration with Morocco).
  • the Sahrawi nationalist movement benefits from a safe haven in Algeria, which serves as a base for pro-independence Sahrawi activism. Recent years have seen this activism flourishing beyond the refugee camps in Algeria: in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara, in the Sahrawi diaspora, and in social media campaigns. The “supply” side of Sahrawi nationalist demand for self-determination seems assured.
  • France has supported Moroccan efforts to decouple MINUSRSO’s primary and secondary functions. Though MINURSO ostensibly exists to facilitate a political solution that respects Western Sahara’s right of self-determination, its secondary peacekeeping function has effectively provided international cover for Morocco’s ongoing colonization of the territory since 1991.
  • Sahrawi activists contesting Moroccan rule continue to provide substantive documentation, now easily circulated by social media, that the Moroccan authorities commit human rights abuses against nationalist Sahrawis.[4] Troublingly, MINURSO is one a few UN peacekeeping missions in the world whose mandate does not include a provision for human rights monitoring, due in large part to French protection on the Security Council. Similarly, some Sahrawis in the Moroccan-controlled territory continue to voice grievances that the economic investment and development of the territory under the auspices of Morocco does not benefit the Sahrawi population but instead go to Moroccan settlers, corporations, and political-economic oligarchs of the makhzan.
Ed Webb

Our Oligarch - 0 views

  • Abramovich is perhaps the most visible of the “oligarchs” surrounding Putin, who are widely perceived as extensions of the Russian president and keepers of a vast fortune that is effectively under the Kremlin’s control. Much of this wealth was extracted from Russia’s enormous energy and mineral resources, and is now stashed in secret bank accounts in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, in empty mansions and condos from London to Manhattan to Miami, and in yachts and private jets on the French Riviera.
  • as much as 60% of Russia’s GDP is offshore
  • The reserved, gray-bearded Abramovich is notoriously litigious toward critics who seek to detail his close ties to Putin. Last year, he successfully sued the British journalist Catherine Belton, who claimed in her 2020 book Putin’s People that the Russian president dictated Abramovich’s major purchases, including his decision to buy Chelsea. He also extracted an apology from a British newspaper for calling him a “bag carrier” for the Russian president.
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  • Abramovich—who, like many of the most prominent Russian oligarchs, is Jewish—has for years been a prolific donor to Jewish philanthropies. He has given half a billion dollars to Jewish charities over the past two decades, sending money linked to Putin’s kleptocratic regime circulating through Jewish institutions worldwide
  • Among other things, he has profoundly influenced Jewish life on three continents, developing deep financial ties with major communal institutions. He is partly responsible for the preeminent role played by Chabad in the religious life of post-Soviet Russia, for the growth of major Jewish museums from Russia to Israel, for a raft of anti-antisemitism programming involving leading American and British Jewish organizations, and for the expansion of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem
  • the Jewish world is forced to reckon with its long embrace of Abramovich, and with the moral costs of accepting his money
  • Certain Soviet Jews of Abramovich’s generation found themselves at the forefront of an emerging market economy. Concentrated in white collar professions but systematically excluded from desirable posts and from the top ranks of the Communist Party, they were unusually prepared—and, perhaps, motivated—to find legal and semi-legal points of entry into the tightly-regulated commerce between the Soviet Union and the West. This helps explain why, as the historian Yuri Slezkine writes in The Jewish Century, six of the seven top oligarchs of 1990s Russia (Petr Aven, Boris Berezovsky, Mikhail Fridman, Vladimir Gusinsky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and Alexander Smolensky) were ethnic Jews.
  • Boris Yeltsin soon initiated the firesale privatization of state-controlled industries at the urging of Washington and the IMF—a reckless transition from a command economy to a capitalist one that drove millions of Russians into poverty
  • the Yeltsin administration implemented its infamous loans-for-shares program, selling off key state industries in rigged auctions to Russia’s new business elite for a fraction of their real value in order to stabilize the state’s finances in the short term. Berezovsky and Abramovich gained ownership stakes in Sibneft, one of the world’s largest energy companies, and became instant billionaires.
  • In 1996, the handful of leading oligarchs pooled their financial resources—and directed their media companies’ coverage—to reelect the deeply unpopular Yeltsin over his Communist challenger, Gennady Zyuganov, whose platform of re-nationalizing industries terrified both the Russian and Western business classes
  • Fearing that it was unsustainable for a small group of mostly Jewish billionaires to prop up an ailing, visibly alcoholic president—especially after the ruble collapsed in 1998, dragging down a generation’s living standards and initiating a hunt for scapegoats—Berezovsky spearheaded an effort the following year to replace Yeltsin with a young, healthy, disciplined, and then-obscure former KGB officer named Vladimir Putin. It was a decision he would come to regret.
  • wealth so easily acquired could just as easily be taken away. In 2001, Putin hounded Berezovsky and Gusinsky—whose TV networks had criticized the president’s mishandling of a naval disaster—with criminal indictments for tax fraud, forcing them to sell their media and energy holdings at a fraction of their true cost. As a result, Abramovich, who had never challenged Putin, acquired control of Sibneft, while Berezovsky fled to the United Kingdom and Gusinsky departed for Spain and then Israel. Abramovich again came out ahead in 2003, when the oligarch Khodorkovsky was sent to a Siberian prison on tax charges after criticizing Putin for corruption, leaving his assets in the energy sector to be redistributed among those on good terms with the president.
  • “I don’t think there is a percent of independence in Abramovich,” said Roman Borisovich, a Luxembourg-based Russian banker turned anti-corruption activist who once encountered Abramovich through Berezovsky in the 1990s. “For Abramovich to stay alive, he had to turn against his master [Berezovsky], which is what he did, and he has served Putin handsomely ever since.”
  • Whereas in the Yeltsin era, the term identified a system dominated by truly independent tycoons, “Putin’s top priority when he came to power was to break that system, replacing it with a system of concentrated power in which men who are inaccurately referred to as oligarchs now have only as much access to wealth as Putin allows them to have,”
  • Even as he built up his credibility with Putin, he joined many of his fellow oligarchs in stashing his billions in Western financial institutions, which proved eager to assist. “Elites in the post-Soviet space are constantly looking to move their assets and wealth into rule-of-law jurisdictions, which generally means Western countries like the US or UK,”
  • In 2008, Berezovsky sued his former protege over his confiscated Sibneft shares; then, in 2012, seven months after a judge rejected all of his claims, Berezovsky died in his London home in an apparent suicide. Some former associates believe he might have been murdered
  • In 2017, BuzzFeed reported that US spy agencies suspect Russian involvement in as many as 14 mysterious deaths in Britain over the previous decade, including Berezovsky’s. In the wake of the 2018 poisoning of the defected double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, British intelligence services became increasingly wary of wealthy expats with close ties to the Kremlin. Diplomatic strain stymied Abramovich’s effort to acquire a Tier 1 British visa, which would have enabled him to stay in the country for 40 months.
  • “No one forced the British or American real estate industries to toss their doors open to as much illicit wealth as they could find, or the state of Delaware to craft the world’s greatest anonymous shell company services,” said Michel. “Western policymakers crafted all of the policies that these oligarchs are now taking advantage of.”
  • Abramovich also safeguarded a significant part of his fortune in the US, especially during his third marriage to the Russian American socialite and fashion designer Dasha Zhukova. Even after their 2018 divorce, Abramovich began the process of converting three adjacent townhouses on Manhattan’s Upper East Side into what will eventually become the largest home in the city, an “urban castle” valued at $180 million—making him one of the many wealthy Russians sheltering assets in New York’s booming and conveniently opaque real estate sector. (The mansion is intended for Zhukova and their two young children; Abramovich also has five children from his second marriage based primarily in the UK.) He also owns at least two homes in Aspen, Colorado, a gathering place of the global elite.
  • the oligarchs are now credibly threatened with exile from the West. Countries like France and Germany have already begun confiscating yachts owned by select Russian officials. And although the UK is still struggling to come up with a legal basis for following suit, leading politicians like Labour Leader Keir Starmer are urging direct sanctions against Abramovich. “Abramovich’s reputation has finally collapsed, along with the other supposedly apolitical oligarchs,” Michel said four days after Russia invaded Ukraine. “There’s no recovery from this. This is a titanic shift in terms of how these oligarchs can operate.”
  • Israel has been more hesitant to hold him to account.
  • In 2018, Abramovich acquired Israeli citizenship through the law of return, immediately becoming the second-wealthiest Israeli, behind Miriam Adelson. As a new Israeli citizen, he joined several dozen Russian Jewish oligarchs who have sought citizenship or residency in the Jewish state—a group that includes Fridman, Gusinsky, and the late Berezovsky. Since 2015, Abramovich has owned and sometimes lived in the 19th-century Varsano hotel in Tel Aviv’s trendy Neve Tzedek neighborhood, and in 2020 he purchased a mansion in Herzliya for $65 million—the most expensive real estate deal in the country’s history
  • As an Israeli passport holder, Abramovich is eligible to visit the UK for six months at a time and is exempt from paying taxes in Israel on his overseas income for the first decade of his residency
  • Given his increasingly precarious geopolitical position, Jewishness has become Abramovich’s identity of last resort—and Jewish philanthropic giving has provided him with an air of legitimacy not only in Israel but throughout the Jewish world. Abramovich and his fellow oligarchs “need to spend some money to launder their reputations,” said Borisovich, the anti-corruption activist. “They cannot be seen as Putin’s agents of influence; they need to be seen as independent businessmen. So if they can exploit Jewish philanthropy or give money to Oxford or the Tate Gallery, that’s the cost of doing business.”
  • A 2017 article in Politico, which identified Abramovich and Leviev as “Chabad’s biggest patrons worldwide,” also referred to Lazar as “Putin’s rabbi.” Lazar has often run interference for the Russian president—for instance, by defending his initial crackdown on oligarchs like Gusinsky as not motivated by antisemitism, or by praising Russia as safe for Jews under his governance. (The researcher noted that Putin has also cultivated prominent loyalists in other Russian religious communities, including the Orthodox Church and Islam.)
  • Abramovich also significantly funded the construction of the $50 million Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, which opened in 2012 (and to which Putin pledged to donate a month of his presidential salary). In a 2016 article in The Forward, the scholar Olga Gershenson suggested that the museum’s narrative bordered on propaganda, framing Jews as “a model Russian minority” and “glorifying and mourning . . . without raising more controversial and relevant questions that would require the viewer to come to terms with a nation’s difficult past.”
  • “It concentrates on the Soviet victory over the Nazis, and then it ends by saying that Jews in Putin’s Russia are all good and content.”
  • “Say No to Antisemitism” has brought together Chelsea players and management with many top Jewish groups; the currents heads of the ADL, the WJC, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and the Holocaust Educational Trust, among others, are all listed on its steering committee. The campaign is at least in part intended to address the antisemitism of some Chelsea fans, who have been known to shout “Yid!” and hiss in imitation of gas chambers when taunting fans of the rival club Tottenham, which has a historically Jewish fan base that proudly refers to itself as “the Yid Army.” Last November, Israeli President Isaac Herzog described the campaign as “a shining example of how sports can be a force for good and tolerance.”
  • Abramovich is also one of the primary benefactors of a Holocaust museum that opened in Porto last May. As of last year, Abramovich is a newly minted citizen of Portugal (and by extension, the European Union), which offers such recognition to anyone who can prove Sephardic ancestry dating back before the Portuguese expulsion of Jews in 1496.
  • Berel Rosenberg, a representative of the museum, denied that Abramovich had given the Porto Jewish community any money besides a €250 fee for Sephardic certification; regarding reports to the contrary, he alleged that “lies were published by antisemites and corrupt journalists.” However, Porto’s Jewish community does acknowledge that Abramovich has donated money to projects honoring the legacy of Portuguese Sephardic Jews in Hamburg, and he has been identified as an honorary member of Chabad Portugal and B’nai B’rith International Portugal due to his philanthropic activities in the country.
  • Abramovich has made a $30 million donation for a nanotechnology research center at Tel Aviv University; funded a football-focused “leadership training program” for Arab and Jewish children; and supported KKL-JNF’s tree-planting campaign in the southern Negev, which is dedicated to Lithuanian victims of the Holocaust—and which has drawn opposition from local Bedouin communities who view it as a land grab.
  • he has kept his support for Israeli settlements well-hidden
  • Abramovich has used front companies registered in the British Virgin Islands to donate more than $100 million to a right-wing Israeli organization called the Ir David Foundation, commonly known as Elad, which has worked since the 1980s to move Jewish settlers into occupied East Jerusalem. Elad also controls an archeological park and major tourist site called City of David, which it has leveraged in its efforts to “Judaize” the area, including by seizing Palestinian homes in the surrounding neighborhood of Silwan and digging under some to make them uninhabitable.
  • “In order for settlers to take over Palestinian homes, they need a lot of money,” said Hagit Ofran, co-director of the Settlement Watch project at the Israeli organization Peace Now, “both to take advantage of poor Palestinians for the actual purchases, and then for the long and expensive legal struggle that follows, and that can bankrupt Palestinian families. The money is crucial.” Of Abramovich’s support for Elad, she added, “That’s a lot from one source; I assume that if you give such a big donation, you know what it is for.”
  • Just two days before Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, it was reported that Abramovich is donating tens of millions of dollars to Yad Vashem, the global Holocaust remembrance center in Jerusalem
  • Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan joined the heads of multiple Israeli charitable organizations in urging the US not to sanction Abramovich. The letter was also signed by Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau and representatives of Sheba Medical Center, Tel Aviv University, and Elad
  • Oleg Deripaska and Mikhail Fridman, were already calling for peace negotiations just three days after the invasion. (Fridman and Deripaska are also major Jewish philanthropists, as are other Russian oligarchs including Petr Aven, Yuri Milner, and Viktor Vekselberg. All of them now face global scrutiny.)
  • Even before he announced he would be setting up a charity to help victims in Ukraine, members of Abramovich’s family were quick to distance themselves from the war: A contemporary art museum in Moscow co-founded by Abramovich and Zhukova has announced that it will halt all new exhibitions in protest of the war. Abramovich’s 27-year-old daughter Sofia, who lives in London, posted a message on her popular Instagram account that read, “The biggest and most successful lie of the Kremlin’s propaganda is that most Russians stand with Putin.”
  • Abramovich and others have spent more than two decades loyally serving and profiting off Putin’s corrupt and violent regime—one that has been accused of murdering and jailing journalists and political dissidents and of committing war crimes from Chechnya to Syria. And for much of that time, Jewish institutions worldwide have been more than happy to take money from Abramovich and his peers
  • longstanding philanthropic ties may affect the Jewish communal world’s willingness to hold Russia accountable for its violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty
  • “I think the view of much of Jewish philanthropic leadership, right and left, conservative and liberal, has been the bottom line: If the purposes for which the philanthropy is given are positive, humane, holy, and seen to strengthen both the Jewish community and the whole of society, then to sit and analyze whether the donor was exploitive or not, and whether this was kosher or not, would be hugely diverting, amazingly complicated, and divisive.”
  • Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, acknowledged the difficulty of making ethical calls about donors, but argued that the attempt is still necessary. “In philanthropy, nearly all money is tainted, either because it was acquired by exploiting workers, by harming the environment, by selling harmful products, or by taking advantage of systems that benefit the wealthy to the detriment of others. That said, we can’t throw up our hands and say that we can either take no money or all money; there have to be red lines,” she said.
  • Berman, the scholar of Jewish philanthropy, agrees. “It is tempting to say all money is fungible, so where it came from does not or cannot matter,” she said. “But no matter how much we might want to launder the money, wash it clean of its past and its connections to systems of power, the very act of doing so is an erasure, an act of historical revisionism. Even worse, it can actually participate in bolstering harmful systems of power, often by deterring institutions reliant on that money from holding a person or system to account.”
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