Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, October 17, 2016

Should Gadhafi Have Been Overthrown?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Of late, there has been a form of “buyer’s remorse” regarding the Western intervention in Libya in 2011 that helped its people overthrow its mad dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

It’s been five years since the “Brother Leader” of his “Libyan Arab People’s Socialist Jamahiriya” met his demise, murdered near his hometown of Sirte by rebel militia from Misrata on Oct. 20 of that year.

At the time few mourned. Yet today, the revisionists are hard at work.

In the United States, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has been chided for convincing President Barack Obama to intervene in the civil war.

As for Britain, a report issued by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on Sept. 14 concluded that the NATO action should never have happened, because, it concluded, the result was a power vacuum that led to the current state of anarchy and Islamist fundamentalism that envelops vast stretches of that country.

The country is also now an unregulated launching point for refugees and migrants trying to make their way across the Mediterranean to Europe.

The intervention “was not informed by accurate intelligence” and the initial limited intervention to protect civilians had drifted into “an opportunist policy of regime change,” it states.

As well, it concludes, remarkably, that Gadhafi’s bark was worse than his bite, despite the blood-curdling language. “The proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence,” the report stated.

Really? Have people forgotten so quickly this regime’s many crimes? If so, they might benefit from reading Hisham Matar’s The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land in Between, an account by one man who, after the country is freed, tries to locate his father, who fell afoul of the dictator’s police years earlier.

Jaballa Matar, an army officer, diplomat and poet, had become a prominent opponent of the regime, and had gone into exile in Egypt in 1979 with his family.

By virtue of his business success in Cairo, Jaballa had come to lead and fund an opposition movement with an annual budget of $15 million and “a small army in Chad” under his command.

But in 1990, he was kidnapped by Gadhafi’s agents, taken back to Tripoli, and thrown in jail. Left to rot in the notorious Abu Salim Prison, he was not to be heard from again.

The Matars were never informed whether Jaballa was among the 1,270 prisoners gunned down on June 29, 1996 in the prison, in one of the most terrible acts perpetrated by the regime.

A combination of rumour and false information fed Hisham’s hope that his father was still alive. But in 2011, when the gates of Abu Salim were broken open and dozens of men were freed, Jaballa was not among them.

So he returned to Libya in 2012 to find out what had happened to his father and other imprisoned family members.

By now a novelist and British citizen, Hisham tried to get to the heart of the mystery, to no avail. In the end, he is pretty sure that his father was killed in the 1996 massacre.

“For a quarter of a century now, hope has been seeping out of me,” he writes. “Now I can say, I am almost free of it.” Not everyone thinks ridding Libya of a tyrant was a bad idea.

A Tale of Two Interns

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Two decades ago, two young women both became interns in the Clinton White House, but the personal trajectories of Huma Abedin and Monica Lewinsky could not have ended any further apart than they are today.

While one is now at the pinnacle of power in Washington, the other had her life ruined by her encounter with power.

Huma Abadin was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1976, the daughter of a Pakistani mother and Indian father, both academics. Abedin was two years old when her family moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. She speaks fluent Arabic and Urdu.

She returned to the United States at age 18 to study at George Washington University and began working as an intern in the White House in 1996, assigned to then-First Lady Hillary Clinton.

She officially took over as Clinton’s aide and personal advisor during Clinton’s successful 2000 U.S. Senate campaign in New York and later worked as traveling chief of staff and “body woman” during Clinton’s unsuccessful campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Writing in Vogue during the 2007 campaign, Rebecca Johnson called Abedin “Hillary's secret weapon.” According to a number of Clinton associates, Abedin is a trusted advisor to Clinton, particularly on the Middle East, and has become known for that expertise.

In 2009, Abedin was appointed deputy chief of staff to Clinton in the State Department, under an agreement which allowed her to work for private clients as a consultant while also serving as an adviser to the Secretary of State.

In addition to being on Hillary Clinton’s personal payroll, Abedin received money from the Clinton Foundation and Teneo, a consulting firm founded in part by Douglas J. Band, previously a senior aide to Bill Clinton.

After leaving her post at the State Department in 2013, Abedin served as director of the transition team that helped Clinton return to private life, and set up a private consulting firm, Zain Endeavors LLC.

Abedin is now vice chair of the Clinton presidential campaign. Her elevation has been a “transformative shift,” according to Politico. She screened and interviewed applicants for key campaign roles, and was the primary channel for communications to Clinton before the campaign officially began.

After Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States, she wrote an open letter to Clinton supporters calling herself “a proud Muslim” and criticized Trump’s plan.

Assuming Clinton wins the presidency, Abedin will no doubt play a prominent role in the White House. She might become an assistant to the president or deputy chief of staff.

Born in San Fransicso in 1973, Monica Lewinsky was raised in Los Angeles. Her father is a doctor and her mother an author.

She graduated from Lewis and Clark College, the same year she got an unpaid summer White House internship, in 1995. Her paternal grandfather was a German Jew who escaped the Nazis; her maternal grandfather was a Lithuanian Jew.

She moved to a paid position in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs that December and soon got involved in a sexual relationship with President Clinton. The ensuing scandal became the cause célèbre of the decade, and her life, too, was transformed – though not in a positive way.

Lewinsky experimented with a number of career paths after her humiliation -- Hillary Clinton called her “narcissistic loony toon.” She designed a handbag line, promoted the Jenny Craig weight-loss system and appeared as a television correspondent.

By 2005, Lewinsky found that she could not escape the spotlight in the United States, which made both her professional and personal life difficult. She moved to London to study social psychology at the London School of Economics, graduating with a Master of Science degree in 2006.

Since then she has tried to avoid publicity. Due to her notoriety Lewinsky has had trouble finding employment in the communications and marketing jobs for nonprofit organizations where she had been interviewed.

In a speech given in June 2015, Lewinsky described how “I was branded as a tart, slut, whore, bimbo, floozy and of course ‘that woman,’ I was seen by many but truly known by few … It was hard to remember ‘that woman’ had a soul and was once unbroken.

“In 1998 I lost my reputation and my dignity, I lost almost everything, and I almost lost my life.” She is today an “anti-bullying activist.”

From a common starting point, the lives of these two women have moved in very different directions.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Fifteen Years After Durban

Henry Srebrnik, [Calgary] Jewish Free Press

It’s been 15 years since the infamous United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, known as Durban I, was held in Durban, South Africa, from Aug. 31 to Sept 8, 2001. It was chaired by then South African Foreign Minister Jacob Zuma.

If any gathering of politicians, activists, propagandists, and others can be called a “game changer,” this certainly was one. Its impact has been deep and long-lasting, especially for Israel, which bore the lion’s share of criticism.

The UN General Assembly had authorized the conference in Resolution 52/111 in 1997, aiming to explore methods to eradicate racial discrimination and to promote awareness in the global struggle against intolerance.

Yet its goals were undermined by anti-Jewish rhetoric and anti-Israel political agendas, prompting both Israel and the United States to withdraw their delegations. Participants revived the charge that “Zionism is a form of racism,” and used other hostile allegations to delegitimize Israel.

Copies of the anti-Semitic work The Protocols of the Elders of Zion were sold on conference grounds; anti-Israel protesters jeered participants chanting “You have Palestinian blood on your hands”; and fliers depicting Hitler with the question, “What if I had won?” circulated among conference attendees.

Durban simultaneously hosted a UN conference of 3,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In this forum, the Jewish Caucus proposed that Holocaust denial and anti-Jewish violence caused by Jewish support for Israel be labeled forms of anti-Semitism. The proposal was almost unanimously defeated.

Anne Bayefsky, a representative of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, commented that “The only group that voted for it was the Jews.”

The Anti-Defamation League delegation led Jewish delegates in a chant of “shame, shame, shame,” and the Jewish Caucus walked out.

The final resolution of the NGO conference, which was overwhelmingly adopted, called Israel “a racist apartheid state” guilty of the “systematic perpetration of racist crimes including war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing” against the Palestinian people.

It called for the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, and the full cessation of all links between all states and Israel.

Former U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos said that “much of the responsibility for the debacle rests on the shoulders of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who, in her role as secretary-general of the conference, failed to provide the leadership needed to keep the conference on track.”

She herself later admitted that “there was horrible anti-Semitism present.” A number of people had told her that they had “never been so hurt or so harassed.”

The follow-up Durban Review Conference, known as Durban II, was held April 20-24, 2009, in Geneva, under the mandate of the UN General Assembly resolution 61/149, passed in 2006, to review the implementation of the program of action that was adopted in 2001.

The conference, attended by delegates from 141 countries, was chaired by Najat Al-Hajjaji, representing Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya.

However, it was boycotted by western countries such as Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Poland, along with – of course – Israel. Most other European Union countries sent low-level delegations.

The western countries had expressed concerns that the conference would be used to promote anti-Semitism and laws against blasphemy perceived as contrary to the principles of free speech.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated that it was clear that the conference would be used to “scapegoat the Jewish people.” U.S. President Barack Obama contended that it risked a reprise of Durban I, “which became a session through which folks expressed antagonism toward Israel in ways that were often times completely hypocritical and counterproductive.”

Indeed, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the only head of state to attend, stated that western nations were refusing to participate because “Zionists control an important part of the politics in the U.S. and Europe and used this influence, especially in the media, to force their demands, which are nothing more than the plundering of nations, onto the world.”

At the conference, he made a speech condemning Israel as “totally racist” and accusing the West of using the Holocaust, which he considered open to “question,” as a “pretext” for aggression against Palestinians.

Durban III, another follow-up conference, took place on Sept. 22, 2011 in New York, and was again boycotted by the aforementioned countries, as well as Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, and the United Kingdom. Ahmadinejad was again one of the participants.

A counter-conference, “The Perils of Global Intolerance: the United Nations and Durban III,” took place, organized by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and Anne Bayefsky.

She asserted that the original Durban Conference “legitimized hate speech on a global scale” and that the counter-summit would “deny legitimacy to prejudice and the Durban Declaration.” As well, she criticized the timing and location of the conference, being held several days after the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, as pouring salt in the wounds “of still grieving Americans.”

As Gerald Steinberg, the president of NGO Monitor and professor of Political Studies at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, recently wrote, Durban “has served as a blueprint for the well-financed NGO network that aims to demonize and isolate Israel internationally.

“Durban marked a turning point with the emergence of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaigns, which are rooted in the strategy set out in the NGO Forum’s Final Declaration.”

Supported by more and more academics, writers, human rights advocates, and students, the BDS movement, organized in July 2005 by over 170 Palestinian NGOs, now poses a growing threat to Israel, with its very legitimacy as a state now under assault.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Syria's Complex Carnage

Henry Srebrnik, [Halifax, NS] Chronicle Herald

The killings in Syria go on, despite efforts to end the carnage. The country’s largest city, Aleppo, lies in ruins. Millions have fled the country.

What makes this such an intractable problem? Well, Syria is a very complex country, a kaleidoscope of rival ethnicities and sects.

If history is a guide, this is a state that has only been held together by force, and when those that exercise it falter, near-anarchy ensues.

About 90 per cent of Syrians are Arabs, most being Sunnis. They are the dominant cultural group.

The Alawites, a Shi’ite sect, constitute just eight per cent of the population, centred in the coastal province of Latakia. They have played a role in politics and the army that far outweighs their numbers. There are other minor sects of Shi’ites, such as Ismailis.

The Druz, about three per cent of the population, live in southwestern Syria -- Jebal Druze, the Golan and in Damascus.

The non-Arab Kurds, some nine per cent, inhabit the mountain areas near Turkey, in the self-governing region of Rojava. Kurdish nationalists first, Muslims second, and Syrians last, they want an independent state that would merge with the Kurds of eastern Turkey and northern Iraq.

There are also 100,000 Turkomens, Sunnis who speak a Turkic language from central Asia. They live in eastern Syria. The Circassians, who are also Sunnis, fled the Caucasus when the Russians conquered it; they were offered asylum by the Ottomans.

Christian Arabs comprise 10 per cent of Syrians. Eastern Orthodox Christians are divided between Jacobites and Greek Orthodox. Catholics include Melkites and Maronites, as well as followers of the Latin rite.

Then there are Assyrian Nestorians, and various small groups of Protestants, who were successfully converted by 19th-century Europeans.

Non-Arab Armenians, at three per cent, mostly arrived in the early 20th century, fleeing the Turks. Most are Armenian Orthodox. Merchants and craftsmen, they settled mainly in Aleppo and Damascus and have resisted assimilation.

Given this polyglot mix, in the past most Syrians tried to rise above their particular group. Pan-Arabism, Syrian nationalism, socialism -- all have been put forth to form a wider identity. This seems no longer the case.

While Syrians supported the Wilsonian ideals of national self-determination propagated during World War I, the French and British had secretly agreed to divide up the Middle East.

Syria and Lebanon went to the French, who encouraged minorities such as the Alawites and Circassians to join the military.

In 1943, the French granted independence to Syria. Political power now rested in the hands of traditional Sunni leaders; they came from landholding or mercantile families.

But a new element emerged on the scene: the Arab Socialist Renaissance (Ba’ath) Party.

Its program of Arab unity, anti-imperialism, social reform and economic justice appealed to a wide spectrum of the lower classes. Given Syria’s complex social order, the Ba’ath attempted to transcend, indeed, wish away, these divisions.

A bloody coup in 1966 brought to power radical Alawite officers. The new regime intensified nationalization measures, and increased ties with the Soviet Union.  In May 1969, a new constitution made the Ba’ath the only legal party.

In 1970, Hafez al-Assad assumed sole power. He and his son Bashar, who took over in 2000 after his father’s death, have ruled the country ever since.

In “Democratization Theory and the ‘Arab Spring,’” an article published in 2013 in the Journal of Democracy, the eminent political scientists Alfred Stepan and Juan Linz describe the extreme case of personal rule known as “sultanism,” when domination by a family or individual develops an administration and a military force “which are purely personal instruments of the master.”

This means that there is no autonomy of state careers. All officials are best seen as being on the “household staff” of the sultan.

Syria under Bashar al-Assad clearly has strong sultanistic features, such as the “dynastic” element. He “inherited” the presidency from his father even though he had been working in England as an ophthalmologist.

Assad has no important official in whom he does not have full personal trust, which means that nearly all must come from his own Alawite religious minority. This has left the majority Sunnis in the cold, and they are now pushing back.

Stepan and Linz conclude, sadly, that “We know of no situations where a long, complicated, and brutal civil war has led to a cohesive state and a rapidly emerging democracy.”

Trump a Moral Disaster for Republicans

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

A millionaire “playboy” in 2005 made absolutely revolting remarks about women.

He then had the misfortune to come up against the Clintons. His remarks have now come back to haunt Donald Trump. And no Republican supporter can in good conscience now vote for such a lout.

The Clinton apparat of spies and informers would be the envy of the Stasi or KGB. They are brilliant at engaging in what the Russians call “kompromat” (the term for compromising materials about a politician or other public figure). Nothing you have ever said or done will remain private.

Did you flunk arithmetic in grade two? The Clintons will know of it. Did you cheat pitching in a Little League baseball game at age nine? They will find out. Don’t run for office unless you’ve been in a coma since 1956.

There’s an element of irony in all this: it’s the liberal Democratic elites on the two coasts who are most responsible for the cheapening of American culture. They are the ones, rather than conservatives, who produce the movies, cable television shows, raunchy music, and so on, that sexualize women.

The timing was also convenient. Lost in the furor was the release by WikiLeaks of the transcripts of Hillary Clinton’s three speeches to the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs, for which she was paid an astounding $675,000.

She suggested that Wall Street insiders were best qualified to regulate the banking industry and also included her apparent admission of the need for money from banking executives for political fundraising.

In a wink at the listeners, she remarked that “if everybody’s watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So, you need both a public and a private position.”

Following her departure from the State Department in 2013 she made about $3 million in speeches to banks and financial firms.

The saddest result of Trump’s downfall is that the issues that propelled him to win the Republican nomination – the hollowing out of the U.S. economy by globalization and consequent creation of the “precariat”; the dangers posed to America by illegal immigration and Islamist terrorism – will no longer be addressed.

Instead, these problems will continue to slowly destroy the American republic.

Trump’s destruction demonstrates that even a renegade billionaire oligarch is susceptible to elimination by a ruling class that holds state power. (Ask those who challenge Vladimir Putin.)

Anyhow, given all that, Donald Trump is now finished. Numerous Republicans running for office have deserted him.

Assuming Trump won’t quit, being the narcissistic egomaniac that he is, here’s what the Republicans should do:

It’s too late to remove his name from the ballot. Voting is already underway in many states, including by the military and those voting by absentee ballot.

So the Republican National Committee should announce that it will be instructing Republicans in all 50 states to write in Indiana governor Mike Pence and Ohio governor John Kasich as their choice for president and vice-president. This is a perfectly legal ballot option.

Kasich was a contender for the nomination, and Pence is already on the ticket, so they are both credible candidates, with few negatives.

Such victories are rare but not impossible. In 2010 Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski won an election to the U.S. Senate with a write-in campaign.

The RNC should also emphasize that voting for Republicans down the ticket for Congress becomes all the more necessary, as a check on Democratic power. The Republican slogan now should be: “Don't Give Clinton Control of Congress and the Supreme Court.”

In effect, the election would become Clinton vs. Pence. She will still win but the party will have dragged itself out of the mud and salvaged some dignity.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Shimon Peres Advocated Close Relations With China

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Israel’s former president Shimon Peres, who died last month at the age of 93, had a career in public service that spanned more than six decades. He held almost every senior post in Israeli politics.

The presidency, which he attained in 2007, allowed Peres to travel around the world, promoting Israel’s high-tech prowess and cultural reach.

“He had a very forward-looking belief in technology,” according to Professor Yehudah Mirsky of Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and a former official of the U.S. State Department.  “He was always reading work on the cutting edge of things like nanotechnology, biotech and more.”

 In his 1994 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Peres had articulated his future-oriented vision. “Countries used to divide the world into their friends and foes,” he declared.

“No longer. The foes now are universal: poverty, famine, religious radicalization, desertification, drugs, proliferation of nuclear weapons, ecological devastation. They threaten all nations, just as science and information are the potential friends of all nations.”

In an interview he gave to American journalist David Samuels on Aug. 31 at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa, a few weeks before his death, Peres remarked that “The way to peace is not war, and not negotiation. It’s innovation. To be great in science, you don’t have to go to war.”

Ever the optimist, Peres felt that the consciousness of the people in the Middle East would eventually change and embrace a new reality, one fueled by advances in science and technology. This, he believed, could be a force to transform and bring peace to the region.

Partly for that reason, he was also an advocate of closer Israeli relations with China. Peres noted that in the four decades since Deng Xiaoping came to power, “China has become almost equal to America.” Their industry is built on science, and they “use science, with all their might.”

Peres explained that he was among the first Israelis to visit post-Maoist China. “I began relations between this new China and Israel,” he said. “That’s the reason why, when I come to China, they still ask for my advice.”

Peres served as the honorary president of a China-friendly organization in Israel aimed at promoting bilateral ties, and attended the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Last December, at the age of 92, he traveled to Shantou, Guangdong province, to attend the groundbreaking of the Guangdong Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

This past February he posted a video wishing the Chinese people a happy new year. “China is all the time innovating new things. What China did over the last 40 or 50 years is unmatched in history,” he said. “I'm very glad the relations between China and Israel are all the time growing.”

In a telegram to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin following Peres’ death, President Xi Jinping of China called Peres a veteran statesman and diplomat, as well as the initiator and promoter of the peace process in the Middle East.

“He had visited China many times and had made an important contribution to the development of China-Israeli relations. Mr. Peres’ passing caused the Chinese people to lose an old friend,” Xi said.

In fact Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress, visited Israel and met with President Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the week before Peres died.

Zhang told the Israeli leaders that there is great potential for China and Israel to enhance their cooperation in various fields such as innovation, environmental protection, agriculture and biology.

Shimon Peres: From Hawk to Dove

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
With the passing of Shimon Peres on Sept. 28, Israel has lost the last of its major founding fathers. 

Peres, who was 93, had a career in public service that spanned more than six decades. He held almost every senior post in Israeli politics, including those of prime minister and president.

An early hard-liner on Palestinian relations, Peres later became both the prime advocate for the Oslo peace process and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Elected to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in 1959, Peres rose steadily through a variety of ministerial posts, including information, defence, finance, and foreign minister, along with three stints as prime minister, in 1977, 1984-1985, and for seven months in 1995 and 1996.

He served as a member of the Knesset continuously for 48 years, except for one three-month period; it was the longest Knesset tenure in Israeli history, ending only in 2007, when he assumed the presidency.

Peres was first an advocate of David Ben-Gurion’s hawkish defence views. He was the one Israel’s first prime minister entrusted with crucial missions of national security.

In 1956 he negotiated the purchase from France of Israel’s first nuclear reactor, and oversaw the reactor’s secret construction in the Negev town of Dimona.

“It was natural that the people of post-war France, who had themselves tasted the bitterness of Nazi horror, should feel a kinship with the victims of Nazism who had suffered greater losses,” Peres wrote in his 1970 book David’s Sling: The Arming of Israel.

France agreed to provide the Jewish state with all of the knowledge, equipment, materials and manpower required for the project. Five years later Israel had its first nuclear bomb.

Peres felt that nuclear weapons were a necessary last resort for securing Israel’s long-term existence and security, at a time when all the Arab states were pledged to Israel’s destruction and were by and large aligned with the Soviet Union, a nuclear power.

But Peres underwent a transformation from hawk to dove. He said he was converted to “dovishness” after 1977, when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat made a historic visit to Jerusalem, leading to the first Arab-Israeli peace treaty.

By 1984 Peres was Israel’s leading advocate of a land-for-peace compromise. As foreign minister, he spearheaded the secret negotiations which led to the 1993 Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. 

The accords established limited Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza under a new Palestinian Authority, led by PLO Chair Yasser Arafat.

In 1994 Peres shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Arafat for his role in crafting the deal. 

Two years later he founded the Peres Centre for Peace, an organization promoting peace-building between Israel and its neighbors, especially the Palestinians and Jordan, as well as between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. 

In November 2001 Peres told the United Nations General Assembly that in Israel, “there is support for a Palestinian independence, support for a Palestinian state,” even though it was not yet government policy. 

As reports became more frequent a few years ago that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was planning to attack Iran’s nuclear installations, Peres came out in opposition to it.

“I stopped Netanyahu from attacking Iran,” Peres told Steve Linde of the Jerusalem Post on Aug. 24, 2014.

In April 2013 Peres announced that he would not seek to extend his tenure beyond 2014. At age 90, he was at the time the oldest head of state in the world. 

But animosity toward Israel remains strong in the Arab world, especially at a time of deadlock in peace efforts, and Peres is still associated with wars and settlement construction that took place during his lengthy career.

The 13 members of the Knesset’s Joint List, a political alliance of four Israeli Arab parties, did not attend his funeral. 

“I will not take part in this celebration of 1948, of the nuclear reactor,” said Joint List chair Ayman Odeh. “I think all of those events were tragedies.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attended, but Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza, criticized him and told Iranian television that “I hope he joins Peres in hell.”

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Is Bosnia's Unity Sacrosanct?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian:

Almost every day, we read about some ethnically divided country where a “fragile peace” keeps the contending parties at arm’s length, often with the aid of foreign troops stationed there.

A prime example of this state of affairs is Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Balkan state that emerged from the ruins of Yugoslavia. For some reason, the “international community” considers its current borders sacrosanct.

Perhaps the term “fragile war” would be more appropriate, since hatred simmers just below the surface, and can blow up at any time. This is a country always at the point of disintegration, held together only by the fact that it is effectively a ward of the European Union.

It comprises two essentially de facto independent entities, the ethnic Serbian Republika Srpska of 1.32 million people and the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, population 2.37 million. Each rules about half the total area of the country.

The Federation is further subdivided into 10 cantons, five with a Bosnian Muslim, or Bosniak, majority, another three ethnically Croat, and two “mixed.”

The 1995 Dayton Accord that put an end to a three-year war between the three groups, one that resulted in at least 100,000 people dead and about 1.8 million homeless due to ethnic cleansing by all sides. It is monitored by the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), an international body comprising 55 countries and agencies.

The country is under the control of a High Representative, with authority to dismiss elected and non-elected officials and enact legislation. 

The post is currently held by Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko, whose authority is backed up by some 400 troops of the European Force Althea.

As always, in this perpetually divided state that contains within its borders three mutually hostile constituent peoples, even symbolism becomes a point of contention.

On Sept. 25, the Republika Srpska held a referendum to affirm Jan. 9 as a national holiday, despite a ruling by the country’s constitutional court that the date discriminates against non-Serbs. 

Though Inzko warned that Bosnia’s criminal law mandates jail terms for those who disobey the court, an overwhelming 99.8 per cent of voters supported the “Statehood Day.” Non-Serbs living in the region boycotted the vote.

The date, which is also a Serbian Orthodox Christian holiday, was the day in 1992 when Bosnian Serb legislators declared the creation of an independent Serb Republic after Bosniaks and Croats voted for independence from Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia.

Miloran Dodik, president of the Republika Srpska, who has been accused of using the referendum to set the stage for a secession vote, said it would go down in history as the “day of Serb determination.”

Bosnian Muslims, who unlike the Croats and Serbs do not have neighbouring homeland nations, support a more centralized state and don’t want the country divided even further. 

“Nobody is more ready to defend this country all the way to the end,” declared the Bosnian Muslim member of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic. 

In response, Serbia’s foreign minister, Ivica Dacic, said that Serbia would not allow the destruction of the Bosnian Serb Republic if it came under attack.

The PIC warned that there would be no redrawing of borders and called on all sides “to refrain from reactive measures and divisive rhetoric.”

But PIC member Russia, which supports its fellow Orthodox Slav Serbs, called the vote an act of democracy. Dodik visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in advance of the vote. 

Dayton merely produced a semi-permanent cessation of hostilities and a freezing of the status quo, forcing its warring ethnicities into a “shotgun marriage. Bosnia-Herzegovina is a disaster, plagued by corruption and an unemployment rate of about 27 per cent.

Why not let the Serb Republic join neighbouring Serbia, and allow the remainder to become a more cohesive Bosniak-Croat nation? It’s not perfect but perhaps the only viable solution.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Is Brazil Collapsing Politically?

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Much of the world was glued to their television screens watching those modern spectacles, the Olympics and Paralympics, in Rio de Janeiro this past summer. Brazil was also in the spotlight two years ago, when it hosted soccer’s World Cup.

Some people probably recalled Michael Nesmith’s 1977 song “Rio.” Fewer, though, paid much attempt to the political train wreck ongoing in the largest country in the Western Hemisphere.

In the first decade of the century, Brazil seemed to bask in good economic news and investments flooded into the country. It even seemed to have withstood the financial crash of 2008 relatively unscathed.

But much of this was an illusion. To power through the financial crisis, then President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the popular left-wing leader of the Partido dos Trabalhadores, or Workers’ Party, “had thrown open the spigots of credit and never tightened them,” according to Alex Cuadros, an American journalist who spent the last six years in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s financial capital, as a reporter for Bloomberg News.

The bill for Lula’s profligacy would come due under his successor Dilma Rousseff, who followed as president in 2011. And both are now paying a very stiff price.

The economy has now turned sour, China is no longer buying as much iron and soy. The prospect of oil wealth, based on the finds off the coasts of Rio and Espirito Santo states, has not panned out and tax revenues from the oil industry have failed to materialize.

Brazil has now suffered ten straight quarters of recession or near-zero growth. Its economy shrank by 3.8 per cent in 2015; unemployment is 11 per cent and rising. The International Monetary Fund expects the economy to contract by another eight per cent before 2017.

The country has always had an immense problem of corruption. There are kickbacks for government contracts. There are gigantic taxpayer subsidies: In 2009 alone, the state-run development bank, BNDES, lent out $76 billion, more than the World Bank lent out in the entire world.

As well, a scandal that has been named “Operation Carwash” has revealed an endemic network of graft and corruption in the public service that has uncovered has shaken the political class -- there are already 364 politicians under investigation.

The investigation reveals the scale and reach of a system that involved perhaps $3 billion channelled through the state-controlled giant oil company Petroleo Brasileiro (Petrobras) and big construction companies such as Construtora OAS into campaign funding and bribes in return for commercial contracts – a scheme that involved all the major parties and most of Brazil’s political elite. It caused an estimated $12.6 billion in losses to Petrobras shareholders and tax payers but had allowed the Workers’ Party to build coalitions in Congress.

Needless to say, preparations for the Olympics also proved an irresistible temptation. Fortunes were made and bribes handed out to politicians on the take, in relation to the various projects that transformed the Rio port area with museums, a tramline and residential tower blocks, as well as the construction of the various sporting facilities and stadiums.

On Aug. 31, President Rouseff was formally removed as Brazil’s head of state by the country’s Senate, charged with illegally relying on budget manipulation to falsify economic growth.

Rousseff and her allies have called it a coup by her right-wing opponents. Others have argued that she has been the target of misogynistic attacks in a male-dominated political system.

But Míriam Leitao, an economic historian and one of Brazil’s most influential columnists, disagreed. “Dilma didn’t fall because she is a woman,” she wrote in the newspaper O Globo. “She produced a surge in inflation, a recession of historical significance, and lost her job.”

On Sept. 20 prosecutors filed corruption charges against Lula, accusing him of bribery and kickback schemes involving Petrobras. He is also alleged to have personally received some $1.11 million in bribes from Construtora OAS.

Vice President Michel Temer, now the acting president, is the leader of the conservative Partido do Movimento Democratico Brasileiro, or Brazilian Democratic Movement Party.

He was the top ally of the government until he turned against Rousseff to head the impeachment process. But when it comes to corrupt practices, his party is no better.

I’ve been to Brazil, and it’s hard to find a more friendly or beautiful country on the planet. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of its political elites.

Monday, September 26, 2016

American Election Enters Home Stretch

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

The 2016 American presidential election is still Hillary Clinton’s to lose, given the winner-take-all nature of the Electoral College.

California and New York between them have 84 of the 270 electoral college votes needed to win. These two key states will clearly both be in Clinton’s column.

Of the 50 states, only Maine and Nebraska allocate votes between candidates.

But this election might still end up closer than people think, with a lot depending on turnout.

Two groups that voted in record numbers for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 -- African-Americans and younger people -- are far less enthusiastic about Clinton. In the Democratic primaries, people under 30 years of age, including women, preferred Bernie Sanders to her.

In both cases, particularly in the case of Black males, they see in Clinton a rather tired, old, rich, privileged (and white) woman. They won’t cast a ballot for Trump, of course, but they may stay home on election day.

That’s why President Obama told African-Americans he would consider it a “personal insult” if they did not vote for Clinton.

No other major party candidate in my memory has been called by his opponent a bigot, a racist, a nativist, and a xenophobe; none have been compared by the liberal press to David Duke, Benito Mussolini, Vladimir Putin, George Wallace, and various other assorted neo-Nazis, Klansmen and anti-Semites.

Yet Trump is still within hailing distance. Obviously his supporters don’t believe these charges, or don’t care, or even approve. Clinton has shot her bolt – there’s nothing left to charge Trump with, other than pedophilia or murder!

This means that between now and Nov. 8, there’s no place for him to go but up, whereas Clinton can only lose votes. Trump’s supporters, the “deplorables,” are clearly more enthusiastic about Trump than Clinton’s base is about her.

Trump may lose moderate mainstream Republicans who normally vote for a GOP candidate, but he will also be pulling many “Trump Democrats,” particularly white males without jobs or prospects, into his column.

They represent a huge bloc in three blue states he would need to turn red to have the best chance of winning: Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Of late, he’s ahead in the first two.

On the other hand, even if Clinton wins historic margins among well-educated whites and Latinos, they mainly live in states like California, Illinois, and New York, which she would win anyhow.

Hispanics will be more of a factor in Florida and Texas, two states with large Electoral College votes, but some analysts speculate that even if Trump underperforms with that demographic as compared to previous Republicans, he may make up this deficit with more white voters. Recent polls confirm this.

Finally, more partisan Republicans still leery of Trump may come around at the last minute, because they don’t want Clinton appointing the next justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, where there is currently a vacancy.

The Court now has four liberals and four conservatives, so the new judge will be a “tie-breaker” in controversial social issues.

Who in the past could have imagined that in 2016 it would be the Democrat around whom the rich would coalesce, rather than the Republican, whose support is mainly white petty bourgeois and working class people, along with the downwardly mobile?

Here’s the bottom line: The 2008 recession, for which no one was held accountable, has left a legacy of bitterness and anger. Are the plebeians telling the patricians they can’t get away with it?

Saving the Heritage of Timbuktu

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

The Malian city of Timbuktu, in the Saharan Desert, has always been a symbol of an out-of-the-way, almost mythical, place. It became a byword for the far-off and exotic.

In actual fact, it is a city historically steeped in Islamic learning. Timbuktu became a permanent settlement early in the 12th century and flourished from the trade in salt, gold, ivory and slaves.

As such, it became a meeting point between north, south and west Africa and a melting pot of black Africans, Berber, Arab and Tuareg desert nomads.

The city flourished as a center of Islamic culture and scholarship in the 13th through 16th centuries. Its numerous Islamic scholars and extensive trading network made possible an important book trade.

As many as 700,000 manuscripts were collected in Timbuktu over the course of centuries: some were written in the town itself, while others, including exclusive copies of the Qur’an for wealthy families, imported. These documents formed a detailed record of a humanistic, West African strand of Islam.

Because of its historical importance, Timbuktu was designated as World Heritage Site by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1988.

Still, by the 17th century, Timbuktu was in decline and the city’s sacred manuscripts began to fall into disrepair, especially with the French colonization of present-day Mali in the late 1890s.

But safeguarded by their patrons, many of these manuscripts survived.

They were housed in two main libraries funded by American, European and Arab donors, as well as some forty smaller collections in Timbuktu. The UNESCO-funded Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research housed the largest collection.

But Timbuktu’s fragile heritage came under unprecedented pressure with the arrival of Wahhabi fundamentalism from Saudi Arabia in the 1990s.

Disaster struck in April 2012, as Ansar Dine, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and their Tuareg allies rolled into town in convoys bristling with black flags and weaponry. The insurgents soon gained the upper hand over Malian defenders.

They banned music, ordered women to cover their faces, and instituted public lashings and amputations for minor crimes.

Among the first orders of their occupation was the destruction of several tombs of venerated Timbuktu scholars who were deemed “un-Islamic” along with other “blasphemous” landmarks.

They said the mausoleums were a blasphemous form of idol worship. “Not a single mausoleum will remain in Timbuktu -- Allah doesn’t like it,” one Ansar Dine leader told journalists in 2012.

One of the main libraries became a jihadi barracks where fighters tossed some 4,200 texts onto a bonfire. But this turned out to be the only significant loss, because during the Islamist occupation two librarians, Abdel Kader Haidera and Mohammed Touré, secretly evacuated about 340,000 Islamic manuscripts from the archives to the Malian capital Bamako, which remained under government control.

They bought metal and wooden trunks at a rate of between 50 and 80 a day, made more containers out of oil barrels and located safe houses around the city and beyond. They arranged for other volumes to be buried in gardens around Timbuktu. The city’s residents co-operated out of loathing for the jihadists.

In January 2013, French and Malian soldiers reclaimed Timbuktu with little resistance and reinstalled Malian governmental authorities. Since then, though, the manuscripts that were sent to Bamako have mostly remained there.

This past August, one of the Islamists, Ahmad al-Mahdi al-Faqi, was tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He admitted directing the destruction of nine mausoleums and a mosque door in during the 2012 occupation.

Al-Faqi was a leader in an “Islamic Court” and a “Manners Brigade” that enforced harsh fundamentalist rules on the city and its traditionally moderate Muslim people.

The ICC has been investigating war crimes in Mali since 2013, following a request from the Malian government.

It set a precedent, being the court’s first case to focus on cultural destruction as a war crime.“It brings truth and catharsis. It is crucial for Timbuktu’s victims,” explained Fatou Bensouda, the court’s chief prosecutor.

Monday, September 19, 2016

9/11 Attack: 15 Years Later

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

It’s become de rigueur: every Sept. 11 since 2001, Americans commemorate the most devastating foreign attack on American soil since the bombing of Pearl Harbor in the Second World War. All told, more than 3,000 Americans died that Tuesday.

The eight-acre memorial quadrant, with its 400 trees, at Ground Zero in New York, site of the former Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, is now a place made sacred through tragic loss.

But how has this affected the struggle to defeat Islamist attempts to undermine America? It’s a mixed bag.

On the one hand, al-Qaeda, the perpetrator, is much weakened and has been unable to launch another major operation against the U.S. The mastermind behind 9/11, Osama bin Laden, was himself killed in Pakistan in 2011.

But this has come at a tremendous cost. In the last 15 years, over 6,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and many more have returned home with physical and mental injuries.

Also, perhaps due to the ensuing destabilization of large parts of the Arab world, other groups have emerged which may prove even more deadly. The Islamic State, which controls huge chunks of territory, is just one of many.

“The threat is actually worse: It has metastasized and spread geographically,” according to Richard Clarke, a former terrorism adviser to three presidents.

“Today there are probably 100,000 people in the various terrorist groups around the world, and that’s much larger than anything we had 15 years ago,” he warned.

Domestically, the fabric of American society was changed utterly, and debates no one could have imagined before 2001, including Donald Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the country, are now part of the national conversation.

It’s true that the only significant acts of terrorism in the past 15 years have involved so-called “lone wolves” inspired by the Islamic State, as the recent killings in Boston, San Bernardino, California and Orlando, Florida, demonstrated.

They targeted places of limited strategic value such as night clubs and conference centres, which cannot readily be protected.

These perpetrators have in most cases lived under the radar. These attacks can neither be deterred nor reliably detected beforehand, and have been enormously effective in sowing fear and panic.

In fact, so jittery have Americans become that when erroneous reports of gunfire spread like wildfire at Los Angeles International Airport in late August, a veritable stampede ensued as passengers fled outside.

So when politicians, including Barack Obama, insist that terrorists will not change “how we conduct our lives,” that’s just whistling past the graveyard.

America’s involvement in the War on Terror resulted in a dramatic change in attitudes and concerns about safety and vigilance. It ushered in a new generation of policies like the Patriot Act, often at the expense of civil liberties.

The act expanded federal powers to keep tabs on personal information, through a vast, clandestine network of phone and web surveillance.

Today, some 4,000 federal, state, and local organizations take part in domestic counter-terrorism efforts; the National Security Agency alone employs about 30,000 people. Americans have by now spent an estimated $1trillion on enhanced security.

Two months after the attacks, Congress federalized airport security by creating the Transportation Security Administration. Additional security steps tacked on a significant amount of travel time for the average passenger, while infringing on privacy rights.

In many ways, thanks to Sept. 11, 2001, Americans now live in a world closer to that of George Orwell’s “1984.”

The "Pay-to-Play" Foundation

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Despite news about her health, Hillary Clinton remains determined to become president of the United States.

In fact, though Clinton may have been Barack Obama’s Secretary of State only between 2009 and 2013, that didn’t stop her from running what is in effect a shadow foreign office, under the aegis of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

Begun in 1997, the Foundation has amassed roughly $2 billion, including huge amounts from foreign potentates and plutocrats. It has been funded almost entirely by donors, and to the extent anyone in the Clinton family provided money, it was largely through speaking fees for Bill or Hillary Clinton.

The Foundation has accepted tens of millions of dollars from countries criticized for their records on sex discrimination and other human-rights issues.

At least 180 contributors to the Clinton Foundation lobbied the State Department while Hillary Clinton ran it. She met with representatives of at least 16 foreign governments that donated as much as $170 million to the Clinton charity.

The countries include the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Brunei, and Algeria. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself donated between $10 and $25 million – and Clinton approved a $29 billion sale of fighter jets to the country.

Such requests would often come through Douglas Band, a long-time Bill Clinton aide, who routed them to Hillary Clinton’s deputy chief of staff and confidante, Huma Abedin.

In addition to being on Hillary Clinton’s personal payroll, Abedin received money from the Clinton Foundation and Teneo, a consulting firm founded in part by Band.

For example, in 2009 Band asked Abedin if Clinton could meet with “our good friend” Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin al-Khalifa of Bahrain. Salman, who had given the foundation $32 million, met with Clinton, who later approved a $630 million arms sale to Bahrain.

That same year Band also sought to arrange a meeting for Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese-Nigerian real estate developer with vast business interests who donated between $1 million and $5 million.

Chagoury was once a senior adviser to Nigeria’s longtime dictator Sani Abacha and in 2001 admitted assisting the family of the deceased despot in transferring $300 million into foreign bank accounts.

This and numerous other exchanges “illustrate the way the Clintons’ international network of friends and donors was able to get access to Hillary Clinton and her inner circle during her tenure running the State Department,” stated an Aug. 22 Washington Post article by Spencer Hsu and Tom Hamburger.

Between September 2011 and November 2012, Douglas E. Schoen, a former political consultant for Mr. Clinton, arranged about a dozen meetings with State Department officials with or on behalf of Victor Pinchuk, a steel magnate whose father-in-law, Leonid Kuchma, was president of Ukraine from 1994 to 2005. Kuchma’s government had been widely criticized for corruption and the murder of journalists.

Pinchuk, who has directed between $10 million and $25 million to the Foundation, has been invited to dinner at the Clintons’ home, lent his private plane to the Clintons, and traveled to Los Angeles in 2011 to attend Mr. Clinton’s 65th birthday celebration.

In 2012 daughter Chelsea Clinton and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, visited Kyiv at Pinchick’s invitation.

A year later, the Commerce Department began investigating complaints that Pinchuk’s company, Interpipe, was part of a consortium of firms that had illegally dumped a type of steel tube on the American market at artificially low prices.

The Clintons have been pals with the wealthy and powerful almost from the time Bill Clinton left office in 2001.

Frank Giustra, a billionaire mining magnate from Vancouver, met Bill Clinton in 2005 aboard his private jet, which he had lent the former president for a trip to South America. Before long, Giustra had pledged $100 million.

In Colombia, where his investments included oil, timber, and coal mines, Giustra dined one evening in 2010 with Bill and Hillary Clinton, who both met with Colombia’s president, Alvaro Uribe, the next day.

Soon after, one company in which Giustra held a stake acquired the right to cut timber in a biologically diverse forest, and another was granted valuable oil drilling rights.

A similar situation unfolded in Kazakhstan that year, when Giustra and Clinton dined with the country’s authoritarian president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Days later, Giustra’s mining company signed an agreement giving it stakes in three state-run uranium mines.

Connect the dots.

Monday, September 12, 2016

In Gabon, A Disputed Election is Nothing New

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
In 1990, while I was teaching political science at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, a friend at the school was granted a Fulbright Fellowship to spend a year at Université Omar Bongo in Libreville, in the West African country of Gabon.

He was shocked at what he found: a state in the hands of a kleptocratic coterie of wealthy supporters of then President Omar Bongo Ondimba, and soldiers with automatic weapons patrolling the university that bore his name.

A quarter century later, the same family rules Gabon and things have become, if anything, even worse.

Omar Bongo, as head of the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), assumed the presidency in 1967, seven years after independence from France. He would rule until his death in 2009, winning six often disputed elections.

In 2003 the constitution was amended to repeal term limits. At the time of his death, he was Africa’s longest-serving head of state.

Ali Bongo Ondimba, his son, has been president since, winning power in 2009 in a violence-marred election. During his father’s rule, he had been minister of foreign affairs from 1989 to 1991, and minister of defence from 1999 to 2009.

The most recent presidential election was held on Aug. 27, and Bongo was declared the winner, with 49.8 per cent of the vote. His rival Jean Ping, a former chairman of the African Union who won the endorsement of the main opposition Front for Political Change coalition, came second with 48.2 per cent.

Ping disputed the result after the official announcement that Bongo had won by fewer than 6,000 votes. Ping came first in six out of nine provinces but the result in Bongo’s home province of Haut-Ogooue, where turnout was 99.9 per cent and 95 per cent of the votes were for the president, was clearly fraudulent.

Turnout in the other provinces was between 45 and 71 per cent, with a nationwide turnout of 59.4 percent.

“The Gabonese people and the world can clearly see the fraud, lies and manipulation,” declared Ping. He added that contesting the results through Gabon’s constitutional court, the official channel for complaints, was pointless.

Ping had once been one of Omar Bongo’s closest allies and was considered one of the most powerful figures in Gabon; he had served as Bongo’s foreign minister from 1999 to 2008. But he resigned from the PDG two years ago, becoming Ali Bongo’s main rival.

Ping said that the presidential guard attacked his party’s headquarters. Police also arrested more than 1,100 people after nights of riots and looting by protestors in Libreville.

Abundant petroleum and foreign private investment have helped make Gabon one of the most prosperous countries in Africa. But inequality in income distribution leaves a third of its 1.5 million people mired in poverty.

Ali Bongo’s presidency has been overshadowed by a long-running French investigation into the Bongo family’s assets. Omar Bongo amassed a vast fortune during his time in office, and was accused of embezzling oil revenues and bribery.

The family owns some 40 sumptuous properties in Paris and elsewhere in France. There were revelations in 2015 of secret Monaco bank accounts of more than 30 million euros.
Critics had long accused the former president of running the country as his private property.
This unfortunately seems par for the course in many African states.

Friday, September 09, 2016

The History of Israeli-African Relations

Henry Srebrnik, [Calgary] Jewish Free Press

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu’s successful visit to four east African countries – Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and Ethiopia -- earlier this summer, we might recall the ups and downs of the Jewish state’s seven decades long relationship with the continent it borders to its southwest.

In the first two decades of Israel’s independence, the nation worked assiduously at establishing a presence in newly sovereign African countries. After all, the Jewish state had itself emerged from colonial control in 1948.

Israel was involved in multiple foreign-aid projects in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1960s as part of its quest to gain political allies and determine its place in the decolonized world.

Israel dispatched diplomats across the continent, opening two dozen embassies. The first was opened in Accra, Ghana, when that country attained independence. Soon Israeli ambassadors operated in 33 countries and the country was, for a period, a major aid donor. Israel had at times the second-largest diplomatic presence in sub-Saharan Africa.

Not long afterwards, then foreign minister Golda Meir made a five-week trip to Africa and had the first high-level discussions with African leaders like Kwame Nkrumah, William Tubman, and Felix Houphouet-Boigny.z

She believed that Israel had experience in nation-building that could be a model for the Africans.

“Like them, we had shaken off foreign rule; like them, we had to learn for ourselves how to reclaim the land, how to increase the yields of our crops, how to irrigate, how to raise poultry, how to live together, and how to defend ourselves,” she wrote in her autobiography My Life.

Israel could be a role model because it “had been forced to find solutions to the kinds of problems that large, wealthy, powerful states had never encountered.” She added that “we had something we wanted to pass on to nations that were even younger and less experienced than ourselves.”

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion told the Knesset in 1960 that “Our aid to the new countries” is not a matter of philanthropy. “We are no less in need of the fraternity of friendship of the new nations than they are of our assistance.”

In the late 1950s and 1960s, Israel sent experts in agriculture and development and helped establish agricultural cooperatives, youth training programs, medical infrastructure and joint industrial enterprises in a number of sub-Saharan countries.

Given the number of eye diseases on the continent, ophthalmology became Israel’s largest and longest-lasting medical aid program.

In 1962, Newsweek magazine called the Israeli program “one of the strangest unofficial alliances in the world.” But all that began to change as the Israeli-Arab conflict drove a wedge between African countries and the Jewish state.

Pressure from Arab nations, promising aid, and accentuated by the 1967 and 1973 wars between Israel and its neighbors, led most African states to cut their relations with Jerusalem.

Between June 12, 1967, and November 13, 1973, 29 African states broke relations with Israel; many also gave the Palestine Liberation Organization diplomatic status. After the Yom Kippur War, only Malawi, Lesotho and Swaziland maintained full diplomatic relations with Israel.

In November 1975, the nadir in Israeli-African relations came when 19 African countries voted in favor of the infamous United Nations General Assembly resolution identifying Zionism with racism, although five African countries -- Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Malawi, Swaziland, and the Central African Republic -- voted against the draft and sixteen other African countries abstained.

But since the 1980s, diplomatic relations with Sub-Saharan countries have been gradually renewed. By the late 1990s, official ties had been re-established with forty countries south of the Sahara, including a number of Muslim-majority states.

In June 2004, Israel and Ethiopia signed an agreement for cultural, educational and scientific cooperation, as well as a convention eliminating double taxation.

In April 2008, a trade agreement signalled a significant upgrading of Israeli aid to Africa. The joint declaration on trade and economic cooperation was signed in Jerusalem by government ministers from the African nations of Rwanda, Burundi, Benin and Liberia and Israel’s Minister of Trade and Industry Eli Yishai.

It included an Israeli commitment to help the African countries build infrastructure and technology, while also seeking to open new export markets for Israeli industries.

Since its establishment in 2008, Innovation Africa, an Israeli organization dedicated to improving the lives of rural villagers in Africa, has provided the people they serve with access to many Israeli technologies. Solar panels and drip irrigation systems have been installed in Malawan, Ugandan, Tanzanian, and South African villages.

In 2011, Israel formalized diplomatic relations with the newly established country of South Sudan. Additionally, it renewed its ties with Ghana after nearly four decades. In November 2012, Israel provided the University of Ghana with a $217 million loan to construct a 600-bed teaching hospital at Legon.

In May 2014, the Africa-Israel Initiative was launched in Ghana, with the expressed goal of lobbying and advocating for Israel’s strength and survival.

The Israeli Embassy in Senegal inaugurated a drip-irrigation farm project in the Senegalese city of Fatick in December 2014. Israeli firm Gigawatt Global began a project to increase solar energy capacity in Rwanda during February 2014.

On July 20 of this year, Israel resumed diplomatic relations with the Republic of Guinea, the small, overwhelmingly Muslim country in West Africa that had also cut ties with the Jewish state in 1967.

Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold also met President Idriss Déby of Chad on July 14 at his presidential palace in the city of Fada, in the heart of the Saharan desert. The country had severed diplomatic ties with Jerusalem in the 1970s.

 “Israel is calling on the countries that still haven’t renewed diplomatic relations to follow in Guinea’s footsteps so that we can work together to the benefit of all peoples in the region,” remarked Gold.

And during his African trip Netanyahu announced the intention of Tanzania to open its first-ever embassy in Tel Aviv. He also said the leaders of his host countries vowed publicly to push for Israel to regain observer status at the African Union. Chad this year holds the rotating chairmanship of the African Union.

All of this is good news.