Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, October 31, 2016

Balfour and Bolshevism, 99 Years On

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
This coming week marks the 99th anniversary of two of the seminal events of the 20th century: the release of the Balfour Declaration and the Bolshevik Revolution.
Both changed the course of history.

There are only a few documents in Middle Eastern history which have as much influence as the Balfour Declaration. It was sent as a 67-word statement contained within the short letter addressed by the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, to Lord Rothschild, on November 2, 1917.

In the letter, the British government stated its intention to endorse the establishment of a Jewish home in Palestine:

“His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

Following the First World War, Britain acquired a League of Nations Mandate over Palestine, its purpose was partially to put into effect the Balfour Declaration, in conjunction with the World Zionist Organization.

It specifically referred to “the historical connections of the Jewish people with Palestine” and to the moral validity of “reconstituting their National Home in that country.”

Furthermore, the British were instructed to “use their best endeavors to facilitate” Jewish immigration, to encourage settlement on the land and to “secure” the Jewish National Home.

At the time, the vast majority of Palestine’s population comprised Christian and Muslim Arabs, but Jewish settlement increased in the decades following 1917, as the Zionist project brought many Jews to the land.

By the time the UN General Assembly on Nov. 29, 1947 voted to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, the Jewish population had reached one-third of the Mandate’s total of almost two million people. Six months later, the State of Israel was born.

In 1917 tsarist Russia was bogged down in the First World War and its population was weary and hungry. Riots over the scarcity of food broke out in the capital, Petrograd, on March 8, and Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate one week later, ending three centuries of Romanov rule.

A new government was constituted under Aleksander Kerensky, but he was unable to halt Russia’s slide into political, economic, and military chaos.

By autumn the Communist Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, had won considerable support. Their slogan of “peace, land, and bread,” which included taking Russia out of the war, resonated among the hungry urban workers and soldiers, many of whom were already deserting from the front in large numbers.

On Nov. 7 the Bolsheviks and their allies staged a nearly bloodless coup, occupying government buildings, telegraph stations, and other strategic points. Kerensky’s attempt to organize resistance proved futile, and he fled the country.

The Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets, which convened in Petrograd, approved the formation of a new government composed mainly of Bolshevik commissars.

Though there would be many more years of civil war and instability, a new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics would eventually emerge, setting the stage for the worldwide ideological contest between Communist and capitalist states that would last for most of the century.

Next year being the centenary of these two seminal events, we will see many more articles like this one.

The Sinai Campaign and Suez Crisis of 1956

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

A war that started 60 years ago provided Canada with its now familiar role as a peacekeeping force on behalf of the United Nations.

On Oct. 29, 1956, Israeli forces invaded Egypt. In a swift, sweeping operation of 100 hours, under the leadership of then chief of the General Staff, Moshe Dayan, the Sinai peninsula fell into Israeli hands.

A reserve brigade captured Sharm el-Sheikh at the southernmost tip of the peninsula. Israeli troops were soon within 42 kilometres of the Suez Canal.

The Sinai campaign was designed to put an end to Palestinian incursions into Israel from Egyptian-occupied Gaza and to remove the Egyptian blockade, at the Straits of Tiran, of the Israel’s Red Sea port of Eilat.

The action provided the pretext for a French and British ultimatum to Israel and Egypt, calling on both sides to cease hostilities and withdraw from the Suez Canal area.

On Nov. 5, Britain and France landed paratroopers along in the Suez Canal Zone, and its Egyptian defenders were quickly defeated.  British casualties stood at 16 dead, French casualties at 10, while the Israeli losses were 231 dead. A cease-fire was called on the insistence of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold on Nov. 6.

It became clear that the Israeli invasion and the subsequent Anglo-French operation had been planned beforehand by the three countries. They had, in fact, during discussions held between Oct. 22 and 24, 1956, reached a secret agreement, the Protocol of Sèvres, to attack Egypt.

The British and French aims were to regain western control of the Suez Canal, and to remove Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser, who had nationalized the waterway July 26, from power.

This was perceived as a direct threat to their interests. The canal, which connects the Mediterranean with the Red Sea, was of strategic importance as it had become the main passageway for oil to get to Europe from the Middle East.

France was, as well, engaged in a ruthless war in Algeria and hoped the overthrow of the pan-Arab nationalist Nasser, whom they believed was aiding the National Liberation Front (FLN) rebels, might help defeat the insurgency.

But the British and French would lose the political war that followed. Nasser responded by sinking ships in the canal and effectively closing it to shipping from October 1956 until March 1957. The crisis greatly improved his standing in the Arab world.

On the other hand, British Prime Minister Anthony Eden was forced to resign, and Guy Molet’s French government was brought down because of rightist criticism of his push for social reform on a budget badly depleted by the Suez invasion.

Their campaign failed because the two major powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, adamantly opposed it. The Soviets threatened to intervene on the Egyptian side, and to launch rocket attacks on Britain, France and Israel.

In turn, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower feared this might start a major conflagration and put pressure on Britain and France to cease hostilities. Also, Washington, locked in a Cold War with the USSR, was eager to appear to the post-colonial world as an ally rather than an accomplice of two dwindling empires.

The two European countries withdrew their militaries by the end of the year, though Israel did not leave the Sinai until March 1957.

Canada, too, had strongly objected to the military action out of concern that it was damaging relations between the western allies, and risking a wider war.

Lester Pearson, then Canada’s minister for external affairs, developed the idea for the first large-scale United Nations peacekeeping force. Addressing the UN General Assembly, Pearson made his case, saying: “Peace is far more than ceasing to fire.”

A United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) was in place by late November 1956, where it would remain until the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize the following year.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Growth of the German Right-Wing

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing coalition is in trouble ahead of the September 2017 federal election. And much of it emanates from the right.

Founded in 2013 as a protest party focusing mainly on financial neoliberalism and the Eurozone crisis, the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) has seen its polling numbers rise significantly since pivoting towards anti-migrant rhetoric in the wake of Europe’s refugee crisis.

The AfD has a strong profile in the former communist east of Germany but a growing following in western parts as well. It has become a national political force, with a presence in 10 of the country’s 16 federal states.

The party is confident they have found a base for long-term success with their anti-migration, anti-establishment message.

Earlier this year, support for the AfD reached fifteen per cent in national polls, three times more than for any previous right-wing party, and well beyond the five-per-cent threshold required to enter the Bundestag after next year’s national elections.

There were five state elections in Germany this year, and in all of them, the party made substantial gains.

In March, the AfD garnered 12.6 per cent of the vote in Rhineland-Palatinate, good for 14 of 101 seats. The 15.1 per cent it took in Baden-Wurttemberg gave the party 23 of 139 seats. It captured 24.2 per cent of the vote, and 24 of 87 seats, in Saxony-Anhalt.

Six months after Merkel had adopted a “we can manage this” mantra towards migration, the election was the first big electoral test of the German leader and her policy, one that had seen over one million asylum applicants arrive in the country.

In Saxony-Anhalt, 56 per cent of AfD voters said they had opted for the party because of the refugee crisis, according to one poll. The news weekly Der Spiegel described the results as a “black Sunday” for her.

Merkel suffered further damaging losses at the hands of Germany’s resurgent far-right in elections in Berlin and in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in September.

The latter result was particularly humiliating, as it is her home state. Her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) came third behind the Social Democrats (SPD) and the AfD.

While Mecklenburg-Vorpommern provided the AfD with 20.8 per cent, good for 18 of 78 seats, in Berlin the AfD won the highest share of the vote for a right-wing party since the Second World War, with 14.2 per cent. It resulted in winning 25 of the city-state’s 160 seats.

“From zero to double-digits, that’s a first for Berlin,” stated the AfD’s top Berlin candidate, Georg Pazderski. “We have achieved a great result,” added Beatrix von Storch, one of the AfD’s leaders. “We have arrived in the capital and are on our way to the Bundestag.”

In none of these states did the party have a single seat prior to 2016. “The migration crisis was the catalyst for our success,” Frauke Petry, the party’s chair, admits.

A former entrepreneur with a Ph.D. in chemistry, Petry is a member of the state parliament in Saxony, the first German state to elect AfD legislators.

The arrival of 890,000 refugees last year has deeply polarized Germany, and misgivings against the newcomers run particularly deep in eastern states like Saxony, with unemployment fueling resentment and xenophobia.

She predicts that the AfD will benefit from a breakdown of the two big parties, the CDU and SDP. Alexander Gauland, a leading party spokesperson, told supporters that his party would “chase the old parties to hell.”

The party’s relationship with the Dresden-based hardline protest movement Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) has come under scrutiny, with the AfD often referred to as the group’s political arm.

While Petry, who was herself born in Dresden in what was Communist East Germany in1975, denies this, the overlaps are undeniable. In April, the AfD issued a statement declaring that “Islam does not belong in Germany.” It said that head scarves should be banned in schools and universities, and minarets prohibited.

The AfD is an “outbidder” party, one that adopts radical strategies to maximize support among voters belonging to an ethnic group. Democratic competition involving ethnic parties often leads to outbidding where parties adopt ever more extreme positions to avoid defeat.

Will Petry force the CDU to move further to the right? Angela Merkel, in power since 2005, has yet to confirm whether she will run for a fourth term in 2017. The party’s convention, scheduled for December, may provide an answer.

Latinos and the American Left

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Everyone understands that the debate over immigration in the United States is really about the migration of Hispanics, particularly Mexicans, into the country.

It’s not, for those who oppose it, simply a matter of racism – after all, not many people are overly concerned about Vietnamese, Sri Lankans or Jamaicans coming to America. It’s really about the clash of American Protestant culture with that of what many consider an encroaching Latin American civilization.

The American left, on the other hand, which wholeheartedly supports Latino entry into the country, has always had a fascination with what it considers the progressive nature of politics south of the Rio Grande.

Starting with the Mexican Revolution almost a century ago, its adherents have admired the socialist politics of Latin America and condemned American imperialism in the region.

In the 1930s, President Lazaro Cardenas made Mexico a haven for radical émigrés, including the most famous, Leon Trotsky, in exile from Stalin’s USSR.

As we know, the United States throughout much of the 20th century snuffed out revolutionary forces in the Americas.

The CIA overthrow of the reformist Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 and Washington dispatched 42,000 troops to the Dominican Republic in 1965 to prevent Juan Bosch, a friend of Cuba’s Fidel Castro, from assuming power. Folk singers like Phil Ochs wrote songs condemning American actions.

The New Left threw itself into the struggle to prevent Washington from toppling the Communist regime in Cuba after 1959. New York Times reporter Herbert Matthews made Fidel Castro a legendary figure.

Many young people, supportive of movements for social change, travelled to Cuba to help the regime.

The Venceremos Brigades were formed as a coalition of idealists attempting to show solidarity with the Cuban Revolution by working side by side with Cuban workers and challenging American policies towards Cuba, including the U.S. embargo.

Castro and Che Guevara were lionized by radical academics such as Andre Gunder Frank, C. Wright Mills, James Petras and Maurice Zeitlin. Dependency theorists, who concentrated on American relations with Latin America, contended that poor states in the region were impoverished and rich ones enriched by the way the former were integrated into the world capitalist system.

For some Americans, 9/11 refers not to the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in 2001, but the Sept. 11, 1973 coup that killed Chilean President Salvadore Allende, who had been elected with Communist support in 1970, and installed the repressive Augusto Pinochet regime, with the collusion of President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

In the 1980s, some left-wing Americans, nicknamed “Sandalistas,” provided assistance to the left-wing Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

The guerrillas, led by Daniel Ortega, had overthrown the hated Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and were trying to build a more equal society.

But the Reagan administration saw them as a Communist beachhead in Central America and sponsored insurgent counter-revolutionaries known as Contras, to strangle the revolution.

The U.S. also supported the Guatemalan and Salvadoran governments in their brutal civil wars against left-wing insurgents during that time.

Some 300,000 Central Americans (out of a population of just 30 million) were killed between 1975 and 1991, the overwhelming majority of them at the hands of U.S.-backed dictatorships.

In 1994, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, named after Emiliano Zapata, the agrarian reformer in the Mexican Revolution, took up arms against the Mexican state in Chiapas, a largely Mayan and impoverished state.

Zapatista ideology synthesized traditional Mayan practices with elements of anarchism and socialism. It too became a cause for many on the American anti-globalist left.

More recently, there were also those who supported the “Bolivarian” socialism of the late Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

Seeing only the bright side of Latin America has long been a tradition among American progressives.

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.