Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, September 30, 2019

Mostar is a Microcosm of a Deeply Divided State

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer 

Almost a quarter century after the Dayton Accords signed in 1995 ended the horrific war between Muslim Bosniaks, Roman Catholic Croats, and Orthodox Christian Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina, this fragile entity remains a state held together by “Scotch-tape” – the European Union and NATO.

At the summit of this ramshackle country stands the presidency, controlled by three elected presidents, one each for the three ethnic groups.

Since they agree on virtually nothing, it is governed, in reality, by a so-called High Representative. The current incumbent is the Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko. 

He has the power to adopt binding decisions when local parties seem unable or unwilling to act, and he can remove from office public officials who violate legal commitments or, in general, the Dayton Accords.

A cumbersome state apparatus with 14 levels of government and no clear reconciliation strategy opened the door to continued ethno-nationalist brinkmanship and endemic corruption. 

Also, half the country has been turned into a de facto Serb statelet, the Republika Srpska, the other half given over to the Croat and Bosnian Muslim population.

If the external forces keeping the peace ever stopped, war would resume almost immediately. In a sense, it has never really ended.

The former Yugoslav republic had a multiethnic population of Bosniaks,Croats and Serbs. The latter two groups wanted to join their ethnic kin in Croatia and Serbia when Yugoslavia disintegrated. War followed.

With at least 130,000 people dead and some 2.2 million turned into refugees and internally displaced persons by ethnic cleansing between 1992 and 1995, no one was left untouched by the conflict.

Sarajevo was besieged and indiscriminately shelled by Bosnian Serb snipers. Banja Luka, the country’s second largest city, was systematically cleansed of non-Serbs and all its mosques demolished. The city of Mostar, a UNESCO world heritage site, would find itself similarly encircled. 

Divided cities are places of extreme exclusion and polarization, and Mostar has been divided since 1992. Though in 2004 the city was reunified by an interim city statute, it remains highly contested. 

Mostar is located in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the confusingly-named part of the country outside the Republika Srpska that is mainly Bosniak and Croat.

Throughout 1992, tensions between Croats and Bosniaks increased in Mostar and by April 1993 Mostar had become a divided city with the western part dominated by Croats and the eastern part controlled by the Bosniaks. 

Its famous 16th-century stone bridge was destroyed during the fighting but has since been rebuilt. The Croat–Bosniak conflict ended in 1994; by then some 2,000 people had been killed.

Today, the city’s population of 105,00 is divided between Croats, at 48.4 per cent and Bosniaks at 44.1 per cent. There is a very small Serb population. The city of Mostar has the largest population of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It is a city that, while officially reunited, remains associated with the seeming impossibility of eradicating the ethnic divisions that paralyse it.

Power is divided between the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ BiH) and the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the same parties that reduced the center of the city to a wasteland.

There are two separate fire brigades, two garbage collection companies, two hospitals, two electricity companies, two bus stations, two popular nightclubs, and two soccer teams. 

Of course, schools are also either Croat or Bosniak. They all attest to the continued division.

Mostar, and all of Bosnia-Herzegovina, is not so much at peace as in a state of non-war.

Will Scots Try to Leave the UK Again?

By Henry Srebrnik, [Fredericton, NB] Daily Gleaner

In many ways, the success of the 2016 referendum on Brexit was the product of a resurgent English nationalism. 

The other parts of the United Kingdom voted to remain. In Scotland, 62 per cent of the voting population, and every single council area, voted to stay in the European Union.

The UK since the 1990s has gone through several rounds of devolution of powers, notably to Scotland, which have turned it into a highly asymmetrical, de facto partially federal, system.

In September 1997, a referendum was put to the Scottish electorate and secured a majority in favour of the establishment of a new devolved Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Two years later, power was transferred from the British parliament to the new assembly, though Scotland continued to be represented at Westminster as well.

How has this affected the sovereignty movement in Scotland? Independence, once only supported by marginal groups, is now the preferred option of almost half the population.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) now dominates the political landscape. It is the largest political party in Scotland, where it holds 62 of the 129 seats in the Scottish parliament, as well as 35 of the 59 Scottish seats in the British House of Commons.

In September 2014 1.6 million Scots – about 45 per cent of the electorate -- voted to restore Scottish sovereignty, on a turnout was over 84 per cent. (Scotland was united with England and Wales into a unitary Great Britain in 1707.)

Regional-nationalist parties have typically adopted strategies of “independence in Europe,” implying secession from the existing state but continued membership of the EU as an additional member state.

This appeal to the European dimension has played a central role in their campaigns. It has paid off, particularly in Scotland. 

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister and SNP leader, wants to see another Scottish referendum by 2021. She has called for a general election in Britain in order to defeat Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

 “The facts are simple: the SNP has a mandate for a referendum, the Scottish Parliament has voted for a referendum and the Scottish people want an independence referendum,” SNP Deputy Leader Keith Brown has said.

Ian Blackford, the SNP’s House leader in the British Parliament, has asserted that it would be anti-democratic for any politician in London to oppose another referendum.

“It’s particularly important given that in our referendum in 2014, we were told if Scotland stayed in the UK, our rights as EU citizens would be respected,” he added. “We are being taken out of the European Union against our will.”

It can no longer be presumed that Scotland would vote “no” again in an independence ballot. But an independent and EU-member Scotland would face severe challenges in managing relations with a rump UK, a country no longer in the EU, but one which would remain Scotland’s largest market and most important partner in so many ways. 

Remaining part of the UK and holding membership in the EU look more and more like mutually exclusive options, rather than complementary ones.

Thus, Scotland’s independence movement faces both renewed urgency in the eyes of many and even more formidable political and economic obstacles than in 2014.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

U.S. Trapped Between Iran, Saudi Arabia

By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB] Times & Transcript

The United States has sent troops to Saudi Arabia, following the drone and cruise missile attacks that caused major fires at two of Saudi Aramco’s oil facilities in the kingdom's oil-rich Eastern Province.

Washington and Riyadh accused Iran of involvement in the attacks, which interrupted about half of the company’s total output. They believe the weapons were actually launched from southwestern Iran.

Iran maintains advanced missile and drone programs which allow it to support regional proxies, such as the Houthis in Yemen.

It does so because it operates in a gray zone between war and peace in order to challenge the status quo while managing risk.

Saudi defence systems apparently failed to detect the attacks, underscoring the country’s vulnerability.

Tehran has rejected the accusations-- denial has always been one of its trademarks. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country did not want to engage in a military conflict with neighboring Saudi Arabia or its allies. But Riyadh claims to have proof it was Iran behind the attacks.

Evidence points in the Islamic Republic’s direction. After all, Iran’s officials have openly signaled that they will jeopardize oil commerce unless the U.S. ends its campaign of “maximum pressure” and lifts its sanctions, which are crippling Iran’s economy.

Iran began to escalate its tactics in May, after U.S. President Donald Trump designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization and ended any waivers on Iran’s oil-export sanctions, seeking to drive Tehran’s oil revenues toward zero.

Since then, Iran has shot down an American drone and captured a number of oil tankers in international waterways.

“World powers know that in the case that oil is completely sanctioned and Iran’s oil exports are brought down to zero, international waterways can’t have the same security as before,” Rouhani stated in August.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif followed this threat with another. He indicated that Tehran might act “unpredictably” in response to “unpredictable” U.S. policies under Trump. He raised the specter of “all-out war” in the event of U.S. or Saudi military strikes.

The departure of Trump’s national security adviser, the hawkish John Bolton, on Sept. 10 has been celebrated in Tehran, seen as an indication that the U.S. is wavering in its determination to stop Iranian aggression.

Iran’s leaders may have bet that President Trump, wary of Middle East conflicts, would decline to respond with force.

“Iranian hard-liners consider Trump’s inconsistency to be weakness,” according to Ali Ansari, a professor of Iranian history at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. 

Iran is no pushover. It has a nuclear arms program, supports two terrorist proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, and has turned war-torn Syria and Iraq into vassal states. It has a foothold in Yemen.

But Iran’s attacks cannot go unanswered. If they don’t Iran will not stop, and its attacks will only intensify.

The Iranians and Saudis are fighting for hegemony in the Muslim Middle East, especially in the Persian Gulf.

They are natural enemies that justify themselves by labeling each other apostates, with Riyadh heading the Sunni branch of Islam and Tehran the rival Shi’ite camp.

 And America is caught in the middle, forced to support one theocracy against the other.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Israel Caught Between Beijing and Washington

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

China is now making a concerted effort to expand its strategic presence and economic clout in the Middle East.

Chinese officials see the Middle East as an intrinsic part of the Belt and Road Initiative, the framework of trade and commercial ties between China and various world regions that has become Beijing’s signature foreign initiative since its launch in 2013. 

So Israel, too, has been impacted by China’s deepening economic presence.

Over the past decade, the Jewish state has broadened its global appeal as a start-up nation in technology and innovation to attract foreign direct investment. This effort has proven extremely successful. 

As of mid-2018, Israel’s tech industry had drawn in more than $3.2 billion. A growing share is Chinese in origin. In fact, China is on track to overtake the United States as Israel’s single largest overall source of investment.

This will have a potential impact on Israel’s strategic partnership with the United States. Washington is increasingly alarmed over China’s growing penetration of Israel’s high-tech sector. 

The Chinese now directly control, or have influence over, as much as one-quarter of Israel’s total tech industry, including sensitive projects jointly being developed with the United States.

Officials in Washington worry that Beijing’s activities are not at present being properly scrutinized or controlled. So China’s growing involvement could end up adversely affecting joint projects between Jerusalem and Washington. 

Here’s one example: In 2015, a Chinese conglomerate known as the Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) signed a multi-billion-dollar deal with the Israeli transportation ministry for the future rights to operate the Haifa port. 

SIPG will take control of day-to-day operations at the port for a quarter-century beginning in 2021. 

It was controversial from the outset because Haifa is more than simply a commercial hub; it also regularly hosts naval visits from the U.S. Sixth Fleet and joint drills between the U.S. and Israeli navies. 

This has made the question of who operates the port a key concern for Washington, with U.S. military officials warning that port visits could end, or at least lessen, once China assumes control of the facility, due to concerns over potential Chinese intelligence operations.

John Bolton, then the U.S. National Security Advisor, personally cautioned Israel when he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials in Jerusalem in January 2019.

Some Israelis agree. Israel should reverse its decision because a national security asset should never be in the hands of a foreign country, Matan Vilna’i, Israel’s former ambassador to China between 2012 and 2016, and an ex-deputy defence minister, told the Jerusalem Post

Vilna’i said that it is completely acceptable for Israel to deal with the Chinese on infrastructure projects because of their expertise. For instance, he pointed to the problems currently plaguing the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv train line, which, he asserted, probably would never have happened had the Chinese handled the project. But it should steer clear of deals like this.

Other senior Israeli officials said they are aware of Washington’s concerns and are working to address them.

“The State of Israel is dealing with all aspects connected to the establishment and management of infrastructure by foreign companies in Israel,” Transportation Minister Israel Katz, stated.

So China’s growing stake in Israel is one that, if not properly regulated and overseen to Washington’s satisfaction, could adversely affect the vibrancy of Israel’s strategic partnership with the United States, and even curtail future cooperation between the two countries.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Africa's Giants Turn on Each Other

By Henry Srebrnik,, [Fredericton, NB] Daily Gleaner

Africa’s two largest economies are at loggerheads, due to an outbreak of violence against Nigerians and other foreigners in South Africa.

The two population giants – with nearly 260 million residents between them – have long competed for regional influence. But tensions have intensified lately on account of deadly riots in Johannesburg, in which Nigerian-owned businesses have been targeted in for violence.

The unrest, driven by xenophobic sentiments toward outsiders, has left at least 12 people dead in South Africa and led to nearly hundreds of arrests as people angered over unemployment and poor living conditions attacked property owned by immigrants.

Much of the problem comes from the open borders policy initiated by the post-apartheid government. Black Africans from all over the continent, particularly Nigeria, moved to South Africa.

They often put South African Blacks out of work by accepting lower wages and some set up small businesses in direct competition with existing ones.

The reaction in Nigeria to the current violence saw people in that country attack South African-owned shops. Nigeria recalled its ambassador to South Africa, while South Africa closed its diplomatic missions in the Nigerian cities of Abuja and Lagos.

“After receiving reports and threats from some of the Nigerians, we decided to temporarily close while we are assessing the situation,” said South African Foreign Ministry spokesman Lunga Ngqengelele.

 “Our government regrets all violence against foreign-owned stores or Africans from other countries who are resident in South Africa,” South Africa’s Foreign Minister, Naledi Pandor, told the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

As animosity between the two countries heightened, Nigerian legislators suggested that the foreign ministry should issue travel alerts to Nigerians planning to visit South Africa. And two of Nigeria’s top musicians, Burna Boy and Tiwa Savage, announced they were refusing to perform in South Africa.

On Sept. 4, Nigeria announced it would boycott the World Economic Forum on Africa that took place in Cape Town. It was to discuss the African Continental Free Trade Area, an agreement made this year that sets the stage for the creation of the largest free-trade area in the world.

 “We cannot have a continental free trade agreement and have a situation where there is black-on-black violence in South Africa,” maintained Oby Ezekwesili, a former Nigerian politician who was attending the Forum.

“The young people who are out there are extremely angry,” she added. “We have a problem of bad politics on the continent.”

As well, an influential Nigerian student body in late August demanded that all South African-owned businesses leave the country.

The National Association of Nigerian Students picketed branches of South African telecoms giant MTN, and those of supermarket chain Shoprite.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sept. 16 condemned the attacks on foreigners and sent envoys to Abuja to placate Nigeria. He must get a handle on the situation, as Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is expected to visit South Africa in October.

The two nations were once very close. Nigeria was so supportive of the anti-apartheid movement that it had imposed a mandatory deduction from civil servants’ salaries that went to help South Africans.

The situation couldn’t be more different today, when the two states verge on diplomatic breakdown -- with its roots in xenophobia.

Monday, September 16, 2019

South Africa Explodes in Anger

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Mobs rampage in major cities. The country is criticized by other African states. There is talk of boycotting its businesses abroad.

Are we talking about the white-governed apartheid South Africa of three decades ago? No, it’s today’s democratic nation, ruled since the 1994 election that ended minority rule and brought to power the African National Congress.

So what has happened? The current attacks on foreign-owned shops in the country began after South African truck drivers started a nationwide strike to protest against the employment of foreign drivers on Sept. 1. 

They blocked roads and torched foreign-driven vehicles, mainly in the coastal KwaZulu-Natal province. Drivers were subject to xenophobic attacks and harassment.

The violence coincided with attacks against foreigners in Johannesburg, South Africa’s commercial hub, and Pretoria on Sept. 2-3.

It left at least 10 people dead, with dozens more arrested for the widespread looting and arson of foreign-owned shops and businesses.

This comes at a time of high unemployment, and some South Africans blame foreigners for taking their jobs. The unemployment rate in South Africa is nearly 28 per cent.

The government minister responsible for small business development, Lindiwe Zulu, said the rioters “feel there are other Africans coming into the country and they feel these Africans are taking our jobs.”

But the country's police minister, Bheki Cele, said “criminality rather than xenophobia” was to blame.

South Africa is a major destination for migrants in search of work from the southern Africa region and beyond. There are some four million migrants in South Africa, a nation of more than 50 million. 

While many have moved from neighbouring Lesotho, Mozambique, and especially Zimbabwe, whose citizens make up the biggest migrant population in South Africa, others come from as far as Somalia, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

That’s because South Africa has had an almost open-borders policy since the end of apartheid.

Approved refugees enjoy most of the same fundamental rights as South African citizens, thanks to the nation’s liberal constitution.

That may change. Xenophobia has long been a problem in South Africa, though the first major outbreak of riots targeting outsiders in the country occurred in 2008, when 62 people were killed. The violence was brought under control only after the government deployed the military.

There were subsequent incidents, particularly in 2015, when unrest in the cities of Johannesburg and Durban claimed seven lives and led to large-scale looting.

This time, there was anger across Africa. The African Union Commission condemned the violence. Its chairman, Moussa Faki Mahamat, called on South Africa to restore law and order.

Officials in Zambia reacted with outrage after that country’s truck drivers were attacked. Information and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary Chanda Kasolo called it “barbaric.”

Zambia’s soccer association cancelled an international game against South Africa scheduled to take place in the Zambian capital, Lusaka.

In the Congo, demonstrators outside of the South African Embassy in Kinshasa held signs that read “Don’t kill our brothers” and “No xenophobia.”

Zimbabwe government spokesperson Nick Mangwana stated that he expected the South African government to protect its immigrants. Tanzania suspended flights to Johannesburg.

Governmental delegations from Nigeria, Rwanda, Malawi and Congo pulled out of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting on Africa, which took place in Cape Town in early September.

Meant to be a showcase for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, it instead became an embarrassment.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Macron Attacks Brazil's Leader

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Advocates of the postwar international economic and political system hate political leaders who care first and foremost about their own national sovereignty. 

Among their objects of distaste are Vladimir Putin of Russia, Victor Orban of Hungary, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, Nahendra Modi of India, and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the power behind the throne in Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) government.

Most of all, they despise U.S. President Donald Trump.

We can now add Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro to the list of this axis of nationalism. Since his election last year, he has been subjected to unrelenting criticism by the left-liberal media in North America and Europe, sometimes referred to as Brazil’s “Mini Trump.”

The global elites have been using climate change as a stick with which to beat nationalists. French president Emmanuel Macron’s attack on Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro is the most recent example. 

At the recent G7 summit, held in in Biarritz, France, Macron tweeted that the devastating fires now burning in Brazil’s Amazon rain forest, often referred to as the “lungs of the world,” amounted to an international crisis and a threat to the word’s battle against global warming. 

The Amazon has seen more than 85,000 fires break out so far this year -- a 77 per cent rise from the same period in 2018.

Bolsonaro reacted by accusing Macron of having a “lamentable colonialist mentality” rooted in condescension. The idea of creating an international alliance to save the Amazon would be treating Brazil like “a colony or no man’s land.”

Bolsonaro further admonished Macron, warning him to stop “messing with us.” The diplomatic row between the leaders even got personal when Bolsonaro insulted the French president’s wife.

But Bolsonaro finally agreed that environmental challenges must be met -- while respecting “national sovereignty” -- and on Aug. 28 announced there would be a meeting of countries that share the Amazon to tackle the devastating fires.

The declaration followed Bolsonaro’s accusation that France and Germany had tried to “buy” Brazil’s sovereignty through their pledge of $20 million in aid at the G7. He had initially rejected their offer.

However, acceptance of the funds, he later clarified, would hinge on the Brazilian government being able to administer the aid. Meanwhile, Brazil has sent 44,000 troops to the region to fight the fires. Bolsonaro also issued a 60-day ban on burning in Brazil.

Canada is offering to send water bombers and $15 million to help the affected regions.

Bolsonaro’s government had found itself under increasing international pressure over its environmental policies even before the major fires broke out earlier in August.

Germany and Norway both suspended their contributions to Brazil’s Amazon Fund earlier in August. Over the past decade, Norway has donated $1.2 billion to the conservation fund, which is managed by the Brazilian Development Bank. Germany has contributed $68 million.

However, on Aug. 30 German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her readiness to assist Brazil in protecting the Amazon region.

Bolsonaro, though, received praise from Trump, who tweeted that he was doing a “great job.”

Bolsonaro said the tweet pleased him “a lot.”  Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo met Trump in Washington and said the two countries were “on the same page” over the fires.

Macron was probably gritting his teeth.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Israel Caught in U.S. China Trade War

By Henry Srebrnik, [Fredericton, NB] Daily Gleaner

In recent years, the United States has raised concerns over Chinese espionage and theft of intellectual property.

The trade war between the United States and China has also forced American allies, including Israel, to think carefully about their relationship with China. 

The United States and Israel are close allies on issues ranging from Iran to cyber security to the war on terror, but they have at times been at odds regarding trade with Beijing. 

In the late 1990s, Washington criticized Israel over selling sensitive weapons technologies to China. when Israel had agreed to supply China with an advanced airborne early warning and control system for one billion dollars. 

After the Clinton administration threatened to withhold multi-billion- dollar aid packages, Israel cancelled the deal. 

In 2005, Israel planned to upgrade China’s Harpy drone system. In response, the United States temporarily suspended Israel from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. 

China had purchased an undisclosed number of Harpy drones in 1994 and in 2003 contracted with Israel Aircraft Industries to upgrade the systems. Washington objected despite the fact that the Harpy did not include any U.S.-produced subsystems.

As a result, Israel passed its 2007 Export Control Law, increasing U.S. oversight over defence and dual-use technology bound for China and elsewhere.

This has not stopped China and Israel from doing business altogether. Tech giants such as Alibaba, Baidu, and Huawei are involved in investments in Israeli start-ups and enterprise firms, to bring them, their technology, and their products to serve a Chinese market hungry for Israeli solutions.

Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, under fire for sharing data with the Chinese government, acquired two small Israeli start-ups, HexaTier Technologies and Toga Networks, in 2016. Their technology bolstered Huawei’s capability to monitor network traffic, a prime U.S. concern surrounding Huawei.

Israel has since taken steps to halt Huawei from building 5G network infrastructure in the country. Israel has vowed to follow the lead of the “Five Eyes” (the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) when it comes to the Chinese tech giant.

However. China’s state-run companies have won tenders for massive infrastructure deals in recent years. These companies are involved in port construction at Haifa (a port of call for the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet) and Ashdod; and construction and maintenance of the Tel Aviv light rail system, a project worth $4.14 billion. 

The construction of the three rail lines, which will serve as the main public transportation system of the Gush Dan region, which houses about 45 per cent of the country's total population, is the largest and most complex transportation project ever accomplished in Israel.

Beijing sees these infrastructure projects as part of its transcontinental Belt and Road Initiative.

The real concern for Israel might be China’s construction of the light rail system. If Israel doesn’t take precautions, then the Chinese government could gain unrestricted access to closed circuit surveillance feeds, Wi-Fi networks, radio signals and other communications networks.

Until recently, Israel lacked the bureaucracy to mitigate the risks associated with Chinese investment. What Israel does now will serve as a roadmap for other U.S. allies navigating the rising tensions between Beijing and Washington. 

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

German Right-Wing Party on the March

By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB] Times & Transcript 

It’s clear that the once-stable German political system is unravelling, propelled by the anti-migrant climate that has emerged since Chancellor Angela Merkel accepted more than one million Muslim asylum seekers since 2015.

On Sept. 1 the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party scored its strongest-ever showing in two state elections in the former Communist East Germany.

The AfD made gains in both states, winning 27.5 per cent of the vote in Saxony and 23.5 per cent in Brandenburg. These are massive leaps from their results in 2014, when the party was only a year old. The party made a gain of 18 percentage points in Saxony, with a 10-point rise in Brandenburg.

The AfD was also able to mobilize several hundred thousand people who had never voted before, initial analysis showed.

Turnout was significantly higher than at the last elections -- up 16 points to 65 per cent in Saxony and up 12 points to 60 per cent in Brandenburg. 

Within just a few years, the party has managed to rise from a small fringe group and its popularity is increasing elsewhere in the country as well.

Meanwhile on the left, the Green party, typically at its weakest in Germany’s east, gained 8.6 per cent in Saxony and 10.8 per cent of the vote in Brandenburg. The post-Communist Left party won 10.4 per cent in Saxony and 10.7 per cent in Brandenburg.

At the same time, Germany’s two established parties, Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD), have now had their worst showings in those two states since reunification in 1990. 

While the CDU will remain the strongest party in Saxony, with just over 32 per cent of the vote, in Brandenburg they won just 15.6, far below the AfD total.

The Social Democrats will hold the top spot in Brandenburg with 26.2 per cent, but they received a meagre 7.7 per cent of the vote in Saxony, running fifth, behind both the AfD and the Greens.

Clearly, the centre of the political spectrum is shrinking as the country becomes more polarized. 

The old East Germany remains a relatively depressed region, as well. The AfD campaigned in Saxony and Brandenburg under the slogan “complete the transition.” They promised to address the inequalities between citizens of the former east and west.

Founded just before the 2013 federal election, Germans have now elected the AfD to every state legislature in regional elections. The party currently holds 92 of the 709 seats in the Bundestag and is currently the largest opposition party the federal parliament.

The party insists on the primacy of traditional German culture and rejects Islam as a part of German society.

The past is, of course, no necessary predictor of the future, and the issues facing the Germany of 2019 are very different from those of nine decades ago.

But the same political problem – strong parties on the extremes of left and right -- faced the ill-fated Weimar Republic in 1932, as Communists and Nazis fought for votes during the Great Depression. The result was Adolf Hitler.

The next German federal election is in 2021. Merkel will be leaving office before then – and none too soon.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

A Rift has Developed Between American Jews and Israel

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

U.S. President Donald Trump remarked on Aug. 21 that Jewish Americans who vote for Democratic Party candidates are “very disloyal to Israel,” citing the views of Democratic Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. Both are fierce critics of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians.

All this has caused an uproar in the American Jewish community. Most American Jews are liberal Democrats, and vehemently oppose Trump, who, to their consternation, is favoured by most Israelis.

Relations between Israel and American Jews have seen their ups and downs over the years. The more complicated Israel becomes, the harder it is for U.S. Jews to understand it – and sometimes, to support it.

After Israel was established in 1948, a formula for relations with American Jewry was determined when David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding prime minister, struck a deal with Jacob Blaustein, head of the influential American Jewish Committee.

At an August 1950 meeting to discuss the Israeli position vis-à-vis American Jewry, Ben-Gurion laid out the following guidelines: Israel wanted U.S. Jewry to continue to exist safely and to flourish; did not see itself as allowed to interfere in its affairs; saw it as an equal partner in caring for persecuted Jews in the world, especially after the Holocaust; and did not consider it a Jewish population in distress.

Israel would also refrain from activity urging American Jews to emigrate to the new Jewish state.

American Jews, who then numbered five or six million people, were strong and wealthy compared to the Jewish state, which at the time was home to a little over a million and surrounded by hostile neighbours. American Jews were crucial in raising funds for the beleaguered new nation.

Weaned on stories of the early Zionist pioneers from Europe who built the country, American Jews today sometimes forget that Israel is in the Middle East. Half its people came from the Muslim world, and this accounts for much of its culture, from cuisine and music to behaviour and politics.

The Middle East is a cauldron of animosity -- religious, ethnic, and ideological. The latest manifestations are the conflicts that emerged in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

Israelis with roots in the Islamic world always knew this. In general, they were skeptical about the possibilities of rapprochement and peace with these neighbours.

Israel no longer conforms to its founders’ ideals of socialism and secularism, explained journalist David Horovitz in an interview with the Times of Israel in July. “It rests on a bedrock of Jewish identity that has a lot to do with people who came here from Baghdad, Aleppo and Casablanca.”

Ben-Gurion assumed the Jewish state would be the focal point for global Jewish unity. But equally importantly, Hebrew would serve to bind together Israeli and American Jews.

Yet today, one half of the Jewish world not only lives beyond Israel’s borders; it also mostly lives in English. Only 13 per cent of American Jews understand some Hebrew; half don’t even know the alphabet. This too impacts Israel-diaspora relations.

A majority of the world’s Jews now live in the Jewish state, while a comfortable American Jewish community is not leaving the diaspora. The cultural, intellectual, political and religious divide is bound to widen.