Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Thursday, July 22, 2021

On the Matter of Settler Colonial States


By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottown, PEI] Guardian

During the recent Hamas-Israel conflict, many critics of Israel referred to it as a “settler colonial state.”

By their own definition, the label “settler” doesn’t just refer to Jews born elsewhere, including Middle Eastern countries like Egypt and Iraq, but to all those in the state who have dispossessed the indigenous inhabitants and oppressed and marginalized them.

As for “colonial,” that indicates the type of state they created, one that privileges one group. This remains the case even though Israel is today independent and no longer the possession of the former imperial power, Great Britain.

Fine. As we know, Canada, which was created by white British and French imperialists through the conquest, murder, and even genocide, of its native inhabitants, is also such a country. Our own governments tell us so, especially with the recent horrific discoveries of unmarked graves of children who died at the notorious residential schools.

So too are Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, among many others, including the Latin American republics created by the Spanish settlers who extinguished the Aztec, Inca and many other indigenous political entities. They all have their own centuries-old “nakbas.”

Tara Sutton, a Communications and Engagement Specialist at the University of Waterloo, whose work in conflict zones has received many awards, has compared Canada’s actions to those of other genocides.

“Violence and torture on this scale reminds me of reporting on life in Cambodia under Pol Pot. It has all the elements of the worst things I’ve seen anywhere -- hunger, displacement, kidnapping, rape, disappearance, unmarked graves, genocide, she writes in “Canada has Lost its Halo: We Must Confront Our Indigenous Genocide,” a June 29 article published in the Guardian of London.

As former Parliamentary Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke contended in the Globe and Mail July 10, “the project to cast Canada as ‘a white man’s country’ has mandated genocidal policies against Indigenous peoples.”

The original peoples in this country were forcibly removed, stripped of all rights, including even the vote, and relocated on reserves – a system Israel’s enemies would, I think, no doubt label as apartheid. Indeed, the actual South African apartheid state used this system as a model for its own “bantustan” policy.

And unlike those Jews who founded Israel, the non-indigenous settlers in Canada can’t even claim that, long ago, their ancestors lived here but were evicted, or that they were promised the land by their biblical God.

These “anti-Zionists” want Arab Christian and Muslim Palestinians to regain their land. But I hope they also would wish to see the native people in Canada reclaim their unceded territories as well.

Should perhaps they, I, and all other non-native Canadians return to wherever it is we all originated? In many cases, though, that would prove difficult, dangerous, or even impossible. So maybe we should dismantle the current Canadian state and live under the regained sovereignty of the people who once owned this part of the world? After all, if it holds for Israel, then surely it does, perhaps more so, for Canada.

As for the question of who the original inhabitants of today’s Israel were, that of course depends on how far back in history you go.

But whereas no trace can be found in Canada of Europeans prior to the arrival of the Vikings some one thousand years ago, when it was the home of numerous First Nations, ancient Palestine has archeological, historical and theological references to Jews and Judaism and its offshoot, Christianity for many centuries before it was conquered in 636-637 by the Arabs under Caliph Umar.

After all, the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock are situated where they are because Jerusalem was already a sacred city to Jews and Christians, and the site from where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. And Jesus is mentioned many times in the Qur’an – and he wasn’t a Latvian or a Swede.

The eminent Palestinian-American scholar and intellectual Edward Said has demonstrated how the settler colonial paradigm falls short in understanding Zionism.

In “The One-State Solution,” New York Times, Jan. 10, 1999, Said called Palestinians “victims of the victims.”  The trauma of the Palestinians was closely and causally related to the prior traumas of the Jews. 

It is not possible to detach the actions of Zionists toward Palestinians from the toxic mix of forces -- modern antisemitism and the rise of fascism and Nazism -- that befell Jews in Europe and prompted some to leave for Palestine under the aegis of Zionism.


Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Gibraltar Navigates a Post-Brexit World

 By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton NB] Times & Transcript

Gibraltar is a small peninsula, barely seven square kilometres in area and populated by a little more than 33,000 inhabitants. Despite its size, this territory has been of great interest to the international community throughout history. It remains so, especially in light of the new challenge it faces in the post-Brexit age.

Very few territories have undergone the historical, political, economic and legal transformation that Gibraltar has. It has been the subject of territorial disputes between great powers and remains so today. This rocky and arid territory has faced and overcome multiple obstacles to become one of the places with the highest living standards in the world.

The strategic “rock” at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea was captured by Anglo-Dutch forces in 1704, a move aided also by Catalan volunteers as part of the War of the Spanish Succession and was incorporated into the British Empire.

Despite ceding Gibraltar to Britain in 1713, Spain has long sought to reclaim this southernmost tip of the Iberian Peninsula. To this day, Spain remains committed to its recovery.

Spain has often been accused of deliberately holding up traffic by slowing down checks at the frontier to generate long delays, especially at times of tension between the two sides.

Gibraltar’s 2006 Constitution introduced a new term, the “non-colonial,” to describe Gibraltar’s relationship with Britain. But Gibraltar remains on the United Nations’ Special Committee on Decolonisation list, with formal decolonisation as the only permissible end-game, irrespective of the wishes of the people of Gibraltar, who are not Spanish and don’t wish to become so.

As a British territory, Gibraltar was forced to leave the European Union following the United Kingdom’s 2016 membership referendum, won by the leave side -- despite Gibraltarians voting 96 per cent to remain. But with Britain now having left the EU, the post-Brexit era will require a new framework for relations between Gibraltar and Spain.

Gibraltar needs to reinforce its role and its relationship with Spain, particularly now that its EU linkage needs to be rebuilt. Whereas right-wing parties in Madrid seek confrontation and polarisation for electoral gain and have put forward various proposals for co-sovereignty, the left wing has adopted a more conciliatory approach in which it strives to negotiate and encourage cross-border channels of dialogue.

In April 2017, British Prime Minister Theresa May reiterated that Britain would seek the best possible deal for Gibraltar, and “there would be no negotiation on the sovereignty of Gibraltar without the consent of its people.”

Madrid and London need to set out how the shared border will be transformed now that it as a boundary between the EU and the rest of the world. Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, has explained that these talks have focused on preserving free movement for the 15,000 workers who daily cross the border that divides Spain and Gibraltar, while steering clear of the centuries-old sovereignty dispute between London and Madrid.

Picardo has advocated that this fluidity could be protected by Gibraltar joining the Schengen Area – a move that would see Gibraltar establish closer ties to the EU. It would see Gibraltar join the 26 European countries that currently allow free movement of people through the Schengen treaty and turn the airport and seaport of the territory into the EU’s newest external border.

On Dec. 31, Spain and Britain reached an agreement in principle under which Gibraltar would join the Schengen Area. The deal would subject British nationals that arrive in Gibraltar to passport control while Spaniards would be able to cross freely into the territory. It would be policed by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex).

In the last round of talks Picardo lavished praise on former Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya over her negotiating spirit. Her successor, Jose Manuel Albares, is familiar with the detail of the political agreement. Picardo wants to finalise this as a treaty soon but added: “It’s not easy.”

What of Gibraltar’s eventual long-term status? One option might be for Gibraltar to become a Free Associated State of the United Kingdom, in the form of a British realm within the Commonwealth. Useful precedents would be the Cook Islands and Niue, two such entities associated with New Zealand.


Monday, July 12, 2021

Nigeria is a Tinderbox of Political Unrest

 By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton NB] Times & Transcript 

In Nigeria, Africa’s largest country by population, power-sharing is enforced by strict formal rules and political elites rely on patron-client networks to maintain support, while inter-elite relations in both countries are strongly adversarial.  

As a result, Nigeria has so far been able to avert a resurgence of the Biafra war of secession which ended in 1970.   

But the country remains instable. Government crackdowns on increasingly violent protests and a blanket Twitter ban suggest weakness at the top, while citizens face rising terrorism and kidnappings. 

The electoral success of President Muhammadu Buhari was built on the promise of ending violence and improving public administration. But the deterioration of the conditions in the southeastern and northeastern regions is very concerning.  

In the southeast, Biafra secessionist have increased attacks on government forces. Nnamdi Kanu, who founded the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement has been returned to Nigeria after fleeing an earlier trial. 

In the northeast, Boko Haram Islamists remain a major threat. In the first half of 2021, Boko Haram escalated its mass kidnapping campaign; since December more than 800 students have been abducted.  

Nigeria’s 211 million people make it one of the most diverse in the world, with around 250 distinct ethnic groups. The three largest groups are the Yoruba, which originate from the southwest, the Igbo originating from the southeast, and the Hausa-Fulani who inhabit the north.  

The latter group encompasses the original Hausa inhabitants of the region as well as the Fulani conquerors of the nineteenth century who have adapted to local Hausa customs.  

Sharp cleavages exist between these ethnic groups as well as among them and other minority groups. Nigeria is also religiously divided with around one half of the population adhering to Islam, concentrated in the north, and the other half to Christianity, concentrated in the south. 

Nigeria became independent from Britain in 1960 with a Westminster majoritarian parliamentary system and a federal structure built around three regions: the North, East, and West. This structure caused ethnic and regional tensions from the onset. 

These regions were only joined together as one state by Britain, the colonial ruler, in 1914. The south had been developed economically and socially under colonial rule, while the north had been ruled indirectly through the Hausa-Fulani emirs who resisted modernisation.  

At independence in 1960, southerners feared they would be marginalised by the north’s demographic majority, while northerners feared domination by the South’s educational and economic advancement. Meanwhile, minorities feared domination by the majority groups in each of the three federal regions. 

In 1966, two military coups brought an end to Nigeria’s First Republic. Violence broke out against Igbo migrants in the north and southwest. This led to their return to their home region and a declaration of independence of the southeast as the state of Biafra. The subsequent secession war lasted from 1967 to 1970. 

In 1979, a presidential system was installed with a strong executive president that needed to be elected by a majority of the votes and at least a quarter of the votes in two-thirds of the states, rather than a simple majority.  

Political parties were prohibited from having a sectional character or relying on cultural symbols. Furthermore, the principle of “federal character” was enshrined in the new constitution These constitutional mechanisms have survived into the Fourth Republic, in place since 1999. 

Minority groups continued to clamour for their own state, in which they could have their own majority, and the number of states has increased to the current 36. 

Constitutional prescriptions and majoritarian voting ensure that political success in Nigeria relies on a party’s ability to unite divergent groupings. The largest parties today, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC), can be described as grand coalitions bridging ethnic and regional lines.  

The PDP emerged as the dominant party during the first 15 years after Nigeria’s 1999 transition to democracy. Opposition parties were regionally based until 2013, when the APC was created.  

Political parties have also devised informal power-sharing rules. The most well-known agreement is that a president and vice-president cannot both be from the North/South or Muslim/Christian. Yet all this has not prevented the instability which continues to plague the country.

Monday, July 05, 2021

“Forever War” in Afghanistan Ends With Western Defeat

 By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton NB] Times & Transcript 

Almost two decades since the United States invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Islamist Taliban regime, Washington is set to exit the country.

U.S. President Joe Biden, in a meeting at the White House with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani June 25, declared that Afghans “are going to have to decide their future.”

Biden promised continued support for the country, even though American troops are set to finish their withdrawal on Sept. 11, if not sooner. “Our troops may be leaving, but support for Afghanistan is not ending,” he said. Everyone knows this is nonsense.

The military withdrawal will not depend on the situation on the ground, despite the major gains made by the Taliban, whose fighters captured more than 100 districts from Afghan forces in a recent offensive.

It leaves Afghanistan’s government at their mercy. A U.S. intelligence report suggests that it would “struggle” to stand its ground against the “confident” Taliban.

The cost of this 20-year military engagement has been astronomically high. Over 2,300 U.S. servicemen and women have been killed and more than 20,000 injured, along with hundreds more from other nationalities. The estimated financial cost to the U.S. taxpayer is close to a staggering US$1 trillion.

Was it all worth it? Of course not. “Nation-building” doesn’t work when there’s no “nation” to build. Forcing “democracy” on people when all that was attained was a succession of corrupt regimes in Kabul headed by presidents who won fixed elections was no model that impressed ordinary Afghans.

Obviously nothing was learned from the Vietnam debacle. The U.S. should, after the 9/11 attacks, have removed the al-Qaeda terror apparatus in Afghanistan and, after a few months, left the country to its own devices. That may sound cynical, but is this 20-year disaster any better?

The Taliban view themselves not as a rebel group, but as a government-in-waiting. They refer to themselves as the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” the name they used when they were in power from 1996 until being overthrown in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

The Taliban, or “students” in the Pashto language, emerged in the early 1990s following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. By 1998, the Taliban were in control of almost 90 per cent of the country.

Led by Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada, a hardline religious scholar, it has gradually regained its strength and now controls and influences more territory than at any point since that time.

The Afghan government, or “Kabul administration” as the Taliban refer to it, is considered corrupt and un-Islamic. The Taliban will defeat it once Western troops and airpower leave, and they already have a sophisticated shadow structure, with officials in charge of overseeing everyday services in the areas they control.

Successive American administrations over the years rejected the counsel of both Afghan and foreign experts who said that in the end there would have to be a deal with the Taliban, because they are part of Afghan society and cannot be defeated on the battlefield.

It all started coming to an end when President Donald Trump not only began to negotiate with the Taliban, but also bypassed the corrupt Afghan government. Trump said he wanted to end “forever wars” and Washington signed an agreement with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, in February 2020 to end the protracted conflict.

President Biden has refused to reverse the policy. The talk of democracy and women’s rights that the Americans (and others, including Canadians) brought with them after 9/11 has been forgotten.

In return for the U.S. departure and the release of 5,000 prisoners, all the Taliban have promised is not to host al-Qaeda. The Taliban have won – after two decades, they will have finally driven out the infidels.

The official U.S. departure date is the symbolic 9/11, but they are expected to be gone before that. Within months of the last soldier leaving, there probably won’t be a single human rights NGO extant, nor a single girls’ school left standing, in the entire country.

And the only army of any consequence will be the Taliban, which in one or another iteration has defeated, in turn, the British, the Russians, and the Americans.  Hey, it’s Afghanistan, the “graveyard of empires.”


Saturday, July 03, 2021

Why American Jews Celebrate the Fourth of July


By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottown, PEI] Guardian

On July 4, Americans will celebrate the country’s 245th birthday. The United States is far from perfect, as everyone knows. It tolerated slavery until 1865 and destroyed, both physically and culturally, many Native American peoples as it expanded across the continent from Atlantic to Pacific.

Many Americans, in particular African Americans and women, were denied the vote into the twentieth century.

However, it created a civic culture that would regard Jews as equal citizens. Outside of Israel, America would become the most welcoming home to Jews of any nation in the world.

The 1776 Declaration of Independence signaled to the world that a nation was coming into existence predicated upon the natural and inalienable rights of mankind, rights that could not be taken away by the state.

The United States has never had a national church and the government is prohibited from establishing or favouring any religion over another. The First Amendment guarantees religious liberty to people of all faiths, while the Constitution proclaims that “no religious test shall ever be required” as a qualification for public office.

This meant Jews were free to dissent from the religious views of the majority without fear of persecution, rights almost unheard of elsewhere in the world at the time. 

The country’s first president put this in writing. George Washington’s letter of August 18,1790 to Moses Seixas, of the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, is celebrated as one of the definitive statements of religious freedom under the new U.S. Constitution.

“For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support,” Washington assured him.

“May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

Washington’s assurance, written sixteen months after he became president, made clear that he would not permit the power of the new government to become an instrument of religious intolerance. 

The French author and diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville, during his tour of the United States in 1831-32, observed that Americans had established a civil society that was diverse, tolerant, and deeply religious, a combination that rarely appeared in Europe or other parts of the world.

“Among us, I had seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom almost always move in contrary directions,” he wrote in his two-volume Democracy in America, published between 1835 and 1840. “Here I found them united intimately with on another: they reigned together on the same soil.”

Also, thanks to the impact of Protestantism, Americans were intimately familiar with the Bible. The earliest Puritan settlers established a “covenant” with one another modeled on its covenantal theology.

The inscription on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, an iconic symbol of American independence, is taken from Leviticus 25:10: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” A carved image of Moses dominates a frieze at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Therefore Jews in America never experienced systematic persecution and were welcomed as equal citizens of a self-governing republic. Thus, without renouncing their religion, they began to achieve integration.

Given the history of anti-Semitism elsewhere, Jews were also allied with African Americans in the fight for Black economic and political  rights, which had been denied so long and so flagrantly.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the oldest and largest civil rights organization, was founded in 1909 by several Black leaders, most notably W.E.B. Du Bois, and some liberal whites, a disproportionate number of whom were Jewish.

As the movement gained momentum in the 1950s, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph and Roy Wilkins, some of its lobbying was coordinated by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, whose offices were at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Today, in a far more conflicted America, African Americans and Jews remain the two ethnic groups that most support the Democratic Party. This remains a legacy of that past.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Iran’s New President Poses a Challenge to the West

 By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton NB] Times & Transcript

The sham June 18 Iranian presidential election, where the candidates had to be vetted as ideologically correct by the country’s real rulers, the Shia theocracy, resulted in the victory of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, himself a cleric. No surprise. 

Power lies not with the president, but in the office of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He controls the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the media channels, the clerics and foreign policy. 

Some 600 hopefuls, including 40 women, had been winnowed down to seven candidates, all men. Many Iranians saw this latest election as having been engineered for Raisi to win and shunned the poll.  

Official figures showed voter turnout was the lowest ever for a presidential election, at 48.8 per cent, compared to more than 70 per cent for the previous vote in 2017. For what it’s worth, Raisi won almost 62 per cent of the votes. 

Raisi, who in 2017 lost to more moderate Hassan Rouhani, was the preferred candidate of Ayatollah Khamenei, who in March 2019 had appointed him as head of Iran’s judiciary, where he launched a “war on corruption.” He has even been seen as a possible successor to Khamenei. 

Raisi was already notorious for his role in the mass execution of thousands of prisoners in the late 1980s. He is said to have been one of four judges who oversaw secret death sentences for about 5,000 prisoners in jails near Tehran, according to Amnesty International. It says the location of the mass graves where the men and women were buried is being systematically concealed by the Iranian authorities.   

In 2009, he defended the executions of a dozen people who took part in the protests that followed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection.  

Under his presidency, Iran will seek to reinforce a puritanical system of Islamic government, possibly meaning more controls on social activities, fewer freedoms and jobs for women, and tighter control of social media and the press. 

The regime will also, according to analysts, look to China to help the economy out of its deep crisis. Raisi will zealously stamp out nationwide uprisings, and those remain a possibility after the 2019-2020 fuel price protests. 

Will Iran continue to develop a nuclear arsenal, something it denies but which most observers think is progressing?  

Iran on June 15 announced that it has produced 6.5 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60 per cent purity and 108 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 per cnt purity in five months.  

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi contended May 24 that Iran was enriching uranium at purity levels that “only countries making bombs are reaching.” He stated that it was Iran's “sovereign right” to develop its program but added: “This is a degree that requires a vigilant eye.” 

A three-month monitoring deal between Iran and the IAEA has expired, so the agency no longer has access to Iran’s nuclear data. 

U.S. President Joe Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan will be uncomfortable with Raisi as president. Indirect talks with Iran over reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Barack Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal that was abrogated by Donald Trump, may face more uncertainty.  

Yet Biden seems unwilling to threaten Tehran with more sanctions and military action even as Iran keeps enriching uranium and developing more advanced centrifuges. His administration may have to admit that Tehran under Raisi has no intention of making any nuclear deal “longer, stronger, broader” as Blinken once described a follow-up agreement to the JCPOA, without sanctions relief. 

Israel is the country most likely to derail the administration’s hopes. Its opposition to the nuclear deal is much deeper and broader today than it was in 2015. Israel continues to conduct covert actions inside Iran, such as its sabotage of a power generator at the Iranian nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz in April. 

Many Sunni Arab states also fear Iran’s imperialism via proxy militias in Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen and see America as a declining power. 

However, major Israeli military action against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would surely cause a rift between the Jewish state and the Democratic Party, and with Benjamin Netanyahu no longer prime minister, this may be less likely.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Morocco is Moderating Under Islamist Party's Rule

 By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton NB] Times & Transcript

In the mid-1960s, the Islamic Youth in Morocco, the predecessor to the Movement for Unity and Reform (MUR) and the Party for Justice and Development (PJD), was a violent movement targeting the Moroccan monarchy.

However, a major transformation took place when a large number of MUR leaders and cadres joined the PJD, which then entered the electoral arena. Today it is legitimising the same Moroccan regime it once aimed to bring down by participating in the party system.

It contested the legislative elections of 1997 and 2002, winning 14 and 44 seats, respectively, in the 326-seat parliament. In contrast to other Islamist parties at the time, the PJD formally recognized the Moroccan monarchy.

In the next election, held in September of 2007, the PJD won 46 out of 325 seats, narrowly losing to the country’s leading political formation, the Independence Party.

The PJD increasingly adopted a moderate rhetoric that allowed it to proceed along a pragmatic, gradualist, and non-confrontational stance with the monarchy.

The Arab revolutions of 2011 also hit Morocco, with thousands of Moroccans joining nationwide protests in February. They demanded that King Muhammad VI hand over some of his powers to a newly elected government and make the justice system more independent.

A national referendum took place on July 1, 2011. A new constitution now ensures that the prime minister is selected from the party that received the most votes in elections, rather than chosen by the king.

This enabled the PJD, which won 107 seats in the November 2011election, to form a coalition with three parties that had been part of previous governments, headed by PJD leader Abdelilah Benkirane, who became prime minister.

In 2016, the party increased its numbers in parliament to 125 seats, with Saadeddine Othmani, Benkirane’s successor as leader of the party, as prime minister. He heads a coalition of six parties.

In February 2013, Benkirane stated that the PJD is an Islamist party that shares some of the same ideologies as the Muslim Brotherhood but operates “with different principles.” Benkirane denied that the PJD belongs to the global Brotherhood movement, instead claiming that each Islamist movement has “its own political thought.”

The PJD again denied affiliation with the Brotherhood in January 2015 when the PJD was publicly accused of attempting to “Islamize Moroccan society.” Benkirane reaffirmed the PJD’s Islamist agenda, but claimed that its philosophy differed from that of the Brotherhood. There was no organizational relationship between the two, he insisted.

The party considers Moroccan society as Muslim, as opposed to radical Islamists, for whom the members of any society not ruled by God’s law cannot be considered Muslim.

Since the 1990s, the PJD has paid attention to the experiences of other Islamist political parties and learned that it is safer to follow a pragmatic, gradual and progressive strategy rather than to engage in deep and comprehensive reforms.

Therefore, the PJD’s inclusion process and non-confrontational strategy is marked not only by domestic constraints but also by what the party has learned from the region, especially from its counterparts in Algeria in the 1990s, where events led to a horrific civil war.

This “Moroccan exception” has been attributed to the intimate relationship between Islam and the monarchy, to the unifying role of the king as both political arbiter and Commander of the Faithful, and to Muhammad VI’s own reformist style.

The party was opposed to the king’s recent normalization of relations with Israel, however, reiterating its “firm position against the Zionist occupation.” Some even urged Prime Minister Othamni, the party’s secretary-general, to resign from both posts. 

An element of the deal was American recognition of Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over the Western Sahara. The decades-old territorial dispute has pitted Morocco against the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, which seeks to establish an independent state. This did find favour with the PJD.

As Morocco prepares for general elections, scheduled for September this year, the PJD faces ideological divides over these issues. In March, former prime minister Abdelilah Benkirane suspended his membership in the party.

Foreign Affairs Minister Nasser Bourita has conveyed Morocco’s concerns over the recent warfare between Hamas and Israel and the PJD demanded the closure of the Israeli liaison office in the capital, Rabat.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Russia is Becoming a Precarious Petrostate

By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton NB] Times & Transcript

Prior to meeting U.S. president Joe Biden in Geneva June 16, Russian president Vladimir Putin has contended that the United States is trying to stifle Russia’s economy. “It wants to contain our development and publicly talks about it,” he told the Channel One television station June 4. But the country’s economic problems are mainly domestic in nature.

How has Russia fared in the decades since Putin assumed power? The post-Soviet Russian political system was supposed to develop liberal market democracy but has become increasingly dictatorial and illiberal. A form of capitalism has been built in which the market plays a role in the distribution of resources, but this is a political capitalism in which the economy is dominated by elite political interests, which take “rent” – essentially unearned profits – from the economy and use them to buy support.

The new authoritarianism in Russia is different to that of the Soviet past. The ruling Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) has been replaced by United Russia, but this is a highly personalized party loyal to President Putin; it is not a political force in its own right. Repression still exists but is less systematic than it was for most of the Soviet era.

The first decade of post-Soviet life under Boris Yeltsin had been one of dizzying opportunities for some Russians. But for the vast majority, it was a nasty fight for survival. Russia experienced a catastrophic decline of its economy. Industries were closing down, life expectancy was dropping, and people were becoming homeless and malnourished.

Yeltsin had created uncontrolled monopolies, making the oligarchs who had acquired these assets extremely wealthy. The country was in a downward spiral by the time he left office at the end of 1999.

Putin spent much of his early years as president rebuilding a “power vertical,” subordinating executive powers and the regions to one system of command and control. He intimidated into submission, drove into exile, or imprisoned oligarchs who tried to convert their vast wealth into political power. This happened concurrently with a Soviet-style institutional rebirth, doubling state control over the economy, and returning secret services to the centre stage of Russian life.

The concept of “sovereign democracy,” introduced by Vladislav Surkov, was a signal that Russia was beginning to pivot away from the west. The last few years have seen an increasingly ideological politics developed based on what Putin calls “traditional Russian values” -- respect for family, patriotism, intolerance of social difference, Orthodox Christianity, and hostility to liberalism. The Russian Orthodox Church stood at the centre of this new conservative pact, with Patriarch Kirill rejoicing Putin as a “miracle of God.”

One of the undeniable achievements of Putin’s rule was a massive reduction in absolute poverty. That was achieved on the back of historically high oil prices, an early reformist agenda and several years of high growth. Over the 10 years from 1999 to 2008, Russian GDP increased by 94 per cent. More recent years have not been as good, though.

Many analysts consider Russia to be a “petrostate,” dependent on oil and gas revenues exported abroad. Russia is ranked third in the world for oil production, producing 12.1 per cent of the world’s oil, some 11.5 million barrels per day, and exporting $72.37 billion dollars worth in 2020.

The three major companies include market leader Rosneft, which is fully owned by the Russian government, Lukoil, and Gazprom. Much of the industry is state-owned and controlled. Putin has a grip on the industry and directs it to his own ends.

Such dependence is fraught with economic danger. For example, when the price of oil declined in 2014 the Russian ruble fell in value by 59 per cent relative to the U.S. dollar in just six months.

Most oil and gas exports go to Europe, so Russia is mostly dependent on the European market for export revenues. But this is a cause for concern because Europe is striving towards a future of clean and renewable energy and trying to phase out the use of fossil fuels.

Sooner or later, Russia will have to diversify and become less tied to oil and gas exports, if it wishes to remain a major player in the global economy.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

The Pandemic’s Effect in America Varies

 By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottown, PEI] Guardian

This pandemic is different from the Great Depression of the 1930s. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen, and the wealthiest in the United States have seen their riches greatly increase. According to a study by 24/7 Wall St., the net worth of America’s 614 billionaires grew by a collective $931 billion during the first seven months of the pandemic.

Last year, Democratic presidential aspirant Andrew Yang remarked that “Amazon is like a giant spaceship” sucking up retail jobs and destroying smaller businesses. Jeff Bezos, its owner, is worth some $200 billion.

Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire by Brad Stone shows how the company increasingly wields its enormous scale against potential rivals. Amazon contributes to individual inequality by paying salaries so low that more than 4,000 warehouse workers in nine states are eligible for federal food-stamp subsidies.

Big Tech execs have especially profited. For example, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s personal wealth grew by $7.8 billion. Obviously, things are good for the billionaire class.

The most recent World Inequality Database shows the top one per cent of Americans control just under 35 per cent of the nation’s personal wealth – more than China’s 29.6 per cent.

Societies now recognize that workers in essential services, such as supermarkets, warehouses, delivery services, utilities maintenance, and above all health, have been taken for granted and underpaid for too long.  

 “Martin Luther King Jr. predicted this moment,” wrote Gene Sperling, the national economic adviser to presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, in the April 24, 2020 New York Times, referring to King’s support for the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers’ strike.

“One day,” King told them, “our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive, for the person who picks up our garbage, in the final analysis, is as significant as the physician, for if he doesn’t do his job, diseases are rampant. All labor has dignity.”

Yet we are forced to confront the dissonance between calling workers “essential” and “heroes” while accepting the fact of their limited wages, benefits, and inability to organize. Many nursing, psychiatric and home health aides aren’t offered even a single day of paid sick leave.

Why have we privileged, not just billionaires, but white-collar and so-called “knowledge” workers?

Because the essence of modern meritocracy is the link between education and work, so one of its key social manifestations is the phenomenon of credentialism – the belief that academic or other formal qualifications are the best measure of a person’s intelligence or ability to do a particular job. This belief has undermined the dignity associated with other forms of work requiring less in the way of cognitive thinking skills.

In The Cult of Smart: How Our Broken Education System Perpetuates Social Injustice, Fredrik DeBoer contends that a “system that doles out wealth and hardship based on academic ability is inherently and forever a rigged game.” Academics who help define what it means to be progressive live lives of great privilege, thanks to the very meritocratic system that creates inequality.

The Merit Myth by Anthony P. Carnevale, Peter Schmidt and Jeff Strohl sees elite colleges as gatekeepers that shut out “large swaths of the American population from access to power, opportunity, and wealth.”

This may help us understand why so many manual workers have turned to right-wing politics. The anthropologist Ralph Linton in his 1936 The Study of Man pointed to the difference between “achieved” identity and “ascribed” identity.

The institutions that have historically accepted you as a member unconditionally – family, church, nation – are all weakened in a more mobile and more individualistic society, he wrote. Achieved identities based on educational and career success have eclipsed ascribed identities based on attachment to place and group.

In his book Head, Hand, Heart: The Struggle for Dignity and Status in the 21st Century, British writer David Goodhart takes up Linton’s point, and makes a case for reviving the status of work outside the “knowledge economy,” especially in the age of automation.

Can we really argue that the work of a junior account manager is more useful than that of a bus driver? asks Goodhart. Or, indeed, more skilled?


Monday, June 07, 2021

Unlikely Coalition Could Mean Netanyahu's End

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

National elections were held in Israel on March 23 to elect the 120 members of the Knesset, Israel’s unicameral parliament. Due to Israel’s proportional representation party list electoral system, there are no constituency seats and parties are simply allocated seats based on their percentage of the total nationwide vote.

This dysfunctional system has resulted in no party ever coming close to winning a majority of seats, and all governments have been coalitions since the founding of the state in 1948. This was the fourth election in two years, as election after election failed to break the country’s political deadlock.

With 13 parties winning mandates, as they are called, to the Knesset, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud came first – but with just 30 seats, less than half needed for a majority of 61. While his is a long-established party, in recent years a bewildering number of other groups have emerged, gained popularity, and disappeared soon afterwards.

In fact the once mighty Labour Party, which governed the Jewish state for its first decades, won a mere seven seats, good for sixth place.

In order to dethrone Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, his opponents have created an eight-headed monster, a puzzling grouping ranging from the left to the far right, including an Arab party. They are united on little, other than taking power. Some are themselves former former protégés of Netanyahu’s Likud-led governments.

Coming second was Yesh Atid, a centrist party founded in 2012 by former journalist Yair Lapid. He created Yesh Atid as a “fusionist third-way” party between Israel’s traditional left and right.

Despite that, this self-described “change government” will be led until 2023 by Naftali Bennett, though his party, Yamina, won just seven seats. A far-right ideologue and former Netanyahu ally, he opposes a Palestinian state.

Bennett and centrist Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid agreed to a rotation scheme, with Bennett becoming prime minister for the first two years, followed by Lapid. The latter will serve as foreign minister until the two swap roles.

Odd as this may seem, it is not without precedent. An indecisive election held in 1984, in which the Labour Party-led Alignment and the Likud won 44 and 41 seats, respectively, led to a national unity government.

Labour’s Shimon Peres held the post of prime Minister until September 1986, when Likud’s Yitzhak Shamir took over.

Also part of the alliance is the left-wing Meretz, led by Nitzan Horowitz, which holds six mandates; Avigdor Lieberman’s nationalist Israel Beiteinu, with seven seats; Benny Gantz’s liberal Kahol Lavan with eight; and the new centre-right Tikva Hadasha, created last year by Gideon Sa’ar, with six.

Completely unprecedented, though, is the formal inclusion of an Arab party in a governing coalition – all the more so because the United Arab List, known as Ra’am, is an avowedly Islamist organization.

It is the political wing of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, considered more moderate than the Northern Branch, which was banned by the Israeli government in November 2015 due to close ties with Hamas and the Egyptian-founded Muslim Brotherhood.

Ra’am won four seats in this election. On June 2, after holding negotiations with Lapid and Bennett, its leader, Mansour Abbas, decided to back a non-Netanyahu government. He has reportedly secured major policy victories for Israel’s Arab sector in return.

The political struggles in Israel have reached this state because the actors are focused not on issues but on personal, sectorial, factional, and party-based considerations. The Israeli right and left are equally to blame for this process.

Opportunism reigns and national interests have been relegated to the margins of political discourse, at a time when Israel is under increased pressure from Iran and its proxies.

Is this a first step towards a bi-national state, where politics becomes sectarian? It becomes an even more pressing matter following last month’s violence between Arabs and Jews within the country.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu, as opposition leader, will be poised to pounce on this shaky new governing coalition. He accused Bennett of carrying out “the fraud of the century,” referring to the Yamina leader’s earlier promises not to join forces with Lapid.

This unlikely alliance still needs to be confirmed by parliament to take power. Is yet a fifth election on the horizon?