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Can Iran and the U.S. Breathe Life Back Into Nuclear Deal?

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Can Iran and the U.S. Breathe Life Back Into Nuclear Deal?
Iran and U.S. GETTY IMAGES

The possibility of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—or the Iran nuclear deal—being revived, though difficult, seems to have brightened in February 2022. The U.S. may now also believe that the potential loss of Russian natural gas and oil due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war needs to be offset by Iran returning to the global oil market. The nuclear deal could have been accomplished much earlier if not for the Biden administration’s unwillingness to commit to the “way forward” offered by Iran to stay in the deal for the remainder of Biden’s term as president, according to Responsible Statecraft. Former United States President Donald Trump had pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in May 2018 on the premise that he could get a better deal than the one negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, faced with the current reality relating to the situation on the ground, which shows that Iran is unlikely to give up its missile capabilities or pull back from regional allies, Biden seems to have come around to the original deal.

Iran is unlikely to remove the more advanced centrifuges it now possesses and uses after the Trump administration unilaterally pulled out of the deal. Neither is Iran likely to get an assurance that Trump or a future U.S. president who follows his lead on foreign policy will not abandon the deal again after the 2024 presidential election in the United States. The rest of the world is thus forced to live in an era in which the United States, the strongest military and economic power, is no longer capable of committing to treaties, whether on global warming or the nuclear deal with Iran.

Washington was not alone in its foolishness of pulling out of an agreement like the Iran nuclear deal that sought to impose the most stringent restrictions any country had accepted on its nuclear programs. It was egged on, if not instigated, by Israel, which wanted the United States to do what it could not: remove the possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons and defang its missile capabilities. As most technologies required for nuclear weapons or missiles are dual-use, these restrictions would have converted Iran to a second-class industrial power.

A set of Israeli military experts have now come out saying that asking the United States to pull out of the Iran deal was a huge blunder, and the best course for Israel now would be to work to reinstate the nuclear deal. A report published in January 2022 by Ben Armbruster in Responsible Statecraft, a leading United States website on international affairs, says, “The head of Israel’s military intelligence agency, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, has said that the revival of the Iran nuclear agreement would be better for Israel than if it were to be allowed to collapse entirely.”

If Iran had succumbed to the United States and Israel’s demands, it would have given the Western powers complete military control over West Asia, including its oil. This would have been in line with former United States President Jimmy Carter’s 1980 declaration—the Carter Doctrine—that the Persian Gulf region was of vital interest to the United States, and the U.S. would brook no interference of any outside power in this region. The Carter Doctrine was similar to the neocolonial Monroe Doctrine of 1823, which declared that no foreign power could have any military presence in the Americas, the United States’ backyard.

Trump’s reimposition of more than 1,000 sanctions on Iran after walking out of the nuclear deal was a heavy economic blow for Iran. It was complemented by covert attacks on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, which included the sabotage of nuclear facilities and assassinations of nuclear scientists in Iran. Major-General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, was assassinated along with Iraq’s militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a United States drone strike in Baghdad in 2020. Iran’s response to these sanctions and attacks has been equally forceful: the country struck the United States bases in the region in January 2020 using missiles, continued supporting the Lebanese political-militant group Hezbollah and the Syrian government forces, and continued to exert its influence over Iraq. After a prior warning to avoid casualties, Iran’s strikes on United States bases showed America’s so-called anti-missile batteries are toothless against Iran’s latest missiles. Iran was careful not to cause deaths, nor did it hit United States Navy ships in order not to start a war. But its asymmetric war capabilities showed that U.S. and Israeli strategic assets in the region were now within Iran’s missile range, and anti-missile batteries could not protect these assets.

I have previously written about Iran developing asymmetrical warfare capabilities and the ability to use missiles, drones, and smaller naval boats to strike opponents. Supplying Hezbollah and other groups in West Asia such as Ansarullah or the Houthis in Yemen, with these kinds of technology has helped Iran vis-a-vis Israel and Saudi Arabia. The Houthis have shown they may suffer heavy losses against the militarily superior Saudi and the Emirati (UAE) forces, but they have missile capabilities to strike back. With Yemen, the argument of Houthi attacks hitting civilians rings hollow, as the Saudis and Emiratis have inflicted the most savage attacks on civilians that the world has seen in a very long time. Yemen’s infrastructure has been destroyed; the country has dealt with a cholera epidemic and faced a water crisis with no access to safe drinking water, and its schools, colleges, and health care facilities have been destroyed by sustained Saudi and Emirati bombings. Yemen’s only recourse has been to hit back at Saudi and UAE facilities—refineries and airports—hoping to force them into peace talks and settle the war.

Trump and the Israeli leadership had assumed that the economic reverses of the sanctions would drive Iran to surrender its independent strategic nuclear role. Iran initially refrained from breaching the JCPOA agreement and asked the other signatories, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, and China, to continue trading with it. Apart from China and Russia, the European countries who were part of the agreement gave “lip service” to continuing with the JCPOA and reduced their trade with Iran to a trickle. With the dollar functioning as the international currency, no other European country was willing to buck the United States sanctions in any serious way.

This is where Iran started to ratchet up its nuclear enrichment, both in quantity and quality: how much uranium-235 it would enrich and to what degree of purity. The Iran nuclear deal had the following key features:

  • Iran’s active centrifuges would have to come down to about 5,000 from the more than 19,000 centrifuges it had.
  • Uranium enrichment was capped at 300 kg at 3.67 percent purity.
  • No advanced centrifuges would be used beyond IR-1 and Iran would have to dismantle/mothball more advanced centrifuges.
  • Iran would have to modify the Arak heavy reactor that could produce weapons-grade plutonium and convert it so that it could be used for peaceful purposes.

At the time of the agreement, Iran had stockpiled about 200 kgs of 20 percent enriched uranium gas (200 kg of uranium gas would be 133 kg of solid uranium), which was shipped out to Russia.

In terms of nuclear weapons development, converting uranium to 20 percent purity is nine-tenths of the work required to reach weapons-grade uranium of 90 percent purity. The bulk of the work involved in building these weapons is therefore in achieving 20 percent purity, and the rest is relatively easy. In centrifuges, uranium gas is spun to separate U-238, the heavier isotope of uranium, from U-235, which is lighter and the fissile isotope used in the development of nuclear weapons. The separation is done by using a cascade of centrifuges and repeating the process continuously. This process is time- and energy-consuming and requires a high degree of automation. In Natanz, in Iran, the Stuxnet malware and a cyberweapon developed by the United States and Israel were used to destroy more than 10 percent of Iran’s centrifuges by attacking its Siemens controllers. This attack was the first use of a cyberweapon in the world.

In November 2021, Iran’s atomic agency, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said that its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium had reached more than 210 kg, and 60 percent enriched uranium had reached 25 kg. The country also has put in a new generation of more advanced centrifuges and efficient IR-2m, IR-4, and IR-6 centrifuges. This capability is why there are arguments that Iran has reached breakout capacity as it has enough fissile material for a bomb and is more advanced in its bomb-making ability than it was during the original JCPOA as a consequence of Trump’s folly.

The problem that the United States and its allies face now is how to put the nuclear genie they unleashed by walking away from the JCPOA back inside the bottle. Iran is willing to accept most terms of the old deal but is unlikely to mothball its advanced centrifuges again, as it did earlier. It also knows the United States may be just a presidential election away from reneging on the deal, so the U.S.’s stakes in the nuclear deal are temporary. So, how much is Iran willing to sacrifice for sanction relief—though halting and piecemeal, as Obama showed—to get back to the negotiating table on the nuclear deal? For the sake of the world, everyone hopes that Iran will, and that Biden will live up to the United States’ side of the bargain, at least for the few years he has left in office before the next presidential elections.


By Prabir Purkaystha is the founding editor of Newsclick.in, a digital media platform. He is an activist for science and the free software movement.

This article was produced in partnership by Newsclick and Globetrotter to publish on Telegraf.

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US Does Not Support Taiwan Independence, Says President Joe Biden

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US Does Not Support Taiwan Independence, Says President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden. Getty Images

US President Joe Biden said on Saturday (Jan 13) that the United States does not support the independence of Taiwan, after Taiwanese voters rebuffed China and gave the ruling party a third presidential term.

Earlier in the day, the Taiwanese ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) presidential candidate William Lai Ching-te came to power, strongly rejecting Chinese pressure to spurn him, and pledged both to stand up to Beijing and seek talks.

“We do not support independence,” Biden said, when asked for a reaction to Saturday’s elections.

The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 and has long said it does not support a formal declaration of independence by Taiwan.

It maintains unofficial relations with the self-governed island and remains its most important backer and arms supplier.

Beijing, which has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, fears that Lai could declare the establishment of a Republic of Taiwan, which Lai has said he will not do.

Biden has previously upset the Chinese government with comments that appeared to suggest the United States would defend the island if it were attacked, a deviation from a long-held US position of “strategic ambiguity”.

His comments on Saturday appear to be an effort to reassure Beijing.

Even so, Washington warned just hours ahead of the polls opening that “it would be unacceptable” for any country to interfere in the election.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Lai on his victory and said the United States “is committed to maintaining cross-strait peace and stability, and the peaceful resolution of differences, free from coercion and pressure”.

He said the US looks forward to working with Lai and leaders of all parties in Taiwan to advance their “longstanding unofficial relationship, consistent with the US’ One China policy”.

The Biden administration has feared that the election, transition and new administration would escalate conflict with Beijing.

Biden has worked to smooth relations with China, including agreeing to talk through differences on security matters at a California summit with President Xi Jinping in November.

Taiwan’s government expects China to attempt to put pressure on its incoming president after the vote, including staging military manoeuvres near the island this spring, two senior government officials said.

Former US National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and former Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg will arrive in Taipei on Sunday for post-election meetings with Taiwanese politicians, the de facto US embassy in Taipei said.

The delegation sent by Biden’s administration will hold talks with “a range of leading political figures” on Monday, the American Institute in Taiwan said in a statement.

China was angered in 2016 when then-president-elect Donald Trump spoke by phone with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, the first such conversation between US and Taiwan leaders since president Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979.

 

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Orthodox Mark Christmas, But The Celebration is Overshadowed for Many by Conflict

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Orthodox Mark Christmas, But The Celebration is Overshadowed for Many by Conflict
People burn dried oak branches, the Yule log symbol for the Orthodox Christmas Eve, in front of St. Sava church in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024. Orthodox believers in Serbia celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, according to the Julian calendar. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Orthodox Christians packed churches Saturday night for Christmas Eve services, a holiday overshadowed for many believers by conflict.

Traditions vary, but typically the main worship service for Orthodox Christians takes place the night before Christmas, which is Jan. 7.

Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, the world’s largest Orthodox denomination, led elaborate and well-attended services at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. In ornately decorated vestments, dozens of priests and officiants took part, swinging smoking incense censers and chanting the liturgy.

In his Christmas message, broadcast just before the service Saturday night, Kirill spoke on the theme of sacrificial love, noting that Jesus Christ “saved us from the wrong path in life, from the wrong life orientation.” He also called for prayers for Russia, so that “no alien evil will could disrupt the peaceful flow of life.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin was joined by families of military personnel who have died in the war in Ukraine at Christmas Eve services at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence, in the western suburbs of Moscow.

In a statement congratulating Orthodox Christians, Putin highlighted the “efforts of religious organizations aimed at supporting our heroes — participants in the special military operation,” as the Kremlin refers to Russia’s efforts in Ukraine.

Officials said about a million people were expected to go to church in the Russian capital. But nighttime services were canceled in the Russian border city of Belgorod due to the “operational situation,” Mayor Valentin Demidov said.

Ukrainian attacks in Belgorod on Dec. 30 killed 25 people, officials there said, making it one of the deadliest strikes on Russian soil since the start of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine nearly 23 months ago. Rocket and drone attacks on the city continued throughout this week.

Russians and Orthodox in some other countries observe Christmas on Jan. 7.

But Ukraine, which is a predominantly Orthodox country, officially observed Christmas this year as a public holiday on Dec. 25. The change, enacted in legislation signed by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in July, reflects Ukrainians’ dismay with the nearly 23-month-old Russian invasion and their assertion of a national identity.

In neighboring Belarus, Christmas is officially celebrated with public holidays on both Dec. 25 and on Jan. 7. About 80% of believers are Orthodox, belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church, while around 14% are Catholics, living mainly in the west, north and center of the country.

President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 30 years, calls himself an “Orthodox atheist.” He usually attends Christmas Eve services and lights a candle in an Orthodox church.

He wished Orthodox Christians a happy Christmas, saying in a statement that he is “convinced that by preserving the Orthodox traditions of mercy and moral purity, together we will create the best future for our native Belarus.”

Orthodox believers in Serbia marked the day by burning oak branches at services outside churches and temples, including hundreds who gathered at the St. Sava Temple — the biggest Orthodox church in the Balkans.

The young oak tree symbolizes Christ and his entry into the world, with the centuries-old tradition led by Serbian Orthodox church priests. As the fire was lit, dozens of people of all ages threw small branches of dried oak into the large bonfire.

“In these hard times, we need to come together in unity and to nurture peace, love, and respect towards each other,” Belgrade resident Mica Jovanovic told The Associated Press.

Celebrations in the Middle East were darkened by another conflict: the Israel-Hamas war.

In Bethlehem, where Orthodox Christmas Eve normally draws tens of thousands of tourists to visit the traditional birthplace of Jesus, roughly 100 observers milled about in Manger Square. They were nearly outnumbered by police officers and clergymen.

Christmas festivities were canceled in the West Bank town after the heads of major churches in Jerusalem asked their congregations to “forgo any unnecessarily festive activities” in light of the fighting in Gaza. The majority of Christians in the region are Palestinians, and Christian leaders have called upon observers to spend the holidays praying for peace and an end to the war.

Despite the cancellation of festivities, church leaders still gathered to welcome the arrival of patriarchs from different Orthodox churches — Greek, Coptic and Ethiopian — and a customary procession of Boy Scouts proceeded through Bethlehem, though without the usual fanfare. A midnight Mass was planned.

Samir Qumseyeh, a Palestinian Christian and founder of a Christian TV channel, has been filming the celebrations since 1996. He said this year’s observance was even more muted than at the height of the second intifada, when Israeli forces locked down parts of the West Bank in response to Palestinians carrying out suicide bombings and other attacks that killed Israeli civilians.

“Even during the intifada, still the festivals and the joy were there,” Qumseyeh said. “But this year, I am feeling very, very, very sad. But I understand why the church leaders had to do this. You cannot show joy when the people of Gaza are suffering.”

In Iraq, many Christians canceled Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, as well as in an act of continued mourning for the victims of a deadly fire that killed more than 100 people at a wedding in the predominantly Christian Hamdaniya area of northern Iraq in September.

Dozens of Iraqi Armenian Orthodox Christians attended Christmas Eve Mass in Baghdad but the celebration was limited to Christmas prayers and rituals.

“In 2023, we went through many crises, including the Hamdaniya tragedy which the entire world learned about, as well as to Gaza and our brothers in Palestine,” Gebre Kashikian, pastor of the Armenian Church in Baghdad, said at the Mass.

In Istanbul, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I presided over the Blessing of the Waters ceremony on the Golden Horn. The tradition sees the patriarch toss a wooden cross into the inlet, which this year nearly 50 swimmers competed to recover.

Kostas Kypros, from Alexandroupoli in Greece, emerged from the water clutching the crucifix. “I am very happy. I wish the best for everyone. I was lucky and I pulled out the cross,” Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported him as saying.

Earlier, members of Istanbul’s tiny Greek Orthodox community and visitors from neighboring Greece attended an Epiphany service led by Bartholomew I at the Patriarchal Church of St George in Istanbul’s Fener district.

Bartholomew I is regarded as the “first among equals” among patriarchs in Eastern Orthodoxy and the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians. The patriarchate dates from the 1,100-year Orthodox Greek Byzantine Empire, which ended in 1453 when the Muslim Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, today’s Istanbul.

___

AP

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In a Year of Conflict, the Future of War Looks Very Similar to Its Past

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In a Year of Conflict, the Future of War Looks Very Similar to Its Past
Local militiaman Valery, 37, carries a child as he helps a fleeing family across a bridge destroyed by artillery, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, March 2. Emilio Morenatti/AP

Even well into 2022, long after the war in Ukraine had started, the media were still “reporting the last war,” so to speak. The New Yorker headlined a report on the Bayraktar TB2 drone that was widely considered to have won the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, “The Turkish Drone That Changed the Nature of Warfare.”

Little wonder, because the TB2 had proved formidable beyond its size, an unmanned drone that carried laser-guided bombs. Throughout the six-week war, Azerbaijan used the TB2 to startling effect, blowing up tanks and troops and then broadcasting video of the attacks. For a fraction of the cost of conventional fighter jets, Azerbaijan was able to dominate the airspace above Nagorno-Karabakh and win a swift victory.

The rest of the world noticed and militaries began to reassess what role small, cheap drones might play in future wars. When the Ukraine war started, the Ukrainian military used the TB2s to devastating effect, taking out Russian tanks, trains and even ships – and gleefully posting the footage to social media. A new era of war had begun, where a drone costing just a few million dollars could prove highly effective against one of the world’s most powerful militaries. The financial asymmetry was frightening.

Yet the two major wars of this year have shown that, while such asymmetry exists, the future of war is much more similar to its past.

Drones have fallen away from the Ukrainian battlefield, as Russia’s initially chaotic invasion has entrenched itself into defensive positions and its air defenses have adapted. Ukraine’s much vaunted counteroffensive has stalled – stalemated or defeated, depending on who you ask. All along Russia’s vast defensive lines in eastern Ukraine, Kyiv’s troops are bogged down, unable to punch holes through the lines.

Video taken recently of Ukrainian soldiers pinned down in a field outside Bakhmut looks like something straight out of World War I: the same bleak, treeless landscape, the sound of artillery slamming into fields while troops take cover in muddy ditches, the screams of the wounded. Ukraine’s war is brutal and grinding, its effect on people and landscapes unknown in recent wars.

That is, until the Gaza war. Just as the conflict started with a burst of new technology as Hamas used drones to disable surveillance systems, so it eventually ossified into a war from another century. Vast parts of Gaza were flattened by aerial bombardment and Israeli troops faced street by street battles. As in Ukraine, the civilian toll has been enormous.

That is because, at its heart, war hasn’t really changed, and perhaps can’t. Yes, there have been short, swift wars – the first Gulf war, for example. But war in general is a continuation of political persuasion by other means, and that means that war invariably affects the entire population, often as a method for persuading the politicians.

What has changed with Ukraine and Gaza is that these wars are now fought in full view of the world, and of a watching Western audience. The scale of the destruction is different, but the nature of it is not.

The devastation in Gaza or the ruination of Bakhmut are not new. This is what war looks like, and always has; it’s just that in the West, audiences have so rarely been confronted by its reality. These two wars have played out across the media for opposite reasons – in Ukraine, to persuade Western audiences to accept the choices of their politicians; and in Gaza to persuade them to oppose them. In both cases, the reality on television and phone screens has been a wake-up call to an audience thankfully unused to what real conflict looks like up close.

Just as the future of war hasn’t changed that much, nor has the nature of war, which is ultimately an extension of politics. What hasn’t changed in Ukraine or Gaza is the ultimate importance of what happens off the battlefield.

Those who wage wars easily forget that the purpose of war is not to keep fighting, but to bring the fighting to an end. Politicians, too easily lulled by the glory and rhetoric of war, forget this too.

In Ukraine, the initial idea of arming the Ukrainians was not to allow them to fight a years-long war, but to give them the ability to stalemate the Russians and bring them to the negotiating table. In Gaza, it was – or should have been – to destroy Hamas’ militant structure, not to punish the whole exclave.

In both cases, the longer the brutal war has gone on, the harder it has become for the politicians who are ordering the wars to find ways off the battlefield. A long war has bolstered the commitment of Ukrainians to fight, especially after so much loss of human life. The same is true on the Russian side, at least as regards political commitment: Vladimir Putin can’t back down from this very public fight. The exact same dynamic is on show in Gaza, with Israeli politicians using stronger and more forceful rhetoric, even as the war’s initial aims retreat further away.

This year of conflict has shown that the old wars don’t die away; new technology, new enmities and new political leaders simply emerge to fight the same old wars, the same old way, often again and again.

Faisal Al Yafai is currently writing a book on the Middle East and is a frequent commentator on international TV news networks. He has worked for news outlets such as The Guardian and the BBC, and reported on the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. X: @FaisalAlYafai

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The Hidden Dangers of Antisemitism and the Free Speech Debate

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The Hidden Dangers of Antisemitism and the Free Speech Debate
People gather at Harvard University to show their support for Palestinians in Gaza at a rally in Cambridge, Mass., on Oct.14, 2023. | Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty images

Jewish history is full of cautionary examples of failed emancipation. For millennia, Jews have often been perceived as the “other” in their host societies, a status that continues to this day despite appearances to the contrary in some countries. While the past century has witnessed various efforts to achieve civil and political rights for Jews, including religious initiatives like Reform Judaism and political movements like Zionism, these have not fully addressed the underlying issues.

Following the Holocaust, Zionism succeeded in establishing the state of Israel, but it did not resolve the fundamental issue of Jewish emancipation. That’s because the state is not secure or, in many ways, viable. Israel’s lack of internationally recognized borders and its ongoing inability or unwillingness to establish a lasting peace with the indigenous Palestinian population have exacerbated the idea that the country is not secure.

Rather than mitigating these challenges, Israel has spent substantial resources to build a vast military occupation to control virtually every facet of the lives of Palestinians. The resources required for this herculean task of domination largely come from abroad in the form of military aid and diplomatic cover from the United States. 

The dependence of a secular Jewish state on a predominantly Christian nation like the US is cause for concern, given the historical hostility between Christian societies and Jews. This stands in contrast to the narrative pushed by Israel’s current public relations campaigns, which don’t dwell on that dark history but instead argues that it is Muslims that have exhibited more hostility toward Jews. Throughout history, numerous Christian societies have exercised animosity toward Jews, on a scale far greater than their Muslim counterparts. Hostility, demonization, subjugation, and violence blighted the history of Jewish populations in Europe.

While the US is not a religious state, it is a majority Christian country that has witnessed a hard rightward shift in politics, marked by extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric in recent years. It seems inevitable that a savvy populist American politician will eventually raise questions about the loyalty of American Jews and the nature of the US’s special relationship with Israel. In fact, former President Donald Trump has already made such insinuations through comments about American Jews and his remarks calling Nazi marchers in Charlottesville “very fine people.” This is deeply disturbing but unsurprising from the perspective of Jewish history, which is marked with many episodes of such shifts. 

The recent uproar surrounding how American universities address antisemitism in the wake of Hamas’s October 7 attack could mark another turning point. The focus is on how institutions like Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania handle the increasingly heated debate over Israel and Palestine. Last month, the presidents of these universities were called before Congress to address these issues, leading to a hearing reminiscent of the McCarthy era. Republican members of Congress grilled these university leaders over the use of the phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” by pro-Palestine activists.

This phrase, used by Palestinians for decades, calls for their freedom and equality from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. However, the Israeli government and pro-Israel activists argue that it is a veiled call for the elimination of Israel and the Jewish presence in the Middle East. They tend to overlook the fact that Israeli settlers have also employed a similar phrase in their propaganda, and Israeli textbooks have frequently omitted any reference to Palestine on their maps. In 2013, the Guardian reported that 76 percent of maps used to educate Israeli children did not delineate boundaries between Palestinian territories and Israel, with Palestinian areas left unlabeled.

During the congressional hearing, a Republican lawmaker, who has previously advocated for the removal of “woke agenda” from American universities, questioned Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay, about whether “calling for the genocide of Jews violates Harvard’s rules on bullying and harassment.” Gay responded that it depends on the context, which the New Yorker notes was the correct response since “any responsible determination of a policy violation is context-dependent.” After the hearing, the president of the University of Pennsylvania lost her job, and a new chapter in the debate about American freedom of speech began. 

The Israel-Palestine debate has now become a platform to discuss broader free speech issues in the US. While such discussions can facilitate real change, they are cause for concern in this case because the intellectual foundations of the debate seem weak. For instance, using a chant to advocate for Palestinian rights is not equivalent to advocating genocide, and attempts to link the two often rely on outdated PR talking points from Israel.

The more significant concern lies in how this debate could further fuel discontent among a growing number of Americans regarding the influence of Israeli politics on US discourse. Given the numerous pressing issues facing the average American, Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and its international public relations may not be at the forefront.

American politicians are able to see this opening for their campaigns. Donald Trump is the most obvious example, but others are bound to follow. Ironically, pro-Israel activists driven by a desire to fight antisemitism might well be flaming its fires through the blind adoption of Israeli talking points. If history serves as a guide, there may be consequences for this perceived overreach, which would almost certainly be unfavorable for the Jews.

__________________________________________________

Joseph Dana is a writer based in South Africa and the Middle East. He has reported from Jerusalem, Ramallah, Cairo, Istanbul, and Abu Dhabi. He was formerly editor-in-chief of emerge85, a media project based in Abu Dhabi exploring change in emerging markets. Twitter: @ibnezra

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Megawati Soekarnoputri Meet Pope Francis Discusses Global Challenges For Human Fraternity

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Megawati Soekarnoputri Meet Pope Francis Discusses Global Challenges For Human Fraternity
Pope Francis on Monday received in audience members of the jury for the 2024 edition of the Zayed Prize. AP

Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, urged the advancement of human fraternity in all places and in all fields as a response to pressing global challenges, during a meeting with the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity 2024 judging committee at the Vatican on Monday.

Pope Francis encouraged the judging committee members – who collectively represent Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America – to further the values of human fraternity, both through the award and through their respective fields.

An honorary recipient of the award, Pope Francis said: “Human fraternity is imperative for our contemporary world, especially in the midst of ongoing conflicts. In wars, everyone loses, and it is the innocent who pay the price.” The Pope further urged the judging committee members to persist in promoting the values of human fraternity within their respective fields and domains.

For their part, the judging committee members expressed their gratitude to Pope Francis for His Holiness’ promotion of human fraternity values – including solidarity, environmental protection, and equality – through his pontificate.

They commended Pope Francis, as well as Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb, for coming together in 2019 to sign the historic Document on Human Fraternity, and affirmed that the values outlined in the Document on Human Fraternity serve as a compass in their selection process of the 2024 honoree(s).

The members of the independent judging committee are former president of Indonesia Megawati Sukarnoputri; Prefect Emeritus of the Holy See Dicastery for Oriental Churches His Eminence Cardinal Leonardo Sandri; Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Rebeca Grynspan Mayufis; U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Chair Rabbi Abraham Cooper; former Director-General of UNESCO and former Bulgarian minister Irina Bokova; and Secretary-General of the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity, Judge Mohamed Abdelsalam.

On behalf of the committee, Judge Mohamed Abdelsalam said: “Ahead of the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar signing the historic Document on Human Fraternity, we truly appreciate today’s meeting and inspiring conversation with Pope Francis, who has strengthened our resolve to carry out the values of human fraternity in our work together and apart.”

Megawati Sukarnoputri said: “It was an honor to meet with His Holiness Pope Francis today and discuss not only common concerns for the state of humanity, but also how we as a judging committee can contribute to addressing them.”

Cardinal Sandri said: “Following our discussion with His Holiness Pope Francis, as a judging committee we are reminded of our shared responsibility to recognise individuals and entities who are spreading the values outlined in the historic Document on Human Fraternity.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper said: “The meeting with Pope Francis is a source of motivation in forging ahead with our efforts as a judging committee to select an awardee whose commitment to better humankind will inspire people the world over.”
Irina Bokova said: “I am pleased that the members of the judging committee share a common approach and understanding of the values of the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity, which aims to honor everyday heroes of human fraternity, compassion, and empathy, while also inspiring others to follow in their footsteps toward a more peaceful world.”

During their time in Rome, the 2024 judging committee will continue reviewing nominations to select the 2024 award honoree(s) – to be announced in February, in tandem with the UN-recognized International Day of Human Fraternity.
The award – which includes a USD $1 million prize – was established in 2019 following the signing of the historic Document on Human Fraternity by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Since the award’s inception humanitarian organizations, activists, and leaders from around the world have been honored including: Pope Francis (honorary recipient); the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb (honorary recipient); UN Secretary-General António Guterres; activist against extremism Latifa Ibn Ziaten; His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein and Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan; Haitian humanitarian organization the Foundation for Knowledge and Liberty (FOKAL); the Community of Sant’Egidio organisation; and Kenyan peacebuilder Shamsa Abubakar Fadhil.

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Israeli Forces Attack Church Compound In Gaza Just Days Before Christmas

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Israeli Forces Attack Church Compound In Gaza Just Days Before Christmas
Israeli armoured vehicles take part in a drill in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, near the border. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The Israeli military is accused of attacking a church compound in Gaza just one week before Christmas, killing two Christian women and displacing dozens of disabled Palestinians.

On Saturday, an Israeli sniper “shot in cold blood” mother Nahida Anton and daughter Samar Anton while they were walking to the Sister’s Convent inside the Holy Family Parish in Gaza, according to a statement from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Many Christian families in Gaza have been taking refuge inside the church compound since Israel began its heavy bombardment on the Palestinian enclave. Since Oct. 7, Israel’s destruction of Gaza has led to more than 18,700 Palestinians dead and thousands more buried under rubble, the Gaza Health Ministry said Thursday before the territory experienced a communications blackout that has since been partially restored.

Hours before the sniper attack, the patriarchate said that rockets fired from an Israeli tank hit the Convent of the Sisters of Mother Theresa, which is part of the church compound and home to 54 disabled people. The first rocket destroyed the building’s fuel sources and generator ― the convent’s only source of electricity ― and caused an explosion and massive fire that damaged the house. Two subsequent rockets on the convent rendered the home uninhabitable, according to the patriarchate.

Layla Moran, a member of British Parliament, said that she has several family members sheltering inside the same church compound. On Saturday, the lawmaker said that military forces had taken over a building opposite to the church and that “there are snipers at every window pointing to the church.”

Pope Francis, who has repeatedly spoken out against the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, expressed concern on Sunday about Israel’s church attacks, which he described as “terrorism.”

“I continue to receive very grave and painful news from Gaza,” he said during his weekly blessing. “Unarmed civilians are the objects of bombings and shootings. And this happened even inside the Holy Family parish complex, where there are no terrorists, but families, children, people who are sick or disabled, nuns.”

Pope Francis delivers his blessing during the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican on Sunday. The pope spoke out during his blessing about the Israeli military's attack on Saturday against a church compound in Gaza, killing two women and displacing dozens of disabled people.
Pope Francis delivers his blessing during the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican on Sunday. The pope spoke out during his blessing about the Israeli military’s attack on Saturday against a church compound in Gaza, killing two women and displacing dozens of disabled people.
Alessandra Tarantino via Associated Press

The Israeli Defense Force told HuffPost that it is conducting a “thorough review” of the attack, claiming without evidence that soldiers were targeting a Hamas-related “threat that they identified in the area of the church.”

“The IDF takes claims regarding harm to sensitive sites with the utmost seriousness ― especially churches ― considering that Christian communities are a minority group in the Middle East,” the IDF said, maintaining its stance that soldiers only target terrorists and not civilians, despite the massive civilian death toll.

The IDF also said it received a letter on Saturday from the patriarchate describing the attack on the Holy Family Parish, but claimed that church representatives did not raise such concerns during a conversation hours earlier.

“Together in prayer with the whole Christian community, we express our closeness and condolences to the families affected by this senseless tragedy,” the patriarchate said. “At the same time, we cannot but express that we are at a loss to comprehend how such an attack could be carried out, even more so as the whole Church prepares for Christmas.”

The region is home to some of the world’s oldest Christian communities, with the Palestinian Christian population in Gaza dating back to the first century. Palestinian cities like Bethlehem, Ramallah and Nazareth hold annual Christmas parades and celebrate the holiday in churches across the area.

“Christmas celebrations are canceled this year, for it’s impossible to celebrate Christmas when our people in Gaza are going through a genocide,” Munther Ishaq, a pastor for Bethlehem’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, told Al Jazeera.

This year, Ishaq’s church set up its nativity scene depicting baby Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem, surrounded by rubble and wrapped in a Palestinian scarf called a keffiyeh.

 

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