Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Politics – April 2012

Israel is determined “to prevent confrontation states or potentially confrontation states from gaining access to nuclear weapons. Israel cannot afford the introduction of the nuclear weapon. For us it is not a question of a balance of terror, but a question of survival. We shall therefore have to prevent such a threat at its inception”.

    ~Ariel Sharon (15 December 1981)

If you want peace in the Middle East, you must pursue the two-state solution.

Peace should be Israel’s strategy.

Two-state solution should be Israel's security strategy.

The Iranian threat should be resolved by the international community as the threat concerns the international community.

    ~Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Support is sought to facilitate the work of the Middle East Study Group. Information at http://www2.hull.ac.uk/fass/mestudygroup/informationfordonors.aspx

I also welcome promoting the two-state solution. See http://www.hull.ac.uk/rca/campaigns.html

The past month I was preoccupied with family health problems. More and more I am using social media, especially twitter @almagor35 and Academia http://hull.academia.edu/RaphaelCohenalmagor to post short messages and information about interesting readings. You are welcomed to follow me and receive daily updates.

People asked me whether there will be war in the summer. I do not think so. With the political climate in Israel and in the region violence is almost unavoidable, but not now. Prime Minister Netanyahu is sitting comfortably in his office. His government is secure, enjoying a large majority in the Knesset. Governments in Israel usually do not complete full term (four years) in office. Netanyahu will complete his term. The opposition is too weak to challenge him, and the coalition is stable. Elections will be held on time in 2013.

Thus I do not see Israel initiating any war up until the elections. Syria is preoccupied, and its preoccupation also reflects on Lebanon. Jordan will not start a war, and Egypt is also preoccupied with elections. The Palestinians continue to suffer and they manifest their unhappiness with the present situation with spouts of violence and terrorism, but they are incapable of waging real war on Israel.

Reflections on My New Article - “Zionism – A Just Revolution”
Presidential Elections in Egypt
Syria’s Soft Spot
Glimpse of Hope from Syria
Good News from China
Reporters Without Borders demands access to Europe's migrant detention centres
Join our call to save human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja
Cedric Smith Prize for Peace or Conflict Research
Kurt Schork Awards now accepting submissions
Thyroid Disease - More Research Needed
Happy Independence Day
Israel-From Bird’s Eye
Seder Pesach
New Books
Monthly Poem
Light Side – What the British Say

Reflections on My New Article - “Zionism – A Just Revolution”

Professor Menachem Kellner, University of Haifa, wrote:

Mo'adim le-simchah, raphi.

I read your review with great interest. You represent a rare and fast disappearing species, and one which needs to be protected like an etrog: left-wing Zionist. Far too many of your Meretz colleagues have succumbed to the siren-song of loony leftism...

In any event, I have a few critical comments on your review:
a) you want to follow Israel j Yuval and that idiot Shlomo Sand (an am-haaretz who thinks of himself as an epikoros) in denying that massive numbers of Jews were exiled after the destruction of the 2nd temple. Yet yourself write about the drop in the price of slaves (p. 650) after the Bar Kokhba rebellion - where were those markets in which the price of slaves dropped because of the glut of Jewish slaves flooding the market? Also, whatever historians today may write, Jews who lived at the time (c. 70-200 CE) and who wrote the prayers which we recite to this very day (מפני חטאינו גלינו מארצינו is only one example, but since I say it every morning now during Passover it comes to mind) certainly thought that a massive exile had taken place. I am always amazed by the way in which historians ignore what the people they are writing about actually wrote themselves...
b) On p 651 you talk about Africa "asylum seekers" -- while my heart goes out to these people, I want to know how you know that they are asylum seekers, and not economic refugees, who paid a lot of money to be taken from the Sudan through Egypt to Israel?
c) I disagree entirely with your discussion of state symbols (p. 652); this may reflect the fact that I grew up in the USA in the 1950's. The USA was a Christian country then, and I had no problems with that. I saw myself as part of a minority which found no reason why the majority culture should not find expression in the public square: manger scenes in front of city halls (not churches), TV full of Christmas programming, Christian prayers at sports events and the opening of sessions of Congress, etc. I still see no reason why the majority culture should not dominate the public square in Israel.
very warm good wishes, Menachem

My response:
Hi Menachem

Chag sameach, and thank you for your comments.

As for your a) point, I rely on historians, particularly Lester Grabbe. I will refer your query to him.

b) well, I rely on The Hotline for Migrant Workers. This is what they say in their report, section C. Refugees and Asylum Seekers, at http://www.hotline.org.il/english/pdf/Press_Release_Decade_Report_%20Eng.pdf..

C) we agree to disagree on this.

Best wishes


On March 27, 2012 elections were held for the Kadima leadership and the winner was Shaul Mofaz who received 61.7% of the votes. It was a conclusive victory, as Tzipi Livni received only 37.23% of the votes. As a leader of Kadima, Livni showed that she lacks the zeal to win without which it is nearly impossible to be a prime minster. The Kadima voters did not forget that she handed Netanyahu the prime minister office with her refusal to accept Shas demands. Shas thus refused to sign a coalition agreement with Kadima. The religious party signed such agreement with Netanyahu, and the rest is history.

Livni lacks charisma, has problematic human relations, and has the tendency to accept the wrong decisions. To recall, she attacked Netanyahu for making the most difficult, and also the most popular decision to pay a high price for the release of Gilad Shalit. As the country united around the decision and embraced Gilad, Livni criticized Netanyahu, not the most prudent thing to do contra the exalted mood of the nation. A politician needs to think carefully before making controversial statements. As the leader of the opposition, you are expected to attack the prime minister for almost everything he does; but you should keep quiet when your criticism will only help the prime minister and hamper your own best interests.

Mofaz is a pragmatic politician. He showed this in the past, as he was contemplating which party – Likud or Kadima – would serve his best interests better. Like many politicians, Mofaz cares first and foremost about Mofaz. He is very focused, extremely ambitious and a hard worker. He has the zeal to become a prime minister, and would not miss opportunities like his predecessor. At the same time, the realist and pragmatic person he is, if the prime minister’s office would not be attainable he would have no qualms joining the coalition and securing the best possible portfolio for himself. Mofaz sees little meaning in sitting in the opposition on principled grounds. If he has principles, the most important one is not to sit in the opposition.

Thus, Mr. Netanyahu knows, using the words of Carole King: He’s got a (political) friend. If, and this is a small if, he wins the next elections, Kadima would gladly rush in and bolster his standing in Israeli politics. Netanyahu would need to feed Mofaz to keep him content, but this is easy to do from the prime minister's office.

You may ask me whether Mofaz is a better politician than Netanyahu, whether he is wiser or whether he is a better person. Next question, please.


I was asked about Marwan and Mustapha Barghouti. Marwan Barghouti is a Palestinian leader and a murderer. For some years he worked with Israelis to promote peace as part of the Oslo process. Then, at one point, I assume under Arafat's directives, he betrayed the Israeli trust in him to engage in terror. He deserves to sit in prison. At the same time, I think he should be released at some later point to lead his people. He is a popular leader, well liked by many factions within the Palestinian society.

Barghouti calls for a Third bloody Intifada, rejection of Abbas who is too moderate for his taste, embracing of Hamas, and total boycott of Israel. Moderate he is not.

Mustapha Barghouti is no moderate either. We participated in the same conference some months ago in Vienna. As always, it was unpleasant to hear him. At the same time, compared to Hamas he is a pussycat.

Presidential Elections in Egypt

Egypt's election commission disqualified 10 presidential hopefuls, including Hosni Mubarak's former spy chief and fundamentalist Islamists.

Farouk Sultan, the head of the Supreme Presidential Election Commission that was appointed by Egypt's military rulers to oversee the vote, said that those barred from the contest included Mubarak-era strongman Omar Suleiman, Muslim Brotherhood chief strategist Khairat el-Shater and hard-line Islamist Hazem Abu Ismail. The final list of candidates will be announced on April 26.

Thirteen others had their candidacy approved, including former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, moderate Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh and former prime minister and Mubarak-era minister Ahmed Shafiq, according to Sultan.

If upheld, the decision would reshape the electoral landscape by removing the most powerful and controversial candidates and leaving moderates such as Abolfotoh, an ex-Muslim Brotherhood leader who has been trying to project crossover appeal for both religious conservatives and liberals, and Moussa, who was a member of the old regime but is popular among middle class Egyptians.

The presidential election is due to be held on May 23-24, 2012 with a possible runoff on June 16-17, 2012. The winner will be announced on June 21, less than two weeks before the July 1 deadline promised by the military rulers who took over after Mubarak to hand over power.

Recently, a court suspended the work of an Islamist-dominated, 100-member panel tasked with drafting a new constitution on the grounds its makeup violated the spirit of the interim charter that governed its formation.

Islamists as well as the largely liberal and secular activists who spearheaded the protests that led to Mubarak's ouster had hoped to have a new constitution in place before the election in order to curtail the powers of the president after nearly three decades of autocratic rule.

The Muslim Brotherhood — which along with hard-line ultraconservative Salafis captured more than 70 percent of the parliament seats in the first post-revolutionary elections — announced on March 31 that its chief strategist Khairat el-Shater would run for president. But now he has been disqualified.

By presenting a presidential candidate, the Muslim Brotherhood reversed an earlier pledge not to seek the office and came after weeks of complaints by the Brotherhood that the parliament they control is toothless and that the ruling military was preventing it from forming a government.

Source: NY Times, April 14, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2012/04/14/world/middleeast/ap-ml-egypt.html?_r=1&emc=na

Syria’s Soft Spot

According to 2010 military analysis, Syria‘s navy is largely obsolete, ineffective, and dependent on aging anti-ship missiles.

Glimpse of Hope from Syria

If the citizens of Syria will be successful in overthrowing the Assad dictatorship, maybe there will be hope for peaceful relations with Israel.

The Assad regime has impoverished, arrested, and killed thousands of Syrians using the Arab-Israeli conflict as the excuse, presenting itself as the last stronghold of Arab resistance against Israel. However, when the revolt against the Assad regime began in March, 2011, and the Syrian regime responded with a brutal crackdown that has left over 9,000 dead according to the UN, some Syrians started to look at Israel differently.

Syrian activist Rami Nakhle recently posted a video on his Facebook page showing an Israeli rally in support of the Syrian people and their fight for freedom. Reactions on the Syrian side were different, but many activists thanked those who organized the rally. Within a few minutes the video gained hundreds of “likes” on Rami’s page.

Syrian activist Sirwan Kajjo posted the video on his page saying:

Sirwan Kajjo
عاشت اسرائيل حرة أبية....VIVA ISRAEL

Another activist called Ibrahim commented:

Ibrahim Khlil احدى اهداف الثورة السورية هي التعددية وتقبل الاخر الشعب الاسرائيلي ودولتها حقيقة واقعية علينا تقبلها واحترامها وبالتالي علينا النظر بكل تقدير واحترام لهكذا تاييد

One of the goals of the Syrian revolution is pluralism and acceptance of others, the people of Israel, and their existing state. We should accept and respect Israel and appreciate and value this kind of support.


Good News from China

China officials plan to end organ harvesting from death-row inmates, in a move to reform an organ donation system which has for many years relied heavily on prisoners. Huang Jiefu, China's vice minister of health, said that Chinese officials aim to root out the practice in the next 5 years and build a national organ-donation system. "The pledge to abolish organ donations from condemned prisoners represents the resolve of the government," said Mr. Huang. He explained that infection rates in prisoners were higher. Human-rights groups say the donations are often forced and executions are delayed to suit the needs of organ recipients.

Traditional beliefs and distrust of the medical system have kept voluntary organ donation numbers in China very low. Every year, 1.5 million people in China require organ transplants - but only about 10,000 receive them, according to government statistics. An estimated 65% of China's organ donations come from prisoners, according to Amnesty International. It may be difficult for China to end its reliance on prisoners, because there is no obvious source of voluntary donations -- without establishing a market in organs. Some hospitals in China have resorted to illegal organ trading to make up for the constant shortage. However, China banned organ trafficking in 2007, limiting all living organ donations to blood relatives, spouses, and people with close family ties.

Reporters Without Borders demands access to Europe's migrant detention centres

What do the insides of migrant detention centres look like, and what actually happens in them? Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has teamed up with migrant rights groups in the "Open Access" campaign, demanding that the right of access to Europe's detention centres be granted to journalists and civil society.

According to European Alternatives and Migreurop, together with a coalition of immigrants' rights groups that launched the campaign, journalists and civil society have very limited access to migrant detention centres in most EU countries. Often, it is impossible to meet with people in detention, or even to talk to them, unless you're a member of parliament.

"In some countries, such as Italy and Spain, they are forced to bypass official channels to investigate this matter of public interest. This is unworthy of democratic countries," said RSF.

The rights groups say that systematic detention of migrants has become a way of managing migrant fluxes in Europe. Roughly 600,000 people, including children, are detained without trial every year for administrative reasons.

People can be trapped in these detention centres for up to 18 months before being expelled. The conditions of detention vary but are all characterised by deprivation of liberty and treatments which are often inhuman and degrading.

So far, five journalists from RSF applied for access to several detention centres in France's Ile-de-France region. RSF is asking journalists from other parts of Europe to do the same. If access is granted, visits should take place over the next month.

The campaign has been launched in 10 countries: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Italy, Poland, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom.

You can take part by signing a petition calling on EU governments and institutions to grant access to the centres.


Take action!

Join our call to save human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, renowned human rights advocate and past president of IFEX member the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) is entering his ninth week of a hunger strike in prison which he began on 8 February to protest a life sentence for peacefully expressing his right to freedom of expression. He pledged to continue his protest until "freedom or death." His life is now in serious danger and there may be irreparable damage to his health.

Sign this petition, started by BCHR President Nabeel Rajab, calling for the immediate release of Al-Khawaja. The international community must act together now to save Al -Khawaja's life.

Help us spread the word:

  • Tweet this page, using the hashtag #savealkhawaja and #khawajaatrisk
  • Post this to your Facebook page, asking your friends to join our campaign
  • Change your profile picture to the photo above, including a link to the petition
  • Tweet a message to the Bahrain Ministry of the Interior at @moi_bahrain on Twitter

Background information

Al-Khawaja and another 20 activists, bloggers and human rights defenders were sentenced for their participation in peaceful protests last year. Al-Khawaja and several others were sentenced to life in prison, and 14 of them are in detention while the other seven were sentenced in absentia. There is no evidence that they advocated or carried out violence. They have alleged that they were tortured in detention and Al-Khawaja was treated for fractures to his face, among other abuses. The Court of Cassation, which is hearing the case on appeal, said it would announce a verdict on 23 April. After a hearing on 2 April, Al-Khawaja informed his family and lawyer that he would stop his glucose intake. Al-Khawaja's health is poor and he has already fallen in and out of consciousness. As a result, he was moved to the main prisoners' hospital at the Ministry of Interior's headquarters.

In November 2011, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which was mandated by the King himself, called for all prisoners tried in military courts to be transferred to civilian courts and for investigations into allegations of torture. Despite these recommendations, human rights defenders, political activists and bloggers remain in jail or in hiding.

Al-Khawaja is the founder of BCHR and the Gulf Center for Human Rights and a former Middle East and North Africa director of Front Line Defenders. He has also documented human rights abuses in Bahrain for international human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Al-Khawaja is married and has four daughters. He's lived in exile in Denmark for decades, and returned to Bahrain after the government announced a general amnesty in 2001.


Cedric Smith Prize for Peace or Conflict Research

Call for submissions for the 2012 Prize.
Closing date: June 30, 2012

The Conflict Research Society (CRS) promotes research and the extension of knowledge about conflict processes and cooperation of all kinds. Though it has an international membership and presence, the events that it organises are normally held within the UK and Ireland.

Kurt Schork Awards now accepting submissions

The Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism celebrate freelance journalists and local reporters who show great courage in reporting on controversial issues. The deadline for entries is 31 May 2012.

Two prizes of US$5,000 each are awarded annually, one to a freelance journalist covering international news, and the other to a local journalist covering events within their home country or region. The stories can be about conflict, human rights, cross-border issues, corruption, or any other issue of controversy in a particular country or region.

Underwritten by the Kurt Schork Memorial Fund, the prizes honour Kurt Schork, a U.S. freelance journalist who was killed in a military ambush while on assignment for Reuters in Sierra Leone in May 2000.


Thyroid Disease - More Research Needed

The world faces a burden of thyroid disease that has reached epidemic proportions. An estimated 200 million individuals worldwide have a thyroid disorder. Are existing treatments for thyroid disease working? Are symptomatic and asymptomatic thyroid conditions clinically meaningful enough to warrant treatment? In Lancet, Vol. 379 (March 24, 2012), two Seminars seek to provide answers to these and other important questions in a state-of-the art update of two different thyroid pathologies. David Cooper and Bernadette Biondi discuss asymptomatic thyroid disease, which includes subclinical hyperthyroidism and subclinical hypothyroidism. The authors emphasise that the clinical significance of this mild degree of thyroid dysfunction is unknown. They point out existing disagreement among professional societies and experts about screening for subclinical thyroid disease. It is perhaps unsurprising that the benefits of treatment in subclinical thyroid disease are poorly characterised. Cooper and Biondi conclude that large-scale randomised trials are urgently needed to inform future care for individuals with subclinical thyroid disease.

In the second Seminar, Jayne Franklyn and Kristien Boelaert write about thyrotoxicosis. There are three main causes of thyrotoxicosis: Graves’ disease, toxic nodular hyperthyroidism, and thyroiditis. The authors point out that the available treatments for thyrotoxicosis have been unchanged for 60 years and vary in effectiveness and their burden of adverse events. They argue that there is a need to find novel and safe ways to change the underlying disease processes, rather than simply stop excess thyroid hormone production. Thyroid disease affects seven times more women than men, making it an important and understudied topic in women’s health. There is a need for greater attention to research on thyroid disease to be conveyed clearly on May 25—World Thyroid Day—and thereafter by care givers, professional societies, and patient advocates.

Happy Independence Day

Yom Haatzmaut is one of the most important days in my calendar. I always loved the atmosphere on the streets, the music, the dancing, the excitement, the joy, the flowers, the fireworks, the festivals, the Israel Prize ceremony, the sheer happiness of families going up and down the lighted, crowded streets. I miss that wonderful, very special atmosphere.

Happy Yom Haatzmaut to all Zionists who love and care for the State of Israel.

Israel-From Bird’s Eye


Seder Pesach

For the first time in my life, this year the Seder was conducted in English. Our younger child, Roei who is nine years-old, does not read Hebrew, and we had English-Christian friends whose knowledge of Hebrew is similar to my Chinese.

New Books

Martin Gilbert, The Routledge Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (London: Routledge, 2012).

This book tells the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict in 227 maps, without much elaboration. It is for people who know the conflict inside out, or for people who wish to know the highlights of the conflict, having pointers for further research. The book is not thorough, and sometimes its conciseness raises questions more than providing answers. For instance, on page 33 there is a map of the extermination of Jews in Europe 1941-1945. Numbers are given but they are unclear. I assume they reflect the numbers of Jews killed and survived in each country but this is only an assumption; and if my assumption is correct, then the numbers are incorrect. For the 11th edition, I recommend adding accompanying text to each map, explaining the data.

I thank Routledge for a copy of this book.

Andrew Heywood, Political Ideologies – An Introduction (Houndmills: Palgrave, 2012).

This is an excellent resource for undergraduate students. It is clear, well-written and accessible. I use it for my core political theory courses.

It is one of the best introductory books on isms I know.

I thank Palgrave for a copy of this book.

Monthly Poem

"It was an April morning: fresh and clear"

It was an April morning: fresh and clear
The Rivulet, delighting in its strength,
Ran with a young man's speed; and yet the voice
Of waters which the winter had supplied
Was softened down into a vernal tone.
The spirit of enjoyment and desire,
And hopes and wishes, from all living things
Went circling, like a multitude of sounds.
The budding groves seemed eager to urge on
The steps of June; as if their various hues
Were only hindrances that stood between
Them and their object: but, meanwhile, prevailed
Such an entire contentment in the air
That every naked ash, and tardy tree
Yet leafless, showed as if the countenance
With which it looked on this delightful day
Were native to the summer.--Up the brook
I roamed in the confusion of my heart,
Alive to all things and forgetting all.
At length I to a sudden turning came
In this continuous glen, where down a rock
The Stream, so ardent in its course before,
Sent forth such sallies of glad sound, that all
Which I till then had heard, appeared the voice
Of common pleasure: beast and bird, the lamb,
The shepherd's dog, the linnet and the thrush
Vied with this waterfall, and made a song,
Which, while I listened, seemed like the wild growth
Or like some natural produce of the air,
That could not cease to be. Green leaves were here;
But 'twas the foliage of the rocks--the birch,
The yew, the holly, and the bright green thorn,
With hanging islands of resplendent furze:
And, on a summit, distant a short space,
By any who should look beyond the dell,
A single mountain-cottage might be seen.
I gazed and gazed, and to myself I said,
"Our thoughts at least are ours; and this wild nook,
My EMMA, I will dedicate to thee."
----Soon did the spot become my other home,
My dwelling, and my out-of-doors abode.
And, of the Shepherds who have seen me there,
To whom I sometimes in our idle talk
Have told this fancy, two or three, perhaps,
Years after we are gone and in our graves,
When they have cause to speak of this wild place,
May call it by the name of EMMA'S DELL.

William Wordsworth

Light Side – What the British Say

Peace and love; Happy Independence Day.

Yours as ever,


My last communications are available on http://almagor.blogspot.com/
Earlier posts at my home page: http://hcc.haifa.ac.il/~rca/

People wishing to subscribe to this Monthly Newsletter are welcome to e-mail me at r.cohen-almagor@hull.ac.uk
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