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Israel at a Point of No Return

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I should like to advance a conjecture which I lack the qualifications to adequately develop: The global Left, and the Israeli Left most of all, perceives that the clock is running out, and has worked itself up into a froth of hysteria against Israel.

The world of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” where there are no countries and no religions, is about to dissipate like last night’s marijuana fumes. The demographic time bomb that worries the Left is not the relative increase of Arab vs. Jewish populations between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, speciously cited by John Kerry and a host of other errant utopians: it is the growth of the Jewish population itself, and Israel’s transformation into the world’s most religious country.

Israel now has a religious majority, as Times of Israel blogger Yoseif Bloch observes:

According to our Central Bureau of Statistics, 43% of Israeli Jews are secular, 9% are haredi, and the remaining 48% are somewhere between masorti (traditional) and dati (religious): 23% the former, 10% the latter, and 15% smack in the middle. These five groups do not parallel the five groups identified by Pew, e.g. Orthodox is a denomination, while dati is a declaration.”

So 57% of Israelis practice a form of Judaism that for the most part Americans would call “Orthodox,” in that it recognizes normative Judaism in the rabbinic tradition (the presence of the “progressive” Reform and Conservative movements is almost imperceptible and largely limited to transplanted Americans). Many Israelis who are dati are far from completely observant, but there is a great gulf fixed between a semi-observant Jew who knows what observance is, and a “progressive” who asserts the right to reinvent tradition according to personal taste.

This majority seems to be expanding fast. I spent the second half of December in Jerusalem promoting the Hebrew translation of my book How Civilizations Die and was struck by the increase in commitment to religious observance, including among people who were steadfastly secular. Almost half of Israel’s army officers are “national religious” and trained in pre-army academies that teach Judaism, Jewish history, as well as physical training and military subjects. The ultra-Orthodox are going to work rather than studying full time, little by little, but the little adds up to a lot. Naftali Bennett’s national-religious party “Jewish Home” has created a new political focus for the national-religious. Outreach organizations like Beit Hillel are bringing once-secular Israelis back to observance. Beit Hillel’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth, was in New York recently lecturing about Israel’s religious revival.

Anecdotally, I see this in my own small circle of Israeli acquaintances. A musician friend told me that he attends a Talmud class every Shabbat — he can’t stand praying, but he is hungry for Torah. A journalist friend dresses her young boys in the tallit katan, the fringed undergarment of the very observant. It is becoming normal in Jerusalem restaurants to wash hands before bread and to recite the Grace after Meals.

This is a crucial, counterintuitive story: Israel is swimming against the secular current, becoming more observant as the rest of the world becomes more secular. Perhaps the explanation lies in the observation of the Catholic sociologist Mary Eberstadt, who argued in a brilliant 2007 essay that it is our children who bring us to faith. Last year Mary expanded the essay into a book which I had the honor to discuss in Claremont Review of Books. It is a commonplace of demographers’ correlation that people of faith have more children: Mary argues that the causality goes both ways, that having children reinforces our faith. Israeli is a standpoint in the modern world with a fertility rate of 3.0 children per woman (the closest second is the U.S. with just 1.9). Excluding the ultra-Orthodox the number is 2.6 children per woman, still outside the range of the rest of the industrial world. Secular Israelis are having three children. Not only does that defuse the much-touted “demographic time bomb.” It ultimately changes the character of the country. It validates the hundred-year-old argument of Rabbi Isaac Kook, one of the founders of religious Zionism, that identification with the Jewish people eventually will lead Jews back to Judaism.

This national religious revival is not occurring at the expense of Israeli or West Bank Arabs. On the contrary, the Arab population between the River and the Sea is flourishing as no modern Arab population ever did. A fifth of Israel’s medical students are Arab, as are a third of the students at the University of Haifa. Ariel University across the “Green Line” in Samaria, the “settler’s university,” is educating a whole generation of West Bank Arabs. The campus is full of young Arab women in headscarves, and the local Jewish leadership reaches out to Arab villages to recruit talented students. Israel’s expanding economy has a bottomless demand for young people of ability and ambition. The Left calls Israel an “apartheid state” the way it used to call America a “fascist state” back in the 1960s.

The Israeli Left, with its soggy vision of univeralist utopianism, may be at a point of no return. It is becoming marginalized and irrelevant. The Europeans, whose experience of nationalism has been uniformly horrific, are equally aghast. Liberal Christians who abhor the Election of Israel because they abhor Christian orthodoxy cannot suppress their rage. And “progressive” American Jews, who have been running away from Judaism for the past three generations, are upset that Israel has embraced the normative Judaism they worked so hard to suppress. American “progressive” and unaffiliated Jews, one should remember, have the lowest fertility rate of any identifiable minority in the United States. Even if most of them did not intermarry (and the intermarriage rate in the past ten years approaches 70% according to the October 2013 Pew study) their infertility would finish them off in a few generations. Meanwhile 74% of all Jewish children in the New York area live in Orthodox families. The center of gravity of Judaism will shift decisively to Israel in the next generation, and the segment of American Jewry that most identifies with Israel–the Orthodox–will set the tone for American Judaism and eventually become the majority in a much smaller American Jewish population.

It is up to the Israelis, to be sure, to draw out the implications of these trends. But I am encouraged by the perceptions of religious leaders like Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth, who perceive this revival in their daily work.

This is good news for Christians as well as Jews. The secularization thesis is refuted: a country with the world’s greatest record of high-tech innovation is also becoming the industrial world’s most religious country. It is devastating news for Lennonists as well as Leninists. The “Imagine” world turns out to be imaginary. Israel, as Franz Rosenzweig said of the Jewish people, is there to be “the paragon and exemplar of a nation.” For all its flaws, the State of Israel stands as a beacon to people of faith around the world. It is honored by its list of self-appointed enemies. Will Israel prevail against the unholy coalition against it? As we say, b’ezrat Hashem.

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Yemen recovery possible if war stops now

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Devastation caused by protracted conflict in Yemen. Photo: UNDP Yemen

War-torn Yemen is among the poorest countries in the world, but recovery is possible if the conflict ends now, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said in a report published on Tuesday. 

Yemen has been mired in seven years of fighting between a pro-Government Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels, generating the world’s worst humanitarian and development crisis and leaving the country teetering on the brink of famine. 

The report sends a hopeful message that all is not lost, arguing that its extreme poverty could be eradicated within a generation, or by 2047, if the fighting ceases.  

A brighter future 

“The study presents a clear picture of what the future could look like with a lasting peace including new, sustainable opportunities for people”, said UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner. 

“To help to get there, the entire UN family continues to work with communities throughout the country to shape a peaceful, inclusive and prosperous future for all Yemenis”.  

The brutal war in Yemen has already caused the country to miss out on $126 billion of potential economic growth, according to UNDP. 

Inclusive, holistic recovery 

The UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, has estimated 80 per cent of the population, or 24 million people, rely on aid and protection assistance, including 14.3 million who are in acute need.  

Through statistical modeling analyzing future scenarios, the report reveals how securing peace by January 2022, coupled with an inclusive and holistic recovery process, can help to reverse deep trends of impoverishment and see Yemen reaching middle-income status by 2050. 

Furthermore, malnutrition could be halved by 2025, and the country could achieve $450 billion of economic growth by the middle of the century.  

While underlining the primacy of a peace deal, the report emphasizes the need for an inclusive and holistic recovery process that crosses all sectors of Yemeni society and puts people at the centre. 

Women’s empowerment critical 

Investment must be focused on areas such as agriculture, inclusive governance, and women’s empowerment. 

Auke Lootsma, UNDP Resident Representative in Yemen, stressed the importance of addressing what he called “the deep development deficits” in the country, such as gender inequality. 

“I think it’s fair to say that Yemen, whatever gender index you look at, it’s always at the bottom,” he told UN News ahead of the report’s launch. 

“So, bringing women into the fold, making them part of the labour force, and really empowering women also to contribute to the recovery and reconstruction of Yemen is going to be incredibly important”.  

Act now 

The report was carried out by the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures at the University of Denver, located in the United States, and is the third in a series launched in 2019. 

While outlining potential peace dividends, it also provides grim future trajectories should the conflict continue into 2022 and beyond.  

For example, the authors project that 1.3 million lives will be lost if the war continues through 2030.  Moreover, a growing proportion of those deaths will not be due to fighting, but to the impacts on livelihoods, food prices and the deterioration of health, education and basic services. 

UNDP said there is no time to waste, and plans to support recovery must be continuously developed even as the fighting rages on.  

“The people of Yemen are eager to move forward into a recovery of sustainable and inclusive development,” said Khalida Bouzar, Director of its Regional Bureau for Arab States.  

“UNDP stands ready to further strengthen our support to them on this journey to leave no one behind, so that the potential of Yemen and the region can be fully realized – and so that once peace is secured, it can be sustained”. 

Grave concerns in Marib

Meanwhile, UN humanitarians are extremely concerned about the safety of civilians in Yemen’s northern Marib governorate, which is home to some one million displaced people. 

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, warned that as the frontlines of conflict shift closer to heavily populated areas in the oil-rich region, those lives are in danger. 

Access to humanitarian aid is also becoming harder, said UNHCR Spokesperson Shabia Mantoo. 

Rocket strikes close to the sites hosting the displaced are causing fear and panic. The latest incident was reported on 17 November when an artillery shell exploded, without casualties, near a site close to Marib City. UNHCR teams report that there is heavy fighting in the mountains surrounding the city and the sound of explosions and planes can be heard day and night”, she elaborated.

UNHCR is warning that further escalation of the conflict will only increase the vulnerability of people in Marib, and is calling for an immediate ceasefire in Yemen. 

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UAE chalks up diplomatic successes with uncertain payoffs

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Image source: Wikipedia

It has been a good week for United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.

Headline-grabbing, fast-paced moves reinforce the UAE’s position as a regional power. They highlight the UAE’s willingness to chart a course that increasingly competes with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf’s regional behemoth; is at times at odds with US policy; and scoffs at assertions of human rights abuse by activists and Western politicians.

Controversial Emirati general Ahmed Naser al-Raisi was elected this week as the next president of Interpol despite calls by the European Parliament for an investigation into allegations that he oversaw physical abuse of detainees. Last month, two British nationals filed court cases against him.

The UAE has denied the allegations. “Major General Al-Raisi is a distinguished professional with a 40-year track record in community and national policing. As the President of Interpol, he will remain committed to protecting people, making communities safer and providing global law enforcement the latest tools in the fight against sophisticated criminal networks,” the UAE embassy in London said.

Mr. Al-Raisi won the election at a gathering of the international policing body in Istanbul weeks before the UAE takes up its seat as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Turkey has been accused of being a major abuser of the Interpol system.

Human rights activists fear that Mr. Al-Raisi will use his new position to legitimize abuse by autocrats of Interpol’s red notice arrest warrants to detain abroad and extradite dissidents and political refugees. The UAE designated four exiled dissidents as terrorists days before Mr. Al-Raisi’s election.

Mr. Al-Raisi was elected a day after Prince Mohammed paid a ground-breaking visit to Ankara to patch up relations with Turkey and throw President Recep Tayyip Erdogan an economic lifeline. Turkey and the UAE have been at odds for a decade over Turkish support for popular revolts in the Middle East and North Africa and political Islam.

The rapprochement is part of a broader effort by Middle Eastern rivals, spurred independently by the United States, China, and Russia, to reduce regional tensions and prevent disputes and conflicts from spinning out of control.

The UAE and Turkey have been on opposite sides of civil wars in Libya and Syria that erupted in the wake of popular revolts and at odds in the Eastern Mediterranean. The UAE has sought to reverse the achievements of uprisings supported by Turkey that succeeded in toppling an autocratic leader like in Egypt. Turkey has suggested that the UAE funded a failed 2016 military attempt to remove Mr. Erdogan from power.

The Emirati moves also include a bid to replace Qatar and Turkey as managers of Kabul’s international airport; efforts to return Syria to the international fold despite US policy that aims to isolate the country; and steps to improve relations with Iran. In addition, the UAE this week concluded a solar energy deal with Jordan and Israel that Saudi Arabia sought to thwart.

The UAE hopes that reviving Syria’s membership in the 22-nation Arab League and reconstruction funding will persuade President Bashar al-Assad to loosen his ties to Iran. Prince Mohammed’s visit to Turkey coincided with talks in Dubai with a senior Iranian official in advance of an expected trip to Tehran by the crown prince’s brother and national security advisor, Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The moves reinforce the UAE’s position as an influential middle power on the international stage in defiance of being a small state with a population deficit.

Nonetheless, the moves also prove that reducing tensions and managing differences do not by definition bury hatchets, end rivalries, or reduce competition.

The jury is out on the degree to which the Emirati moves will successfully persuade one-time detractors like Turkey to alter their policies fundamentally. For example, Turkey is unlikely to shutter its military base in Qatar that it expanded during the 3.5-year UAE-Saudi-led diplomatic and economic boycott of the Gulf state. Closing the base was one of the boycott’s demands.

Mr Erdogan desperately needs the investments. He sees Prince Mohammed’s economic olive branch as a way to reverse a downturn in his economy that threatens to spiral further downwards. The crisis has already fueled street protests and opposition hopes to defeat him in the next election.

In a welcome step, the UAE announced hours after Mr. Erdogan met with Prince Mohammed that it would put US$10 billion into an investment fund that would target energy, food, health and climate change-related sectors of the Turkish economy as well as trade.

Emirati investments in Turkish ports are likely to significantly strengthen Dubai global ports management and logistics company DP World’s network in the Eastern Mediterranean.

In addition, Iranian officials said the UAE moves had made a transport corridor from the UAE to Turkey via Iran possible. A first ship departing from Sharjah in the UAE en route to Mersin in Turkey docked at the Iranian port of Shahid Rajai a day after Prince Mohammed ‘s visit.

Mr. Erdogan expects the Emirati investments to buoy Turkey’s floundering economy at a time that its currency is tumbling. The Turkish lira appreciated by about one point as Prince Mohammed arrived in the country.

However, Qatar, with US$22 billion already invested in Turkey, may not stand idly by as the UAE improves relations with Ankara. On the contrary, it could well seek to cement its existing relationship with further investments.

It remains unclear how much of a political price, Mr. Erdogan may be paying for UAE support. So far, he has curbed Muslim Brotherhood activity in Istanbul in response to Emirati and Egyptian demands but refused to expel the Brothers or extradite them to Egypt.

Similarly, the UAE’s bid to displace Qatar and Turkey at Kabul airport may prove to be an uphill battle. It is hard to see why the Taliban would want to create friction with Qatar, representing US interests in Afghanistan as well as offering a home to Western diplomatic missions focused on Afghanistan, and hosting talks between the Islamist group and the United States.

In sum, Mr. Erdogan may be down as he rebuilds relations with the UAE, but he’s not out. That, in turn, could put a damper on what reconciliation with the UAE will achieve politically.

“Turkeys s economy might be going through its darkest days decades, yet foreign policy still allows…Erdogan to score points,” said prominent Turkish journalist Cengiz Cander.

Indeed, as he seeks to improve strained relations with Middle Eastern states — the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel — Mr. Erdogan is also attempting to carve out his own sphere of influence by blowing new life into the Organization of Turkic states. The organisation groups Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, with a total population of some 170 million people.

However, the Emirati-Turkish rapprochement could help shape developments in conflict zones like Libya, where the UAE and Turkey supported opposing sides.

With the Libyan election scheduled for next month, the UAE is betting on one of two horses in the race: rebel commander Khalifa Haftar and Aref al-Nayed. Mr. Al-Nayed is a former UAE ambassador to the Emirates who heads a UAE group that propagates the UAE’s moderate but autocratic version of Islam. The group was one of several created to counter Islamist clerics supported by Qatar.

Suggesting that rapprochement with the UAE has not reduced Turkish influence in Libya, unconfirmed reports said that Mr. Haftar’s son, Saddam Haftar, made separate visits to Turkey and Israel to solicit support.

In a move that simultaneously supported UAE diplomacy, Mr. Haftar this week released seven Turkish nationals held captive by his forces for the last two years,

“Turkey is in bad shape economically, and Erdogan seems to be crumbling politically. However, it may still be too early to write him off thanks to foreign developments,” said Mr. Candar.

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Sino- Iranian Deal: A new marriage of convenience

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china iran

Upon asking who were the friends and enemies of United Kingdom, a member of British Parliament Palmerston said, “We don’t have perpetual enemies and eternal friends; only our interests are eternal and perpetual.” Dramatic shifts in international politics are no surprises; only the costs and benefits of those changes would make headlines. Foes turn friends, and friends turn foes have been the perceived course of actions of states in international politics. last year in June another such turn of alliance was done when China and Iran sit face-t-face in a table to sign a 25-years cooperation deal.

China and Iran have signed a deal worth $400 billion dollars. This deal has sparked a controversy because it came when global politics is having a turbulence. This deal is believed to be balancing attempt of USA’s growing influence in the Asian region especially in energy rich portion of Asia, Central Asia.  This deal would complement Chinese foreign policy in Middle East and Central Asia. USA’s growing interests in the backyard of China – Central Asia – is indeed worrisome situation for think tanks in Beijing. This deal would help China to minimize this growing interest driven influence of USA in Central Asia. Iran is having share in an important Caspian Sea where USA’s logistics navigate from Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan to reach Afghanistan. This deal, if reaches to its full potential would be helpful to poses any kind of serious threat to USA logistic. It would be highly in favor of Iran as well as China. This presence of China in Caspian region via Iran would make American access to the region difficult.

This deal would not only give access to China to reach the energy resources of Caspian region, but also would be a balancing factor to USA clout in the region. This would also complement CPEC project as it would give additional rout to China to reach Middle East which could help her to escape Malacca dilemma. Also, China would get undisruptive oil from Iran which would be a factor to escape any potential threat from oil embargo form USA and other regional powers. Also, this deal would be an important addition to the One Belt One Road initiative of China which aimed to connect different regions.

This deal has a long-term impact on the politics of Asian region especially Central and West Asia (Middle East). It gives China access to important strait that are important in terms of trade. China will have access to Iranian seaport especially in Caspian Sea, strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf. Iran being on the junction of West Asia (Middle East) and Central Asia, provides a decisive role to China in the politics of both energy rich portions of the world.

Through Iran, China will have an important role in energy politics of Central Asia. The enemy of my enemy is my friend would be a point of leverage to China here. Iran and China shared common antagonistic sentiments regarding USA and consider her common enemy which other Central Asia Republic sharing border with China don’t. Therefore, China would get better access to the region via Iran than Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, with which China shared border.

And also, Iran have conflict with Central Asia republics over the issue of Caspian Sea, where Iran strived to declare it lake and get 20 per cent of the share in the resources. Of course, having China by its side which is an important member of UN having Veto power in the assembly would add some steel in the neck of Iran against other states.

China and Iran, through this deal have plan for joint military exercise and intelligence sharing. European intelligence report says that around 5k Chinese troops would be deployed in Tehran to protect Chinese interests and investments. The deal stretching from Caspian to Indian ocean is a break-through that strengthen Chinese position. It has sparked turbulence in the Europe also because Chinese presence in the Caspian region via Iran would be another major hurdle after Russia to their Trans-Caspian pipeline project. It also strengthens Chinese to withstand any kind of blockade in sea-lines. Having an ally at the heart of Middle East and in the gateway of Central Asia would be exhausting for America and its allies in the region.

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