In Depth: “Not My Zionism”

Israel is losing the support of America’s young, liberal Jews.

By Peter Bjel.

This summer marked two key anniversaries in Israel’s recent history. It has been seventy years since the United Nations voted in favor of partitioning then-Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, a vote rejected by the Palestinians and their allies in the region, ensuring that Israel’s existence would be marked by routine conflict. It has also been fifty years since Israel’s victory in the Arab-Israeli war of June 1967, the aftermaths of which still reverberate in Israel, the region, and the broader Jewish world.

For Israel, victory enabled it to affirm itself on the world stage as a reckonable power, fulfilling a crucial vision of the Zionist movement that had long jockeyed for Jewish statehood as the answer to anti-Semitism and the tragic contours of Jewish history. But its territorial gains have turned into a permanent and increasingly lurid occupation that now threatens Israel’s democratic culture and its viability as a Jewish state.

The threats facing the country and its people are real and cannot be neglected, and they at least partly explain why so few Israelis today hold much hope for the peace process or any rapprochement with its Arab citizens and the Palestinian people. “Precisely because we are shrouded in uncertainty, we Israelis insist on believing in ourselves, in our nation-state, and in our future,” writes Ari Shavit in My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, “and yet there is always the fear that one day … my beloved homeland will crumble as enormous Arab masses or mighty Islamic forces overcome its defenses and eradicate its existence.”

The other reality, however, is not an external menace, but one that threatens Israel from within its own borders and due to its own policies, beginning in the aftermath of June 1967—as Shavit personally witnessed as a child:

“Within a few weeks the mighty Arabs were transformed into victims, while the endangered Israelis became conquerors. The Jewish state was now triumphant and proud and drunk with a heady sense of power. As malignant as it is, occupation has become an integral part of the Jewish state’s being … I cannot deny the fact or escape the fact that my nation has become an occupying nation.”

That is where the Middle East peace process remains, bleakly locked in a cycle of conflict. New generations of Israeli and Palestinian civilians have known only mutual hostility. Amid this, a new threat to Israel and its challenges has emerged in the last few years, emanating from …

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U.K. Election Roundup: How Long Can Theresa May Last?

The fractures in the United Kingdom’s political scene have never been so visible—just as it enters its most important negotiations in seventy years.

By Rhea Pankhurst.

The United Kingdom’s unexpected general election on June 8 returned a just as unexpected hung parliament, leaving the incumbent Conservative Party hanging on to power by a thread. Prime Minister Theresa May had called the election six weeks earlier with the express intention of increasing her slim parliamentary majority of 17 in order to obtain a mandate for her premiership and strengthen her hand in the imminent Brexit negotiations with the European Union, despite having pledged not to hold an early election. At the time, the Conservatives had been leading Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in the polls by 20 points, but the campaign saw a rapid, unprecedented shift in public opinion, with the Conservatives’ lead collapsing to just 2 points and even their slender majority lost.

With the Brexit negotiations, arguably Britain’s greatest constitutional crisis since World War Two, due to begin just two weeks after the election, the Conservative Party simultaneously scrambled to retain power and descended into civil war. May was largely and openly blamed by her party for the upset. Senior and backbench Conservative Members of Parliament called for May’s resignation and a former Conservative chancellor gleefully referred to her as “a dead woman walking” on breakfast television. Chancellor Philip Hammond, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, de-facto deputy prime minister Damien Green, and other senior ministers have all publicly called for an easing of May’s fiscal austerity program and a national debate on May’s approach to health and education. May ran a presidential-style campaign, largely focusing on herself and marginalizing her party and government. She was widely criticized for her robotic, sound-bite orientated performance and her aversion to interacting directly with members of the public. Her manifesto was developed by her own officials with little input from her cabinet colleagues and offered little deviation from the status quo while pushing a number of deeply unpopular policies—most notably the …

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No End in Sight for Syria

How did we get here, and where can we go?

By Animesh Roul.

The Syrian civil war has so far witnessed genocide, ethnic cleansing, sectarian schisms, and crimes against humanity. According to data available in March 2017, an estimated 400,000 Syrians have been killed and more than 10 million people have either fled the country or been displaced. What started in the city of Daara in March 2011—a popular demonstration against the incumbent Bashar al-Assad regime, a subsequent government crackdown, and the military siege of the city—has snowballed into a protracted civil war that has overwhelmed the country with large-scale divisions and destruction. There is no end in sight to this complicated conflict, which has surreptitiously engulfed neighbouring Gulf nations and engaged the great powers of the world. Trump and Putin may be cozying up, but their guns are aimed at each other in Syria.

The civil war has been fought primarily between the Syrian government forces, along with allies, and forces opposing the Assad regime, but there exists a plethora of players whose military allegiances are often more opportunistic than ideological. They include the Assad regime, Kurdish forces, Daesh (Islamic State or ISIS), Jaish al Fateh (a jihadi alliance affiliated with Al-Qaeda), and a conglomeration of moderate rebel groups such as the Free Syrian Army, along with regional and global players such as the U.S., Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran.

From the beginning, the United States has remained steadfast in its efforts to counter the Assad regime’s atrocities against civilians and other humanitarian emergencies in the country, especially the use of banned chemical weapons in Ghouta and Khan Sheikhoun. Against this, the Assad regime’s request for military and economic support to hold on to power materialised with help from its international allies, Russia and Iran. Russia’s September 2015 intervention in the guise of helping the Syrian regime against ISIS and other militant factions initiated a new dimension to the conflict, which many have seen as part of a new cold war. Indeed, the Syrian crisis witnessed a …

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Entangled in the Web of the Silk Road

The Philippines’ foreign policy turn away from America and towards China signals a shifting world order.

By Juda Jelinek.

The anti-crime politician and mayor, Rodrigo Duterte, took office as the 16th president of the Philippines one year ago, on June 30, 2016. Since then, the country has witnessed the extra-judicial killing of an estimated 7,000 people by the state, and Duterte has jeopardized his country’s diplomatic relations with the U.S. by expressing strong anti-American sentiments and evoking anti-colonialist nationalist rhetoric. He has taken a more pragmatic approach in reconciling Chinese-Philippine relations, but controversially, Duterte has put to rest the question of enforcing the long sought-after verdict of the International Arbitration Court, which ruled in favor of the Philippines regarding the South-Chinese sea dispute. In other words, he’s giving the Spratly Islands to Beijing.

These foreign policy actions are in sharp contrast to those pursued by the administration of former President Corazon Aquino, who strongly promoted Philippine maritime interests in the South-China Sea and sought a strategic military alliance with the USA to ensure the geopolitical power balance in the Southeast Asian region. These mark fundamental changes to Philippine foreign policy that will have a substantial effect on world politics by reconfiguring the unstable order associated with the Southeast Asian region, which may ultimately result in increased global insecurity. The change of the Philippines’ foreign policy towards China is part of a larger and more powerful phenomena: the inescapable end of …

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Photojournal: The Rarest Gemstone in the World

Mines in Northern Tanzania are the only source of one of the world’s most coveted gemstones.

By Marcos Guzmán Ortiz

Tanzanite: one thousand times rarer than diamond, and therefore one of the most coveted gemstones in the world.

In an area accessible only by dirt roads, 50km from the nearest town in the Mererani Hills in Northern Tanzania, sits a vast and crowded mining industry. Here, a few hundred meters below the subsoil, exists the only known seam of tanzanite in the world. Discovered just a half century ago, since then this type of zoisite stone has successfully entered the gemstone market as an excellent and cheaper alternative to sapphires. Its strong trichroism characteristic means that it reflects different colors as it turns in the light. Named and brought to fame by the American luxury retailer Tiffany & Co, tanzanite prices have increased every year, and so far as no other seam in the world has been discovered. It is estimated that the existing seam will be depleted in 30 years’ time. The reality behind the stone’s blue and violet sparkles, however, is neither shiny nor glamorous.

In 1971, the mines in the Mererani Hills were nationalized and the land was split to allow large private companies and smaller local miners to extract the mineral. Despite a lucrative wholesale export market ($50 million annually in rough mineral), Tanzania’s government has consistently failed to provide basic civilian infrastructure and safety measures for the workers of the local mining companies and communities.

The Mines of Mererani

As we arrive in the shanty town that houses the workers, we realize how precarious it is to live in the area. Hundreds of shelters and a few restaurants and shops inside huts create the landscape around the mine’s walls, built by local land-owners to restrict access. Once we are within the walls, we see that …

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Alternative Facts are Nothing New

Holocaust denial and the rejection of consensus truth has been around a long time. How can it be countered?

By Peter Bjel

“You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.”

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Denying that Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime attempted to exterminate the Jews of Europe during the Second World War—thereby willfully murdering up to six million, or one-third of the world’s Jewish population—is akin to claiming that the Earth is flat. Among 20th-century genocides, the Holocaust is unique not only for its broad scope and use of modern infrastructure, but because it is incredibly well-documented.

Though they were the first to deny the scope and intent of their actions, the Nazis left behind a massive detritus of planning, orders, correspondence, action reports, and logistical details that proved to be too copious to destroy as Germany’s defeat grew imminent. Nonetheless, a movement has evolved, alongside organized racism and fascist ideology, denying that the Holocaust ever happened. These Holocaust deniers would remain marginal were it not for their adroit tactics of cloaking the intent of their ideas.

This past December, Google was forced to take action when it emerged that online queries about the Holocaust performed via its search engine returned results that emanated from neo-Nazi and Holocaust-denying websites.

“This is a really challenging problem, and something we’re thinking deeply about in terms of how we can do a better job,” declared a Google spokesperson to the BBC. “Search is a reflection of the content that exists on the web.”

At other times, Holocaust denial has been publicly brought to light via criminal and libel trials in both Europe and North America. This spring marks seventeen years since one of the biggest and most significant of these trials took place in London’s Royal Courts of Justice. Over the span of three months, from January to April 2000, a libel suit brought against …

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Coal in the Jungle

Bangladesh’s growing energy needs threaten protected wetlands, the last home of the Royal Bengal tiger.

By Sazzad Haider

Bangladesh has started construction work on a coal-fired power plant within 14 km of the protected Sundarban river delta, which contains the planet’s largest mangrove forest. According to protesters, the still under construction Rampal power plant will be one of the greatest risks to the fauna and flora of the Sundarban. Despite the efforts of UNESCO and environmental activists to halt or relocate the controversial project, the government is moving forward—but the nation is divided over whether to prioritize development or the Suderban’s delicate ecosystem and the last home of the critically endangered Royal Bengal tiger.

The Home of Bengal Tigers

The Sundarban, a deltaic mangrove forest of amazing beauty, was named after its ubiquitous Sundari trees. The forest covers around 10,000 square km, a major portion of which is in Bangladesh and around 4,264 square km in India. The Sundarban was formed by the confluence of three mighty rivers: the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, and the Meghna. Consisting of 54 small islands, the mangrove forest is crisscrossed by several flows of the Ganges. This interconnected network of rivers and channels make almost every nook and cranny of the forest accessible by boats or rafts. The tidal ebb and flow of the Bay of Bengal regularly submerges the islands. As a wetland, the Sundarban is an incredibly diverse ecosystem and sanctuary for many different species of birds, mammals, insects, reptiles, and fish, and it is the only home of the Royal Bengal tiger. A UNESCO world heritage site, the Sundarban was declared protected under the 1971 Ramsar Convention on wetlands.

The Sundarban is also home to a large human population. Nearly 7.5 million Bangladeshi people directly or indirectly depend on Sundarban resources. It is the largest source of forest products in Bangladesh. The forest provides …

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Fleeing America Across a Freezing Border

Since Trump’s election, Canada is seeing a rise in the number of people illegally crossing its border from the United States.

By Alexander H. Maurice

The town of Emerson, Manitoba, is a tiny village its founders called “the gateway to the west”. At the end of the 19th century, Emerson was founded by American immigrants who came to Canada, looking to improve their economic situation thanks to a land grant from the province of Manitoba. While many things have changed in the century since its founding, the village, situated directly on the U.S./Canada border, remains the gateway to the Canadian west—only now for a new group of immigrants. Since Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination, the residents of Emerson have seen growing numbers of “border hoppers” entering Canada at locations without a designated border crossing. Since the inauguration, in the coldest months of the year, these numbers have continued to grow.

Emerson lies immediately across the border from the town of Noyes, Minnesota, from which train tracks run directly north. Refugees are able to take a taxi to less than a mile north of the town, which leaves them within sight of Emerson. From there, they are able to walk across the border to Emerson, where they can call the police to be picked up to have their asylum claims registered. While it is normally a crime to cross the border in this way, under Canadian law it is not illegal if the purpose is to make an asylum claim.

Noyes to Emerson may be one of the easiest border crossings. Those less fortunate have taken an expensive taxi trip in North Dakota, or elsewhere in Minnesota, from where they have then walked over 30 km, throughout the night and in freezing temperatures, to cross the border.

People are forced to take this trip due to complications in Canada’s immigration law. Many of these people have legitimate asylum claims when they reach Canada. In 2015, the Immigration and Refugee Board approved over 57 percent of refugee claims made from within Canada, but these same people are currently prevented from entering Canada at legal border crossings with the U.S. due to …

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Autumn 2017