The World Today for April 24, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

ISRAEL

A Bittersweet Journey

The 70th anniversary of Israel led to a bevy of bittersweet coverage in the news.

Shmuel Rosner believed that now was among the best periods for his people, a time that rivaled that of Moses, the kingdom of Solomon and Spain’s Golden Age.

“I am the Jew who gets to see Jewish ingenuity unapologetically celebrated, Jewish material success flourish, Jewish might acknowledged and the Jewish language rejuvenated,” wrote the journalist in a New York Times opinion piece. “I am the Jew who after 2,000 years gets to witness Jewish political independence.”

Violence rages in the occupied West Bank. The US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the country kicked off controversy. The economic situation in Gaza is dire, and many regional neighbors, like Iran, remain hostile.

But Rosner has a point.

Last week, despite those serious concerns, Bloomberg dubbed Israel as “the world’s new dining hotspot,” saying a tourism boom has taken hold.

“Diners are lining up outside of (Tel Aviv’s) Port Said restaurant; the sidewalk is filled with drinkers,” wrote the news agency. “It’s a similar story nearby at Santa Katarina. If you haven’t booked a table, good luck. Across town at the Salon, it’s even more lively.”

The Washington Post described Israel after 70 years as a mix of “satisfaction and grim disquiet.” Israelis have created a prosperous Mediterranean country and strong citizenry who appear to face perennial threats while standing accused of oppressing the Palestinians.

Even so, divisions mark the country. “Rancor and bickering” even marred preparations for the country’s spectacular anniversary commemoration on April 18 in Jerusalem, the New York Times argued.

The ceremony featured three live orchestras, 1,600 performers and staff and 300 drones. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to capitalize on the normally apolitical event, drawing criticism.

Referring to Israel’s relations with its Arab neighbors, Israeli author and peace activist David Grossman went so far as to say his country was “a fortress, but not yet a home,” Haaretz reported, noting that Grossman’s son died in combat in 2006 in the Second Lebanon War.

That viewpoint led a contributor to the Forward to propose another course of action. “It’s time to stop apologizing for Israel and start celebrating,” wrote Morton Klein, director of the Zionist Organization of America.

If one chose to celebrate, Reuters wrote an excellent piece detailing the lives of the ordinary Israelis that make up the nation, painting a portrait of the mosaic that is Israel today and the humanity it symbolizes.

“The cantor’s grandson came from Tajikistan,” the news service reported. “The baker, who survived Auschwitz, came from Czechoslovakia. The emergency responder is a sixth-generation Jerusalemite.”

Another equally good Reuters story noted that while Israelis celebrated their Independence Day, Palestinians lamented the Nakba, or ‘Catastrophe,’ when they lost their homeland in the conflict that surrounded the birth of the modern Jewish state.

WANT TO KNOW

SYRIA

Carrots and Sticks

Foreign ministers from Group of Seven countries on Monday condemned Russia for  “a pattern of irresponsible and destabilizing” behavior and called on Moscow to help end the conflict in Syria.

During a two-day meeting to lay the groundwork for a G7 leaders’ summit in Charlevoix, Quebec on June 7-8, the ministers agreed to create a working group to study Russia’s “malign behavior” and said they were working on a plan to fight foreign interference in elections, Reuters reported.

It’s debatable whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will be unduly concerned by the threat to form a committee, of course. And the foreign ministers’ statement comes as another group meets in Brussels on Tuesday to seek more than $6 billion in aid for Syria at a two-day donor conference – and attempt to bring Russia, Turkey and Iran on board in the Western peace effort, the agency said separately.

The EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, is appealing to Iran, Russia and Turkey to support a lasting ceasefire to allow aid access and medical evacuations.

ARMENIA

Corrected Arrogance

Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan resigned Monday, caving to pressure after 10 days of protests by tens of thousands opposed to what they viewed as an end-run around the constitution.

As Sargsyan, the nation’s former president, neared the end of his second term – and ran against a mandatory two-term limit for the post – he presided over a constitutional referendum in 2015 that transferred most presidential powers to the role of prime minister, the New York Times reported.

Though he promised last year he would not seek to extend his reign at the head of Armenia’s government by pursuing the prime minister’s chair, his right-wing Republican Party swiftly voted him into the post after his second term as president expired earlier this month.

But Sargsyan and his party misjudged the level of opposition to the maneuver.

“The way that they proceeded was so arrogant that it triggered a rather intense reaction that nobody expected,” the paper quoted Richard Giragosian, the director of a local think tank, as saying.

Outgoing Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan stepped in as acting PM, but some expect snap polls will be needed to resolve the crisis.

NICARAGUA

Clarion Call

Thousands of Nicaraguan protesters are demanding the resignation of President Daniel Ortega, a former leftist guerrilla leader, following a violent crackdown that left at least nine people dead.

Demonstrators in the capital city of Managua waved blue and white Nicaraguan flags and chanted “President, get out!” on Monday, but the government refrained from sending in police to disperse them in a bid to avoid further violence, Reuters reported.

On Sunday, a student was shot to death and five others were injured when protesters clashed with police at the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua, the agency quoted Bassett Guido, a Red Cross spokeswoman, as saying. The Red Cross has registered nine deaths since the protests began Wednesday, and attended to 433 injured people.

The protests began in opposition to Ortega’s plans to reform the Central American country’s welfare system. The president has since scrapped the changes. But statements from Ortega and his wife – who critics charge are trying to turn Nicaragua into a dictatorship – have fanned the flames, reported the Los Angeles Times.

DISCOVERIES

Blame Game

Eight Argentine police officers are in hot water after sticking to an alibi akin to the “dog ate my homework” excuse.

Except in this case, the dog was a pack of rodents – and the homework was a large quantity of marijuana.

When more than a half-ton of marijuana mysteriously vanished from a guarded evidence facility in Pilar, Argentina, not far from the capital city of Buenos Aires, the eight officers were dismissed after claiming that mice ate the drugs, the Guardian reported.

During an inspection, officials noticed a shortfall from the amount originally registered – more than six tons of cannabis – and questioned former Police Commissioner Javier Specia, who had originally handled the inventory.

Testifying before a judge, Specia and three of his subordinates claimed that mice had munched on the drugs, a statement that was rebuked by forensic experts in court.

“Buenos Aires University experts have explained that mice wouldn’t mistake the drug for food, and that if a large group of mice had eaten it, a lot of corpses would have been found in the warehouse,” said a spokesperson for Judge Adrian Gonzalez Charvay.

Ingesting marijuana can be toxic to animals since they digest the drug differently from humans, NPR recently reported.

With their alibi debunked, the officers face more questioning next month, when the judge will seek to decide whether the missing evidence resulted from “expedience or negligence.”

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