The World Today for July 18, 2018

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End Days Maybe

Benjamin Netanyahu, or “Bibi,” leads the Jewish state at a dangerous time. Iran’s influence is growing. The antagonistic Syrian regime has almost won its civil war. Relations with the Palestinians remain abysmal. And Israel’s defenders in the US and Europe face an uphill battle in conversations about settlements in the West Bank.

Perhaps the greatest threat to Bibi these days, however, is Bibi himself.

Israeli investigators have been interrogating the prime minister over allegations that he pushed for regulations that helped a telecommunications and media company, Bezeq, in exchange for favorable news coverage, the Times of Israel reported.

Known as Case 4000, the scandal is serious because a number of Netanyahu confidants have become state’s witnesses. The owner of the media company, Shaul Elovitch, has also admitted that he altered news coverage to benefit Netanyahu.

“I could not ignore the requests of Sara and the rest of the Netanyahu family,” Elovitch told the Jerusalem Post, referring to Netanyahu’s wife. “I did not want to annoy the prime minister.”

The prime minister has denied the charges.

But they are just the start, as the Middle East Monitor explained, Haaretz summarized, and Reuters illustrated with a telling graphic.

In Case 1000, investigators are looking into whether Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer bribed the prime minister with jewelry, cigars and champagne in exchange for political favors such as supporting a law to exempt Israeli expatriates from paying taxes for 10 years when they move back to their country, Israeli broadcaster i24 News reported.

In Case 2000, Bibi allegedly received bribes from Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes designed to elicit the politician’s help in passing legislation that would hurt a competing newspaper.

Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who is independent of the government, must decide whether Netanyahu should be indicted in any of the cases.

Authorities are also looking into whether a German company paid Israeli officials bribes to receive a contract to purchase submarines, Reuters wrote. Prosecutors questioned Netanyahu, but he’s not a suspect, they said. His close associates are allegedly involved, however. That’s Case 3000.

Lastly, Bibi’s wife, Sara, was also indicted recently for spending $100,000 on gourmet food when she was supposed to use the services of a state-funded chef. Her recently postponed trial will resume in October.

In the US, such scandals often occur near the end of a two-term presidency, when the head of state is leaving and can’t wreak revenge in the future. In a parliamentary system, they often just signify the end.



Trade Ninjas

Japan may be running out of ninjas, but it’s still in the game when it comes to foreign policy, a massive new free trade deal with the European Union suggests.

Covering 600 million people and a third of the global economy, the deal to remove tariffs on European exports such as cheese and wine and give Japanese automakers and electronics firms better access to the EU is a strong response to Donald Trump’s escalating tariffs, CNN Money reported.

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, hailed the agreement as the “largest bilateral trade deal ever,” the news channel cited an official statement as saying. It follows a statement from EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström that Trump “closed the door” on negotiations to reduce EU tariffs with his tariffs on steel and aluminum, as well as Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership at the start of his presidency.

Bilateral trade between Japan and the EU amounted to around $152 billion last year, according to EU data. US-Japan trade totaled around $200 billion, while US-EU trade totaled about $718 billion.


Hong Kong Hokey Pokey

The Hong Kong government said Tuesday it’s considering banning the two-year-old Hong Kong National Party, which advocates independence from China, despite the fact it boasts no lawmakers and only a few dozen members.

The New York Times cited John Lee, the Hong Kong security secretary, as saying that Hong Kong authorities were reviewing whether to ban the party under the territory’s societies ordinance – which authorizes the prohibition of groups for reasons such as national security, public safety and public order.

Ahead of the former British territory’s reunification with the mainland in 1997, the catchphrase for China’s plans for the financial center was “one country, two systems” – indicating that Hong Kong would remain democratic. And it does indeed retain its own political system, with far greater freedoms of speech, assembly and association than exist in mainland China, the Times noted. However, many residents fear those freedoms are disappearing.

Ironically, the law that may be used to ban the separatist party was once used by the British to bar the Chinese Communist Party.


The Cost of Deterrence?

An NGO that rescues migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe claims that the Libyan coast guard left at least two refugees to die at sea after damaging their boat.

Proactiva Open Arms, a Spanish nonprofit, posted a video and pictures on Twitter that showed them taking two women and a child from the stranded vessel, but one woman and the child had already died, Al-Jazeera reported.

Via Twitter, Oscar Camps, founder and director of Proactiva, said the Libyan coast guard had damaged the migrants’ boat and called the incident a consequence of Europe’s deals with Libya and other so-called “safe third countries” to try to stem the flow of refugees.

“This is the direct consequence of contracting armed militias to make the rest of Europe believe that Libya is a state, a government and a safe country,” Camps said.

Subsequently, he targeted Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, for efforts to stop NGO rescue ships – which Salvini has accused of facilitating human trafficking.


Karaoke Power

A couple weeks ago, rock fans attending the Ruisrock festival in Finland – Europe’s second-oldest rock festival – didn’t have to spend a dime for transportation in the town of Turku.

Instead, they used their singing skills to pay for their ride, the Independent reported.

During the three-day event, festivalgoers were able to move around the town by driving the aptly named Fortum Singalong Shuttle, an electric car that operated by the power of karaoke.

Each of the environmentally friendly vehicles was equipped with a tablet allowing passengers to pick songs and sing their heart out to get the car moving.

If the singing stopped, so would the car.

The karaoke taxis were an initiative by clean energy company Fortum that aimed to inspire customers and revelers to strive for a more sustainable lifestyle and a cleaner planet.

“With Singalong Shuttle, we want to show people in a joyful way how comfortable and easy it is to drive an electric car,” brand manager Jussi Mälkiä told the newspaper. “The silent electric cars make it possible to enjoy singing without background noise and emissions.”

Click here for a peek at the karaoke-powered taxis.

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