The World Today for December 16, 2020

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The Politics of Never Forgetting

Yad Vashem is a phrase from the Book of Isaiah in the Hebrew Bible that literally means “a monument and a name.” It conveys how the Jerusalem-based institution is not only a museum of the Holocaust but also a memorial to the millions of Jews murdered in Europe during World War II – carrying on their names for eternity. While technically not a religious space, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency noted how Yad Vashem is a kind of national shrine for Israelis.

Enter former Israeli Brigadier General Effie Eitam, 68, a former lawmaker and leader of the National Religious Party. He has espoused an ethnic cleansing campaign to expel the Palestinians from the West Bank and East Jerusalem and kick Arabs who are Israeli citizens out of the country’s political scene, wrote Jerusalem Post columnist Amotz Asa-El in the conservative newspaper.

As a result, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his fellow conservatives nominated Eitam to run Yad Vashem, people in Israel and around the world expressed shock, balking at the idea of him leading an institution dedicated to rejecting racism and ethnic hatred, violence and injustice. “His name was synonymous with intolerance and right-wing extremism,” the New York Times wrote of Eitam.

A petition, signed by hundreds of alarmed citizens and by 750 scholars, Holocaust survivors, rabbis and employees of Jewish museums and archives, is calling on the government to reconsider its decision, Israel’s liberal Haaretz wrote in an opinion piece.

Academics worry that scholars around the world would decline to work with Eitam, leading the institution to become isolated from top thinkers.

Yad Vashem, besides being a shrine, is also a vital center of Jewish learning: It houses historical archives, publishes journals, organizes conferences and provides other services to researchers around the globe. Writing in the American Jewish publication, the Forward, Dartmouth College Jewish Studies Professor Susannah Heschel and Harvard University Jewish History Professor Derek Penslar characterized Eitam as a “vocal racist with no academic training” who would put that knowledge production in jeopardy.

Eitam’s defenders counter the charges. They cite his war heroism and his history of service to Israel. During the Yom Kippur War in 1973, for example, his platoon stopped Syrian tanks targeting the Israel Defense Forces headquarters in the Golan Heights. He studied at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Britain. He served in conservative Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s cabinet, overseeing infrastructure, from 2002 to 2004. Afterward, he served as a lawmaker and political wheeler and dealer in parliament.

Eitam, meanwhile, says he is being taken out of context. “People say that when the allegations are baseless and unfounded, there is no point in responding. But I am here to respond,” Eitam told the Kan public broadcaster in an interview on Sunday, saying he has a deep connection to the Holocaust and its memory, the Times of Israel reported.

He said he has never proposed expelling Palestinians from the West Bank or East Jerusalem or removing Israeli Arabs from the country’s political institutions. “Anyone with an ounce of integrity can look through my interviews and see that,” he said.

At Yad Vashem, trees, “symbolic of the renewal of life,” are planted on the Mount of Remembrance and around the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations. That’s because Yad Vashem also honors those non-Jews who resisted anti-Semitism and saved Jewish lives despite sometimes impossible odds. Importantly, it also reminds future generations to prevent another genocide against Jews, wrote Tel Aviv University Education Professor Uri Cohen in an op-ed in Israel Hayom. Eitam, he argued, has dedicated his life to those goals. Still, he adds that “Opposition to Eitam being appointed to head Israel’s national Holocaust memorial is more than a simple political fight, it’s a struggle for the character of the memory and history of the Jewish people and its place in Israel.”

Regardless of who leads it, all agree: At the end of the day, the political fights will fade and the leaders will change and Yad Vashem will still endure. Because it must.




Of Carrots and Big Sticks

European officials on Tuesday unveiled new legislation that will give regulators sweeping powers to sanction American tech giants such as Google, Amazon and Facebook with hefty fines and even bans, CNN reported.

Among the new rules, regulators could force the giant social media and e-commerce companies to remove illegal and harmful content from their platforms. Failure to comply could result in fines of up to six percent of the global revenues.

Another rule would set specific regulations for firms deemed “gatekeepers” in order to prevent unfair competition: For example, companies would not be allowed to use data obtained from those businesses using their sites to compete against them.

The draft bills would also force repeat offenders to sell off chunks of their companies.

The new rules are deemed the most ambitious and aggressive attempt yet to rein in the tech giants. They are now adding to the growing pressure on these companies which are facing crackdowns by American, Australian and other regulators bringing actions for violations of competition, tax and privacy rules.

The proposals were criticized by the US Chamber of Commerce as targeting “American companies almost exclusively.”


Hanging By Threads

Somalia cut diplomatic ties with Kenya Tuesday after accusing its neighbor of meddling in its political affairs, a move that threatens Somalia’s security amid an Islamist insurgency and mass protests, Reuters reported.

The move follows a two-day visit between Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Muse Bihi Abdi, president of Somalia’s region of Somaliland: Both leaders pledged to foster stronger relations even as the Somali government considers Somaliland – which has declared itself an independent country – as an integral part of Somalia.

Somalia considers such bilateral meetings a violation of its sovereignty. Meanwhile, the self-declared country is not recognized internationally.

Last month, Somalia also expelled the Kenyan ambassador over alleged interference in the electoral process in the Somali semi-autonomous state of Jubbaland.

The dispute could undermine the fight against the militant al Shabab group in Somalia, where Kenya provides 3,600 troops to the African Union’s peacekeeping force.

Somalia is also grappling with recent demonstrations after President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed delayed parliamentary elections this month due to disagreements over the composition of the electoral board.

The opposition accuses Mohamed of installing sympathizers but officials have denied the allegation.


Spy Games

Russian intelligence agents were responsible for the poisoning of opposition activist Alexei Navalny in August, according to a new investigative report published this week.

Citing telecom and travel data, the report by the investigative website Bellingcat said that a team of agents from Russia’s FSB had been monitoring Navalny for three years and attempted to poison him during his stay in the Siberian city of Tomsk shortly before he became sick, the Washington Post reported.

In August, Navalny fell ill during a flight from Tomsk to Moscow, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing in Omsk. The political activist was later transferred to a hospital in Berlin, Germany, where doctors found evidence of poisoning by a toxin similar to the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.

Russia has denied any involvement in the matter and has ignored calls to investigate the case. The report, however, said that phone records and travel logs indicate that there was constant communication between the agents and their superiors in Moscow.

Navalny said in a video message that he knows who tried to kill him, adding that there was another attempt this year to poison him – in July, his wife fell ill during a vacation to the Russian province of Kaliningrad.


Share and Share Alike

Monarch butterflies can be very selfish.

On the surface, the butterfly looks very docile and peaceful but scientists found the dazzling insect goes through a very aggressive phase in its larval stage, the New York Times reported, including hogging food.

In a new study, researchers placed the young insects in groups of four in tiny areas with different amounts of milkweed leaves – their primary source of sustenance – and observed how they interacted with each other, particularly when food was scarce.

Afterward, the scientists observed how the monarch butterfly larvae would display a high degree of hostility toward each other when it came to sharing food: They would head butt and gut-punch each other to secure their milkweed.

“Some would just roam off and eat,” said co-author Elizabeth Brown.

She noted, however, that if one caterpillar spotted a morsel of food that was being monopolized by another, it would “rear up and, with their head, make a lunge onto the body of the other caterpillar.”

Scientists explained that monarch caterpillars are born hungry and have to eat constantly. Once they get a little older and larger, the larvae become stingier with food.

The team hopes to observe this behavior in nature in the future and said the study could help entomologists racing to preserve the butterflies – populations of the fragile species continue to plummet.

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 16,724,753 (+1.24%)
  2. India: 9,932,547 (+0.27%)
  3. Brazil: 6,970,034 (+0.62%)
  4. Russia: 2,682,866 (+0.99%)
  5. France: 2,447,406 (+0.56%)
  6. Turkey: 1,898,447 (+1.72%)
  7. UK: 1,893,436 (+0.99%)
  8. Italy: 1,870,576 (+0.80%)
  9. Spain: 1,762,212 (+0.59%)
  10. Argentina: 1,510,203 (+0.46%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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