March 22, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

ISRAEL

A Desperate Suitor

When Israeli voters go to the polls March 23, it will be the fourth time they cast ballots to choose a prime minister in two years.

This election stems from the collapse of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government late last year. As Slate explained, past elections led to stalemates between Netanyahu’s conservative Likud Party and his rival, Benny Gantz of the center-right Blue and White coalition.

Netanyahu and Gantz couldn’t pass a budget, leading to the demise of their alliance, the Associated Press reported. A rift was in the offing, however, as Gantz has suffered “humiliations” in office like being frozen out of large decisions of state including talks with the US and Arab countries over diplomatic recognition.

Now, Bibi, as he is known, is facing a big threat from both the left and the right.

In an effort to retain power, Netanyahu is taking a page from former President Donald Trump’s political playbook. His supporters are already suggesting that his enemies are seeking to steal the election. “The very Trumpian claim – backed up by no discernible evidence – is just one way Netanyahu’s campaign looks increasingly like the one run by the former US president last year,” wrote Foreign Policy magazine.

Netanyahu might be anxious about losing his position because he’s currently facing corruption charges in court, observers say. As the BBC reported, he recently pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three different cases.

He might also be worried because his former chief of staff, Naftali Bennett, is running against him, Haaretz noted. Bennett has blasted Netanyahu for his handling of the coronavirus, which the New York Times described as tearing Israel apart due to lockdowns and other measures that ultra-Orthodox Jews criticized.

Even so, if Bibi wins again, it might be because of the vaccination program, the Washington Times reported. Israel has emerged as a world leader in COVID-19 vaccinations, with 4 million of its nearly 7 million adults having been inoculated. Should the embattled leader secure a sixth term, many say, his victory will be based on his ability to obtain sufficient vaccines to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the leaders of other conservative Israeli political parties have ruled out working with Netanyahu and Likud even as Bennett has remained open to joining a coalition – Likud members don’t appear to trust him, though.

All those groups are competing for similar voters. Rather than diluting their conservative ideologies, however, the landscape is such that a rightwing politician is sure to win the premiership. That means whoever wins will likely oppose granting land to Palestinians or relaunching peace talks.

For example, Bibi has backed the Jewish Power party, a fringe right-wing group that is poised to gain its first spot in Israel’s Knesset and wants Israel to annex the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Bibi has come-a-courting of the very Arab voters he not only shunned but disparaged as “supporters of terrorism,” says the Washington Post. And they are listening.

Some Arabs, frustrated with their own politicians, say they are willing to bet that Netanyahu will repay their votes with more spending on police, roads and other infrastructure in their communities, some of Israel’s poorest.

“For decades, the Arab parties and the left parties have not helped us – this time, we need to go with the biggest, strongest party of them all,” Ibrahim al-Sayyid, a voter in a Bedouin community in the Negev desert, told the newspaper.

That type of support could propel Bibi to his next win – pollsters have also forecast a potential 58-58 split in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, the Times of Israel reported. In that case, Arab-oriented parties could break that tie and become kingmakers in parliament.

In the event of that remarkable turn of events in the Jewish state, don’t rule out a fifth election.

WANT TO KNOW

TURKEY

The Law, a Weapon

Turkish prosecutors moved to ban a pro-Kurdish opposition party over its alleged terrorist links, a move that drew condemnation from the United States, the European Union and Turkish Kurds as an attempt to undermine democracy, Reuters reported.

Thousands of Turkish Kurds protested in Istanbul over the weekend to commemorate the Nowruz, the Persian New Year and to protest the proposed ban of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP).

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses the HDP of having close ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and the EU.

The HDP, which is the third-largest party in parliament, denied the allegations and called the move a “political coup.”

Turkey has a long history of shutting down political parties it regards as a threat and, in the past, has banned other pro-Kurdish parties.

The PKK launched an insurgency against the state in 1984. More than 40,000 have been killed in the fighting.

Human rights groups said the proposed ban posed a significant danger to Turkey’s battered democracy: In recent years, Erdogan has been cracking down on Kurdish politicians, the Washington Post reported.

Meanwhile, Erdogan has pledged to strengthen human rights in the country in a bid to mend strained relations with the United States and other Western allies.

JAPAN

The Show Will Go On…

Japan will bar overseas fans from attending this summer’s Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo, marking the first time the Summer Games will be held without foreign spectators, the Japan Times reported Saturday.

Japanese officials and Olympic organizers said that the ban was necessary because of fears that overseas visitors will import the more contagious variants of the novel coronavirus.

Organizers added that they are planning to refund about 630,000 tickets for the Olympics and Paralympics purchased by overseas fans.

The International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee expressed disappointment at the announcement but said they “fully respected and accepted” the decision.

The Tokyo Olympics was originally scheduled for 2020 but the pandemic caused the Games to be delayed until the summer of 2021. The delay and the subsequent virus safety measures have pushed the budget to $15 billion, potentially making these Games the most expensive in history.

Meanwhile, the Japanese public remains skeptical about the safety of the event, with a majority favoring either cancellation or another postponement.

FRANCE

Chattel Wars

A woman filed a legal appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after French courts ruled that she violated her “marital duties” by refusing to have sex with her husband, a case that has been become a cause célèbre for women’s groups in France, Radio France Internationale reported Saturday.

In 2019, a Versailles appeals court found that the unnamed woman was the one to blame for the collapse of her marriage because she refused to have sexual relations with her husband. The ruling was affirmed by France’s highest appeal court in 2020.

The 66-year-old woman maintains that her refusal was due to her poor health and her husband’s violent behavior. She appealed the case to the European Court, which banned the notion of marital duty in 1995.

Her lawyers denounced the ruling as “archaic and medieval.” Meanwhile, the case has brought attention to the issue of “marital duty.”

Marital duty doesn’t exist in France’s modern civil code – which dates from 1804 – but some provisions in the law allow judges to offer old-fashioned interpretations in some thorny divorce cases.

Over the past 20 years, there have been about 10 rulings against spouses who refused sex: In 2011, an appeals court in southern France ruled that the husband should pay nearly $12,000 plus interest to his ex-wife because the couple’s sexual relations were insufficient.

DISCOVERIES

Unwrapping History

Before the advent of sealed envelopes in the 19th century, people would fold their letters in intricate ways before sealing them.

Known as “letterlocking” the technique served a similar function to today’s email encryption and would prevent the occasional backyard detective from snooping.

Letterlocked messages, however, pose a problem for historians that want to study their contents since opening the letters can damage the document – and prevent researchers from learning how they were folded.

To avoid damaging these artifacts, a research team used a virtual reality technique to open the locked mail without damaging it, the New York Times reported.

In their new study, the team virtually opened four undelivered letters from 1680 and 1706. The mail is part of the Brienne Collection, a wooden postal trunk from the Hague, Netherlands containing more than 3,000 items, including 577 unopened letters.

Researchers explain that the VR method scans a letter with an advanced X-ray machine to create a 3D image of the item. Then it analyzes the mail’s internal configuration and virtually unfolds it in just a few days.

The authors said the novel approach could open doors to learning more about the postal networks in early modern Europe and provide greater insight into the politics, religious beliefs and daily affairs of its inhabitants.

Holiday Promo

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: 29,818,936 (+0.12%)
  2. Brazil: 11,998,233 (+0.40%)
  3. India: 11,646,081 (+0.40%)
  4. Russia: 4,416,226 (+0.21%)
  5. UK: 4,310,195 (+0.12%)
  6. France: 4,277,796 (+0.01%)
  7. Italy: 3,376,376 (+0.60%)
  8. Spain: 3,212,332 (+0.00%)
  9. Turkey: 3,013,122 (+0.68%)
  10. Germany: 2,671,749 (+0.09%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country