The World Today for April 01, 2024

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Warrior Class

ISRAEL

Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip has stirred controversy worldwide, less so at home. But now, Israelis are arguing over who among them should be fighting.

The Israeli Supreme Court last week ordered the Israeli government to cut off funding from ultra-Orthodox religious schools called “yeshivas” whose students have been exempt from military service that is mandatory for most other Israelis, CNN reported.

The court’s decision could undermine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose governing coalition depends on secular parties that support the change, as well as ultraorthodox politicians who want to protect the exemption for religious students belonging to the so-called Haredi community.

The court gave the government an April 1 date to take action when Netanyahu announced that he did not have the votes to extend a military exemption for Haredi students.

The exemption stems from a 1949 rule that let 400 Haredim in Israel avoid conscription, wrote the Washington Post. Since then, the ultra-Orthodox community has grown to comprise 13 percent of the country’s population. But 70 percent of Israeli Jews want to end the exemption, saying everyone should contribute to the nation’s security. Most Haredim are exempt although a few serve – the ruling would impact about 50,000 yeshiva students. Israeli Arabs are also exempt from military service.

Many Haredim, however, see the change as a threat to their scholarly lifestyle as well as Israel’s Jewish identity. “If a yeshiva student has to leave the yeshiva to be drafted, for whatever reason, then we will not stay in the government,” Moshe Roth, a Haredi parliamentarian, told the New York Times. “This is a make it or break it. The only way to protect the Torah and to keep it alive, as it has been for the last 3,500 years, is by having yeshivas.”

Yona Kruskal, a 42-year-old father of 11 who studies full-time, recently joined 200 others to block traffic in Jerusalem in a protest. Speaking to the Times of Israel, Kruskal insisted he would prefer to die than serve in the military.

Meanwhile, Yehiel Tropper, a minister without portfolio in Netanyahu’s coalition, views the Haredim as selfish. The government was considering lengthening service requirements for soldiers amid the war in Gaza while the Haredim were fighting to remain safe behind their fellow citizens’ sacrifices.

“The thought that young people will extend their service for three years, while their peers will not serve a single day, in military or civilian service, is intolerable,” Tropper wrote on Facebook, according to the Guardian.

The government is now considering limited exemptions, noted the BBC, that everyone might accept. But while the Haredi parties have threatened to pull out of the emergency government if the exemption is dropped, Benny Gantz’s centrist National Union party said it would leave the government if the draft plan moves forward.

The Haredim have thrived so far without compromising, however. Still, Barak Seri, a former adviser to the Haredi party, Shas, told Israel public radio that “from the moment that the court ruled, the Haredi parties have been in utter shock … This is the worst situation the Haredim have ever been in.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Tremor in the Bosporus

TURKEY

Efforts by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to retake key cities in Sunday’s local elections were stunningly rebuffed with the opposition party winning historic victories in Istanbul and the capital Ankara, early results showed Monday, the BBC reported.

Voters in Istanbul re-elected Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu of the opposition Republican People’s Party(CHP), a fierce critic of Erdogan, with more than 50 percent of the vote, beating the AKP’s candidate, the former Environment Minister Murat Kurum, in mayoral and municipal polls held across the country’s 81 provinces. The CHP also retook Ankara.

The AKP had hoped to reclaim the two cities among others, including Izmir, in the polls held nearly a year after Erdogan and the AKP won the closely fought presidential and parliamentary election, the Wall Street Journal reported.

But political analysts said Imamoğlu’s victory in Istanbul, the country’s largest city and a global center of culture and trade that accounts for 30 percent of Turkey’s total gross domestic product, would have far-reaching consequences in Turkish politics and for Erdogan who consolidated his power over more than 20 years as Turkey’s top leader, analysts said.

That’s because retaining control of the city bolsters the opposition following its unsuccessful attempt to unseat Erdogan in last year’s presidential vote. The win for Imamoğlu – seen as a potential presidential candidate – boosts the opposition’s efforts to loosen Erdogan’s grip on power.

The self-described social democrat mayor campaigned to expand social services, while Kurum vowed to develop transportation in the city.

The chief concern among voters remains the Turkish economy, which has plunged into crisis in recent years. Others also worry about the risks of earthquakes following last year’s destructive double quakes that killed more than 50,000 and devastated parts of southern Turkey and northern Syria.

Imamoğlu also pledged to better prepare Istanbul for potential earthquakes, as the commercial capital sits near a fault line.

Moving On

SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa’s election authorities this week disqualified former President Jacob Zuma from running in the upcoming May election, intensifying political tensions ahead of what analysts predict could be the nation’s most competitive electoral contest since the end of apartheid 30 years ago, Al Jazeera reported.

Zuma, 81, a key figure in South Africa’s history, served as president from 2009 to 2018, rising from his anti-apartheid activism alongside Nelson Mandela. However, his presidency was marred by allegations of corruption, leading to his forced resignation in 2018 under pressure from the African National Congress (ANC).

On Thursday, the Electoral Commission barred Zuma from running because of a 2021 conviction in which a court sentenced him to 15 months in prison for defying an order to appear before a judicial commission investigating corruption allegations during his term in office.

He was granted medical parole after two months and allowed to serve the rest of the sentence under house arrest. However, South Africa’s constitution blocks people convicted and sentenced to more than 12 months in prison from holding office, according to the Associated Press.

The ban comes as South Africa prepares to hold general elections on May 29, a race that comes as the ANC – which has ruled South Africa since 1994 – is grappling with diminishing support, accusations of corruption and economic stagnation.

Despite his fall from grace within the ANC, Zuma’s influence remains strong in South Africa’s most populous provinces, including his home province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Last year, he threw his support behind the newly-formed uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MK) – named after the ANC’s former military wing that was co-founded by Mandela.

Analysts said the MK Party’s emergence as a contender challenging the ANC’s decades-long dominance has injected new dynamics into South African politics.

Last week, electoral authorities rejected an ANC petition to prevent the MK Party’s participation in the May vote.

Meanwhile, polls showed that a majority of voters in KwaZulu-Natal would vote for the MK Party. Other surveys predicted that the MK Party could gain 11 percent of the national vote while the ANC would see its share fall below 50 percent for the first time in 30 years.

While Zuma’s exclusion could dampen the MK Party’s momentum, it also risks galvanizing the former leader’s loyal supporters, portraying him as a victim of political persecution.

Bling, Bling

PERU

Peruvian authorities raided the home of President Dina Boluarte and the presidential palace over the weekend as part of an “unlawful enrichment” probe over reports that the leader had been wearing Rolex watches since taking office in December 2022, the New York Times reported.

Last month, Peruvian prosecutors launched an investigation into Boluarte after an online news program showed she started wearing luxurious watches in the last 16 months.

Local outlets later reported that she had been wearing a number of Rolex watches – one reportedly costing at least $14,000 – and a $50,000 Cartier bracelet. They added that banking authorities also found around $300,000 in deposits of unknown origin made to Boluarte’s personal account before she took office.

The raid came after prosecutors said the president failed to appear for a scheduled appointment last week to explain how she obtained the expensive items and her refusal to allow them to execute a search warrant on her house.

Authorities suspect Boluarte has violated Peru’s laws that require elected officials to report any assets worth more than $2,700 and disclose any gifts received from third parties.

Boluarte denied wrongdoing and accused the outlets of promoting “chaos and uncertainty.” Ministers in her cabinet also voiced support for the president, with some suggesting that the watches were knockoffs, while others calling the raid “unconstitutional” and “disproportionate.”

The probe comes amid economic woes and increasing poverty in Peru, which has experienced a series of political crises and six presidents in as many years.

Analysts said the controversy could reignite political turmoil and erode Boluarte’s support, which has already been low since she took office.

Boluarte, a former civil servant turned politician for a Marxist party, served as vice president under President Pedro Castillo, before succeeding him following his impeachment and arrest in 2022 for attempting to seize control of Congress and the justice system.

Despite earlier promises to resign and pave the way for new elections, her decision to replace Castillo sparked violent protests in late 2022 and early 2023, resulting in 49 civilian deaths in police and military crackdowns on protesters.

A January poll labeled her as the least popular president in Latin America with just a nine-percent approval rating.

DISCOVERIES

Inhale, Exhale

Some individuals, to blow off steam, go for a run.

Unfortunately, researchers now say that it is counter-productive in dealing with anger, New Atlas reported.

In their study, they addressed a psychoanalytic theory popularized by Sigmund Freud called ‘catharsis,’ which calls for physical and verbal expressions to release emotions such as anger. A modern English equivalent to this Greek word would be ‘venting.’

After analyzing 154 studies involving more than 10,000 participants, the scientists concluded that there was no evidence to claim that venting works.

They followed the two-factor theory of emotion proposed by psychologists Stanley Schachter and Jerome Singer. It states that to experience emotion, a person first reacts physiologically to a stimulus, which their mind then processes and identifies.

According to this theory, stimuli such as smashing plates or hitting a punching bag can worsen anger. And while apparently innocent, running increases anger, too, because it boosts physical arousal.

However, not all physical activities have this outcome. A game of basketball or soccer may have the opposite effect because it features a crucial element of play.

Nonetheless, the study favored a type of solution: It showed that arousal-decreasing activities such as yoga and meditation are efficient ways to reduce anger.

These activities have gained popularity in recent decades as increasingly more people have started to try to alleviate stress.

“Showing that the same strategies that work for stress actually also work for anger is beneficial,” one scientist told New Atlas.

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