Middle East Study Centre—Newsletter May 2024


MESC Lecture Timetable


Weds, 8 May, 5pm London time

MESC Leadership Seminar

Marwan Muasher

Now Or Never: A Viable Solution to the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict Can Wait No Longer

Chair and Discussant: Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor (MESC)

Discussants: Sir Tom Phillips (MESC)

Rt Hon Alistair Burt (MESC)


Weds, 29 May 2024, 5pm London time

MESC Ambassador Forum

HRH Prince Khalid bin Bandar Al Saud

Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom

In Conversation on:

The Role of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East and the International Community

Link to register:

Chair: Professor Simon Smith (MESC)

Discussants: Sir Tom Phillips (MESC)

Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor (MESC)


Weds, 5 June 2024, 5:00-7:00 pm London time

MESC Book Celebration 2024

Please register here:

Professor Trevor Burnard

Professor Hall Gardner

Professor Lester Grabbe

Chair: Professor Jo Carby-Hall


MESC Editorials


The Day After: Gaza and Israel need Superforecaster leaders to change reality for better

Jerusalem Post, 1 May 2024,

Raphael Cohen-Almagor

The world needs ‘superforecaster’ leaders to build a better reality for Gaza, Israel – opinion:  In their book Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner argue that good decision-makers need to be good predictors of outcomes of their decision-making.


Reminiscing Edward Said

Times of Israel, 3 May 2024

Raphael Cohen-Almagor





Iran attacks Israel with over 300 drones, missiles

Iran has launched a massive aerial attack on Israel, two weeks after a deadly strike on its consulate in Syria.  Iran unleashed a barrage of missiles and drones on Saturday night and early on Sunday, targeting Israel in retaliation for April 1’s suspected Israeli strike on its consulate in Damascus, which killed 13 people. . . .


Iran’s massive aerial attack marks the first direct strike by Iran on Israeli territory from Iranian soil. Iran called the attack Operation True Promise.

The attack began on Saturday about 20:00 GMT. It lasted about five hours, according to United States officials.  During the attack, explosions were heard in cities across Israel, including Tel Aviv. The explosions were also heard in Jerusalem, and air raid sirens sounded in more than 720 locations as Israeli forces sought to shoot down the projectiles.


Israel’s chief military spokesman, Daniel Hagari, said Iran’s attack involved more than 120 ballistic missiles, 170 drones and more than 30 cruise missiles, according to a report by The Associated Press news agency.  The Israeli military also said the vast majority of the projectiles were intercepted outside the country’s borders with help from the US, the United Kingdom and France. Jordan also shot down some of the missiles aimed at Israel as they were flying through Jordanian airspace.


Israel’s military added that a “small number of hits were identified”. In a base in southern Israel, “minor damage occurred to the infrastructure”, it said.  A seven-year-old girl was also severely injured by missile fragments while other patients sustained minor injuries and some were treated for anxiety.  US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Sunday that the US also intercepted “dozens” of missiles and drones launched at Israel from Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

. . .


During the attack, Israel’s military ordered residents in the northern Israeli-occupied Golan Heights – near the Syrian and Lebanese borders – and in the southern cities of Nevatim, Dimona and Eilat to remain near bomb shelters.

Nevatim is the site of an Israeli airbase while Dimona has a nuclear reactor on its outskirts. Eilat is Israel’s Red Sea port, which has suffered a sharp decline in operations because of repeated attacks by Yemen’s Houthis on ships using the waterway.

Al Jazeera, 14 April


Iranian air base reportedly attacked in ‘limited’ Israeli reprisal strike

Iran downplays apparent retaliation and Israel keeps mum in sign both sides are looking to climb back from brink of war following international pressure for restraint.  Explosions were heard near the Iranian city of Isfahan early Friday as Israel reportedly launched a heavily anticipated reprisal strike for an Iranian attack on Israel days earlier, defying international pressure to stand down.


There was no official confirmation of a strike from Israeli authorities; state-run media in Iran reported only that air defenses were activated, downplaying claims of an attack on a military site in the city some 315 kilometers (196 miles) south of Tehran and describing the incident as business-as-usual.  But unnamed Israeli and American officials told US news outlets that Israel had carried out a strike. And the New York Times said three Iranian sources confirmed that a military air base in Isfahan had been struck. The scope of the damage was not clear.


The apparently limited nature of the strike, reportedly carried out with drones rather than missiles or airstrikes, and the lack of official acknowledgment will likely give the regime in Iran the strategic deniability needed to wriggle out of its bellicose threats to attack Israel a second time, providing an early indication that both Israel and Iran may be seeking to step back from the brink of war.  The attack had been widely expected, with Israel providing indications throughout the week that it would not let an unprecedented Iranian barrage of over 300 ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and drones early Sunday pass without a response, leading to fears of spiraling tit-for-tat attacks giving way to all-out war.

Times of Israel, 19 April





Turkey says it halts trade with Israel over Gaza aid access

Turkey’s Ministry of Trade cites humanitarian crisis in Gaza for its decision to suspend imports and exports.  Turkey has halted exports and imports to and from Israel, the Turkish Ministry of Trade says, citing the “worsening humanitarian tragedy” in Gaza.  “Export and import transactions related to Israel have been stopped, covering all products,” the ministry said in a statement on Thursday.


“Turkey will strictly and decisively implement these new measures until the Israeli Government allows an uninterrupted and sufficient flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza.”  The announcement came after Israel’s foreign minister said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was breaking agreements by blocking ports from handling Israeli imports and exports.  “This is how a dictator behaves, disregarding the interests of the Turkish people and businessmen, and ignoring international trade agreements,” Israel Katz posted on X.

Al Jazeera, 2 May





Frustrated Qatar prepares to kick Hamas out

The emirate has acted as a mediator between the West and the Palestinian militants but has concluded that it’s not worth the trouble.  When Israel told the Qataris in 2017 that one of the Hamas leaders they were hosting was planning attacks, they promptly showed him the door. Later, Israel contacted Qatar again to pass a message to Saleh al-Arouri, the founding commander of Hamas’s military wing, who had by then decamped to Beirut, although Arouri would not take the call.


Qatari officials have pointed to that episode in arguments they have made to increasingly hostile American politicians since last October, when the militant group’s massacre of 1,139 Israelis set off the punishing seven-month war in Gaza.  First, Qatar took in Hamas’s political leadership in 2012 with America and Israel’s blessing. Second, the US administration has privately encouraged officials to keep up their mediation role, because expelling Hamas — as some US politicians demanded — would sever a vital channel with the group.  But Doha no longer cares. In recent weeks two western diplomats and officials familiar with the matter say the Qatari government has concluded that the thankless task of hosting and mediating with Hamas’s obstinate leaders is not worth the trouble.


Earlier this year, Texas A&M University said it would close its campus in Doha, which Qatar criticised as a decision based on “disinformation”, while the Republican senator Ted Budd has introduced a bill threatening to end US recognition of Qatar as a non-Nato ally unless it expels the Hamas leaders. For a country that hosts the region’s largest American military base and invested heavily in shoring up its image when hosting the 2022 Fifa World Cup, the criticism has stung.

Sunday Times, 21 April



Gaza War


Hamas Actually Believed It Would Conquer Israel

In preparation, it divided the country into cantons.  Tens of thousands of Gazans have fled to Egypt since the war broke out, many of them members of the elite who are able to pay the enormous costs. I met old friends in Cairo who were still astonished at the messianic insanity that seized Hamas’ leadership


CAIRO – In Gaza, they’re known as the “new Jews.” They’re the rich merchants of the Gaza Strip who were the first to flee for their lives after October 7, managed to save themselves and their families, and are continuing to run their businesses safely by remote. While enjoying the good life in Cairo’s luxury hotels, they’re selling the Strip to the highest bidders. When a kilogram of sugar costs 70 shekels (almost $19) and a liter of gas 150 shekels, it’s only natural for the 1.5 million internal refugees in Gaza to add the profiteers to their list of enemies, after Israel and Hamas.

Haaretz, 5 April


Hamas leaders actually thought they would defeat and conquer Israel on Oct 7th

This article from Haaretz, based on interviews with exiled Palestinians and a little-known Hamas conference from 2021, has compelling evidence that Hamas leaders were on a religious frenzy leading up to Oct 7th and actually thought they would: .


  1. Topple Israel, taking it over in its entirety.
  2. Banish, kill or forcefully convert Israeli Jews into islam.
  3. Enslave Jewish engineers and other professionals into serving them as reparations for Israeli existence.
  4. Take over all legal function and physical property of Israel, creating an Islamic State Of Palestine.


Original report of conference from 2021, which was seen as Israeli propaganda or Hamas fantasy at the time:


As my analysis goes, this is a very real of irrational belief and extreme inability to judge military strength creating an irrational policy impacting the world.  Additionaly, not only is this the mindset of Hamas leadership, but most of this leadership remains alive, and that most Palestinians support its continued rule as per recent polling.  Israel can do nothing except take over Gaza, completely reoccupying for 5-10 years while doing a post-WW2 style reeducation and deradicalization campaign. Otherwise another Oct 7th is very much on the horizon. There can be no reconciliation or peace or middle ground when these are the beliefs of the Hamas leadership.

Reddit, 7 April


Hamas organized confab in 2021 to plot administration of ‘liberated Palestine’

Terror group aimed to bring back Palestinian refugees, kill Israeli fighters, use educated Jews for their expertise, and be recognized as Israel’s successor at UN.  Two years before its October 7 assault on southern Israel, Hamas drafted a “strategic vision” for the governing of “liberated Palestine” after the supposed inevitable demise of the State of Israel.  At a conference held in Gaza in September 2021, Hamas and other Palestinian factions discussed preparations for the future administration of the State of Palestine, intended to make up the whole territory “from the river to the sea,” including the area of the State of Israel.


The conclusions reached at the conference, titled “Promise of the Hereafter – Post-Liberation Palestine,” were publicized by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) in an October 2021 report.  The confab was reportedly funded by Hamas and sponsored by Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar.  Today, it is apparent that the conference was not merely a rhetorical exercise, but the expression of a clear intent by Gazan terror factions to destroy Israel, the stated goal of their October 7 onslaught, when some 1,200 were brutally massacred and 253 abducted to Gaza.

Times of Israel, 22 April


Binyamin Netanyahu condemns US move to sanction Israeli troops

The measures against the Netzah Yehuda battalion, accused of human rights abuses, would make them ineligible for military aid or training.  The United States is poised to pass sanctions against an Israeli military battalion accused of human rights abuses in the West Bank, an unprecedented move that has drawn condemnation from Israeli leaders.


The decision against the Netzah Yehuda battalion is expected to be announced within days, the US news site Axios reported. It would be the first time Washington has placed sanctions on an IDF unit.  Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, criticised the move as the “height of absurdity” in a message on X/Twitter, while his coalition partner Benny Gantz wrote the sanctions would set “a dangerous precedent” and, in a telephone call later, asked Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, for a rethink.


The battalion, which had started as a unit for ultra-orthodox conscripts and attracted extremist Israeli settlers in the West Bank, would not be eligible to receive US military aid or training.  Washington has targeted several right-wing Israelis associated with the settler movement in the territory, including a senior aid to the hard-line national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Times, 22 April


Israel accused of possible war crime over killing of West Bank boy

In the early afternoon of 29 November last year, several Palestinian boys descended on to their street in the occupied West Bank, where they often played together.  Minutes later, two of them lay dead from gunshots fired by Israeli soldiers – Basil, 15, and eight-year-old Adam.


As part of an investigation into the conduct of Israel’s security forces in the West Bank, which has been under military occupation for more than half a century, the BBC has pieced together what happened on the day the two boys were killed.  Mobile phone and CCTV footage, information about the movements of Israel’s military, witness testimony and detailed investigation of the scene, including taking measurements, combine to reveal evidence suggesting serious human rights violations.


The evidence we found has prompted Ben Saul, UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, to say the death of Adam appears to be a “war crime”.  Another legal expert, Dr Lawrence Hill-Cawthorne, described the use of lethal force as “indiscriminate”.  The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said the circumstances of the deaths were “under review” but said “live fire is used only in order to remove immediate threats or for arrest purposes, following arrest protocols after exhausting other options”.


With violence having surged in the West Bank in the months since Hamas’s attack on Israel from Gaza on 7 October, the BBC has also found evidence of Palestinian homes being vandalised with graffiti, Palestinian civilians threatened with weapons and told to leave the territory for neighbouring Jordan, and the possible mutilation of the body of a Palestinian gunman.

BBC News, 2 May


Biden condemned violent campus protests

President Biden delivered an unscheduled address from the White House today in which he denounced the violence and the antisemitism that have erupted on several college campuses. It is the first time the president has addressed at length the pro-Palestinian protests that have disrupted the end of the school year at dozens of universities coast to coast.  “There’s the right to protest, but not the right to cause chaos,” Biden said. “People have the right to get an education, the right to get a degree, the right to walk across the campus safely without fear of being attacked.”


Biden, however, rejected the idea of deploying National Guard troops to quell the protests, a move some Republicans have suggested. He also said that the protests — which vary in their demands, but typically call for an end to the war in Gaza — had not influenced his views on the war between Israel and Hamas.  The demonstrations carried on: Hours ago, the police removed protesters who had been occupying a library at Portland State University in Oregon. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, activists erected 30 new tents, a day after a previous encampment was cleared. In total, nearly 2,000 arrests have been made nationwide. . . .  Some colleges, including Brown and Northwestern, have ended encampments by striking deals with protesters, drawing criticism from some Jewish leaders.

New York Times, 2 May


UK universities’ Gaza camps: Crafting in drizzle and pints at the pub

Clashes in the US have inspired activists, but so far Britain’s student protest movement is a more subdued affair. . . . Nobody has paid closer attention to events in the US than like-minded activist groups at Britain’s universities. On Wednesday, with tent bags in their hands and social media campaigns ready to launch, some of those pro-Palestinian groups invoked the disruption in the US as they called for British students to unleash a similar wave of protests.  Penny Mordaunt, the Commons leader, warned on Thursday that protesters should expect an “extremely strict response” if the US tactics were replicated. Such an eventuality seems unlikely, however.

Times, 2 May


Ceasefire talks intensify in Cairo

Efforts have intensified to secure a deal for a ceasefire in Gaza and the release of hostages, with talks resuming in Cairo on Saturday.  Hamas said its delegation was travelling in a “positive spirit” after studying the latest truce proposal.  “We are determined to secure an agreement in a way that fulfils Palestinians’ demands,” it said.


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “taking the ceasefire should be a no-brainer” for the militant group.  Hamas’s negotiators have returned to the Egyptian capital to resume long-running talks – brokered by Egypt and Qatar – that would temporarily pause Israel’s offensive in Gaza in return for freeing hostages.  In a statement released last night, Hamas said it wanted to “mature” the agreement on the table, which suggests there are areas where the two sides still disagree.


The main issue appears to involve whether the ceasefire deal would be permanent or temporary.  Hamas is insisting any deal makes a specific commitment towards an end to the war, but Israel is reluctant to agree while the group remains active in Gaza. It’s thought the wording being discussed involves a 40-day pause in fighting while hostages are released, and the release of a number of Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails.


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly insisted there will be a fresh military ground operation in the southern Gazan city of Rafah, even if a deal is agreed. Israeli media reported on Saturday that his position remained unchanged despite the latest round of talks.  But the US – Israel’s biggest diplomatic and military ally – is reluctant to back a new offensive that could cause significant civilian casualties, and has insisted on seeing a plan to protect displaced Palestinians first. An estimated 1.4 million people have taken shelter in Rafah after fleeing the fighting in the northern and central areas of the strip.


Addressing the prospects of a truce on Saturday, minister Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, said: “An official response to the outline has not yet been received. When accepted – the war management cabinet will meet and discuss it. Until then, I suggest to the ‘political sources’ and all decision-makers to wait for official updates, to act calmly and not to get into hysteria for political reasons.”


The Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Williams Burns, has travelled to Cairo to help broker the latest talks, according to two US officials who spoke to the BBC’s US news partner, CBS News.  Mr Blinken has also been a key figure in the negotiations, and visited Israel again this week to meet Mr Netanyahu. Speaking on Friday in Arizona, Mr Blinken said “the only thing standing between the people of Gaza and a ceasefire was Hamas”.

BBC News, 4 May


Tens of thousands rally for hostage deal as Gaza ceasefire talks continue

Tens of thousands of Israelis rallied late into the night calling for a deal to bring hostages home, ahead of further ceasefire talks.  Protesters in Tel Aviv chanted “war is not holy, life is”, with some accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of aiming to prolong the conflict.  It came as a Hamas delegation met mediators in Egypt on Saturday.  The group said there were no new developments, but added “a new round will begin” on Sunday.


Negotiators have resumed long-running negotiations in Cairo – brokered by Egypt and Qatar – on pausing Israel’s offensive in Gaza in return for freeing hostages.  The main sticking point appears to be whether the deal would be temporary or permanent.  It is thought the wording being discussed involves a 40-day pause in fighting while hostages are released, and the release of a number of Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails.


An adviser to the Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said the group was looking at the latest proposal with “full seriousness”.  But he repeated a demand that any deal would have to explicitly include an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and complete end to the war.  An anonymous Israeli government official told local media on Saturday that Israel would “under no circumstances agree to end the war as part of an agreement to free our abductees”.  They added: “The IDF will enter Rafah and destroy the remaining Hamas battalions there – whether there is a temporary pause to free our captives or not.”

BBC News, 5 May




Attack of 7 October predicted

Ex-Mossad spy whose novel predicted October 7 fears for Israel’s future.  Mishka Ben-David wrote book in 2017 in which Hamas attacks kibbutzim in the south and featuring an Iranian strike from the skies.  His writing anticipated a Hamas attack on Israeli kibbutzim and an Iranian strike from the skies, but former Mossad spy turned thriller author Mishka Ben-David is now concerned about what lies ahead.


Since the October 7 Hamas attack, one of 72-year-old Ben-David’s bestsellers has taken on an eerily prophetic tone.  Published in 2017, “The Shark” describes a deadly conflict that starts with a Hamas terror raid on kibbutzim near the Gaza border and culminates in a devastating Israeli attack on Iran in retaliation.  Last weekend, Iran launched hundreds of missiles and drones at Israel, which now appears to be preparing a response to this unprecedented attack. The vast majority of the missiles and drones were shot down by Israel and its allies.


The crisis is now “just a few steps” from the apocalyptic events envisioned in his book, Ben-David, the son of a Holocaust survivor, said calmly as he welcomed AFP to his home in the hills around Jerusalem.  The dystopian opening pages of “The Shark” describe Hamas men breaking into Kibbutz Kfar Aza in southern Israel.  Seven years after the book’s publication, the kibbutz was among the hardest hit in the Palestinian terrorist organization’s October 7 attack, with dozens killed. In total, terrorists killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped 253.


While researching for the book, the prolific author visited Israeli kibbutzim bordering Gaza, wondering: “Where would be the best place for Hamas to attack?”  “I thought [the area] is not protected for a scenario like this,” he said.  Ben-David, who served in Mossad for 12 years, is well placed to know that an army or intelligence agencies can fail.

Times of Israel, 18 April


Anti-Semitism and Anti-Judaism


Braverman calls for Met chief to quit over treatment of Jews

Former home secretary says Sir Mark Rowley ‘needs to accept responsibility’ after a ‘litany of failures’ in policing pro-Palestine protests.  Suella Braverman is leading calls for the head of the Metropolitan Police to quit as the force faces mounting pressure after threatening to arrest an “openly Jewish” man during a pro-Palestine rally.


The former home secretary’s intervention comes as Oliver Dowden, the deputy prime minister, suggested that Scotland Yard has been “disrespecting” Jews. Speaking exclusively to The Telegraph, he said that it was “hard to think of any other minority that would be treated as disrespectfully as Jews seem to be”.  Sir Mark Rowley has been summoned to a meeting with Chris Philp, the policing minister, who said he was “deeply concerned” by the Met’s handling of counter-protestors at Pro-Palestine rallies.


“No one should be told their religion is provocative, nor an innocent person threatened with arrest solely because of someone else’s anticipated unreasonable reaction,” Mr Philp said.  The Met has faced repeated criticism over pro-Palestinian marches, which have become regular weekend events in central London and have been criticised for displays of anti-Semitism.  Two leading Jewish groups – the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the National Jewish Assembly – have added their voices to calls for Sir Mark to quit, while Lord Wolfson, a former justice minister, said the Met “needs a new approach and also, it would seem, new leadership”.


Gideon Falter, the Jewish man threatened with arrest, said last night: “The time has come for Sir Mark Rowley to go. He must resign or be removed by the Mayor of London and the Home Secretary.  “What happened to me was a disgrace. Imagine what it felt like to be told by police officers that being ‘quite openly Jewish’ would ‘antagonise’ people and so I must leave the area on pain of arrest.”  He added: “Sir Mark has the distinction of presiding over the worst surge in anti-Semitic criminality in our capital city since records began.”

Telegraph, 20 April


Police deny involvement in covering up London Holocaust memorial

The memorial was hidden under blue tarpaulin while tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters marched on Saturday.  The Holocaust memorial was the only monument in Hyde Park to be covered on Saturday.  The Metropolitan Police have denied involvement in the decision to cover up London’s Holocaust memorial to protect it during pro-Palestinian protests.


The memorial in Hyde Park was covered in a blue tarpaulin on Saturday, as tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched from Parliament Square to a rally in Hyde Park.  After the decision to cover the monument was reported, the Metropolitan Police released a statement distancing itself. It said: “The decision to cover the memorial was taken by park authorities, not the police.”


However, a statement by the Royal Parks suggested planning for demonstrations was carried out in collaboration with the Met Police.  A spokeswoman for the Royal Parks said: “During demonstrations and major events, the Royal Parks works closely with the Metropolitan Police to ensure the safety of park users and its environment.

Times, 29 April


BBC correspondent says the broadcaster has a pro-Israel bias and should be questioning the ‘facts’ of October 7 – sparking fury among Jewish colleagues

November poll found those sympathetic to Israel more likely to feel BBC biased towards Palestinian ‘side’, with Palestine ‘supporters’ believing the opposite.  A BBC correspondent has accused the broadcaster of having a pro-Israel bias, urging his employer to question the ‘facts’ of Hamas’ October 7 attacks.


Rami Ruhayem, a Lebanon-based journalist for BBC Arabic, accused the BBC of bias in an email sent to hundreds of staff, prompting complaints from Jewish workers.  In the correspondence, he claimed the BBC had failed to properly investigate claims made by Israel about Hamas’ deadly incursion into southern Israel last year.  ‘Why does the BBC seem to have steered away from the growing body of evidence that casts doubt on the official Israeli version of the events of October 7?’ he wrote.  The email provoked concerns from Jewish staffers at the BBC, according to The Times, which reported staff are understood to have launched a formal complaint.

Daily Mail, 2 May

Lester L. Grabbe

5 May 2024




Middle East Study Centre—Newsletter March 2024

LSE Workshop

Call for papers:  ‘Beyond the Israel-Hamas War: Arab-Israeli Relations in a Wider Context’.

MESC Programme 2024

6 March 2024, 5pm London time

MESC Ambassador Forum

Ambassador Koray Ertaş

Boundaries to Freedom of Expression: Burning the Quran

Chair: Dr Keshab Bhattarai (MESC)

Discussants: Professor Niaz Shah (MESC)

Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor (MESC)


Easter vacation

25 March – 7 April 2024


17 April, 6pm London time

MESC Ambassador Forum

Ambassador James Franklin Jeffrey

The Middle East after Gaza

Chair: Professor Glenn Burgess (MESC)

Discussants: Sir Tom Phillips (MESC)

Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor (MESC)


8 May, 5pm London time

MESC Leadership Seminar

Marwan Muasher

Now Or Never: A Viable Solution to the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict Can Wait No Longer

Chair and Discussant: Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor (MESC)

Discussants: Sir Tom Phillips (MESC)

Rt Hon Alistair Burt (MESC)


29 May, 5pm London time

MESC Ambassador Forum

Saudi Arabia Ambassador to the United Kingdom

(invitation sent and received; awaiting details)


5 June, 5pm London time

MESC Book Celebration

Chair: Professor Jo Carby-Hall

Professor Trevor Burnard

Professor Hall Gardner

Professor Lester Grabbe

Professor Dan Kurtzer

Professor Gerald Midgley

Professor Ilan Peleg

(incomplete list)




UN nuclear watchdog chief says Iran continues to enrich uranium to high levels

Iran continues to enrich uranium well beyond the needs for commercial nuclear use, despite UN pressure to stop it, IAEA chief Rafael Grossi says, adding he wants to visit Tehran next month for the first time in a year to end the “drifting apart.”  Speaking to Reuters after he briefed EU foreign ministers on the subject, the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog says that while the pace of uranium enrichment has slowed slightly since the end of last year, Iran is still enriching at an elevated rate of around 7 kilograms of uranium per month, to 60% purity.


Enrichment to 60% brings uranium close to weapons grade, and is not necessary for commercial use in nuclear power production. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons, but no other state has enriched to that level without producing them.  Under a defunct 2015 agreement with world powers, Iran could enrich uranium only to 3.67%. After then-president Donald Trump pulled the US out of that deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, Iran breached the original deal and moved well beyond the its nuclear restrictions.

Reuters, 19 Feb.


Iran targets relatives and colleagues of London journalists

The Iranian regime has targeted journalists working in London by hauling their relatives before its intelligence ministry and blocking their colleagues from making financial transactions, documents show.


A leaked memo from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence outlines a campaign of fear and hostility against journalists who live abroad and produce independent reports about the state. Fifteen relatives of journalists, who work for the outlet Iran International which was forced by death threats to move from its west London headquarters last year, were summoned to meetings where they were warned that they faced “legal consequences”.


The regime also blocked more than 70 of the channel’s support staff from carrying out financial transactions in Iran in a move that it boasted had a “psychological impact resulting in stress and confusion”.  The documents, leaked after a hacktivist group breached the servers of the Iranian judiciary, lift the lid on the campaign of intimidation being waged by Iran. MI5 has previously said that Tehran was behind more than a dozen assassination and kidnap plots in Britain.


The leak concerns tactics used by the regime after its bloody crackdown in late 2019 on protests that started over fuel prices. Reuters reported that about 1,500 people were killed after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, ordered officials to “do whatever it takes” to end the unrest.  In a memo dated November 30, 2019, and marked top secret, a senior counterintelligence official told Tehran’s prosecutor-general, Ali Alghasi, that Iran International had broadcast interviews with people opposed to the regime.

Times, 22 Feb.


‘I’m the top target for the brutal Iranian regime.’

Hossein Abedini, the Iranian dissident who has survived multiple attempts on his life, believes Tehran is becoming more desperate – and brutal.


Hossein Abedini, an Iranian dissident, was in the back of a car returning to his Westminster office following meetings in parliament earlier this month when he received his latest call from counter-terrorism police.  The officer from Scotland Yard’s new hostile state threat unit was checking in to make sure he was taking all the necessary security precautions. Was he using licensed taxi companies? Did he have an alarm system?  Don’t open the door to anyone, he was told.


The threat to Abedini’s life was regarded as so serious that the same unit had called him a couple of weeks earlier, in January. Detectives also visited him in his north London home just before Christmas.  Abedini was not the only Iranian dissident living in London to receive such a visit. Officers went to see others, who, like him, had fled the regime, to warn them of an increased risk of violence and kidnapping given spiralling events in the Middle East.

Times, 2 March



Houthis claim they hit British ship, downed US drone over Yemen

The Houthi group says it hit a British cargo ship that is believed to be significantly damaged and shot down a US drone over its territory as the Yemeni group continued to target ships in the Red Sea demanding an end to Israel’s war on Gaza.


The Houthi claims of attacks come as the United States carried out five strikes in Yemen late on Saturday night as part of Washington’s military campaign after Houthi targeting of Israeli-linked vessels disrupted global trade passing through the Red Sea. Houthis have now expanded their attacks to include US and UK ships after the two countries launched strikes on the war-torn Arab nation.

Al Jazeera, 19 Feb.


Rubymar, a UK-owned cargo ship hit by Yemen’s Houthis, sinks in Red Sea

A cargo ship that was abandoned in the southern Red Sea after an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels has sunk after days of taking on water, according to officials.  The sinking of the Rubymar on Saturday has prompted concerns of disastrous ecological damage to the Red Sea and its coral reefs.


The Belize-flagged, United Kingdom-owned cargo ship, was carrying more than 41,000 tonnes of fertiliser and had leaked oil for several days after it came under attack.  Yemen’s internationally recognised government, in a statement on Saturday, said the ship sank “last night, coinciding with weather factors and strong winds at sea”.


The United States military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) released an image of the vessel on its side and said it went under at 2:15am local time on Saturday (23:15 GMT on Friday).  “The approximately 21,000 metric tons of ammonium phosphate sulfate fertilizer that the vessel was carrying presents an environmental risk in the Red Sea,” CENTCOM said in a statement. “As the ship sinks it also presents a subsurface impact risk to other ships transiting the busy shipping lanes of the waterway.”

Al Jazeera, 2 March


Allies have gone missing in Red Sea stand-off

[Comment by Roger Boyes] It is a mark of the times that the bombardment of a critical world trading route is seen as a third-order problem. Yes, the United States and Britain are striking at the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels to stop the harassment of merchant vessels in the Red Sea but there is an astonishing lack of urgency among other mercantile nations to help them.


No one, it seems, has the appetite to join a western police force even when its mission — to secure the uninterrupted and safe passage of goods around the globe — is morally justifiable.  The reluctance is down to two broad factors. The first is that US authority to lead is slipping away as the presidential election approaches. The second is that an armed western naval presence in contested waters might turn deterrence into a driver of escalation. . . .


As Emmanuel Macron’s presidential tenure winds down, so his suspicions about US leadership become more vocal. There are precedents for this. Charles de Gaulle reckoned America had more power than was good for it or good for the world. His challenge came in the 1960s when US limits were becoming obvious to everyone. Jacques Chirac, four decades later, warned against Washington’s unipolar omnipotence. De Gaulle’s warnings on Vietnam were not wrong, nor were Chirac’s on Iraq.  But they set a pattern that Macron is increasingly willing to follow, even when, in the case of the Red Sea, there is a common western interest to be defended. Perhaps he is anticipating a new US presidency that will be indifferent to foreign crises or, under the Biden presidency, a drift towards war with Iran. . . .


So far the loss of life has been minimal but the loss of face is enormous. That is what happens when power starts to bleed away from a great power.

Times, 28 Feb.



NB: the Israel-Gaza conflict has been on the news daily in the past month.  Only some individual episodes and comments are included here.  At the moment, hope is being placed in a cease fire for the month of Ramadan, but so far no agreement has been reached.  This conflict has also affected the political scene in the UK, which is discussed in a separate section after this one.


A fifth of the Israeli hostages in Gaza are dead, Israel said

An internal Israeli intelligence report concluded that at least 30 of the remaining 136 Israeli hostages had died. That’s about a fifth of all the hostages who were captured by Hamas in the Oct. 7 attacks.


In addition to the confirmed deaths, the report estimated that at least 20 other hostages may have been killed. The news is likely to add fuel to the push by the families of many hostages for Israel to prioritize a new hostage deal, instead of pressing ahead with its invasion of Gaza.


In related news, Hamas responded to a cease-fire framework that could free hostages in Gaza, though Secretary of State Antony Blinken cautioned that there was still “a lot of work to be done.”

New York Times, 6 Feb.


Blinken: Israelis were dehumanized on Oct. 7; that can’t be a license to dehumanize others

Secretary: IDF killing too many civilians. PM: Absolute victory within reach; no surrender to ‘delusional’ Hamas demands. Ex-hostage: ‘Saving the hostages would be absolute victory’.


“We urge Israel to do more to help civilians, knowing full well that it faces an enemy that would never meet those standards,” says US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a Tel Aviv press conference, adding that Hamas embeds itself among civilians and fires rockets from hospitals, mosques and schools.  He calls Hamas “an enemy whose leaders surround themselves with hostages,” and says it is “an enemy that has declared publicly its goal to kill as many innocent civilians as it can, simply because they’re Jews, and to wipe Israel off the map.”


“That’s why we’ve made clear that Israel is fully justified in confronting Hamas and other terrorist organizations,” Blinken says. “That’s why the United States has done more than any country to support Israel’s right to ensure that October 7 never happens again.”  Nonetheless, he now uses caustic language to upbraid Israel on its conduct of the war in Gaza.  “Israelis were dehumanized in the most horrific way on October 7,” he says. “The hostages have been dehumanized every day since. But that cannot be a license to dehumanize others.”


“The overwhelming majority of people in Gaza had nothing to do with the attacks of October 7,” he maintains. “The families in Gaza whose survival depends on deliveries of aid from Israel are just like our families. They’re mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, who want to earn a decent living, send their kids to school, have a normal life. That’s who they are. That’s what they want. And we cannot, we must not, lose sight of that. We cannot, we must not, lose sight of our common humanity.”

Times of Israel, 7 Feb.


[Editorial comment from David Horovitz]

With IDF hamstrung and Hamas scenting a way out, Netanyahu dodges strategic decisions

. . . On the one hand, then, we have Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly insisting that the war will not end without “absolute victory” over Hamas and the return of all the hostages. And on the other, we have Hamas conditioning the return of the hostages on an end to the war in which it is anything but defeated.  At the same time, we have a US administration wary of publicly demanding a permanent ceasefire, but despairing in the face of Netanyahu’s refusal to set out a vision for a postwar Gaza, publicly critical of the death and devastation in Gaza, seeking to turn the crisis into an opportunity to advance a two-state solution and wider regional reconciliation, and deeply invested in efforts to get the hostages out.


The complexity of the current situation is exacerbated by the IDF’s beyond-urgent need for political assistance as it is forced to repeatedly delay targeting the last major Hamas strongholds in Gaza, at Rafah and along the Gaza-Egypt border, in the absence of politically engineered coordination between Jerusalem and Cairo. . . .


The Israeli government is facing near-impossible, near-contradictory imperatives: It needs to defeat an enemy that has perpetrated the most monstrous attack on Israelis in our history — in order to ensure that October 7 cannot happen again, deter our other enemies, and restore our citizens’ security. And it needs to secure the release of civilian hostages who were failed by the state and whose fate is being cynically leveraged by the enemy that abducted them to try to secure survival.


Nobody envies the government the challenges it now faces. But it risks failing its people again the longer it refuses to so much as debate, much less decide on, its strategic vision for Gaza; the longer it denies the IDF the room for maneuver it needs to complete the dismantling of Hamas’s army; the longer it enables Hamas to remain the only political address in Gaza, increasingly commandeering the humanitarian aid entering the Strip; and the longer it exudes an intolerable political disunity and practical dysfunction utterly at odds with the cohesive fighting forces putting their lives on the line in Israel’s defense.


It is way past time for the prime minister to tell his far-right partners that, no, Israel is not going to permanently reoccupy Gaza; that it is not an Israeli interest to retake civil and financial responsibility for 2.3 million hostile Gazans; that Israel must urgently work with the relevant parts of the international community to create a mechanism for non-Israeli civil governance in Gaza, and that if this is not to their taste, they are welcome to leave the government.  Endless bluster about “absolute victory” is meaningless without the practical political and military tools to attain it. And the only beneficiary of such paralyzing disunity at the top of Israeli governance is Hamas.

Times of Israel, 7 Feb.


IDF intel assesses that Hamas will ‘survive as terror group’ post-war

Document drawn up by Military Intelligence reportedly states that even if Israel dismantles Hamas’s organized military capabilities, it will continue to operate in Gaza.  Israel’s military intelligence circulated a document to Israeli leaders this week warning that even if the IDF succeeds in dismantling Hamas as an organized military force in Gaza, it will survive as “a terror group and a guerrilla group,” according to a Channel 12 report aired Thursday evening.


The document, drawn up by the research division of IDF Military Intelligence, reportedly also states that “authentic support remains” for Hamas among Gazans.  Given that there is currently no practical effort being made to put in place a plan for Gaza on the “day after” the war, the document further warns, “Gaza will become an area in deep crisis.”  Channel 12 investigative journalist Ilana Dayan reported that the document was presented on Monday to Israel’s political echelon, after it was discussed last weekend by senior IDF officers, Shin Bet officials and members of the National Security Council.


The “bottom line” is that the document constitutes a warning from those in military intelligence who carry out such assessments, said Dayan, that “Hamas will survive this [IDF] campaign as a terror group and a guerrilla group.”  “In this regard, at least,” she suggested, “there won’t be absolute victory” — as predicted and demanded by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since the start of the war.


The IDF Spokesman’s Office declined to comment on the TV report.  While Israeli officials have consistently publicly declared the goal of the war to be wiping out Hamas from the Strip, many countries and officials around the world have warned that it is not a feasible outcome.  US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in November that while Israel can dramatically reduce the threat from Hamas, eliminating the group and its ideology is likely impossible.

Times of Israel, 16 Feb.


Settlers riot in Palestinian West Bank village after terror attack, says rights group

Footage of cars set alight in the Palestinian village of Burqa in the northern West Bank emerges following the alleged Palestinian terror attack which took place close to the nearby illegal Homesh outpost.  The Yesh Din organization, which advocates against the settlement movement, says that residents of Burqa are reporting that Israeli settlers are rioting in the village and committing numerous acts of arson, and that some residents have been injured in the violence.


According to Yesh Din, residents say that IDF forces are currently preventing Palestinian emergency services from reaching the area.  The official Palestinian news agency Wafa reports that “colonists” threw Molotov cocktails at a home, setting it ablaze along with a vehicle parked next to it, adding that the road between Burqa and nearby Sebastia has been closed by the IDF.  The IDF says the rioters have dispersed and that it is looking into the reports of vandalism and arson in Burqa, saying it is unaware of any injuries in the incident.

Times of Israel, 19 Feb.



United Kingdom

NB: two issues arose relating to the Israel-Gaza conflict.  One concerned the several pro-Palestinian demonstrations through this month; the other was the Rochdale by-election.


London theatre cancels Douglas Murray’s pro-Israel event

An evening fundraising event for Israel’s Technion was cancelled on Sunday after staff at the Apollo Theatre in London refused to facilitate it.  Alan Aziz, chief executive of Technion UK, said staff could choose whether or not to work at events on a Sunday, when the theatre is normally closed. Technion had put together the event — a conversation between writer and broadcaster Douglas Murray and actress Louisa Clein — just three weeks ago.


He told Jewish News: “The Apollo told us that they had struggled to put together enough staff to work at the evening, but that eventually they did have a working crew.”  However, an unidentified person at the theatre chose, said Aziz, to distribute the email addresses of all those Apollo employees, to someone outside the theatre who was opposed to Israel. “All of them received threatening emails and told the management that they no longer wanted to work.” . . .


More than 800 tickets had been sold for the Apollo so it was vital for the Technion to locate another place large enough to accommodate such an audience. Eventually another venue agreed and almost 1,000 people turned up to hear Murray and Clein in conversation. . . . The following night, Murray addressed another capacity audience for the charity Emunah. In conversation with the journalist Sandy Rashty, he reflected on the domestic political scene ahead of a General Election this year and didn’t rule out entering politics himself in the future.

Jewish News, 5 Feb.


Israeli man and his friends are “hounded out of Soho Theatre”

An Israeli man and his friends were allegedly hounded out of London’s Soho Theatre by a large crowd after comedian Paul Currie encouraged his audience to chant ‘get the f*** out’ and ‘free Palestine’.  The ‘absurdist’ comedian from Belfast is alleged to have produced a Palestinian and Ukrainian flag to use as props as his one-hour show came to a close at the central London theatre – which used to be a synagogue – on Saturday night.  One member of the 200-strong audience said they started to feel ‘uneasy’ when Currie pulled the flags out and demanded the crowd stand and applaud – before he then allegedly launched a verbal attack on an Israeli man who stayed sat down.

Daily Mail, 12 Feb.


Labour withdraws support for Rochdale candidate after Israel-Gaza remarks

Labour has withdrawn its support for Azhar Ali, its candidate for this month’s Rochdale byelection, in the wake of controversial comments he made about the 7 October attacks on Israel.  In line with electoral law, Labour cannot replace Ali with another candidate because the deadline passed on 2 February. He will stand as a Labour candidate on the ballot paper, but if elected he will not hold the party whip and will sit as an independent MP.   Labour sources said that campaigners in Rochdale were told to stop leafleting and social media activity on Ali’s behalf at 5.30pm on Monday – an instruction that came from party HQ.

Guardian, 12 Feb.


Three guilty of terror offence over paraglider images at UK Palestine march

Three people who displayed images of paragliders at a pro-Palestinian march in central London a week after Hamas militants went on a bloody rampage in Israel have been found guilty of a terror offence.  Heba Alhayek, 29, Pauline Ankunda, 26, and Noimutu Olayinka Taiwo, 27, were each given a 12-month conditional discharge.


Deputy senior district judge Tan Ikram told them: “You crossed the line, but it would have been fair to say that emotions ran very high on this issue. Your lesson has been well learned.”  The three were not seeking to show support for Hamas, he said.  Alhayek and Ankunda attached images of paragliders to their backs with tape, while Taiwo stuck one to the handle of a placard.  They displayed the images on 14 October 2023, a week after militants from Hamas used paragliders to enter Israel from Gaza on 7 October. About 1,200 Israelis were killed in the attack and about 240 were abducted and taken to Gaza.


The three protesters were charged under the Terrorism Act with carrying or displaying an article to arouse reasonable suspicion that they are supporters of a banned organisation, Hamas, which they denied.  After a two-day trial at Westminster magistrates court, the three were found guilty on Tuesday after prosecutors argued it was “no coincidence” the defendants were displaying the images so soon after the attack.

Guardian, 13 Feb.


Calls to discipline judge who spared ‘paraglider women’

A judge who “decided not to punish” three women who displayed paraglider images at a protest has come under fire after appearing to support a social media post calling for a “free Palestine”. . . .


The trio were spared jail after Deputy Senior District Judge Tan Ikram said he had decided their lesson had been “well learned”.  Now the judge is facing allegations of a possible conflict of interest amid claims he liked a message on LinkedIn which had been posted by a barrister accused of promoting conspiracy theories that Israel had allowed the October 7 attacks.

London Evening Standard, 15 Feb.


Britain’s new pro-Gaza MP George Galloway channels Trump

LONDON — Pro-Palestinian firebrand George Galloway capped a remarkable parliamentary comeback Monday — and riffed on Donald Trump’s election-winning slogan.  Galloway — a former Labour MP who was kicked out of the party in the 2000s amid a bitter row over the Iraq war — won the Rochdale by-election Thursday. He defeated Labour in a previously-safe seat after a divisive campaign in which he vowed to hammer his old party for its stance on the Israel-Hamas war. He was sworn in as the U.K.’s newest lawmaker Monday. . . .  Following his win in Rochdale, Galloway — whose views on Israel and foreign policy have at times courted controversy — vowed to raise the plight of Palestinians in parliament and to be a thorn in the side of Labour., 4 March




Netanyahu boasts of thwarting the establishment of a Palestinian state ‘for decades’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he is introducing this evening in the Knesset legislation that would match a cabinet decision made yesterday to reject “international diktats” seeking to push Palestinian statehood — boasting of his decades of thwarting any such move.  In a video statement, Netanyahu says that Israel is facing new pressures in recent days, in particular “an attempt to force upon us the unilateral establishment of a Palestinian state which will endanger the existence of the State of Israel.”


Netanyahu says he is certain that the Knesset legislation will receive wide support after it passed unanimously in the cabinet, “and it will show the world that there is wide agreement in Israel against the international efforts to force on us a Palestinian state.”  The prime minister adds that “everyone knows that I am the one who for decades blocked the establishment of a Palestinian state that would endanger our existence.”  His position, he says, only strengthened following Hamas’s October 7 massacre, and Netanyahu says that “no matter what, Israel will maintain full security control over all territory west on the Jordan River,” including both Gaza and the West Bank.

Times of Israel, 19 Feb.





Prince of Wales condemns rising anti-Semitism

Prince William has condemned a rise in antisemitism during a synagogue visit.

The Prince of Wales said it “has no place in society” as he met young people and students in London.  He was told about an increase in antisemitism since the 7 October Hamas attacks and Israel’s retaliatory military campaign in Gaza.


It was the prince’s first public appearance since pulling out of a memorial service due to a “personal matter”.  He had been due to give a reading at Tuesday’s memorial for the late former King Constantine of Greece.  While at the Western Marble Arch Synagogue in central London, the 41-year-old met a Holocaust survivor, and Jewish student representatives and young people who told him how they had been affected by antisemitism.

BBC News, 1 March


BBC is ‘institutionally anti-Semitic’ says former attorney general

MPs have accused the BBC of fuelling attacks on Jews through biased reporting on the Israel-Hamas conflict.  During a cross-party debate in Westminster Hall on Tuesday, former attorney general Sir Michael Ellis, said that senior BBC management had “fundamentally failed” to deal with biased coverage and mitigate the fears of Jewish staff.  “The relentless bias of BBC News coverage has contributed to the record levels of intimidation and attacks on British Jews,” he added.


Sir Michael, Conservative MP for Northampton North, cited numerous instances of alleged bias, including the BBC’s refusal to call Hamas terrorists, which meant the corporation had become “complicit in Hamas’ well-orchestrated disinformation campaign”.  Numerous politicians also made damning allegations against the BBC during the debate, which the cooperation has since refuted.  According to several MPs, one inaccurate BBC report about the Al-Ahli hospital bombing in Gaza “led to a spike in antisemitism globally”, including the burning of synagogues in Tunisia and Germany.

Jewish Chonicle, 28 Feb.



Book Review

What Iranians Want: Women, Life, Freedom by Arash Azizi (Oneworld Publications, $28.00) 978-0-86154-711-1


An Iranian in exile, Azizi reveals his love for home and country in this exposé that supports the protest movement as much as it takes a critical stance. He breaks down the Iranian protests into categories: women’s rights, human rights, and the rights of refugees; the labor movement; the environment; freedom of expression and of religion; a demand for peace; and the abolition of the law of Compulsory Hijab. The discussions are backed up by ample examples from protest movements since 1979, such as the Green Revolution in 2009 and the national rallying around the death of an endangered Persian cheetah.


Written in a matter-of-fact way, the book presents facts and events well while leaving room for personal conclusions and reactions. It also interweaves the discontent of the present day with the broken dreams of the Islamic Revolution. It exposes how, from the beginning, the religious leaders of Iran were upfront with what kind of society they wanted to build, showing how supporters in Iran and in the West chose to ignore those who sounded the warnings.

Excerpt from review of Erika Harlitz Kern, Foreward Reviews, 15 Feb.






Lester L. Grabbe

5 March 2024


Middle East Study Centre—Newsletter February 2024


MESC Programme 2024


Trimester 2

29 January – 26 May 2024


14 February 2024, 5pm London time

Professor Stefan Talmon

The Hamas-Israel War in the Eyes of International Law

Chair: Professor Giuliana Mazzoni (MESC)

Discussant: Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor (MESC)


6 March 2024, 5pm London time

MESC Ambassador Forum

Ambassador Koray Ertaş

Boundaries to Freedom of Expression: Burning the Quran

Chair: Dr Keshab Bhattarai (MESC)

Discussants: Professor Niaz Shah (MESC)

Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor (MESC)


Easter vacation

25 March – 7 April 2024


17 April, 6pm London time

MESC Ambassador Forum

Ambassador James Franklin Jeffrey

The Middle East after Gaza

Chair: Professor Glenn Burgess (MESC)

Discussants: Sir Tom Phillips (MESC)

Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor (MESC)


8 May, 5pm London time

MESC Leadership Seminar

Marwan Muasher

Now Or Never: A Viable Solution to the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict Can Wait No Longer

Chair and Discussant: Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor (MESC)

Discussants: Sir Tom Phillips (MESC)

Rt Hon Alistair Burt (MESC)


29 May, 5pm London time

MESC Ambassador Forum

Saudi Arabia Ambassador to the United Kingdom

(invitation sent and received; awaiting details)


5 June, 5pm London time

MESC Book Celebration

Chair: Professor Jo Carby-Hall

Professor Trevor Burnard

Professor Hall Gardner

Professor Lester Grabbe

Professor Dan Kurtzer

Professor Gerald Midgley

Professor Ilan Peleg

(incomplete list)



Wikipedia entries toned down on Iranian atrocities

A new report has revealed that Iranian government agents or supporters are changing entries in Wikipedia to downplay the regime’s crimes and discredit dissidents.  According to a report in The Times this week, Wikipedia entries related to Iranian human rights abuses have been systematically altered in line with Tehran’s propaganda. In addition to downplaying Iranian atrocities and targeting its critics, the edits seek to present government publications as impartial sources.  Specific instances involve the removal of details about mass executions in 1988 and the fact that current senior officials in the regime were involved in ordering the hanging of thousands of political prisoners.


Another example is misinformation about human rights activist Vahid Beheshti, who has been campaigning to put pressure on the UK government to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) as a terrorist group. Mattie Heaven, Beheshti’s wife, said four attempts were made to set up a page on the topic because there was so much misinformation online about her husband, but the text was repeatedly removed so the page could not function. “We believed it was the Iranian cyber army,” she said.


Other deletions included references to the jailing of Iranian official Hamid Nouri, a key figure implicated in the 1988 massacre, in Sweden in 2022, and the expulsion of two Iranian diplomats from Albania in 2018 due to their alleged involvement in a bomb plot against dissidents.  “Online misinformation is also a key tool for the regime,” The Times wrote. The campaign is in line with Supreme Leader’s Ali Khamenei’s call on supporters to come up with recounts of the global current affairs that benefit the regime, what he has dubbed “vindication jihad.”

Iran International, 12 Jan.



Iran said it would not hesitate to attack its foes

After Iran struck targets in neighboring Pakistan, Iraq and Syria, the country’s defense minister vowed today that his country would “not set any limits” on using its military capabilities whenever necessary. “We are a missile power in the world,” he said.  According to Iran, the attacks targeted terrorist groups — the Islamic State in Syria on Monday and Jaish al-Adl in Pakistan yesterday — as well as a location in Iraq that Iranian officials have said is an Israeli base for intelligence gathering. Analysts suggested that, for all of Iran’s belligerent comments, its attacks were measured, meant to flex its strength without inflaming regional tensions too much.

New York Times, 17 Jan.


Dissidents in London on high terror alert despite sanctions on Iran’s IRGC

Vigilance against threats from Iran has increased significantly despite sanctions being imposed, journalists threatened by Tehran have told The National.  Officials at the London-based Iran International TV channel, which has found itself in Tehran’s crosshairs, say they “have to be lucky all the time” to avoid violent attacks.


Security at the channel’s headquarters has been boosted, with counterterrorism police now in regular contact. The latest alert was raised hours before Britain imposed sanctions on senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leaders on Monday, after US troops were attacked on the Syria-Jordan border, sources told The National.


Anti-Iranian dissidents in Britain have been warned by counterterrorism police that they face an increased risk of violence.  Tensions have heightened with the likelihood of a strong American response to the death of three US soldiers in a drone attack launched by Iran-backed militias in Jordan.  “The UK authorities are not complacent and are very alive to the threat,” said Adam Baillie, spokesman for Iran International. “We are on very, very high alert because we have to be lucky all the time and we can’t afford to make mistakes.”


Iranian dissidents across the capital are being warned by the security services of an increased risk of violence or kidnap due to the rising Middle East tensions.  Sources have alleged to The National that the IRGC is using London-based criminals as proxies to carry out attacks against opponents of the Tehran regime.  There is also concern that if Britain and Europe become more involved in conflicts in the Middle East, then Iran could increase its operations abroad, said Dr Sanam Vakil, a Middle East expert at the Chatham House think tank.

The National UK, 30 Jan.


Iran’s proxy war makes Islamic State a bigger threat, US general warns

The head of the United States-led ­coalition fighting Islamic State has said the militant group’s operations across the Middle East are being boosted by the fallout from the war between Israel and Hamas.


Major General Joel Vowell, who leads Operation Inherent Resolve, the mission against Isis in Iraq and Syria, said there had been a 200 per cent ­increase in suspected attacks by the group in the past three months.


Since the beginning of the war between Israel and Hamas, Iran-backed Shia militias have increased massively their attempted strikes on US bases across the region, culminating in a drone strike that killed three American troops in Jordan on Sunday and ­injured more than 30 others.


The strikes have forced “counter-Isis” troops to focus on defence, Vowell said. “All that focus has allowed, at the tactical level, Daesh [Isis] cells to start doing more things,” he said. “We have seen an uptick in attacks in Syria and Iraq in the last 60 days in particular.”

Times, 30 Jan.


US launches airstrikes on Syria and Iraq after Jordan attack

Biden warns of consequences as 85 targets hit in retaliation for a deadly drone strike believed to have been carried out by Iran-backed militia.  The US has launched a barrage of airstrikes on targets in Syria and Iraq in retaliation for last weekend’s drone attack on an American base in Jordan that killed three soldiers.  In action that was wider than some had anticipated, warplanes, including B1 long-range bombers flown from bases in the US, as well as drones, hit 85 targets.  Unlike recent strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen, British forces were not involved in these attacks.


President Biden said: “The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: if you harm an American, we will respond.”  The strikes are likely to be the first of several against Iran-backed militia operating in the Middle East, threatening what some in Washington fear could spark a wider conflagration in the region.  The Pentagon confirmed there had been multiple strikes. “US Central Command forces conducted airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and affiliated militia groups,” the US military said, adding that attacks began at about 9pm GMT.


“The airstrikes employed more than 125 precision munitions,” it added. “The facilities that were struck included command and control operations centres, intelligence centres, rockets, and missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicle storages, and logistics and munition supply chain facilities of militia groups and their IRGC sponsors who facilitated attacks against US and coalition forces.”  The White House and the Pentagon have promised for a week that the US would respond to the attack in Jordan. John Kirby, the spokesman for the US national security council, said on Wednesday that the US’s retaliatory strikes could continue for some time.


“The first thing you see won’t be the last thing,” he said, adding that the initial strikes would not be a “one-off”. Other officials said there would be a “tiered response” to the attacks in Jordan.  On Friday night, Kirby said: “It began tonight, but it will not end tonight.” . . .


The strike against IRGC interests underlines Washington’s belief that Iran bears responsibility for the fatal attack on its base because Tehran arms and finances groups like Kataib Hezbollah. The strikes appeared to stop short of directly targeting Iran or senior leaders of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force within its borders.  Tehran has denied it was behind the Jordan attack and on Friday morning, Iran’s hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, reiterated earlier promises by Tehran to retaliate for any American strikes targeting its interests. We “will not start a war, but if a country, if a cruel force wants to bully us, the Islamic Republic of Iran will give a strong response,” Raisi said.

Times, 3 Feb.




US strikes multiple drones in Yemen, American official says

WASHINGTON — The United States struck up to 10 unmanned drones in Yemen that were preparing to launch, a U.S. official said late on Wednesday, amid escalating tensions from the war in Gaza spreading through the region.

A U.S. Navy ship also shot down three Iranian drones and a Houthi anti-ship ballistic missile in the Gulf of Aden, the U.S. military’s Central Command said in a statement. There were no injuries or damage reported, it said.


The Iran-aligned Houthi militants, who control the most populous parts of Yemen, have launched a wave of exploding drones and missiles at commercial vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden in recent weeks, calling it a response to Israel’s military operations in Gaza and a show of solidarity to Palestinians.


The Houthi campaign has disrupted international shipping.  The United States and Britain have launched strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen and returned the militia to a list of “terrorist groups.”  The Houthis, earlier on Wednesday, said their naval forces carried out an operation targeting an “American merchant ship” in the Gulf of Aden hours after firing missiles at U.S. Navy destroyer Gravely.


Houthi attacks on ships in and around the Red Sea have slowed trade between Asia and Europe, raised fears of supply bottlenecks and alarmed major powers concerned that the Gaza war may become a regional conflict.  U.S. President Joe Biden said earlier in January that strikes on Houthi targets would continue even as he acknowledged they may not be halting their attacks.

Reuters, 31 Jan.


Middle East expert says Iran could end Houthi attacks ‘plain and simple’

. . . a third round of joint strikes was carried out by the US and UK, targeting Houthi targets in Yemen.  The aim, we are told, is to try to deter further attacks against international shipping.  The Americans said they had destroyed six anti-ship missiles that the Houthis were preparing to use. . . .


The Houthis’ position is that they are preventing ships affiliated with Israel from crossing the key route. In reality, most ships that have been attacked have had no link to Israel.  Washington and London say their aim is to stop the attacks that have disrupted global supply chains and caused major shipping companies to re-route their vessels.  Both Iran and the US maintain that they to not want any further escalation.


Benjamin Radd, a senior fellow with the UCLA Burkle Center for international relations, tells the BBC that if Iran opted to “cease funding, training and supplying intelligence, logistical support and weapons [to the Houthis], these attacks would come to an end – plain and simple”.  “If and when Iran chooses to exercise that option it can do so,” Radd adds.

BBC News, 4 Feb.


Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia ready to back US air strikes on Houthi rebels

Antony Blinken’s efforts to prevent the Gaza war spilling across the Middle East are being complicated by Yemeni militia’s attacks on shipping.  Saudi Arabia is among a number of Middle Eastern countries telling the West they back strikes against the Houthis in Yemen whose attacks on shipping in the Red Sea have diminished commercial traffic in the vital waterway.


Any action against the rebels in Yemen would coincide with attempts by the United States to prevent the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas spreading to the rest of the region. The Palestinian group’s allies in Lebanon, Iran and Iraq have targeted Israel as well as US bases in the area and shipping in the Red Sea.

Times, 8 Jan.




3 U.S. service members killed, others injured in Jordan following drone attack

Three U.S. soldiers were killed yesterday in Jordan, while more than 40 other service members were injured following an uncrewed aerial system attack at a military base near the Syrian border. Those service members were in Jordan to support Operation Inherent Resolve, which is the U.S. and coalition mission to ensure the defeat of ISIS.


The three soldiers killed are Sgt. William Jerome Rivers of Carrollton, Georgia; Spc. Kennedy Ladon Sanders of Waycross, Georgia; and Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett of Savannah, Georgia. All three were assigned to the 718th Engineer Company, 926th Engineer Battalion, 926th Engineer Brigade, Fort Moore, Georgia.


The attack occurred in the early morning at the logistics support base located at Tower 22 of the Jordanian Defense Network. Approximately 350 U.S. Army and Air Force personnel are deployed to the base. The three soldiers were killed when a one-way uncrewed aerial system impacted their container housing units.


“I am outraged and deeply saddened by the deaths of three of our U.S. service members and the wounding of other American troops in an attack last night against U.S. and coalition forces, who were deployed to a site in northeastern Jordan near the Syrian border to work for the lasting defeat of ISIS,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement released yesterday following the attack. “These brave Americans and their families are in my prayers, and the entire Department of Defense mourns their loss.”  During a briefing at the Pentagon today, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said that in addition to the three deaths, more than 40 service members were also injured in the attack. Of those, eight had to be evacuated.

U.S. Department of Defense, 29 Jan.



Syria and Iraq


Syria and Iraq respond to US air attacks

Syria confirmed the strikes, saying that “US aggression” on a number of sites in its desert areas and the Syria-Iraq border had resulted in fatalities and injuries. Some reports put the early death toll at 18.  “Syrian army affirms continuing its war against terrorism until it is eliminated and is determined to liberate the entire Syrian territories from terrorism and occupation,” the ministry said in a statement on Saturday.


The Iraqi military said the strikes were in the Iraqi border area and warned they could ignite instability.  Major General Yehia Rasool, a spokesman for Iraq’s prime minister, called the strikes a “violation” of his country’s sovereignty and said they would bring “disastrous consequences for the security and stability of Iraq and the region”.


Myriad Iran-backed groups operate in Syria and Iraq. US officials say the attack on its Tower 22 base in Jordan had the “footprints” of Kataib Hezbollah, one of the main Tehran-backed militant groups operating in Iraq and Syria.  It said on Wednesday that it would end its attacks on US interests in the region out of respect for the Iraqi government.

Times, 3 Feb.





Pakistan responds to Iran’s missile attacks

Having aided its proxies in Gaza, Lebanon and Yemen, Iran decided to expand the area of its conflict by attacking posts in three countries, that are, to varying degrees, friendly to it: Syria, Iraq and Pakistan. The three attacks were in response to what the Islamic Republic believed were hostile activities that originated with the targeted countries. The Iranian attack on Syria was in response to the suicide bombings that killed nearly 100 people in Kerman, a city in Iran. . . .


Iran and its proxies had spent years battling the Islamic State terrorist group in Syria and Iraq, mostly known by its acronym, ISIS. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has relied heavily on Iran to fight the ISIS. Other countries have also targeted the ISIS: the United States, Israel and Turkey have dropped great amounts of explosives in the name of fighting terrorism. . . .


Although the foreign ministers of Pakistan and Iranian had spoken on the telephone, Islamabad went ahead and retaliated for Tehran’s missile attack. It struck on January 18, two days after the Iranian missile operation. Pakistan used, said an official statement from Islamabad, “drones, rockets, loitering munitions and standoff weapons.” Both sides said they had targeted separatist militant groups that pose cross-border threats. The actions taken by the two countries against each other did not seem to be connected with the escalating conflict involving Israel and Hamas.

The Express Tribune, 29 Jan.


Israeli-Gaza War


The Gaza files that reveal Hamas paranoia before October 7

Seized documents show that a diplomatic briefing note suggested pictures of Recep Tayyip Erdogan should be burned to sabotage Israel’s relations with Turkey.  The Hamas leadership was considering undermining relations between Turkey and Israel in the period leading up to its October 7 attack, according to documents discovered by the Israeli army in Gaza.


Accounts of meetings held in Gaza from 2022 and last year by Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s political leader, give an insight into the mindset of the Islamist group and its regional ambitions.  Turkey’s leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has long been a key supporter of Hamas and of the Palestinian cause, while Turkey has been a base for Hamas members as well as a hub for recruitment and fundraising. But before October 7 there had been a growing rapprochement between the Turkish leader and Israel.


A briefing prepared for Sinwar by one of his aides before a meeting between Erdogan and Isaac Herzog, the Israeli president, in March 2022, states that “Turkey has been trying for a while to get close to the enemy for its own interests”. It adds: “Turkey doesn’t want to have a Palestinian environment which is hostile to its policy and doesn’t want to pay the price for normalising its ties with the enemy.”


The documents were discovered on a computer seized by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) in recent weeks in Gaza. Israel launched a ground operation in early December in Khan Yunis, where the Hamas leadership has gone to ground. One of the first targets of Israeli troops was an office that had been used by Sinwar, who had fled underground and is believed to be hiding in the Hamas tunnel network.

Sunday Times, 7 Jan.


BBC Apologizes For Reporting Unverified Hamas Claim Israel Was “Executing” Palestinians In Gaza

EXCLUSIVE: The BBC has apologized for reporting an unverified Hamas claim about the Israeli army carrying out “summary executions” of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.  BBC radio news bulletins reported Hamas’ allegation on Christmas Eve but the corporation said sufficient efforts were not made to corroborate the claim made by the designated terror group.


The source of the story appears to be news agency AFP, which reported that Hamas had gathered testimonies showing 137 Palestinians had been executed since the start of Israel‘s offensive. AFP said it could not verify the claim.  The BBC radio bulletins quoted the Israeli military saying it was unaware of the incident and Hamas does not “value truth,” but it was not enough to prevent the broadcaster from issuing a correction.


In a statement, the BBC said: “In overnight output [on BBC radio news bulletins] we ran a story about Hamas accusing the Israeli army of carrying out summary executions in the Gaza strip.  “This was a Hamas statement, but although the accusations were attributed and our story contained a response from the Israeli military saying they were unaware of the incident and that Hamas was a terrorist organisation that did not value truth, we had not made sufficient effort to seek corroborating evidence to justify reporting the Hamas claim. We apologise for this mistake.”  It is not the first time the BBC has admitted to mistakes in its output on the conflict in Gaza. Last November, it apologized for reporting that Israeli troops targeted medics and Arab speakers during a raid on Gaza’s main hospital, Al-Shifa.

Deadline, 9 Jan.


Iran’s aggression abroad masks fragility at home

The default position of many in the foreign policy establishment towards this “mystery” of Iran is one of awe. The Islamic republic enthusiastically cultivates an image abroad that it is a great chess player, always thinking several moves ahead.  Recently we have been told that Iran is the chief beneficiary of the war in Gaza, that it has effectively supplanted the United States as the major power in the region and that it has achieved this by a remarkable sleight of (an invisible) hand.


Much of this is nonsense, sustained only by the willingness of an audience to believe it.  The truth is the Iranian regime is more opportunistic than calculating, and more nervous of its surroundings than its image suggests.  Plausible deniability might be said to be the hallmark of Iranian politics. In an unstable system with totalitarian pretensions, responsibility can carry heavy costs, so decisions by officials are better deferred.


This is procrastination born of fear. But Iran attempts to disguise it as coherent competence.  There have always been those in Iran who detested the 1979 Islamic revolution and the republic it spawned but they were usually outnumbered by those who supported or tolerated it. In recent years this balance has tilted decisively against the regime.

Ali Ansari opinion piece, Sunday Times, 21 Jan.


Israeli special forces disguised as doctors kill three militants at West Bank hospital

Counter-terrorism officers enter Jenin’s Ibn Sina hospital wearing doctors’ scrubs and women’s clothes.  Israeli forces dressed in doctors’ scrubs and women’s clothes have killed three Palestinian militants in an undercover operation in a hospital in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.


A border police counter-terrorism unit and a unit from the internal security forces, known as the Shin Bet, entered Ibn Sina hospital on the outskirts of the city’s refugee camp early on Tuesday, CCTV footage of the aftermath of the operation showed.  The units made their way to a room on the third floor and shot all three men in the head using pistols fitted with silencers in an attack that took less than 10 minutes from start to finish, Israeli media said.


A staff member who saw the attack told the Israeli daily Haaretz that only a few of the 12 or so special forces entered the room and shot the wanted persons; the others spread out over the hospital and the main entrance to prevent any disturbance. Israel’s military did not provide details on how the three were killed.  Israel said the dead men were Mohammad Jalamana, a spokesperson for Hamas’s military wing, Basel Ghazawi, of Islamic Jihad, and his brother Mohammed. All three were allegedly active in the umbrella force known as the Jenin Battalion, a newly formed group that has engaged Israeli forces in fierce fighting during raids in the lawless city over the past two years.


The Israeli authorities said the three men had been involved in planning an attack similar to the one launched by the Palestinian militant group Hamas on 7 October that killed 1,140 people, according to Israeli data, and sparked the latest war in Gaza, which has killed 26,000 people in the strip, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-controlled territory. About 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million population has been displaced from their homes in the dire humanitarian crisis.


Hamas claimed Jalamana as a member, while the Palestinian Islamic Jihad said the two brothers were part of their Jenin cell. . In a statement, Hamas called the killings “a vile crime that will not go without response”. It said: “The resistance forces, who have sworn to fight the occupation until it is expelled, are not afraid of the assassination policy.”

Guardian, 30 Jan.


Hamas says truce proposal ‘still being studied’ as Israeli war cabinet meets on deal

Qatar ‘optimistic’ after receiving ‘initial positive confirmation’ from terror group on hostage agreement, but source close to Hamas says Qatari statement was ‘rushed and not true’.  Hamas has given “initial positive confirmation” to a proposal for the cessation of fighting in Gaza and the release of hostages, Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesman asserted Thursday, but the Palestinian terror group swiftly denied doing so.


“That proposal has been approved by the Israeli side and now we have an initial positive confirmation from the Hamas’ side,” Majed al-Ansari told an audience at a Washington-based graduate school. “There is still a very tough road in front of us.  We are optimistic because both sides now agreed to the premise that would lead to a next pause. We’re hopeful that in the next couple of weeks, we’ll be able to share good news about that,” he added.


The comments at Johns Hopkins University briefly triggered some celebrations in Gaza, including festive gunfire, and a drop in the price of crude oil.  A Qatari official clarified to Reuters that there was “no deal yet” and that although “Hamas has received the proposal positively,” Qatar was “waiting for their response.”


But a Hamas official told Reuters a short while later that the terror group has “received the Paris truce proposal but we haven’t given response to any of parties, it is still being studied.”  “We cannot say the current stage of negotiation is zero and at the same time we cannot say that we have reached an agreement,” said Taher al-Nono, the media adviser of Qatar-based Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh.

Times of Israel, 2 Feb.


How Israel’s flooding of Gaza’s tunnels will impact freshwater supply

Pumping of seawater will contaminate underground freshwater and ruin the conditions of life in Gaza, experts say.  Israel confirmed this week that its troops are pumping seawater into a network of tunnels in Gaza, a method environmentalists say could violate international law and cause dire, long-term consequences in the besieged Palestinian enclave.


Media reports have for weeks speculated that the pumping was under way, though Israeli and US officials, including President Joe Biden, did not confirm them when questioned.  But on Wednesday, in a short statement on X, the Israeli military said it is using “new capabilities” in its war on Gaza and on Hamas’s labyrinth of tunnels, “including by channeling large volumes of water into them”.

Al Jazeera, 3 Feb.




At the heart of Netanyahu’s government as he faces war on home front

Israel’s ‘protector’ failed to foresee the Hamas attacks and polls show he would lose an election – and could even face jail. But with his war cabinet divided, the ruthless operator may have a few tricks up his sleeve.


Israel likes to remember its prime ministers in statues and street names. In Tel Aviv, Yitzhak Rabin, who won the Nobel peace prize for signing a peace deal with the Palestinians, has his own square. Yigal Alon has various streets named after him despite holding the job for barely a month half a century ago.  But things might be different for the country’s longest-serving prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.  “He wants to be remembered in a positive way in Israel’s history,” said Aviv Bushinsky, his former spokesman, “but if he were to step down tomorrow, I’m doubtful he’d even get an alley.”


Netanyahu wanted to be known as “the protector of Israel’s security”. But he failed to prevent the worst tragedy in the country’s history, when Hamas militants massacred some 1,200 people in southern Israel on October 7. In response more than 25,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children, have been killed by Israeli forces, prompting international outrage.  Almost four months after launching the war on Gaza, where 24 young Israeli soldiers were killed on a single day early last week and where more than 100 Israelis are being held hostage by Hamas, Netanyahu, 74, is in deep political peril. . . .


But it would be rash to bet on Netanyahu abandoning power any time soon without a desperate struggle: over the years he has developed a reputation as a shrewd and ruthless political operator.  It helps him that there is no obvious replacement. “He managed to eliminate anyone who could be a successor,” said Eiland. “He works exactly according to the guidelines written by Machiavelli 500 years ago.” . . .


Netanyahu, who was prime minister from 1996 to 1999 and again from 2009 to 2021 before returning to power in 2022, will be ready to confront any threat. “What drives him is paranoia, ‘This guy’s gonna screw me, these politicians are thinking of toppling me’,” said Bushinsky, the former spokesman who served Netanyahu for seven years from 1997 to 2007. “But by being so paranoid, you are always prepared, you’ll never be caught off-guard.”


Michael Oren, a former Knesset member and ambassador to the US under Netanyahu from 2009 to 2013, likes to recall the apocryphal remark of Louis XIV, “l’état c’est moi” (“the state is me”), to describe Netanyahu’s attitude towards power. He believes the prime minister has lost legitimacy. But that does not mean he is finished.  “Can he continue in power?” Oren asked. “It’s always premature to elegise him politically. That’s one thing I’ve learnt over the years about Netanyahu.”

Sunday Times, 28 Jan.





Musk admits naivity about anti-Semitism

Elon Musk expresses shock about the Holocaust after Auschwitz visit that was ‘incredibly moving, and deeply sad and tragic that humans could do this to humans’.  Musk was seen carrying his son on his shoulders in a photo of the tour, as he stood alongside Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the chairman of the European Jewish Association, Holocaust survivor Gidon Lev, and Ben Shapiro, a controversial conservative media pundit.


Shapiro later hosted a discussion with Musk, organized by the EJA in nearby Krakow, during which Musk championed his social platform, formerly Twitter.  Without making a direct reference to an antisemitic post that he amplified in November — triggering widespread criticism and a halt to advertising of major brands including Apple Inc. and Walt Disney Co. — the billionaire issued a mea culpa of sorts.


“Once in a while I’ll do something dumb, for sure,” he said.  As Musk has fought off charges of amplifying antisemitism, he traveled to Israel in November where he met with leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog, and saw the sites where 1,200 people were murdered by Hamas on Oct. 7.

Fortune, 22 Jan.


Nowhere is safe to be Jewish now

Dame Maureen Lipman has said that “nowhere is safe” for Jewish people.  Speaking before Holocaust Memorial Day tomorrow, the actress . . . said that her parents’ graves were under lock and key because of antisemitic attacks.  She said that in the present climate, “[you] can’t take anything for granted”. . . . “One of the problems is, if you listen to the radio and you listen to the media, you will constantly hear the ‘Jews and the Palestinians’, not the Palestinians and the Israelis . . . or the Jews and the Muslims, which makes it a level playing field.”  She added: “It just . . . drip-feeds into the idea that Jews are responsible for the ills of the world.”

Times, 26 Jan.


Tracy-Ann Oberman:  Shylock, me and today’s surge in anti-Jewish hatred

The actress has needed extra security for her staging of The Merchant of Venice. She talks about reclaiming Shakespeare’s play, battling antisemitism and resisting culture wars. . . .


Last night she performed her Shylock to a full house, and to another audience quite unlike any she has experienced. At the interval, the bar was noisy with schoolboys in yarmulke and friends swapping family history; the woman next to me in the stalls cried. The show, which relocates Shakespeare’s play to the East End of London at a time when Oswald Mosley’s fascist militia terrorised the Jewish population, has grown from its original four-week run into a year-long tour that Oberman describes as “a movement”. . . .


Oberman’s adaptation, developed with the director Brigid Larmour since 2018 and drawing on her family history, is part faithful adaptation (with all the slow bits excised), part exhortation to stand up against antisemitism. The production begins with Oberman presiding over shabbat and ends with a call for unity; last night the audience joined her in both, crowding onto the stage in a noisy finale.

. . .


Oberman’s great-grandmother escaped the pogroms of Belarus in 1905, coming to London at the age of 15; her great-uncle Al was thrown through a window by a member of Mosley’s militia. The 1936 Battle of Cable Street, in which the blackshirts were resisted by an alliance of the Jewish, Irish, English and Somali working class, was woven into family lore and forms the backdrop to Oberman’s production.

Times Saturday Review, 3 Feb.



Lester L. Grabbe

4 February 2024



Middle East Study Centre—Newsletter January 2024





MESC is very pleased to send our very warm congratulations to one of our members, Professor Boaz Ganor, for his election to serve as President of Reichman University. Good Luck, Boaz! We are certain you will excel and move Reichman University forward.



MESC Lecture in February


NB:  all are welcome to the following online event, which is free of charge, but you must register to receive a link to listen in to the lecture.


Professor Stefan Talmon

University of Bonn


“The Hamas-Israel War in the Eyes of International Law”


Chair: Professor Giuliana Mazzoni (MESC)

Discussant: Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor (MESC)


Date: Wednesday, 14 February 2024, 17:00 London time


Please register directly with the online platform:





Iran leader vows harsh response to deadly bombings that killed 84

ran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has vowed a “harsh response” to a bomb attack on crowds marking the anniversary of spymaster Qasem Soleimani’s assassination by the US.  The attack in Kerman in southern Iran killed 84 people and wounded many more.  The death toll was revised down on Thursday morning by the head of Iran’s emergency services from an earlier figure of 95.


The Islamic State group (IS) said it carried out the attack.  It made the claim via its channels on Telegram.  IS has attacked civilians and security forces in Iran on a number of occasions in recent years.  It welcomed the 2020 death of Gen Soleimani, whose militias fought against the group in Iraq for years.  Iranian officials said at least one blast was caused by a suicide bomber.  “Cruel criminals must know that they will be strongly dealt with from now on and undoubtedly there will be a harsh response,” Khamenei said in a statement on Wednesday evening.


Earlier, President Ebrahim Raisi’s political deputy, Mohammad Jamshidi, blamed Israel and the US. However the US said it had no indication that Israel was involved and dismissed any suggestion that Washington was involved.  Soleimani was seen as the most powerful figure in Iran after the supreme leader before he was killed in a US drone strike in neighbouring Iraq in 2020.

BBC News, 4 Jan.





U.S. strike killed an Iran-allied militant leader

A U.S. drone strike in Baghdad today killed the leader of a militant group linked to Iran that is part of Iraq’s security apparatus.  The Pentagon described the strike on a commander of the Harakat al-Nujaba group as “necessary and proportionate,” and said that no civilians were harmed.


The U.S. has recently taken several retaliatory actions against Iran-backed groups in Iraq that have repeatedly attacked American bases. But until now they had largely avoided the dense capital city. The Iraqi government called the attack a “flagrant violation of the sovereignty and security of Iraq” and “no different from a terrorist act.”  The strike comes after a series of attacks that have threatened to bring the Middle East — and the U.S. — closer to the brink of a regional war, which the Biden administration has tried to stave off since Hamas’s deadly attacks in Israel on Oct. 7.

New York Times, 4 Jan.





Killing of senior Hamas leader in Beirut raises stakes in Israel war

Senior Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri knew his days were numbered.  “It’s not unusual for the commanders and officers to be martyred,” the militant group’s deputy political leader said last year when asked about Israeli threats to assassinate him. “I think I’ve lived too long.”


Beirut-based Arouri on Tuesday became the most senior Hamas casualty of the war when he was killed by a suspected Israeli drone attack in the Lebanese capital, along with two commanders and four other members of the movement.

The death of Arouri, one of the founders of Hamas’s military wing, marks a significant blow to the group and underscores Israel’s determination to pursue its top leaders in the wake of Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel.


Israel has not admitted involvement. But David Barnea, head of Mossad, on Wednesday said his spy agency was “committed to settling accounts” with everyone involved in the assault, regardless of how long it takes or where they are based.  The strike risks escalating hostilities between the Jewish state and the Lebanon-based militant group Hizbollah, who have traded almost daily exchanges of fire since the war began. The blast took place in Iran-backed Hizbollah’s south Beirut stronghold, and Arouri was said to be close to the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah.


The 57-year-old was regarded as a key Hamas figure in the Iran-backed militant network stretching from the Palestinian territories to Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq. He was also integral to Hamas’s operations in the occupied West Bank, where the group has been gaining popularity.  “His death is a significant blow for Hamas,” said Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center. “Not just as a founder of the Qassam Brigades [the military wing] but also his role in terms of leading Hamas in the West Bank.”

Financial Times, 3 Jan.





US-led coalition warns Houthis of ‘consequences’ after Red Sea attacks

A group of countries led by the United States have warned Yemen’s Houthi rebels of “consequences” unless they stop their attacks on Red Sea shipping vessels.  “Let our message now be clear: we call for the immediate end of these illegal attacks and release of unlawfully detained vessels and crews,” said the statement released by the White House on Wednesday.


“The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy and free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways”.  The United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Germany and Japan are among the 12 signatories.  The only country in the Middle East to sign the statement was Bahrain, which has a strained relationship with Iran, which is aligned with the Houthis.


The statement comes after several reports that US President Joe Biden’s administration is considering direct strikes on the rebels if the attacks continue.  The Houthis have said that their attacks in the busy waterway are an act of solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza and that they are targeting ships with links to Israel.  The US has sent an aircraft carrier, the USS Dwight D Eisenhower, to the area and earlier announced a coalition of countries to protect movement in the Red Sea, through which 12 percent of global trade passes.

Al Jazeera, 3 Jan.





Erdogan says Israeli PM Netanyahu no different from Hitler

ANKARA, Dec 27 (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was no different from Adolf Hitler and likened Israel’s attacks on Gaza to the treatment of Jewish people by the Nazis.  NATO member Turkey, which supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has criticised Israel’s air and ground assault on Gaza, called it a “terror state” and said its leaders must be tried in international courts.


Sharpening his rhetoric, Erdogan said Turkey would welcome academics and scientists facing persecution for their views on the conflict in Gaza, adding Western countries supporting Israel were complicit in what he called war crimes.  “They used to speak ill of Hitler. What difference do you have from Hitler? They are going to make us miss Hitler. Is what this Netanyahu is doing any less than what Hitler did? It is not,” Erdogan said.  “He is richer than Hitler, he gets the support from the West. All sorts of support comes from the United States. And what did they do with all this support? They killed more than 20,000 Gazans,” he said.


Netanyahu responded by saying the Turkish president should be the last person to lecture Israel.  “Erdogan, who commits genocide against the Kurds, who holds a world record for imprisoning journalists who oppose his rule,” Netanyahu said in a statement, “is the last person who can preach morality to us.”

Reuters, 27 Dec.



Hamas-Israeli Conflict


”I saw Hamas rape women before killing them”, says massacre victim

Eight weeks after the attack in which 1,200 were killed and 240 taken hostage, there is mounting evidence of widespread rape on October 7. Israeli police have begun their biggest investigation into sexual violence and crimes against women. “It’s clear now that sexual crimes were part of the planning and the purpose was to terrify and humiliate people,” says Shelly Harush, the police commander leading the investigation.


They have collected thousands of statements, photographs and video clips, which she says “as a Jewish mother the mind and soul cannot bear”, including “girls whose pelvises were broken they had been raped so much”.  The first indications came on the day itself when Hamas livestreamed some of the horrors it was perpetrating. Footage showed several women stripped of their clothing. One video showed a young woman with bloodstains on the crotch of her underwear.


“We didn’t understand at first,” says Dr Cochav Elkayam-Levy, an expert on international law at Hebrew university of Jerusalem who heads a civilian commission into Hamas crimes against women on October 7. Survivors arriving at hospitals were not asked about sexual abuse or given rape kits for evidence.  However, those tasked with collecting the bodies began reporting that many of the women were naked and bleeding from the genitals. . . .  As more and more reports emerged, Elkayam-Levy was shocked at the lack of international reaction from bodies such as UN Women. On the eighth day she gathered a group of international law and women’s rights experts, including 160 law professors, and drafted letters to UN agencies sharing everything. . . .


Israel Defence Forces (IDF) sources claim that Hamas fighters captured in Gaza have told them in interrogations that they were instructed to “dirty” or “whore” the women. They also showed The Sunday Times photographs and footage not previously seen and too graphic to publish.


Some have questioned the accounts because of the IDF use of propaganda and the fact no victims have come forward. But Dr Dvora Baumann, director of the Bat Ami Centre for Victims of Sexual Abuse at Hadassah hospital, points out: “Usually people who are sexually abused don’t report it for a long time because it is so hard to talk about and they worry they will be judged. We have plenty of other evidence. I’ve been in this field over 20 years and I have never heard such horrific things.” . . .


Paradoxically, in a world where rape is being used as a weapon of war everywhere from Ethiopia to Ukraine, this had been cited as one conflict where it did not happen.  Hamas denies that its fighters rape women. One official, Basem Naim, told The Washington Post that the group considers “any sexual relationship or activity outside of marriage to be completely haram” — forbidden by Islam.

Sunday Times, 3 Dec.


‘Humiliated’ hostage families demand to meet Netanyahu

Families of the hostages abducted by Hamas who remain captives in the Gaza Strip demanded Monday to meet with all three members of the war cabinet, warning they will step up protests against the government if they refuse.  They noted that they had asked for a meeting two days ago, after a truce with Hamas broke down and hostage releases came to a halt, and said it was outrageous that they were being ignored.


“All we ask is that the cabinet meets with us today. We deserve it; this disregard for us is humiliating,” Yael Adar, mother of hostage Tamir Adar, told a press conference.  “If they don’t meet with us by 8 tonight we will need to ask what to do to step up our protests,” she said, adding that the families would gather at the entrance to Tel Aviv’s Kirya IDF-Defense Ministry complex and stay there.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied the families were being ignored and said a meeting had been set for Wednesday. His office said later that moving the meeting forward was under consideration.

Times of Israel, 4 Dec.





Embattled Binyamin Netanyahu still has friends, but not many

Binyamin Netanyahu seemed to have gone over the top. On Thursday evening, in an angry televised statement immediately following the announcement that he faced criminal charges for bribery and fraud, he accused Israel’s legal system of trying to carry out “a coup” aimed at toppling “a right-wing leader”.


Israel’s prime minister repeatedly promised to “investigate the investigators”. Hours later, he realised that he may have gone too far. The social media networks were jammed with his supporters cursing the attorney-general and other senior state prosecutors and promising to set the country alight if he went on trial.


Yet at the same time there were signs that he was losing the battle for public opinion. Polls were showing nearly 60% of Israelis believed he should already have resigned, while less than 40% favoured him remaining in office. Even some of his most prominent supporters were no longer behind him.


One popular stand-up comedian who had long sung his praises wrote on Facebook: “I have huge respect for most of what you’ve done as prime minister and it will be a day of joy for me if you are exonerated. But I’ve no intention of joining the civil war you’re now embarking upon.”


Neither did ordinary Israelis — even voters for Netanyahu’s Likud Party — seem eager to rock the boat. On Thursday evening, as the indictments were announced, fewer than 100 supporters gathered outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem with posters lambasting the prosecutors. The next morning, outside Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv, the numbers were even smaller.

Times, 24 Dec.


Israeli PM is losing trust of his people

With a clenched fist thrust into the centre of the frame, Binyamin Netanyahu posed beside an armoured fighting vehicle in one of two images released by his office.  In the other, the 74-year-old Israeli prime minister had removed the helmet that covered his grey hair, and stood smiling and surrounded by soldiers half his age in what appeared to be the home of a Palestinian family.


The photographs, released this week, had been carefully chosen to project two images Netanyahu is seeking to cultivate: the wartime leader and the benevolent father of the nation. According to a recent survey, however, the overwhelming majority of Israelis see him as neither.


A poll in mid-December by the Israel Democracy Institute reported that although 66 per cent of Israelis believe the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) can destroy Hamas’s military capabilities in Gaza, even more than that, 69 per cent, said they want elections to be held as soon as the war is over. Only 39 per cent of those who voted for Netanyahu’s Likud party said that they would do so again.  In another survey, Bar-Ilan University, only 24 per cent of Israelis said they thought Netanyahu was the most trustworthy source of news on the war. Seventy-three per cent said that the official military spokesman was their most trusted source.

Times, 27 Dec.


High Court strikes down key judicial overhaul legislation

n a deeply controversial landmark decision, the High Court of Justice struck down the government’s reasonableness limitation law on Monday, annulling for the first time in the country’s history one of its quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.  The court split almost down middle over the highly contentious legislation, the only law from the government’s polarizing judicial overhaul package to have been passed, with eight justices ruling to strike down the law and seven to uphold it.


But fully 13 out of the full 15-justice panel that heard the case wrote in their opinions that the court did have the authority to review Basic Laws. And of the five justices who asserted this right but declined to strike down the reasonableness law, three expressed deep concern over the legislation and wrote that it should be interpreted in a narrow manner to preserve aspects of the reasonableness standard.


In what is perhaps the most significant outcome of the decision, the court fully actualized in legal precedent the argument made in previous rulings by former Supreme Court justice Esther Hayut that it does have, in limited circumstances, the right to annul Basic Laws if they undermine the key characteristics of the State of Israel as a Jewish and a democratic country.  The ruling marks the culmination of a year-long battle between the government and the judiciary over the nature of Israel’s democracy, and the question of which branch of government has ultimate say over its constitutional character.

Times of Israel, 1 Jan.





British activist who ‘is key Hamas ally’

A British pro-Palestinian activist, who has appeared in parliament at events with former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and other MPs has been accused by German authorities of being Hamas’s key liaison in Europe.  Majed Al-Zeer, 61, is alleged to have numerous high-level contacts within the Hamas leadership. A file from the German interior ministry, first reported by magazine Der Spiegel, named Al-Zeer as the ‘person responsible for Hamas’ in Germany and across Europe.


Al-Zeer moved from London to Berlin in 2014 and the next year was photographed alongside Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’s political bureau in Qatar.  He was also pictured in 2008 with Khaled Mashaal, who led Hamas from 1992 to 2017, according to The Times. Al-Zeer is alleged to be influential in at least two European-based Palestinian groups that have been linked to Hamas by German and Israeli security services. The groups deny supporting Hamas activities.


Hamas was banned in Germany after it killed 1,200 Israeli civilians in the surprise attack on October 7. There is growing concern among security services that the group may be plotting terrorist attacks on European targets.  There is no suggestion that AlZeer has any involvement in organising terrorism in Europe. He has previously denied having any association with Hamas and described the claims as nonsense.  In November Christian Wakeford, the Labour MP for Bury South, used parliamentary privilege to identify Al-Zeer as one of four alleged ‘Hamas operatives’ and asked what the Home Office was doing about them.


Al-Zeer moved to the UK about 30 years ago and became one of the central figures in the Palestinian Return Centre, a London-based advocacy group founded in 1996 to campaign for Palestinian refugees’ ‘right to return’ to their homeland.

The Mail, 24 Dec.





Harvard president apologizes for remarks on antisemitism

WASHINGTON (AP) — Harvard University’s president apologized as pressure mounted for the University of Pennsylvania’s president to resign over their testimony at a congressional hearing on antisemitism that critics from the White House on down say failed to demonstrate they would stand up to antisemitism on campus. . . . At issue was a line of questioning that asked whether calling for the genocide of Jews would violate the universities’ code of conduct. At the Tuesday hearing, Gay said it depended on the context, adding that when “speech crosses into conduct, that violates our policies.”


Gay told The Crimson [student newspaper] she was sorry, saying she “got caught up in what had become at that point, an extended, combative exchange about policies and procedures.”  “What I should have had the presence of mind to do in that moment was return to my guiding truth, which is that calls for violence against our Jewish community — threats to our Jewish students —

have no place at Harvard, and will never go unchallenged,” Gay said.

AP, 8 Dec.


Elite US universities face turmoil over antisemitism concerns

At Harvard, students, faculty, alumni and donors debated today over the future of the school’s leadership. Claudine Gay, the university’s president, was facing calls to resign after widely criticized comments she made last week about antisemitism on campus.


As Harvard’s governing body met today, hundreds of faculty came to Gay’s defense in several open letters. One, from Black faculty members, called the attacks on the school’s president “specious and politically motivated.” Another letter that was gaining traction, from students and alumni, called for her firing, saying “she does not represent our collective values.”


The uproar mirrors the situation at another Ivy League school, the University of Pennsylvania, where its president, Elizabeth Magill, resigned on Saturday after losing the support of the school’s board of trustees.  . . . At Yale, university officials condemned what they called the desecration of a public Hanukkah menorah after a protester hung a Palestinian flag from it.

New York Times, 11 Dec.


Harvard president resigns amid claims of plagiarism and antisemitism backlash

Claudine Gay, the president of Harvard University, has resigned amid pressure over her response to questions about antisemitism at US colleges and allegations that she has plagiarized some of her academic work.  In her resignation letter, Gay announced that she will be returning to her position as a member of the faculty.  “As I now return to the faculty, and to the scholarship and teaching that are the lifeblood of what we do, I pledge to continue working alongside you to build the community we all deserve,” she wrote.


Gay’s resignation comes just six months after her presidency began, making hers the shortest tenure in Harvard’s history. The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Gay was appointed the first Black person and the second woman to the lead the Ivy League institution.


On 5 December, Gay, along with the presidents of MIT and the University of Pennsylvania testified before Congress about their campuses’ handling of accusations of antisemitism, following the beginning of the Israel-Gaza war. All three presidents offered legalistic answers. Following their testimonies, more than 70 US lawmakers signed a letter in response demanding the presidents be removed. The University of Pennsylvania’s president resigned on 9 December. Gay apologized later for her answers.

The Guardian, 2 Jan.


Counselling magazine scraps article about Jewish trauma

A trade publication for British counsellors has removed an article about Jewish trauma in the wake of the October 7 attacks on Israel.


The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)’s publication spiked an article by Dr. Sandi Mann, a mental health practitioner and senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, and was pulled from BACP’s quarterly magazine Counselling at Work on the eve of publication over “unease” around possible “ramifications”, according to reports by The Times.


“This article was about the trauma that the Jewish community experienced after the worse massacre of Jews since the Holocaust,” Mann told  the JC. “This massacre happened. The trauma was real. We had Holocaust survivors and 2nd generation who were retriggered. We had people whose relatives had been killed or kidnapped. We had people who were in Israel when it happened and had to cope with sirens and bomb shelters.The trauma happened. To cancel the article feels like invalidating our trauma — simply because it is Jewish trauma.” . . . The BACP have now published Mann’s article on their website . . .

The Jewish Chronicle, 3 Jan.




Lester L. Grabbe

5 January 2024


Middle East Study Centre—Newsletter December 2023



MESC Lectures in December


NB:  all are welcome to the following online event, which is free of charge, but you must register to receive a link to listen in to the lecture.


The Middle East Study Centre and The Balfour Project

Tuesday, 5 December 2023, 18:00 London Time

The Prime Minister Lecture: Professor Salam Fayyad

Prime Minister of The Palestinian National Authority (2007-2013)

“In Conversation with Salam Fayyad”

Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor (Director, MESC)

Sir Vincent Fean (Trustee, The Balfour Project Charity; MESC)

Sir Tom Phillips (MESC)

Link to register:



Academic Website and Petition re Israel


The following announcement may already have reached some of you:

In light of the hard times we are going through, and the slew of disinformation that is rampant, academics from various institutions in Israel have put up a website (constantly being updated) with the aim of advocating for fact-based assessments about the crisis:


Among other things the website has a petition which academics from all over the world have signed. I urge you to check it out and add your signature:





“Lone Wolves” Lured in UK Death Plots

Iran has generated at least 17 plots against UK targets, including abduction and murder attempts, since the start of last year – and authorities fear it is trying to radicalise “lone-wolf” extremists to conduct further attacks.  New figures reveal that a quarter of Tehran’s overseas operations to target critics have been against Britain.


Following the outbreak of conflict between Israel and Tehran-backed Hamas, security officials are braced for the tempo of plots to increase and for a potential shift in focus from Iranian dissidents and opposition media to British Jews and politicians.  Ministers believe Iran has already identified Jewish and Israeli targets in the UK for potential “future lethal operations”. An investigation by The Sunday Times has found the regime is using a series of proxies, including organised crime groups.


Law enforcement officials fear its latest tactic entails radicalising “lone-wolf” extremists from afar. They believe that Iran has sought to exploit the pro-Palestinian protests that have taken place in London since the October 7 Hamas massacre. Police recently issued an appeal to identify six thugs who were part of a mob that confronted a British-Iranian activist after he displayed the Israeli flag.  Another person linked to the group has been charged with carrying a knife.  “Plainly events in the Middle East sharpen the possibility that Iran might decide to move into new directions,” MI5 director-general Ken McCallum recently warned.

Sunday Times, 26 Nov.




US carries out airstrikes in eastern Syria

Two US F-15 fighter jets conducted an airstrike on a weapons storage facility in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated groups, the Pentagon announced Wednesday.  “This precision self-defense strike is a response to a series of attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria by IRGC-Quds Force affiliates,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement. “The President has no higher priority than the safety of U.S. personnel, and he directed today’s action to make clear that the United States will defend itself, its personnel, and its interests.”


“The United States is fully prepared to take further necessary measures to protect our people and our facilities,” he added. “We urge against any escalation.”  A senior military official said Wednesday evening that the facility, located in Maysalun in Deir Ezzor, Syria, is believed to have housed weapons used in “many of the airstrikes that have taken place against our forces here in the region.”


“We’ve been watching it for a bit to ensure that when we struck the target, we would strike it at a time that we would be able to eliminate the use of the facility to the IRGC. … I watched the engagement, I can tell you that we’re pretty certain there were some secondary explosions that indicated that the facility was housing weapons that we believe are likely used in many of the strikes that have taken place against our forces here in the region,” the official said.


The official added that they are “very certain” Wednesday’s strike “did not involve civilian loss.”  The US, the official said, “did use the deconfliction line” with Russia. The US speaks with Russia regularly over a deconfliction line regarding military operations in Syria.  The US strike is the second time the US has hit facilities used by Iranian-backed groups in response to nearly daily attacks by Iranian proxies on US forces in Iraq and Syria. On October 26, a US F-15 and two F-16s used precision-guided munitions to strike two facilities linked to Iran-backed militias in eastern Syria.

CNN News, 9 Nov.


United Arab Emirates


Climate summit host UAE to ‘aggressively increase’ oil production

The UAE’s state oil firm is to ramp up production over the next decade, according to new analysis that comes as the petrostate hosts the Cop28 global climate summit.  The new data came as a key adviser to the climate summit quit because of reports that the UAE planned to use its role as host to push oil and gas deals in meetings with other governments.


The developments underlined the difficult role the UAE has in convincing countries to reach a deal on reducing emissions during the two-week negotiations.  Its state oil firm, Adnoc, which is headed by Cop28 president Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, is on course to become the second-biggest oil producer in the world by 2050, according to analysis by charity Global Witness, based on data from industry analysts Rystad Energy.  Global Witness said assets operated by Adnoc are projected to produce 35.9 billion barrels of oil between the start of 2023 and the end of 2050, second in terms of volume only to Saudi Aramco’s 100.5 billion barrels.


It said the data showed Adnoc was also planning to “aggressively increase its production in the short term”, despite Al-Jaber acknowledging that emissions must drop 43 per cent by 2030 to keep world targets of limiting warming to 1.5C on track.  Adnoc told Global Witness that the analysis was “inaccurate as it does not make any distinction between production capacity and actual production, nor does it reflect the difference between Adnoc’s production, partner production and UAE total production.”

Telegraph, 2 Dec.


DUBAI, Dec 1 (Reuters) – United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, whose country is hosting the COP28 climate summit, announced on Friday a $30 billion climate fund that aims to attract $250 billion of investment by the end of the decade.  Dubbed ALTÉRRA, the fund will allocate $25 billion to climate strategies and $5 billion to incentivise investment flows into the Global South, a statement by the COP28 Presidency said.


In collaboration with global asset managers BlackRock (BLK.N), Brookfield (BAM.TO) and TPG (TPG.O), ALTÉRRA has committed $6.5 billion to climate-dedicated funds for global investments, including the Global South, the statement said.  The fund aimed “to steer private markets towards climate investments and focus on transforming emerging markets and developing economies,” where it said higher perceived risks had deterred traditional investment.

Reuters, 1 Dec.




Qatar’s human rights promises after World Cup 2022

Fifa “has a responsibility to deliver the legacy it said it would” on human rights in Qatar following the 2022 World Cup but “is not there yet”, according to Norwegian football chief Lise Klaveness.  A year on from the tournament, Klaveness has returned to Qatar to try to find out whether human rights in the Gulf state have been improved.  Speaking from Doha, she told BBC Sport that the World Cup “really pushed some very progressive changes” over the treatment of migrant workers, but also said she had identified a “struggle with implementation” of reforms.


And on the issue of gay rights in Qatar, where same-sex relationships are illegal, Klaveness said “matters are still as sensitive, as controversial, and have not moved at all”.  The former Norway international said she had returned to Qatar, where she met with workers, the authorities and NGO representatives, a year on from the tournament in order “to learn, because we think these issues will come up again and again”.  “We want to follow up on the promises Fifa made, and football’s responsibility on human rights policy,” she added.


“For now, we see that Fifa has not really leaned in and engaged in really walking the walk on lifting human rights [to being a prerequisite for hosting] World Cups.”  In response, Fifa said its human rights and social responsibility sub-committee is carrying out an independent assessment on whether the steps the body has taken so far are “in line” with its human rights responsibilities, and whether additional steps would be recommended “in view of further strengthening the tournament’s legacy for migrant workers”.

BBC News, 30 Nov.



Islamic Conference over Gaza Situation


Muslim leaders blast Israeli ‘crimes’; Iran: Solution is Palestine from river to sea

Meeting Saturday in the Saudi capital, Arab leaders and Iran’s president roundly condemned Israel’s actions in its war against the Hamas terror group in Gaza, accusing it of crimes and terrorism against the Palestinian people.  But the outcome of the summit also highlighted regional divisions over how to respond to the war, even as fears mount that it could draw in other countries.


The final declaration on Saturday rejected Israeli assertions that it is acting in self-defense and demanded that the United Nations Security Council adopt “a decisive and binding resolution” to halt Israel’s “aggression.” It also called for an end to weapons sales to Israel and dismissed out of hand any future political resolution to the conflict that would keep Gaza separate from the West Bank.


At the same time, several nations rejected a push to respond to the war by threatening to disrupt oil supplies to Israel and its allies as well as severing the economic and diplomatic ties that some Arab League nations have with Israel.  . . . The countries that voted against those clauses were Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco, Mauritania and Djibouti. . . .


Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, on his first trip to Saudi Arabia since the two countries mended ties in March, said Islamic countries should designate the Israeli army a “terrorist organization” for its conduct in Gaza.  Raisi told the summit that the only solution to the conflict is a Palestinian state from the “river to the sea” — meaning an elimination of the State of Israel.

Times of Israel, 11 Nov.



Hamas-Israeli Conflict


On this see the blog of Professor Cohen-Almagor (Director of MESC), Hamas-Israel War, The Times of Israel, 10 Nov. 2023:


[Here are some excerpts from the 10 Nov. blog:]

Some people want revenge. I am not a vengeful person and the issue for me is not revenge. Revenge is a very bad guide for decision-making process. Blind vengeance would only yield more violence and gore. The issue is self-defence.


Israel fights this war because it has a fundamental right to defend itself against those vowing to see its destruction. . . .


I did not support a ground operation, dreading the bloody ramifications of such an operation. I supported a monitored siege on Gaza, controlling what was going in and out from Gaza, with measured incursions into Gaza and securing a deal for the release of the hostages.


I support a deal. Freeing all the Hostages in exchange for letting equal number of Hamas people travel to Iran.


Israel should do whatever it can to bring home the hostages held by Hamas. It is its duty and the decent, right thing to do.  . . .


Israeli leaders should also understand that the root cause for this brutal war is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This convoluted, long and bloody conflict that has costed many thousands of lives will continue to hunt Israel if its leaders will continue to prioritise land over human life, and continued occupation over

normalisation and reconciliation with the Palestinians. If we do not learn to live together, we will continue to die together. The last serious attempt to seek peace was done by Prime Minister Olmert in 2008. Since then, Israel has been stalling for time. 7 October is a loud wake-up call to be proactive in securing accommodation and in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Raphael Cohen-Almagor, Hamas-Israel War, Times of Israel, Nov 10, 2023


See also Raphael Cohen-Almagor, Calling terrorism by name, The Times of Israel, 17 November 2023:


Hamas Use of Gaza Hospitals for Terror Purposes

The Israel Defense Forces revealed new intelligence Sunday it said provided further evidence that the Hamas terror group is using medical facilities in the Gaza Strip for terror purposes.  IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari briefed international media outlets with video footage of Hamas gunmen emerging from a tunnel under Sheikh Hamad Hospital, as well firing at Israelis forces from within the building itself.


War erupted between Israel and Hamas last month when the Palestinian terror group launched a massive attack that killed over 1,400 people. Israel has repeatedly said Hamas is using civilians as human shields, including by locating operations bases under hospitals. Captured Hamas terrorists have confirmed the claims, explaining that Hamas knows Israel will not bomb a medical center.   “Today, I will be sharing evidence proving that Hamas systematically exploits hospitals as part of its war machine,” Hagari said. “We decided to declassify and share more sensitive intelligence with you, because the world must take immediate action.”


Hagari presented a video showing an underground entrance from Sheikh Hamad Hospital, which he said connects to Hamas tunnel networks believed to run for hundreds of kilometers under the Palestinian enclave.  Another video showed Hamas gunmen opening fire at Israeli forces from the hospital.  “If it weren’t enough that we exposed a tunnel under the hospital, the terrorists also shot at our soldiers from within the hospital,” Hagari said.

Times of Israel, Nov. 5


Weapons found in Gaza hospital prove it was ‘unequivocally’ used for terror

The Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday that its troops found military equipment including weapons in their raid on Gaza’s biggest hospital.  In an operation that began before dawn and continued for much of Wednesday, Israeli forces entered part of Shifa Hospital, with a journalist at the site telling AFP that the IDF had carried out room-by-room searches, after days of fighting on the outskirts of the facility with Hamas gunmen.


The IDF had encircled Shifa for days, and has said Hamas maintained a major operations command center beneath the facility, using the patients, staff, and civilians sheltering there to provide cover for its terrorists and gunmen. The US on Tuesday confirmed that Hamas and Islamic Jihad use Shifa and other Gaza hospitals, and tunnels underneath them, “to conceal and to support their military operations and to hold hostages.”


“In the hospital, we found weapons, intelligence materials, and military technology and equipment,” military spokesman Daniel Hagari told reporters.  “We also found an operational headquarters with comms equipment… belonging to Hamas” and “Hamas uniforms,” he said.  The army published images of guns, grenades, and other equipment it said were found at Shifa. . . .


“These weapons have absolutely no business being inside a hospital,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said in the video, adding that he believed the material was “just the tip of the iceberg.” The military said the search was continuing, but it did not immediately show evidence of tunnels or an extensive military center.

Times of Israel, 15 Nov.


BBC satirized hours before real-life apology

Israel’s version of “Saturday Night Live” took another swipe at the British Broadcasting Corporation on Tuesday over its coverage of the war in Gaza, with an inordinately sympathetic spoof interview of Hamas terror chief Yahya Sinwar.


The skit from Keshet TV’s long-running satirical show “Eretz Nehederet” (“A Wonderful Country”) aired hours before the BBC, in real life, was forced to apologize for one of its presenters saying that IDF soldiers who entered Shifa Hospital in Gaza City “were targeting people including medical teams and Arab speakers,” after she mangled a report that actually said Israeli troops at the hospital were accompanied by “medical teams and Arabic-speaking soldiers.”


Kicking off the “Eretz Nehederet” clip, a BBC anchor named Rachel says, “Good evening from London. Thirty-nine days after Hamas freedom fighters peacefully attacked Israel, we have now an exclusive interview with its leader Yahya Sinwar.”


“Yes. Good evening, Rachel. Let me just correct you. There were also freedom rapists and freedom butchers,” Sinwar says.


“Of course, of course. I apologize,” concedes Rachel.


The anchor then asks the terror chief about efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza, which Sinwar says he supports.


“The situation in Gaza is terrible, Rachel. All innocent civilians are running out of town. So we are left without protection,” he laments.


“With no human shield at all. So unfair!” the anchor responds.


“And our hospitals, our schools, have all run out of rockets. How are we supposed to kill Jews like this?” Sinwar adds. “I plead to the world, we need a ceasefire. We are tired. We need a break. Don’t forget, we started earlier than the Israelis.”


“So unfair, so unfair. But I understand the Zionists refuse to put down their weapons,” Rachel says.


“Yes. Can you imagine? Can you imagine? All we want is a little time to rearm before we continue to kill them. And they won’t let us,” Sinwar exclaims.

Times of Israel, 16 Nov.


Hamas bringing hostages into Shifa Hospital on Oct. 7

The Israel Defense Forces releases surveillance camera footage from Shifa Hospital showing Hamas terrorists bringing a Nepali and Thai citizen who were abducted from Israel on October 7 to the medical center.  One of the hostages is visibly wounded in his arm and is brought on a hospital bed, while the second is forcefully dragged into the hospital.  “These findings prove that the Hamas terror organization used Shifa Hospital on the day of the massacre itself a terror infrastructure,” the IDF says.


In an evening press conference, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari says the two wounded hostages were later taken by Hamas to hideouts, and that the Red Cross was unable to visit them. He says their locations are currently unknown.  The IDF says it has notified “relevant authorities” about the footage.

Further images released by the IDF from the surveillance cameras at Shifa show Hamas terrorists inside the hospital, and outside the rooms of the hostages, as well as stolen IDF vehicles brought to the medical center.

Times of Israel, 19 Nov.


Hostage was killed in Shifa

Army says terror group took Noa Marciano to Gaza hospital after she was hurt in an IDF strike, murdered her there; unveils long-awaited footage of Hamas tunnels under compound.  The Israel Defense Forces . . . accused the Palestinian terror organization of murdering a kidnapped Israeli soldier there.  It also shared new footage of the underground network of tunnels and bunkers it says is buried under the hospital, as Israeli forces continue to operate in and around the facility. The army says Hamas uses Shifa and other hospitals as protection for its terror activity, and has specifically singled out Shifa as a key underground operations center for the group.

Times of Israel, 19 Nov.


Settlers Target Armenians in Jerusalem Old City

It was night-time when the settlers, armed with rifles and accompanied by attack dogs, descended on the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City.  “They came and started ripping up the pavement with diggers,” said Hagop Djernazian, 22, a young activist who rushed to the site to see off the settlers.


Linking arms, the Armenians formed a human chain in front of the bulldozers until the settlers were turned away. “It is not just a piece of land we are protecting,” Djernazian said. “It is the future of Armenians and all Christians in Jerusalem that is at stake here.”  With international attention focused on the bombardment of Gaza and on settler attacks in the West Bank, Armenians in the Old City say they are facing perhaps their most serious existential threat in the 16 centuries since they first settled here.


Since Israel occupied and annexed the Old City in 1967, bringing life back to its empty Jewish Quarter, biblically inspired right-wing Jewish settler organisations have sought to extend their presence throughout the walled city, which contains some of the holiest sites in the three Abrahamic faiths.  One such organisation is Ateret Cohanim, which has used foreign money to buy up property across all four quarters, and at times illegally occupied church premises in the Christian quarter, including the famed St John’s Hospice.


When Armenian residents discovered, belatedly, that a deal had been agreed to sell off a critical tract of church-owned land without due process, the outcry led the Armenian Patriarchate to declare the deal null and void. Instead of going to court to rule on the validity of the deal, however, the capital venture firm that signed it sent in armed settlers to do their work.

Times, 20 Nov.


Warnings of Israeli Women Soldiers Ignored

TEL AVIV — Did Israel’s security chiefs brush off warnings from women border surveillance soldiers who had evidence that something was brewing in Gaza ahead of the murderous attacks by Hamas militants on October 7?  That’s the explosive accusation coming from several soldiers in Israel’s predominantly female border surveillance forces — known as the tatzpitaniyot, or look-outs in Hebrew. The soldiers are telling the media their superiors did not heed warnings of unusual activity inside Gaza, such as Palestinian guerrillas training with explosives or rehearsing attacks on a replica tank and a mock observation post.


Their statements to the media are piling pressure on the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing a firestorm over last month’s catastrophic intelligence blunder. The country’s fabled spy services ultimately failed to detect an impending Hamas onslaught, in which an estimated 3,000 Palestinian fighters killed some 1,200 Israelis and abducted about 240.  In addition to the implications of sexism, the charges feed a sense that Netanyahu and his security services were complacent, believing they had nothing to fear from Hamas in Gaza. Netanyahu’s opponents even argue he was actively boosting Hamas in Gaza, with support from Qatar, in a risky game of “divide-and-rule” that played the Islamists off against the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.


The women’s warnings, made over several months, did not correspond to the received wisdom that Hamas had been tamed. In what may transpire to be another major mistake in a series of cascading errors, the women say mainly male top commanders dismissed their concerns, insisted Hamas had no plans to go to war, and ordered them to stop being so alarmist.  Known as the “eyes of the army,” the tatzpitaniyot use security cameras and sensors to monitor a 15 to 30 kilometer stretch of land they’re each responsible for. The surveillance includes any small changes in activity, including farmers altering their routines. The work requires great patience, concentration and hours spent monitoring screens.  The tatzpitaniyot, especially those at a base in Nahal Oz, one of several kibbutzim overrun on October 7, reported unusual signs along the Gaza border. The activity was not just minor, and included Hamas sending up drones several times a day in the weeks leading up to the attack.

Politico, 21 Nov.


Polls of Palestinians on Hamas

After Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre of Israelis, leading U.S. news outlets pointed to a single poll from just before the attack as proof that most Gazans did not support the terrorist group. But none of those outlets mentioned a poll published last week that shows Gazans overwhelmingly approve of both Hamas and its slaughter and abduction of Israelis, including dozens of babies and children.  It’s the latest example of the media ignoring information that complicates its depiction of Palestinians as innocent victims of Israeli cruelty.


Then: Arab Barometer completed the first poll on Oct. 6. Leaders of the research group, which tracks public opinion across the Middle East, presented their findings in Foreign Affairs on Oct. 25 under the headline, “What Palestinians Really Think of Hamas.” The answer: 67 percent of Gazans had “no trust” or “not a lot of trust” in their autocratic Islamist rulers, and a majority favored a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over sharing one state or a federation with the Jews.  . . .


Now: The Arab World for Research and Development released a survey on Nov. 14 that found 60 percent of Gazans feel positively about Hamas and 64 percent support the group’s Oct. 7 attack. Among West Bank Palestinians, those numbers were 87 percent and 83 percent, respectively. Hamas’s armed wing, the Al Aqsa Brigade, received even more widespread support: 70 percent in Gaza and 87 percent in the West Bank.


The Arab Barometer pollsters would blame Israel for pushing Palestinians toward Hamas and terrorism. But decades of polling has shown that large majorities of Palestinians endorse even the most heinous acts of violence against Israeli civilians. In 2008, for example, 84 percent of Palestinians approved of a terror attack in which a Palestinian gunman shot 19 Jewish children at a school in West Jerusalem, killing 8 of them, according to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

Washington Free Beacon, 22 Nov.


Biden’s Part in Hostage Negotiation

Shortly after Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel, Qatar approached the White House with sensitive information regarding the hostages — and word that a deal for their release was possible, a senior U.S. official tells Axios’ Barak Ravid.  National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan directed Biden’s top Middle East adviser, Brett McGurk, and another top adviser, Josh Geltzer, to establish a secret working group on the hostage issue.


The group’s work wasn’t read into the White House’s interagency process because Qatar and Israel — which quietly created similar working groups — demanded extreme secrecy.  Only a few people in the Biden administration knew the details of the group’s work.  But now we can take you behind the scenes. Interviews with the officials reveal how Biden’s team shaped the agreement during six weeks of often-tense negotiations, how he was driven by “gut-wrenching” meetings with hostages’ family members, and his aggressive push to seal the deal.

Axios AM, 23 Nov.


Female IDF tank crews ran down dozens of Hamas terrorists

When a group of young Israeli women were woken up at 6:30 a.m. on October 7, they had no idea they would be making history as the first female armored crews in Israel, and perhaps the world, to participate in active battle.  In an interview with Channel 12 this week, the combat soldiers spoke of thundering along main roads to get to some of the 20 southern Israeli communities that came under massive assault that morning, running down terrorists, and securing breaches on the border with the Gaza Strip.


One of the officers in the unit, identified as Hagar, told Channel 12: “[My commander] comes into our room at 6:30 a.m., wakes me up and tells us that there’s a terrorist infiltration. We didn’t really understand the enormity of the event.”  The soldiers are part of a company of all-women tank operators, which was made permanent in the Israel Defense Forces in 2022 after a two-year pilot program. The company, in the Caracal mixed-gender light infantry battalion, usually operates along the Egyptian border — not in wars or in fighting behind enemy lines.  On the morning of October 7, they left their base at Nitzana, on the Egyptian border, and drove north as fast as they could, in tanks and an armored Humvee.

Times of Israel, 26 Nov.


How the ceasefire collapsed

Negotiations over extending the Gaza ceasefire collapsed yesterday after Hamas refused to free 10 Israeli women — and instead offered to begin discussing the release of elderly men, Israeli officials told Axios’ Barak Ravid.

Hamas has blamed Israel for the breakdown of the ceasefire.  The Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, called back its team from Qatar today. . . .


According to the ceasefire agreement, Hamas committed to releasing all the women and children it was holding hostage, in exchange for a pause in fighting for up to nine days. More than 80 women and children were released over the last week as part of this process.  But in the hours leading to the end of the pause, Hamas didn’t send a list of hostages it would release, Israeli officials said.


Instead, Hamas sent messages through Qatari and Egyptian mediators proposing to start a discussion on what concessions Israel would be willing to give in return for the release of elderly men, the officials added.  Behind the scenes: The Israeli officials said Israel made it clear to the mediators that it knows Hamas still has several women in its custody, and that it wouldn’t discuss future deals before all the women were released. . . . Not long after that, Hamas launched a rocket from Gaza for the first time since the pause started. An hour later, the ceasefire completely broke down.


The other side: Hamas official Osama Hamdan told Al-Araby news channel that Israel was responsible for the failure. He said that the women Israel proposed to be released included female IDF soldiers.  Hamas in a statement said it had offered to release elderly men and two Israeli hostages, as well as the bodies of hostages it said were killed during Israeli airstrikes in Gaza. That includes a mother and her two children, the statement said.  What’s next: The U.S. is trying to broaden out hostage negotiations to include the possible releases of elderly civilian men and female IDF reservists, according to a source briefed on the discussions.

Axios, 2 Dec.





American Universities

Elite universities, under pressure for being silent or soft on antisemitism, are being forced to take tougher lines on verbal and physical violence against Jews.  Columbia suspended two pro-Palestinian groups as official student groups through the end of the fall term yesterday.  The university said Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) “repeatedly violated University policies related to holding campus events, culminating in an unauthorized event Thursday afternoon that proceeded despite warnings and included threatening rhetoric and intimidation.”


Why it matters: Frightened students complain that universities have done too little to support them since the Israel-Hamas war began five weeks ago. Irate megadonors contend Ivy League universities are being too timid in confronting antisemitism.  What’s happening: Long-simmering tensions are erupting in violence — and shattering the sense of safety that makes colleges hubs of free discourse, AP reports.  Jewish and Muslim students are witnessing acts of hate, leaving many fearing for their safety even as they walk to class.

Axios, 11 Nov.


British Universities

Jewish students living in fear as wave of antisemitism hits universities, which

are investigating incidents of assault, egg-throwing and antisemitic WhatsApp messages.


It was supposed to be a friendly social event: a bar crawl for new Jewish students at the University of Warwick to make friends and build a community. Then one, glancing at her phone, asked a frightened question: “Are they going to be able to find us?”  On all of their phones, in a WhatsApp group for Jewish freshers, four new members had started posting antisemitic hate, directed specifically at Jewish students.


Messages appeared about Palestine, followed by the phrases “F*** Israel” and “dirty Jewish c***s”, as their group chat was infiltrated by antisemites.  “One girl started to cry, people were afraid for their physical safety, being afraid of somebody with a knife coming in,” said Jacob Lederman, the society’s treasurer.  It is one in a wave of antisemitic incidents faced by Jewish students across the country, including physical attacks and assaults.

Times, 11 Nov.


I was on the march against antisemitism — there was one thing missing

I went on the march against antisemitism on Sunday afternoon in London. So did (estimates vary) somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 other people. Let’s split the difference and call it 80,000. The Jewish population of England and Wales at the last census was 271,000. So, given that most of those marching were, unlike me, Jewish, then possibly a quarter of that number were present. Or, assuming (perhaps unfairly) that not many people travelled a long distance to attend, about half the Jews in London came. Which is a remarkable turnout. . . .


Shuffling along the Strand and Whitehall, this gratitude was redoubled in the flesh. I was stopped perhaps a dozen times by strangers to say, effusively, thank you. A couple of marchers offered heartfelt hugs, both in recognition of my article and my attendance. I began to feel embarrassed.


Now, don’t get me wrong, this attention was very welcome, flattering, a lovely boost for the not-inconsiderable Crampton ego. And yet it made me think: Britain’s Jews must be feeling pretty lonely to be so chuffed that a non-Jew has merely a) reminded a wider audience of the savagery of October 7 and b) turned up to show solidarity with his friends and fellow citizens. Neither of these actions (truthful reporting, opposing antisemitism) do I regard as morally complex, controversial or courageous. They certainly should not be.


My second worry was: where was the left? I speak as someone whose relatives not only participated in the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, but as trade unionists and members of the Communist Party of Great Britain, helped to organise the resistance to Oswald Mosley’s fascists marching through the Jewish East End. Yet on Sunday I didn’t see any union or Labour banners. And while I’m sure some attended, I did not see any prominent shadow cabinet members among the throng of celebrities and Conservative ministers present. The theme of the march was one with which any reasonable person can easily agree. The failure of the left to front up was humiliating, mystifying and spectacularly ill-judged.

Robert Crampton, Times, 28 Nov.




Lester L. Grabbe

3 December 2023


Middle East Study Centre—Newsletter November 2023



MESC Lectures in November and December


NB:  all are welcome to the following online events, which are free of charge, but you must register to receive a link to listen in to the lecture.


Middle East Study Centre (MESC) Research Seminar

Wednesday, 15 November 2023, 17:00 London Time

Dr Neil Partrick

Middle East analyst

“Syria: Failed State or Reborn Regional Player?”

Chair and Discussant: Sir Tom Phillips

Link to register:

The Middle East Study Centre and The Balfour Project

Tuesday, 5 December 2023, 18:00 London Time

The Prime Minister Lecture: Professor Salam Fayyad

Prime Minister of The Palestinian National Authority (2007-2013)

“In Conversation with Salam Fayyad”

Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor (Director, MESC)

Sir Vincent Fean (Trustee, The Balfour Project Charity; MESC)

Sir Tom Phillips (MESC)

Link to register:



The Israel-Hamas War


NB: the events of the conflict have been moving rapidly.  Most of you have been following the daily news from the region; therefore, no attempt has been made to catalogue the events in detail.  Instead, various reports that are thought to throw light on the situation are given here.


Here is a link to Views From Wilson Center Experts:


Two Israeli academics give their thoughts and experiences relating to the 7 October massacre:

Professor Aren Maeir:

Professor Ayelet Gilboa:


Read the interview with General Petraeus and historian Andrew Roberts (updated 1 Nov.):


Israel Confronts Hamas: For Military Planners, Gaza is Not Unusual

The legal and ethical challenges of operating in densely populated areas are going to be a tragic constant of 21st century warfare, with no easy solutions.  The impending ground invasion of Gaza by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has raised a range of questions about how military operations should be conducted in densely populated areas. The political context of the Israel–Palestine conflict, and the human tragedy that has engulfed Israeli and Palestinian families, has made the military considerations secondary to a raging political debate. For the military, however, the questions at stake are not exceptional but routine, and will likely define many of the planning considerations for

operations throughout this century. Precedents set in Gaza, therefore, may cast a long shadow.


Israel has declared war on Hamas. Legally, there are two questions that arise: the legality of the war, and the legality of how it is fought. As regards the former, Hamas’s incursion on to Israeli territory, the deliberate massacre of over 1,300 and the kidnapping of hundreds of Israeli civilians undoubtedly counts as an armed attack in response to which Israel has the right of self-defence. Given that Hamas has a stated objective of destroying the Israeli state, took the hostages on to the territory it controls, and is launching rockets and conducting command and control from that territory, it is also legal for Israel to operate against Hamas on the territory of Gaza in response. There is therefore no question as to the legality of the Israeli action, which aims to eliminate the capacity of Hamas to conduct further attacks.


The difficulties arise as to how such a mission is to be carried out, given that the area of operations comprises densely populated urban terrain with a large proportion of children and non-combatants and very weak critical infrastructure. Under the Laws of Armed Conflict and International Humanitarian Law, Israeli forces are obligated to discriminate military from civilian targets, to restrict their activities to those that are of military necessity, and to exercise proportionality. It is not illegal for civilians to be killed as a result of operations. It is illegal for operations to target civilians or for there to be a lack of proportionality in striking military targets relative to assessed collateral damage.


Discrimination is simplified by the fact that Hamas systematically uses civilian objects for military purposes. It has dug subterranean infrastructure beneath civilian buildings, including ammunition depots, and has boasted in its own media about using Gaza’s water reticulation infrastructure for manufacturing rockets. When militaries do this, they render such areas military objects that are targetable, which is why – for example – it was legal for coalition forces to strike a hospital in Mosul that had been repurposed for IED manufacture in 2016. The challenge for the attacking force therefore becomes a question of judging the military value of a target against the risk of collateral damage.


The legal case for striking urban targets is often heavily weighted to the detriment of civilians because of the asymmetry in certainty about targets. If a Hamas command post is communicating from a structure and this is intercepted, if an Israeli ground unit takes fire from a structure, or if rockets are launched into Israel from a site, then there is confirmation that enemy military activity is taking place there. The civilians hiding in the building, trying to sleep or keep out of the line of fire, are invisible, and therefore are not counted in the judgement as to proportionality. This is why the RAF has long maintained that it knows of only one civilian killed in its strikes in Iraq, even though the civilian death toll from the air campaign during the war against Islamic State numbered in the thousands.


The campaign to defeat the Islamic State – which involved the assault of several major cities, from Ramadi and Fallujah to Mosul, Tel Affar and Raqqa – was conducted slowly, with painstaking targeting and legal processes to try and mitigate civilian harm. Nevertheless, the cities were laid waste, and thousands of civilians died. The death toll was also high for the attacking force. Iraq’s Counterterrorism Service, one of the most experienced and capable military units in the world at the time, suffered 40% casualties during the assault on Mosul.


The challenge of how to take urban ground without destroying the city is insurmountable with the tools currently available. Moreover, because there is no prize for second place in war, and because sensor dominance quickly leads to an asymmetry in casualties, weaker forces will retreat into dense, urban terrain. Ukrainian troops did this in Mariupol. British forces expect to have to operate from urban strongholds in future conflict. Hamas and Islamic State’s decision to fall back into urban terrain made sound tactical sense.


The laws of war are effective when parties view them as viable instructions for how to fight. When they prohibit fighting altogether, they are likely to be ignored. How to craft rules that protect civilians in this context, therefore, requires thoughtful proposals. The proposal advocated by some groups to exclude explosive weapons from urban fighting is a non-starter, as it would confer such an advantage on to the defender as to prevent an attacker from prosecuting operations.


For Israel, tactical options are constrained by a range of additional factors. Iron Dome – the air defence system protecting Israeli cities from rocket attack – has a finite number of interceptors. Given the massive threat if Hizbullah joins the fray, Israel is keen to limit its expenditure of interceptors by interdicting left of launch. The threat of escalation with Hizbullah also means that Israel feels it necessary to preserve combat power. Both factors lead to an approach to Gaza that is fast and favours firepower. This weights the judgement as to military necessity.


In the absence of tools and methods for fighting among the people, advertising intent and clear avenues for civilians to vacate the battlespace is a viable alternative. This is what Israel has done by instructing civilians to move South of the Gaza River, while indicating the routes and times where movement will not be interdicted. The proposed timeframe for evacuation was short, although it has now been extended by delays to the ground operation.


Despite these measures, many civilians – as always in these cases – will choose to stay. Furthermore, in this specific context, many Palestinians fear that Israel is not trying to move them to a safe place, but instead trying to get them to vacate land which will be occupied and eventually settled. Palestinians fear that they will not be allowed to return. This is not the stated policy of the Israeli government. However, given Israel’s past conduct and the statements of several of its current ministers, this fear is understandable. It is also important to note that Israel has a history of valid tactical military justifications being instrumentalised by a minority within its cabinet to radically reshape its policy over time. This is how Operation Peace for Galilee in 1982, authorised by the Israeli cabinet to secure its northern border, was morphed in stages by Defence Minister Ariel Sharon into a siege of Beirut.


A policy to permanently drive Palestinians from Gaza would amount to ethnic cleansing and a war crime. It is therefore vital that, alongside support to Israel in defending itself, the international community is clear as to its expectations in confirming Israeli intent, and the consequences if that intent morphs into something illegal. One clear test is whether Israel will help to make the area to which people are evacuating safe by allowing food, medicine and clean water to be moved into southern Gaza.


It is also clear, however, that the international community will lack any credibility or authority on the issue if it simply demands a return to the status-quo ante. For many Palestinians, the progressive erosion of their control of the West Bank was choking off any prospect of a path to peace. For Israelis, the massacre conducted by Hamas on 7 October fundamentally changed their calculus. For years, Israel has been fearful as Iran and Hizbullah have consolidated their hold on Lebanon and Syria, amassing an arsenal of sophisticated weapons. In combination with the training and support to Hamas and the infiltration of Judea and Samaria, the IDF had come to view the status quo – amid increasing US disengagement from the region – as similarly unsustainable.


The IDF’s assessment today is that if the threat is left to expand, it will eventually threaten the viability of the Israeli state. Thus, their objective in the current conflict is not to simply inflict a dose of pain on Hamas to deter further fighting, but to systematically destroy its military capacity to conduct operations and thereby write down one of the threats. This risks Hizbullah intervening. But given that the Israeli security state fears things getting worse over time, many in the security establishment feel that if a fight must happen, then they would rather have it today.


For the international community, therefore, while deterring a regional escalation should be an objective, a mere temporary ‘stability’ is unlikely to look attractive to either side. If the international community wants long-term stability, it must be more proactively engaged in exploring a path to peace, rather than pursuing a systematic disengagement that simply cedes the region to Iran, which has characterised Washington’s approach for the last three years. There may emerge, from the ashes of this unfolding tragedy, an opportunity to build a new road to peace, just as there is the risk that the flames will engulf what remains of a rules-based international system that so many words have been pledged to defend.


The views expressed in this Commentary are the author’s, and do not represent those of RUSI or any other institution.

Dr Jack Watling (Senior Research Fellow, Land Warfare), RUSI, 16 Oct.


Israeli Peace Activists Support Tough Response

“The state of Israel was established so that Jews will not have to hide defenseless in closets and basements,” Yuval Noah Harari, a history professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote on Ynet, a Hebrew-language news website based in Israel. . . .


Some peace activists who’ve expressed concern about Israel limiting rights and economic opportunities to Palestinians in Gaza — and about Israel’s occupation of the West Bank since 1967 — say they understand the calls for swift retribution in Gaza.


“Even Israel’s conduct and its crimes in the occupied territories for 56 years cannot justify or soften what has been laid bare: the depth of hatred towards Israel, the painful understanding that we Israelis will always have to live here in heightened alertness and constant preparedness for war,” author and peace activist David Grossman wrote in Haaretz, a liberal Hebrew-language newspaper.


Between the lines: Hamas — which took over Gaza in a military coup in 2007, ousting the Palestinian Authority — follows an ideology that calls for the destruction of Israel.  Hamas didn’t try to occupy territory like an army in a war. Written secret orders captured on the bodies of Hamas commanders indicated the militants’ intent was to kill and kidnap as many civilians as possible.

Mike Allen’s Axios AM, 17 Oct.


Reactions by and in American Universities

American academic institutions are grappling with how to respond to the Israel-Hamas war for fear of angering students, faculty, donors and alumni, Axios’ Emma Hurt and Eleanor Hawkins report.


The war is “exposing those fault lines” on college campuses, which are “places to have disagreement, dissent, conversation … in the classroom or out of the classroom,” says Kristen Shahverdian, who runs nonprofit PEN America’s programming around free expression best practices.

But in times of crisis, schools “cannot use language that’s evasive or unclear,” she said.

Catch up fast: Attempts to leave space for nuance in school statements about the conflict have been denounced for not strongly condemning the atrocities committed by Hamas — prompting apologies and second statements.


Indiana University President Pamela Whitten issued a second statement last week after her first message featuring a broad reference to violence in the Middle East prompted outrage. A former student body president said it “displayed cowardice.”

University officials have been pressed to reprimand some pro-Palestinian student groups that criticized Israel.


Harvard leaders released an initial statement last week saying they were “heartbroken by the death and destruction unleashed by the attack by Hamas that targeted citizens in Israel.”

A coalition of pro-Palestinian student groups released a letter holding “the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.”

Following pressure from alumni, Harvard president Claudine Gay published a second statement saying those students didn’t speak for the university. Some of those pro-Palestinian students then had their names and photos displayed on a truck funded by a conservative group.

Axios, 18 Oct.


Israel Credit Rating under Threat

The Moody’s international credit rating agency announces that it is reviewing Israel for a possible downgrade of its A1 credit rating.   Moody’s says the review has been “triggered by the unexpected and violent conflict between Israel and Hamas.”  It notes that while Israel has “proven resilient” in past conflicts, the current level of violence “raises the possibility of longer lasting and material credit impact.”

Times of Israel, 20 Oct.


US Ship Shoots Down Missiles from Yemen

Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, tells reporters that the USS Carney, a Navy destroyer in the northern Red Sea, intercepted three land attack cruise missiles and several drones that were launched by Houthi forces in Yemen. He says they were shot down over the water.  “We cannot say for certain what these missiles and drones were targeting, but they were launched from Yemen heading north along the Red Sea, potentially towards targets in Israel,” Ryder says in a Pentagon briefing.  Ryder says the missiles were shot down because they “posed a potential threat” based on their flight profile, adding that the US is prepared to do whatever is needed “to protect our partners and our interests in this important region.” He says the US is still assessing what the target was.

AP, 20 Oct.


Behind the Curtain: A Rattled U.S. Government

Never before have we talked to so many top government officials who, in private, are so worried about so many overseas conflicts at once. . . . Behind the scenes: Officials tell us that inside the White House, this was the heaviest, most chilling week since President Biden took office just over 1,000 days ago.  Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates tells us America is facing the most crises since World War II ended 78 years ago.  Not one of the crises can be solved and checked off. All five could spiral into something much bigger:


  1. Israel’s response to the Hamas terrorist attack, and growing fear of a spreading war that reaches to Iran and beyond. Officials point to the protests, threats and deadly, anti-American warnings of Arab nations after they thought — incorrectly — Israel struck a hospital in Gaza, killing hundreds. This is a preview of what they fully expect will be a worldwide response to the expected Israeli invasion of Gaza. . . .


  1. Vladimir Putin meeting in China this week with Xi Jinping . . . .


  1. A malicious Iran. It’s unclear how involved Iran was in orchestrating or assisting the Hamas terrorist attack — but officials seem certain there are ties. More worrisome: U.S. officials fear Hezbollah — a much bigger terrorist group than Hamas, funded by Iran — will strike the moment Israel gets stuck in Gaza. . . .


  1. Then there’s the unhinged leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un . . . .


  1. A new weapon is being deployed in all these conflicts: a massive spread of doctored or wholly fake videos to manipulate what people see and think in real time. The architects of these new technologies, in background conversations with us after demonstrating new capabilities soon to be released, say even the sharpest eyes looking for fake videos will have an impossible time detecting what’s real. . . .

Axios, 20 Oct.


Cairo Summit of Regional Leaders

In Cairo, an international summit on the Hamas-Israel war opened Saturday, attended by Jordan’s King Abdullah, Egyptian President Al-Sisi, Palestinian President Abbas, British Foreign Minister James Cleverly, and UN Secretary General Guterres. The summit focused on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the release of hostages held by Hamas, the need for regional stability and for Israel to respect international law in its military response. It concluded without leaders and foreign ministers agreeing on a joint statement. . . .


CNN reported that the long-range barrage launched by Houthi rebels in Yemen at Israel on Thursday lasted nine hours. According to the report, a U.S. warship intercepted 15 drones and four cruise missiles whose trajectory left no doubt that the Houthis were aiming at Israel.

Haaretz, 21 Oct.


Hamas May Plan to Use Chemical Weapons

Hamas terrorists who broke into Israel were carrying instructions on how to make chemical weapons, according to Israeli President Isaac Herzog.  Israeli forces claim they discovered the material on the body of a dead fighter in Kibbutz Be’eri, where an estimated 20% of the 1,100 residents were killed or kidnapped.  The documents, complete with diagrams, were shown to Sky News by President Herzog in an exclusive interview on Sunday evening.  Sky News is unable to independently verify the claims.  “It’s Al Qaeda material. Official Al Qaeda material. We are dealing with ISIS, Al Qaeda and Hamas,” Mr Herzog said. “This is how shocking the situation is where we’re looking at the instructions that are given on how to operate and how to create a kind of non-professional chemical weapon with cyanide.”

Sky News, 22 Oct.


Canada Confident Israel Not Behind Deadly Blast at Gaza Hospital

Canada has a “high degree of confidence” that Israel was not responsible for the deadly explosion at Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza, its defence department has said, adding to a flurry of claims and counterclaims about the contested blast.  The Canadian Forces Intelligence Command determined that the blast was more likely caused by an errant rocket fired from Gaza after an analysis using open source and classified information, Minister of National Defence Bill Blair said in a statement on Sunday.


“Canada is deeply saddened by the loss of life caused by the explosion at Al Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza on October 17, 2023,” Blair said.  “We reiterate our sincere condolences to all those who lost loved ones.”  Blair added that officials would provide updates as new information becomes available.  The Department of National Defence said in a separate statement that the assessment was informed by an analysis of the blast site and the flight of the incoming munition. . . . The Canadian assessment comes after the United States and France released similar findings suggesting Israel was not behind the explosion.  On Friday, France’s Directorate of Military Intelligence said that its intelligence indicated that an errant Palestinian rocket with an explosive charge of about 5kg was the likely cause of the explosion.

Al Jazeera, 22 Oct.


Hamas Official Says Group Aims to Repeat Oct. 7 Onslaught Many Times

A senior member of Hamas has hailed the systematic slaughter of civilians in Israel on October 7, vowing in an interview that if given the chance, the Palestinian terror group will repeat similar assaults many times in the future until Israel is exterminated.   The remarks by Ghazi Hamad, a member of Hamas’s political bureau, were swiftly shared online by Israeli and Western officials as a vindication of the Jewish state’s resolve to destroy the terror group’s military capabilities in its ongoing war in Gaza, and as proof that no ceasefire can be reached until the threat of additional murderous attacks is removed.


“Israel is a country that has no place on our land,” Hamad said in an interview with Lebanese TV channel LBC on October 24, which was translated and published Wednesday by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). “We must remove it because it constitutes a security, military and political catastrophe to the Arab and Islamic nation. We are not ashamed to say this.”  In the interview, Hamad said that Israel’s existence is “illogical” and that it must be wiped off all “Palestinian lands,” a term the terror group uses to mean the West Bank, Gaza and Israel, minus the Golan Heights.  When asked whether this meant the complete annihilation of Israel, Hamas replied: “Yes, of course.”

. . .


He also repeated the false assertion that Hamas had not intended to harm civilians, but that there were “complications” on the ground. Overwhelming evidence has emerged over the past three weeks of deliberate attacks on Israeli civilians, as part of the instructions given by Hamas commanders. In many cases, the terrorists went from house to house and executed or burned entire families, and some 260 civilians were massacred at an outdoor music festival.

Times of Israel, 2 Nov.


(Uri Misgav: Opinion) Israel, Beware: Ultra-nationalists in State of Ecstasy

Their eyes sparkle. They talk about a ‘second Nakba.’ They believe these are the days of the Messiah. For ultra-Orthodox nationalists, the war with Hamas is a double fantasy: Full Jewish rule over Greater Israel and a fundamentalist Jewish from the ashes of today’s liberal-democratic Israel.  Even if Israel wins the existential war that has been imposed on it, it will still face an internal threat that must not be taken lightly: nationalist ultra-Orthodox Zionism. Those who have spoken with followers of this movement since the calamity and destruction of October 7 encounter a strange phenomenon.

Ha’aretz, 2 Nov.


In Much-Hyped Speech, Nasrallah Does not Commit to Broader War

In his first speech since Israel declared war on Hamas after the Gaza terror group’s October 7 slaughter of Israelis, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Friday lobbed threats at the Jewish state and expressed solidarity with the Palestinians and their “martyrs.” He predicted that Israel would fail in its declared goal of destroying Hamas. But he made no announcement of explicit plans to broaden his Lebanese terror group’s conflict with Israel, as some had feared he would.


“Some claim Hezbollah is about to join the fray. I tell you: We have been engaged in this battle since October 8,” he said.  “Some would like Hezbollah to engage in an all-out war, but I can tell you: What is happening now along the Israeli-Lebanese border is significant, and it is not the end.”  Nasrallah cautioned Israel against launching a preemptive offensive: “I tell the Israelis, if you are considering carrying out a preemptive attack against Lebanon, it will be the most foolish mistake you make in your entire existence.”


As he spoke, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a threat of his own, warning Israel’s “enemies in the north” not to make the costly mistake of escalating the war. “You cannot imagine how much this will cost you.”  US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, visiting Israel and also speaking at the same time as Nasrallah, also issued a warning. “With regard to Lebanon, with regard to Hizballah, with regard to Iran, we have been very clear from the outset that we are determined that there not be a second or third front opened in this conflict.  President Biden said on day one to anyone thinking of opening a second front, taking advantage of the situation, don’t. And we’ve backed up those words … with practical deeds.”

Times of Israel, 3 Nov.


Social Media Hosts War of Fake News and AI Images

While rockets rip through the sky and fighters clash on the ground, a deluge of disinformation is fuelling an “unprecedented” information war between Israeli and Palestinian supporters.  Online engagement in the discourse is dwarfing previous conflicts,with millions more mentions of Israel and Palestine appearing in posts compared to Ukraine and Russia when the Kremlin’s forces invaded last year.


Fact checkers have expressed alarm at lies being lapped up by the masses, as social media companies fail to stop falsehoods stoking unrest on both sides.  Disinformation (inaccurate content shared deliberately to deceive) and misinformation (untruths promoted unwittingly), have been symptoms of warfare for centuries. But this is the first major conflict to erupt in the age of both freely available AI and the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, which is owned by Elon Musk and said to be making digital dissemination particularly unruly.


Artificial intelligence tools are generating fake photographs and videos of victims, as old footage from other conflict zones is routinely recycled and presented as new. Propaganda has been parroted by users without hesitation — or artificially boosted by bots — while full-time provocateurs pump out clickbait and conspiracy theories for profit.  Amid a rush to report the latest developments and seize control of the narrative online, expert observers have described the emergence of an “algorithmically-driven fog of war”.  “In my 25 years of tracking extremism and conflicts, I have never seen disinformation reach such viral levels as it has during this war between Israel and Hamas,” Rita Katz, the director of the Site Intelligence Group, said.

Times, 4 Nov.



Actions and Reactions in the UK


Starmer Mobbed by Pro-Palestinian Protesters

Sir Keir Starmer was mobbed by pro-Palestinian protesters after rejecting calls for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and insisting that Labour was united in its response to the crisis.  Dozens of demonstrators shouted at the opposition leader as he left the Chatham House think tank in London. The chants included “war criminal” and “shame”.  Police were forced to intervene as Starmer was ushered into the back of his car. Protesters then ran at the vehicle and drummed on the window.  The incident happened after Starmer had used a speech to back calls for a “humanitarian pause” to Israeli operations to allow aid to enter Gaza from Egypt. However, he rejected demands from some of his own shadow ministers for Labour to call for a wider ceasefire.

Times, 31 Oct.


Iran-linked Groups Feared to be Stirring Up Tension over Israel

British officials have identified more than half a dozen UK-based groups with direct ties to Tehran amid fears the hostile state is stirring up tension over the conflict in Israel.  Supporters of the Iranian regime have attended pro-Palestine marches in London, handing out leaflets citing the supreme leader’s calls for the eradication of Israel.  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s official social media has praised the UK’s mass protest movement. His regime refused to condemn the Hamas atrocities and described them as “legitimate self-defence”.


Whitehall briefings, informed by intelligence, suggest that Tehran has links to a core group of institutions to assert soft power, drive influence and sow tension. A wider network comprising mosques, charities and other third sector organisations are also thought to have regime links. Officials have specifically raised concerns about groups who appear to have glorified Iran’s revolutionary guard [IRGC], which is notorious for its brutality.


Organisations with direct links to Tehran are understood to include Islamic Centre of England [ICE] — which is at the centre of an inquiry by the Charity Commission — and the Islamic Human Rights Commission, an advocacy group with links to Iran’s supreme council.  They are part of a wider picture of an influence campaign by the Islamic Republic, which has been accused of spreading disinformation and extremism in Britain.

Times, 3 Nov.


Chief Rabbi: We Must Redraw the Lines of Moral Clarity without Delay

[Comment] Sir Ephraim Mirvis says the hateful extremism of those who hail Hamas as ‘brave fighters’ must be challenged.

On October 8, news was continuing to filter through to the Jewish community about the unspeakable terrorist atrocities still being perpetrated by Hamas. Many were in synagogue and had not been able to access news in the usual way because it was a religious holiday, but the depth of the depravity was already painfully clear to us. On that very same day, a large demonstration was held in Manchester. It marched behind a banner which read: “Manchester Supports Palestinian Resistance”.


I have searched for some glimmer of ambiguity in those words — but there is none. They illustrate a world view in which the deliberate slaughter of babies where they sleep, the rape of women and the beheading of civilians in their homes, can be framed as “resistance”. The organisers had described the perpetrators online as “heroic” and as “brave fighters” to whom they offered their “unconditional support”.


Did every person who attended that march truly wish to associate themselves with acts of such barbarity? I sincerely hope that they did not.  Nevertheless, it could not be clearer that, at the very least, the lines between those who wish only to advocate for the welfare of innocent Palestinians and those who support the brutal terrorism of Hamas have become badly blurred.


Those lines have remained blurred in the subsequent demonstrations, in which a minority have proudly displayed their extremism on their banners and in their chants, while the majority stand alongside them. Similar lines have become blurred in the sermons being given in a minority of mosques, inciting hatred and even violence against Jews, while the majority of prominent Muslim clerics are silent. They are blurred on university campuses where a minority of students and lecturers are declaring their support for “intifada” while the majority appear indifferent.  It is imperative that we redraw these lines of moral clarity without delay. . . .

Times, 4 Nov.





Qatar Active in Mediating with Hamas

A two-sentence tweet by Israel’s national security adviser has revealed the acute dilemma Israel and the west face in dealing with Qatar, the energy-rich state that has positioned itself as a mediator of conflicts around the world, from Khartoum to Kabul.  “I’m pleased to say that Qatar is becoming an essential party and stakeholder in the facilitation of humanitarian solutions,” Tzachi Hanegbi wrote. “Qatar’s diplomatic efforts are crucial at this time.”  Qatar is using its voluminous diplomatic contacts book to mediate with Hamas for the release of more than 200 hostages captured when the militant group struck at Israel, leaving hundreds dead in a series of massacres. . . .


Some interpreted his remarks simply as a hint that the rumoured release of as many as 50 hostages was imminent, a view supported by optimistic noises coming from Qatari diplomats. Others saw it as a sign that Hanegbi felt it necessary to redress the diplomatic offence caused by the Israeli foreign minister, Eli Cohen, who used the stage of the UN Security Council in New York to lay into Qatar, saying it “finances and harbours Hamas leaders”. . . . The question Qatar faces is whether, in offering itself as mediator to the world, it has found itself not allied with, but too close to forces that – after the events of 7 October – the US can no longer tolerate. . . .


For those that say Qatar should never have engaged with Hamas, it is worth recalling that, after Hamas unexpectedly won free parliamentary elections in 2006 in Gaza and then threw out its rival, Fatah, in a bloody battle in 2007, many respectable western voices, ranging from Colin Powell, the former US secretary of state, Efraim Halevy, the ex-director of the Mossad, and Lt Gen Michael Flynn, the former head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, favoured engagement with Hamas, warning that the group might not be as bad as it gets. With al-Qaida rearing its head, Halevy for instance said: “We are dealing in issues which are existential to free society. When you look around for potential allies in this war sometimes you have to settle for strange bedfellows.” Flynn said: “If Hamas were destroyed and gone, we would probably end up with something much worse,” adding by which he meant Islamic State, ironically the terror group to which Joe Biden now likens Hamas.

Guardian, 28 Oct.


The Head of Mossad Visited Qatar

Mossad director David Barnea visited Qatar over the weekend and met senior Qatari officials to discuss their efforts in trying to secure the release of the more than 235 Israeli and foreign nationals who were taken hostage and brought to Gaza during the Oct. 7 terrorist attack, two sources with direct knowledge of the issue told me. . . .  Hamas told the Qatari officials it is still in the process of finding out where all the hostages are located and their identities. But the feeling in Jerusalem was that this was just a tactic to buy time and prevent an Israeli ground operation, the Israeli officials said.

Axios, 30 Oct.





Iranians Promoting Gaza Protests

Iranian agents are creating unrest in Britain by stoking Gaza protests, senior police have said as they prepared for a fresh round of demonstrations on Saturday.  The Times has learnt that counterterrorism officers have privately said that Tehran is trying to heighten tensions at rallies over Israel’s bombing of Gaza. They have warned of increased hostile-state activity in Britain. It is directly linked to the Iranian regime and includes a campaign of online disinformation and Iranian operatives being physically present at protests. . . .


The revelations about Iranian involvement in protests in Britain follow repeated warnings over Tehran’s activities in the UK. In a speech last week Robin Simcox, the counterextremism commissioner, warned that the “scale of Iranian-backed activity in this country; and the extent to which Iran attempts to stoke extremism here” was underappreciated.  Sources confirmed that senior police have been privately warning that Tehran operatives are linked to Gaza protests. The hostile state activity is complicating the policing of protests, they have said. A security source said it went beyond physical presence at protests of agents linked to the regime. Misinformation stoking tensions is also being spread online, the source said.  They emphasised that the main groups organising the protests were not linked to Tehran, but that the regime’s activities were more on the fringes.

Times, 27 Oct.


Where’s the Solidarity with Women of Iran?

The left used to decry repressive Islamic dress — now the hijab is seen as a symbol of resistance. . . .  After years of protests, women in Iran have over the past 12 months stepped up their challenge to compulsory dress codes in what are considered to be the longest-running anti-government protests since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The bravery of these women in defending their personal freedom cannot be overstated. They push back against the regime knowing that, like [Mahsa] Amini and [Armita] Garawand, they may pay with their lives. But where is the solidarity? Where are the protests against the Iranian regime? . . .


We see this crass logic play out in the current wave of pro-Palestine demonstrations. Whatever the truth of people’s individual circumstances or the reality on the ground, to be pro-Palestine and anti-Israel is portrayed as siding with Muslims over Jews, oppressed over oppresser, colonised over coloniser and victim over aggressor.


In this broader context, the hijab is reinvented. It is no longer simply a personal religious choice: it also indicates support for a political cause. In Iran, women protest against the hijab because it symbolises their oppression by a patriarchal, socially conservative, religious elite. To some in the West, the hijab also represents oppression but from a different source. Today’s left-wing activists argue that Muslims are oppressed not by their own religious elders but by the racism and Islamophobia systemic within a society built upon colonialism and white privilege. The hijab is embraced as representing the side of the victim in this permanent racial power-play.

Joanna Williams, Times, 30 Oct.





Air Attacks in Syria

Israel has carried out strikes against military infrastructure in Syria and Lebanon, its military has said, amid concerns the country’s offensive against Hamas could devolve into broader conflict across the Middle East.  Israeli fighter jets struck rocket launchers in Syria and Hezbollah targets in Lebanon in response to earlier rocket launches into Israeli territory, Israel’s military said early on Monday. . . . Israel’s military has been engaged in cross-border fighting with the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah and has launched repeated air raids on Syria since launching its war on Hamas.


The United States has also carried out attacks on Syria in response to a sharp rise in rocket and drone attacks on its forces in Syria and Iraq, which it has blamed on Iran-backed proxy groups.  On Thursday, the Pentagon said it had carried out strikes on two facilities in Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran-backed groups after President Joe Biden earlier pledged to respond to attacks on US personnel.

Al Jazeera, 30 Oct.





US University Professors Retract Blaming Israel for Hamas Massacre

JTA – A Cornell University professor has apologized after saying at a rally that he was “exhilarated” by Hamas’ terror attack on Israel, in the latest example of American university faculty caught up in heated rhetoric over Israel and Gaza on college campuses.  The apology by Russell Rickford, a history professor, was published the same day as another apology from a different university professor in Chicago over her own anti-Israel social media comments.


Both appear to have been prompted by condemnations from their respective university presidents, which came as donors have pulled support from other elite universities over their perceived failure to sufficiently or promptly condemn the attacks.  During the two weeks since the massacre, several other professors have made comments perceived as anti-Israel or pro-Hamas, and some have faced public pressure campaigns as a result. Students at Harvard, New York University and Columbia University who signed onto anti-Israel statements in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks have also had job offers rescinded and in some cases, seen their names spread as part of doxxing campaigns led by pro-Israel groups.


“I apologize for the horrible choice of words that I used in a portion of a speech that was intended to stress grassroots African American, Jewish and Palestinian traditions of resistance to oppression,” Rickford wrote in a statement published in the campus newspaper, the Cornell Daily Sun. “I recognize that some of the language I used was reprehensible and did not reflect my values.”  Initially, Rickford had defended his remarks from Jewish and Israeli students’ criticism, saying he was referring to “those first few hours” when the Hamas militants first breached the Gaza barrier and before the full scope of their attacks on Israelis had become known. . . .


But opposition was also mounting at the highest levels of Cornell’s administration. The university’s president and board of trustees harshly condemned Rickford’s comments in a pair of statements.  “This is a reprehensible comment that demonstrates no regard whatsoever for humanity,” president Martha Pollack and board chair Kraig Kayser said in a statement Tuesday that named Rickford specifically and hinted that the administration might look into disciplining him. That followed an earlier statement from Pollack that did not name Rickford but stated, “I am sickened by statements glorifying the evilness of Hamas terrorism. Any members of our community who have made such statements do not speak for Cornell; in fact, they speak in direct opposition to all we stand for at Cornell.”

Times of Israel, 21 Oct.


Obsession with Identity Has Left too Many Blind towards Hamas

The faddish ideology that insists on viewing the world only through simplistic categories refuses to believe Jews can be victims. It has trapped liberal society, writes Yascha Mounk.


On October 7, Hamas terrorists entered southern Israel looking for Jews to torture and kill. The sheer extent of the horror they perpetrated over the next 48 hours is still coming to light a month later. But when the history of the massacre is written, one particular episode is likely to stand out. According to Eli Beer, the founder of United Hatzalah, an Israeli paramedic service, the terrorists killed a baby by baking it to death in an oven.


Yet even as such gruesome details emerge, the reaction to the worst murder of Jews since the end of the Second World War has continued to range from oddly muted to openly celebratory. Reacting to Hamas’s massacre in its immediate aftermath, Rivkah Brown, an editor at Novara Media, wrote that “today should be a day of celebration for supporters of democracy and human rights worldwide”. The Chicago chapter of Black Lives Matter sent out an invitation to a solidarity rally with Palestine that featured a picture of the Hamas fighters on paramotors who murdered over 250 people at a music festival.


During the following weeks, hundreds of prominent artists and writers, actors, academics and medical professionals, including Tilda Swinton and Steve Coogan, signed open letters in publications such as Artforum and the London Review of Books. Virtually all singled out Israel for criticism without bothering to condemn Hamas or calling for the release of the 200 hostages the group still holds.


The lack of empathy for Jewish victims in significant segments of the cultural and academic establishment is all the more remarkable since it stands in such marked contrast to many of the slogans that the left has embraced over the course of the past decade. When it comes to Hamas’s sadistic rampage, it seems that silence is no longer violence, and that the concern for “microaggressions” can peacefully coexist with the celebration of some rather macro murders. What can possibly explain this remarkable indifference to the horror perpetrated by Hamas?


Straightforward antisemitism has something to do with it. So does a strange reluctance to recognise a morally clear fact (that Hamas is solely and unreservedly responsible for its pogrom) because other facts (such as the wider conflict that has pitted Israelis and Palestinians against each other for over a century) are morally complicated. But the most important reason goes deeper than that. It is rooted in the rise of a new ideology that insists on seeing the world through the prism of simplistic identity categories. And it now gives many people a highfalutin excuse to indulge in their basest human instincts even as they claim to fight against injustice. . . .

Weekend Essay, Times, 4 Nov.




Lester L. Grabbe

5 Nov. 2023


Middle East Study Centre—Newsletter October 2023


MESC Lectures in October

NB:  all are welcome to the following online events, which are free of charge, but you must register to receive a link to listen in to the lecture.


Weds, 11 October, 5 pm (17:00) London Time: Ambassador Forum

Professor Karim Haggag (American University in Cairo)

“The Changing Dynamics of Middle East Regional Order”

Please register directly with the online platform:


Weds, 26 October, 5 pm (17:00) London Time: Research Seminar

Dr Robert S. Litwak (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars)
“Iran’s Nuclear Challenge at a Crossroads”

Please register directly with the online platform:




Anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s Death

A young woman walks down a street in Tehran, her hair uncovered, her jeans ripped, a bit of midriff exposed to the hot Iranian sun. An unmarried couple walk hand in hand. A woman holds her head high when asked by Iran’s once-feared morality police to put a hijab on, and tells them: “Screw you!”  These acts of bold rebellion – described to me by several people in Tehran over the past month – would have been almost unthinkable to Iranians this time last year. But that was before the death in the morality police’s custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been accused of not wearing her hijab [veil] properly.

The mass protests that shook Iran after her death subsided after a few months in the face of a brutal crackdown, but the anger that fuelled them has not been extinguished. Women have just had to find new ways to defy the regime.  A Western diplomat in Tehran estimates that across the country, an average of about 20% of women are now breaking the laws of the Islamic Republic by going out on to the streets without the veil.  “Things have changed so much since last year,” a 20-year-old music student in Tehran, who we are calling Donya, tells me over an encrypted social media platform. She is one of the many women who now refuse to wear the veil in public. “I still can’t believe the things I now have the courage to do. We’ve become so much bolder and braver.”

BBC News, 15 Sept.


Western Hostages Released

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Five Americans detained for years in Iran walked off a plane and into freedom Monday, most arm-in-arm, as part of a politically risky deal that saw President Joe Biden agree to the release of nearly $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets owed by a third country, South Korea.  The successful negotiations for the Americans’ freedom brought Biden profuse thanks from their families but heat from Republican presidential rivals and other opponents for the monetary arrangement with one of America’s top adversaries.  “Today, five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally coming home,” Biden said in a statement released as the plane carrying the group from Tehran landed in Doha, Qatar. A plane carrying the Americans home to the United States was due to land Monday night. . . .

However, tensions are almost certain to remain high between the U.S. and Iran, which are locked in disputes over Tehran’s nuclear program and other matters. Iran says the program is peaceful, but it now enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.  The prisoner release unfolded amid a major American military buildup in the Persian Gulf, with the possibility of U.S. troops boarding and guarding commercial ships in the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of all oil shipments pass.

AP News, 18 Sept.


Hijab Law Passed in Iran

Iran’s parliament approves ‘hijab bill’; harsh punishments for violations.

The bill defines an array of punishments for violators of a mandatory dress code, including fines and prison terms.

Tehran, Iran – Iran’s parliament has passed a new “hijab and chastity” bill that lays out punishment for people, especially women, who violate the country’s mandatory dress code rules.  On Wednesday, lawmakers approved the three-year duration of the legislation on a trial basis, with 152 voting in favour, 34 against, and seven abstaining.

The Guardian Council, a powerful oversight body consisting of clerics and legal experts, would need to approve the bill before it can be implemented.  The implementation of the legislation, which had been in the works for months, was not put to a parliament vote. It was approved last month by a special committee consisting of 10 lawmakers.  At the time, lawmakers invoked an article of the constitution that permits the formation of a committee to approve legislation for “experimental” implementation. Wednesday’s vote in parliament only decided the duration.

For women, unacceptable covering has been defined as “revealing or tight clothing, or clothing that shows parts of the body lower than the neck or above the ankles or above the forearms”, according to the latest version of the legislation released in local media.  For men, it has been defined as “revealing clothing that shows parts of the body lower than the chest or above the ankles, or shoulders”.

Al Jazeera, 20 Sept.


Saudi Arabia

Prince says, Closer to Israel Normalisation Deal

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince has said “every day we get closer” to normalising ties with Israel.  A deal between the two powers would mark a huge regional shift.  But in a rare interview with Fox News, Mohammed bin Salman stressed the Palestinian issue was still a “very important” part of US-brokered talks.  As part of the negotiation process, the Wall Street Journal said Israeli and US officials were working on a plan that could see Riyadh openly enrich uranium.  Enriched uranium can be used to make nuclear reactor fuel but also nuclear weapons.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who has previously warned about the dangers of a Middle Eastern nuclear arms race – has not publicly responded to that article.  The Fox News interview aired shortly after Mr Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden met on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly in New York.  They also spoke positively about the chances of a breakthrough that would see Israel and Saudi Arabia establishing diplomatic relations for the first time. The US is a close ally of both countries.

An Israeli official statement said the meeting in New York “mostly dealt with ways to establish an historic peace agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which could greatly advance an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict”.  Israel’s Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, later said that a framework deal could be in place by early next year. “The gaps can be bridged,” Mr Cohen told Israel’s Army Radio. “It will take time. But there is progress.”  The Biden administration hopes such a timeframe would enable it to clinch ratification in the US Congress – where many, particularly in the president’s own Democratic Party, are critical of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. It would then have a significant foreign policy achievement to show ahead of November’s US presidential election.

BBC News, 21 Sept.



Earthquake on 8 Sept.

A strong earthquake of magnitude 6.8 has struck central Morocco, killing at least 1,000 people and causing severe damage in several areas.  Residents rushed into the streets when the quake struck at 23:11 local time (22:11 GMT) on Friday.  “Violent” tremors were felt in several areas of the country from Casablanca to Marrakesh, where many buildings have been destroyed or severely damaged.

The country’s royal palace has declared three days of national mourning.  It also said the armed forces would deploy rescue teams to provide affected areas with clean drinking water, food supplies, tents and blankets.  Many of the victims are believed to be in hard-to-reach mountain areas.  The epicentre was in the High Atlas Mountains, 71km (44 miles) south-west of Marrakesh.  Many people are still believed to be under the rubble and rescue efforts are under way. Several bodies have already been recovered.

BBC News, 9 Sept.



Emergency over Storm Daniel

At least 200 people have died after a powerful storm caused flooding in Libya, the Libyan Red Cross has said.  However, the leader of the east Libya government, which is not recognised internationally, said deaths “exceed 2,000”.  Storm Daniel made landfall in the North African nation on Sunday, prompting authorities to declare a state of extreme emergency.  Seven Libyan army personnel have gone missing during ongoing rescue efforts.

Officials in eastern Libya have imposed a curfew, while schools and shops have been ordered to close.  The eastern cities of Benghazi, Sousse, Derna and Al-Marj have been impacted by Storm Daniel.  As well as the rising death toll, the Libyan Red Cross issued a statement saying that at least 150 homes have been destroyed.

BBC News, 11 Sept.


Devastating Floods

Estimates of the number of dead vary. Libya’s ambassador to the UN says about 6,000 people are confirmed to have died with thousands more missing. A Red Crescent official in Libya said about 10,000 people were believed killed. Derna’s mayor has warned that 20,000 people may have lost their lives.  The flood was triggered by the failure of two dams outside Derna, unleashing a torrent of water through the city’s centre.  “Derna was divided in two halves by the water and everything in between is gone,” said Rahma Ben Khayal, an 18-year-old student who made it to safety on a rooftop in the city. “The people in between are all dead,” she said.  The torrent that washed away entire streets had begun a day earlier, as light rain.

BBC News, 14 Sept.



Jet Skiers Shot When Straying into Algerian Waters

The Algerian coastguard has reportedly shot dead two lost holidaymakers from Morocco who had crossed into Algerian waters on jet skis on Tuesday.  Bilal Kissi and Abdelali Merchouer were among four people with French-Moroccan dual nationality who came under fire after taking a wrong turn off Saidia, a beach resort in northeast Morocco, and straying across Algeria’s maritime border, Moroccan media reported.  . . .

The shared border, which is nearly 1,242 miles long, has been closed since 1994 after Islamist militants bombed a hotel in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh.  Algiers severed ties with Rabat in 2021 after accusing its neighbour of “hostile acts”, an accusation Morocco called “completely unjustified”.

Times, 1 Sept.



Anti-Government Protests in Sweida

Renewed anti-government protests in the southwestern Syrian city of Sweida have turned violent, with reports saying at least three people were wounded amid gunfire.  Waving the flag of Syria’s minority Druze sect, demonstrators in recent weeks have been taking to the streets of the government-controlled city to call for President Bashar al-Assad to step down over poor economic conditions.

On Wednesday, a video posted online by the Sweida24 activist collective showed men running away from the entrance of a building in Sweida as about two dozen gunshots were heard.  The caption identified the building as the local headquarters for the ruling Ba’ath party and said protesters had been trying to close it down. Demonstrators temporarily forced its closure in late August.  Activists accused members of the Ba’ath party of opening fire, Reuters news agency reported. The allegation could not be independently verified.  Sweida24 said the three wounded people were being treated at hospitals.

Al Jazeera, 13 Sept.


Searching for Syria’s Missing Prisoners

Thousands of people have “vanished” inside Syria’s prison system over more than a decade of civil conflict. Their families are left in a desperate situation, forced to pay out large sums of money to middlemen, government and security officials for any information about their loved ones – often with no result. . . . In most cases these payments were made to middlemen either working for, or with connection to, members of the Syrian authorities. . . .  There’s an assumption that paying bribes is the only way to get anything done, even to find out information about people who’ve disappeared or even to get them released.  The problem is not that it never works, but that occasionally it can.

BBC News, 13 Sept.



Right-wing Stickers at Pro-government Rally

Dozens of participants at pro-government demonstration were seen wearing stickers proclaiming that Yigal Amir, Baruch Goldstein, Amiram Ben Uliel and Meir Kahane ‘were right’.  Organizers of a right-wing protest to support the government’s judicial overhaul said that stickers praising Jewish terrorists and former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin that were handed out at the rally came from “provocateurs.”

At the Thursday night protest in front of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, many participants could be seen donning stickers that Jewish terrorists such as Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Palestinians in Hebron in 1994; Amiram Ben Uliel, who is in prison for the 2015 deadly firebombing of a Palestinian family in the West Bank village of Duma; extremist rabbi Meir Kahane; and Rabin’s killer Yigal Amir “were right.”  Organizers claimed that the stickers were distributed “by provocateurs that came to harm the rally and defame the masses of right-wing protesters who took part and the entire right.”

Times of Israel, 9 Sept.


Netanyahu Visits USA

SAN JOSE, California — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kicked off his US tour Monday in the shadow of relentless, noisy protests against him staged by Israeli expats and local Jews opposed to his government and its judicial overhaul plan.  The premier is making a long-awaited visit to the US — first to California where he met Elon Musk, and then to New York for the United Nations General Assembly, where he will meet with US President Joe Biden.  The premier landed in San Jose amid a growing outcry over comments he made ahead of his departure, in which he said demonstrators against him were “joining forces with the PLO and Iran” in their protests of his trip.

Times of Israel, 18 Sept.


Netanyahu and Musk

Fawning Netanyahu Defends Musk Against Antisemitism Allegations, Hints He’s More Powerful Than U.S. President.

Musk noted he received more negative feedback from Tesla employees over his meeting with Netanyahu than any previous event. He’s also been engaging in a war with the A[nti]D[efamation]L[eague] in recent weeks, amplifying an antisemitic social media campaign.

WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday strongly defended Elon Musk against allegations of antisemitism, despite his frequent platforming of anti-Jewish tropes and conspiracy theories, while also implying that he is more powerful than the U.S. president.

Haaretz, 18 Sept.


Trump Accuses American Jews

Trump accuses ‘liberal Jews’ of voting to ‘destroy America and Israel’ in Rosh Hashanah message.  The post on Trump’s Truth Social account came on the weekend of the Jewish New Year.  Former President Donald Trump on Sunday night shared a post on his Truth Social platform that accused “liberal Jews” of voting to “destroy” America and Israel.  “Just a quick reminder for liberal Jews who voted to destroy America & Israel because you believed in false narratives!” said the post, which came on the weekend of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. “Let’s hope you learned from your mistake & make better choices moving forward!”  The post touted Trump’s decision to relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, among other moves.  It is unclear what prompted his post.

NBC News, 18 Sept.


Mossad Enlists Ultra-Orthodox Volunteers

Two hundred Haredim men signed up to Israeli intelligence in a pilot programme as the government attempts to bridge a divide over religious exemptions.  Israel’s intelligence services are trying to entice the country’s ultra-orthodox community into service in an attempt to calm tensions over the military exemptions made for the religious minority.  Non-orthodox Israelis, who all serve from the age of 18, have grown increasingly tired of the state benefits given to the ultra-orthodox Haredim who instead dedicate their life to the study of the religious texts.

Numerous laws over the years have tried to override the exemption or find ways to enlist them into some kind of national service, but have so far exacted little change.  A new pilot programme, announced on Tuesday, will involve 100 young Haredi volunteers being assigned to Mossad, Israel’s equivalent of MI6, and another 100 to Shin Bet, the equivalent of MI5, for two years. It is due to begin in November.  The exemption from service is at the heart of the worst divide in Israeli society in its 75-year history, where the right-wing government continues to push through further exemptions in the latest proposed Conscription Bill.

Times, 20 Sept.


Five Arrested for Spitting at Christians in Jerusalem

Police on Wednesday arrested five Orthodox Jews on suspicion of spitting at Christian worshippers in the Old City of Jerusalem, amid a rise in incidents targeting priests and pilgrims in the capital.  At the same time, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said in an interview: “I still think spitting at Christians is not a criminal case. I think we need to act on it through instruction and education. Not everything justifies an arrest.”

Speaking to Army Radio, the minister in charge of police added: “It is deserving of every condemnation. It should be stopped. I asked Rabbi Dov Lior, he said it was immoral and wrong. We’re against it. But let’s stop slandering Israel. We’re all brothers, we’re all of the same people.” . . . Police said they intended to charge them with assault. Hebrew media noted that in the past there have been difficulties convicting those who spit because the act does not meet the criteria of violence for assault. However, Jerusalem police Chief Superintendent Assaf Harel told Army Radio that “spitting on somebody is certainly considered to be assault.” Harel said there had been a rise in attacks on Christians in the city of late, with 17 incidents reported in the past six months.

Times of Israel, 5 Oct.


Israel and Palestine

Palestinian Women Refusing to Let their Village Be Demolished

The Palestinian Bedouin village of Khirbet Susiya has long been under Israeli threat of demolition. Young Palestinians are learning how to fight back. . . . Khirbet Susiya, like the other Palestinian Bedouin villages located south of Hebron in the occupied West Bank, is home to small groups of families organised into kinship networks that make a living tending their olive trees and their herds of sheep.  While other villages south of Hebron – known collectively as Masafer Yatta – are located in what Israel labels “Firing Zone 918”, which it has used to justify the destruction of permanent structures and the expulsion of residents living in the villages, Khirbet Susiya’s history follows a series of complex legal mandates by the Israeli government, all of which have been used to justify the same destruction and expulsion. . . .

Khirbet Susiya, in addition to its fertile land and vast stands of olive trees, is home to a number of important archaeological sites. In 1986, the Israeli government used the sites as justification for confiscating the villagers’ land “for public purposes”.  After that, with the help of Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli NGO, the residents of Khirbet Susiya filed numerous petitions with the Israeli Supreme Court seeking to halt the demolition of their homes and other structures.

Al Jazeera, 21 Sept.


Holocaust and Anti-Semitism

Paris Strips Abbas of Top Medal

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo  joins other European and US leaders in denunciation and has stripped Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of the French capital’s highest honor after he made remarks about the Holocaust that repeated antisemitic tropes, her office said Friday.  Abbas could no longer hold the Grand Vermeil medal awarded to him in 2015 after he “justified the extermination of the Jews of Europe” in World War II, Hidalgo’s office told AFP.  “The comments you made are contrary to our universal values and the historical truth of the Shoah,” Hidalgo said in a letter to Abbas sent on Thursday. “You can therefore no longer hold this distinction.”

In a recent speech, Abbas repeated the unfounded claim that Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler had Jews slaughtered because of their “social role” as moneylenders, and said it was “not true” that “Hitler killed the Jews because they were Jews.”  “They say that Hitler killed the Jews because they were Jews and that Europe hated the Jews because they were Jews. Not true. It was clearly explained that [the Europeans] fought [the Jews] because of their social role, and not their religion,” Abbas said in August. “The [Europeans] fought against these people because of their role in society, which had to do with usury, money and so on and so forth,” he continued.

Times of Israel, 8 Sept.


Book Reviews

Time’s Echo: The Second World War, the Holocaust and the Music of Remembrance, by Jeremy Eichler (Faber, 2023).

On the surface, Eichler’s book is a cultural history of four musical works: Richard Strauss’s “Metamorphosen,” Arnold Schoenberg’s “A Survivor From Warsaw,” Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” and Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Babi Yar” symphony. More deeply, it is a fascinating call to place the stories of musicians into our acts of listening and a compelling testimony to the relationship between music and remembrance. Not only do we remember music but, just as importantly, “music also remembers us,” Eichler argues. Against countless attempts to bury the past, music “possesses a unique and often underappreciated power to burn through history’s cold storage.”

In lyrical prose, Eichler tells the story of German-speaking Jews in Europe who, beginning in the late 19th century, finally experienced some relief from the antisemitic laws that had hung over their lives and came to embrace German music, literature and art as a means to mold their new selves. “Theoretically at least,” Eichler writes, “anyone could embrace these ideals of personal transformation on the wings of culture.” Schoenberg came of age during this moment. For him, as for many other Central European Jews, anything felt possible, including the reimagining of music itself.

The rise of Nazism in the 1930s shattered this optimism. “How my heart was bleeding when the idea suddenly struck that I should not be a German anymore,” Schoenberg later reflected. Scorned by the society in which he had been raised, his works began to reflect more and more of his Jewish heritage.

. . .

Review by Kira Thurman, New York Times, 2 Sept.


Israelophobia: The Newest Version of the Oldest Hatred and What To Do About It, by Jake Wallis Simons (Constable, 2023).

Anti-Zionist rhetoric demonises Israel as an apartheid state, as a colonial imposition on indigenous people, as an aggressive, polarising police state. It weaponises hatred for Israel by encouraging cross-fertilisation between western liberals and Islamist fanatics and parrots the lies of Nazi and Soviet propaganda. The slogan “Zionism is racism”? Cooked up, Wallis Simons says, in Cold War Moscow.

The author is the editor of The Jewish Chronicle and his book is written with the pages-to-fill urgency of weekly journalism. That is to say, not very well. He identifies the problem well enough, but advances only jumbled talking points and for a short book there is a remarkable amount of repetition. . . .

Methinks he protesteth too much. My experience over the past decades is that there is still a broad sympathy for Israel and a centrist consensus that Hamas and Hezbollah, determined to destroy Israel as a state, are a bad lot. There is no public outcry, for instance, about Israeli raids on Iranian Revolutionary Guard arms depots in Syria; we know what the Iranian and Syrian regimes are capable of.

But it’s precisely because Israel is a democracy under threat from outside that we are nervous about a possible erosion of Israel institutions. The governing coalition of Binyamin Netanyahu is probably the most hardline in Israel’s history. Its attempts to constrain the supreme court’s powers have prompted huge demonstrations. The protests reflect not just a fear (probably overstated) of the drift to autocracy, but also the divide between secular and religious Israel. It is a polarised society, even Israel’s friends can see that. And it’s right that we join in the Israeli debate. That’s not antisemitism, not anti-Zionism.

Wallis Simons would have made a stronger case against anti-Zionism if he had set out the arguments for keeping democracy robust in Israel, for the need to maintain checks and balances in a state that always has reason to fear for its security.

Review by Roger Boyes, Times, 9 Sept.


Lester L. Grabbe

5 October 2023



Middle East Study Centre—Newsletter September 2023



The Charity Commission has begun investigating a British foundation formally linked to the Iranian state, which has hosted hardline Islamic clerics and paramilitary figures.  The watchdog has opened a compliance case into the Al-Tawheed Charitable Trust, an organisation that purports to “relieve poverty and sickness of persons who profess the Islamic religion in the UK”.  It owns and operates the Kanoon Towhid, or Centre for Monotheism. The repurposed Methodist church in Hammersmith, west London, glorifies Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s Islamic revolution, and promotes regime propaganda among Shia Muslim youth in the UK.

Times, 20 Aug.


TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s Defense Ministry unveiled a drone on Tuesday resembling America’s armed MQ-9 Reaper, claiming that the aircraft is capable of staying airborne for 24 hours and has the range to reach the country’s archenemy Israel.  Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency published a photograph of the drone, called the Mohajer-10, on display at a conference marking Defense Industry Day with what appeared to be smoke-machine fog underneath it.  “Mohajer” means “immigrant” in Farsi and has been a drone line manufactured by the Islamic Republic since 1985.  IRNA said the drone is able to fly at up to 24,000 feet with a speed of 210 kph (130 mph), carrying a bomb payload of up to 300 kilograms (660 pounds). It also said the drone could carry electronic surveillance equipment and a camera.

Associated Press, 21 Aug.


Britain Pays to House Refugees in Iran.

The government is spending millions of pounds to house Afghan refugees in other countries, including Iran, as it struggles to secure accommodation in the UK for those who are eligible.  The government-imposed deadline for the 7,000 Afghan refugees told to leave hotels or face eviction is at the end of next week. Thousands more, however, remain stranded abroad.

Millions of pounds have been spent housing this cohort in countries such as Pakistan, Turkey and Iran.  No money was given to the Iranian government. But the disclosure that refugees waiting two years to come to the UK have been housed under the regime at the cost of hundreds of thousands to the taxpayer could heighten cabinet tensions over the threat of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to national security.

Times, 21 Aug.




Israeli fighter jets carried out strikes against targets in the Syrian capital Damascus shortly before midnight on Monday, wounding one soldier, Syria’s state-run media reported.  The official news agency, SANA, said Israeli Air Force warplanes launched their missiles from over the Golan Heights, targeting a number of sites in and around Damascus.  SANA said air defenses had engaged the Israeli missiles. Syria regularly claims to intercept Israeli projectiles, though military analysts doubt such assertions.

Large explosions were heard over the capital during the alleged strikes, SANA reported.  The state-run media outlet said that “material damage” was caused to the sites that were targeted, and one soldier was wounded. . . . While Israel’s military does not, as a rule, comment on specific strikes in Syria, it has admitted to conducting hundreds of sorties against Iran-backed groups attempting to gain a foothold in the country, over the last decade.  The Israeli military says it also attacks arms shipments believed to be bound for those groups, chief among them Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Additionally, airstrikes attributed to Israel have repeatedly targeted Syrian air defense systems.

Times of Israel, 21 Aug.


At least two civilians have been killed when Russian air raids struck an abandoned water pumping station in rebel-held northwest Syria, the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, says as attacks by Damascus ally Moscow rise.  Two attacks took place late on Tuesday in Arri, west of the provincial capital Idlib, and hit the facility, where displaced Syrians had been living. An elderly man, Ahmad al-Khaled, and his 16-year-old grandson Taher were killed.


According to Munir al-Mustafa, deputy director of the White Helmets emergency response volunteers, five other civilians were wounded in the Russian raid, including two children and a woman. . . . “These attacks are a continuation of their policy of killing civilians, without any deterrence or accountability for these crimes for 12 years.”  Al-Mustafa said the White Helmets have responded to more than 454 attacks by Russia and the Syrian regime since the beginning of the year.  “Fifty-one people, including eight children and five women, were killed in these attacks, and 208 people were injured,” he said.

Al Jazeera, 23 Aug.


Anti-government protests in Syria continue for sixth day.  Economic frustration brings out protesters across Syria, including in areas still under the control of al-Assad.

Anti-government demonstrations have taken place in several provinces in Syria, as protesters called for an overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad, in scenes reminiscent of the beginning of the Syrian uprising in 2011.  Hundreds of protesters gathered on Friday in Sweida and Deraa, both in southern Syria, northern Aleppo and Idlib, in the northwest, and Deir Az Zor, Raqqa and Hassakeh, in the northeast.

Al Jazeera, 25 Aug.


Saudi Arabia

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says he hopes to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “at the earliest opportunity” as a British newspaper reported that officials from both countries hope to schedule a meeting before the end of the year in London.  “The Prime Minister and Crown Prince said they would continue working closely together to progress UK-Saudi cooperation and looked forward to meeting in person at the earliest opportunity,” a statement from Sunak’s office said on Thursday after the two leaders spoke by phone. . . .

Saudi Arabia has long been criticised over its human rights record and is trying to change its image under a sweeping agenda of social and economic reform called Vision 2030.  The Saudi crown prince has not visited Britain since March 2018 before the murder of Khashoggi.

Al Jazeera, 17 Aug.


A Saudi government source denied Human Rights Watch’s accusations that Saudi border guards killed hundreds of Ethiopian migrants.  A Saudi government source told Agence France-Presse that the accusations are baseless and not based on reliable sources.  In a report, Human Rights Watch accused Saudi border guards of firing heavily and using explosive weapons to kill Ethiopian migrants who were trying to cross from Yemen into the kingdom.

Al Jazeera, 21 Aug.


U.S. Tells Israel Any Future Saudi Normalization Deal Will Require Substantial Concessions to Palestinians.

Netanyahu’s far-right government faces difficulty in making concessions, with Democratic senators warning of opposition within President Biden’s party if there are no Palestinian gains in a future Saudi-Israel agreement.  The U.S. told Israel that it would have to make substantial concessions to the Palestinians in any future deal to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and that Israeli officials who claim that this would not be required are incorrect.   Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which depends on far-right parties, will find it hard to make such concessions.

Haaretz, 25 Aug.


Qatari PM: Our Country Is Not at War With Israel; We Support the Saudi Peace Initiative.

Mohammed Al-Thani, who assumed his post last March, said that the conflict between the region and Israel relates to the Palestinian issue.  The Prime Minister of Qatar talked about his country’s relations with Israel on Friday and about the possibility of normalized relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Haaretz, 26 Aug.




Libyan Foreign Minister Reportedly Flees Country After Israel Reveals Meeting With Israeli Counterpart.

Libya demanded Israel delete report about the meeting, but it was too late: Riots broke out, and accusations of treason were levelled at the foreign minister who reportedly fled to Turkey on a private jet.  Libya’s prime minister suspended Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush on Sunday and referred her for investigation after Israel said its Foreign Minister Eli Cohen had met her last week despite the countries not having formal relations.

Libya’s Foreign Ministry emphasized Monday that it rejected an invitation to a meeting by Israel, and that the meeting between the two sides was “unplanned and incidental.” It further said that the meeting did not include “discussions, agreements, or consultations,” and that Tripoli “outright rejects” normalization with Israel.  An Israeli official told Reuters the opposite, saying that the meeting was in fact agreed in advance “at the highest levels” in Libya and lasted more than an hour. This statement came in response to the Libyan government’s claim that the meeting was short and unplanned.

Haaretz, 28 Aug.




Sweden has raised its terrorism threat level to “high” and warned the public to be vigilant amid a violent backlash in parts of the Islamic world against the desecration of the Quran on Swedish soil.  The counterterrorism unit of Sapo, the country’s main security service, is also investigating an attack on the Swedish honorary consulate in the western Turkish port city of Izmir, where a Turkish member of staff was shot.  The agency said it was not responding to a specific terrorist plot but that Sweden had become a “more particular target” since a series of protests in which copies of the Quran were burnt or damaged in public. . . .

The act drew a wave of condemnation abroad, with Morocco recalling its ambassador from Sweden and a crowd of several hundred protesters attempting to force entry to the Swedish embassy in Baghdad. Protesters stormed the same embassy compound again and started a fire as anti-Islam activists trampled on a third copy of the Quran in Stockholm last month.  Two weeks ago a gunman said by the Turkish authorities to have mental health issues opened fire at the Swedish honorary consulate in Izmir, seriously injuring a female employee.

Times, 17 Aug.



Muslim leaders have reacted with anger to a sudden move by the French government to ban the abaya in state schools.  The loose-fitting long robe is considered too closely linked with Islam by Gabriel Attal, the education secretary in Paris.  France has a strict ban on religious signs in state schools and government buildings, because they violate laws on secularism.

Announcing a ban starting on September 4, at the start of new school year, Mr Attal said: ‘When you walk into a classroom, you shouldn’t be able to identify the pupils’ religion just by looking at them. I have decided that the abaya can no longer be worn in schools.’  But Abdallah Zekri, vice-president of the French Council for Muslim Worship, said the abaya ‘has never been a religious symbol anyway’.

Daily Mail, 28 Aug.



[Fern Reiss Blog] The truth about Israel’s Supreme Court: Israel’s justices are all secular left-wingers, right? Wrong. Starting with the fact that 10 of 15 were appointed under Netanyahu. . . .

First, two points before we delve into the specifics of this falsity, that the Supreme Court is all secular lefty Ashkenazim chosen by their secular lefty Ashkenazi lawyer friends. Since several of the issues currently before the Knesset and the judiciary have to do with (Haredi) military service, it might be worth pointing out that the Israeli Supreme Court justices — with the exception of our one Muslim justice, who did not serve — have, per person, done significantly more army service than those of our Knesset coalition MKs: together, the justices served a cumulative 42 years in the IDF.

Second, although there is a lot of trash talk about how the left wing put all these justices in place, it should be noted that, by my count, 10 of the 15 justices — two thirds — were appointed under Prime Minister Netanyahu, four of them recently under the undeniably right-winger, Ayelet Shaked.

Finally, given that the internet is not always a reliable source of facts, particularly when it comes to people’s family backgrounds and political leanings, and surveys on numbers are not done every five minutes, it is possible that I have underestimated some of these ethnicities. Online information does not always reveal who lives on settlements, for example. These are minimum numbers; there may be more. I am hopeful that I got most of these details straight. I am confident I am closer than former ambassador Oren in his recent interview, who claimed there were no non-Ashkenazi justices on our Supreme Court, or maybe possibly one. Many folks also seem to think there are no religious justices, or no right wingers, or no settlers. But in fact, we have all of these.


Here’s the reality:

ŸSettlers. 450,000 Israeli Jews now live in the West Bank, another 220,000 Jews in East Jerusalem, for a total of just under 700,000 West Bank settlers, 10% of the 7 million population of Jewish Israel. (Census Bureau of Statistics, December 31, 2022). So of 15 justices, 10% representation would be one-and-a-half. But we have three justices living in the West Bank, twice as many as there should be. Settlers are over-represented on the current Supreme Court.

ŸReligious. 10% of Israel’s Jews identify as Haredi, and 12% as Dati, a total of 22% of the Jewish population. Of 15 justices, four are Dati (though none is Haredi, mostly because the Haredim generally lack the required education). Those who are religious are represented on the court almost directly in proportion to their population numbers.

ŸEthnicity. Sephardim make up 55% of Israeli Jews, but there are only three identifiable non-Ashkenazim, 20%, on the court (plus one Muslim). Another two justices have non-Ashkenazi spouses. So of all the disparagements leveled against the court, this is the only one that has any truth to it; there should be more Sephardi justices represented. (There are also only 40% women, which should be closer to 50%.)

ŸIncidentally, according to online sources, two justices grew up in development towns.

ŸAt least six are considered to be right-wing.

Times of Israel, 10 Aug.


А Tel Aviv performance of the play “Exit the King” was repeatedly interrupted on Friday as hecklers who mistook the six-decade-old absurdist drama for a critique on the current government were drowned out with chants of “Democracy”.


Eugène Ionesco’s renowned 1962 work tells the story of an aging monarch who refuses to accept that he has lost control of his kingdom and is facing death. Much of the piece involves his wife and doctor trying to convince him to accept his fate, to no avail.  Several audience members at the Cameri Theatre disapproved of the story, ostensibly believing that it was being used to critique Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opponents claim is clinging to power despite having lost control of his political fate after 15 years as premier. . . .


At this point, a large majority of the crowd grew angry at the hecklers and began chanting, “shame” and “democracy,” which have been common cheers at protests against the government’s judicial overhaul.  The actors resumed the play but were interrupted several more times before order was restored, engaging with the audience at several points.

Times of Israel, 11 Aug.


Former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is the leading candidate to be the new U.S. ambassador to Israel, and could be nominated by President Biden in the coming weeks . . . .  The successor to Tom Nides — who left as U.S. ambassador in July — will face a complicated political situation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing through a judicial overhaul opposed by many Israelis and the Biden administration.  A sense of urgency surrounds Biden’s appointment: The White House is pushing for a diplomatic mega-deal with Saudi Arabia that could include a normalization agreement between the Saudis and Israel.

Axios AM, 13 Aug.


Dozens of people have been injured, including some from live gunfire, during clashes between Eritrean asylum seekers and Israeli police in Tel Aviv.  Stun grenades, tear gas and sponge-tipped bullets were used against hundreds of protesters.  The unrest was sparked after activists opposed to the Eritrean government said they asked Israeli authorities to cancel an embassy event on Saturday.  But protesters also clashed with supporters of the Eritrean regime.  An investigation has been opened into whether the use of live fire was within the law, with evidence being gathered at the scene.

The divisions within Eritrea over the rule of President Isaias Afwerki have spilled over into the diaspora, and this is the latest outbreak of violence in recent weeks.  According to Israeli news reports, the demonstrators marched towards a venue where the event was due to take place. They were initially held back by police barricades but later managed to break through them.  Residents said the streets of central Tel Aviv sounded like a war zone as police helicopters buzzed overhead and Israeli officers fired live rounds into the air.  Protesters fought with police, damaged cars and smashed the windows of nearby businesses.

BBC News, 2 Sept.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced Saturday night that he and a team of ministers would look into the possibility of deporting Eritrean migrants who behaved violently during the day’s intense rioting in Tel Aviv.

. . . “The prime minister has decided to convene a special ministerial team to review the possibility of taking action against illegal infiltrators who took part in the unrest, including deportation,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.  Israel’s right wing largely rejects African migrants’ claims of asylum-seeking and routinely refers to all migrants, regardless of motives and circumstances, as “illegal infiltrators.” . . .

In 2018, Netanyahu, then also the prime minister, announced a landmark deal with the United Nations to resettle abroad at least half of the African migrants seeking asylum in his country, but suspended the move within hours and later canceled it after intense criticism from the right for agreeing to let some remain.  Opposition Leader Yair Lapid wrote on X Saturday: “This government promised to handle the immigration crisis. As usual with them, the situation only got worse and chaos reigns. We dealt with it quietly, without grand statements, recognizing the complexity of the issue.”

Times of Israel, 3 Sept.


Israel and Palestine

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich urged the military to “go on the offensive” and called for more settlement construction on Saturday after a terror attack killed two Israelis in the West Bank.  Shay Silas Nigreker, 60, and his 28-year-old son Aviad Nir, were shot to death in the West Bank town of Huwara, the site of a series of violent incidents between Israelis and Palestinians in recent months. A terrorist armed with a handgun shot the men to death at a carwash, then fled the scene.

Times of Israel, 20 Aug.


A Jerusalem Magistrate Court’s judge ordered the release to house arrest of a Palestinian suspect who received bruises similar in shape to a Star of David on his face last week.  Judge Adi Bar Tal on Sunday ordered the measure, which is unusual for a suspected drug dealer who police say had resisted arrest, following an outcry over the handling of the suspect, 22-year-old Arwah Sheikh Ali from the Shuafat area in East Jerusalem.  The uproar followed a picture that emerged of bruises that looked like of the bottom part of a Star of David on the left cheek of Sheikh Ali. His lawyer, who said his client denies all charges, said that police tortured the 22-year-old and branded his face with a Star of David.

Times of Israel, 20 Aug.


A settler was moderately hurt after Israeli soldiers fired at a group of masked individuals who were allegedly throwing stones at Palestinian vehicles in the West Bank early Sunday morning.  The Israel Defense Forces said troops were dispatched to the scene near the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Levona at around 3 a.m. After identifying the masked group, the soldiers began a “suspect arrest procedure,” which included opening fire at one of the suspects, the military said.

Times of Israel, 21 Aug.


The head of the predominantly Arab Hadash-Ta’al alliance has been assigned a security detail after criminal groups issued death threats against him for denouncing rampant criminal violence in Arab communities, he revealed Saturday.  “Our demonstrations have started to bother the criminal organizations. The formula is clear — it’s either our community or the criminal groups, and we will defeat them,” MK Ayman Odeh told Channel 12 news.  Odeh said he was informed of the threats on his life by the Knesset Guard and will now be closely guarded by security.

Times of Israel, 26 Aug.


Holocaust and Anti-Semitism

German Church Refuses to Remove Antisemitic Judensau Carving.

The sculpture, a Judensau (Jew sow), adorns the facade of the town church in Wittenberg, also known as the Stadtkirche.  A German government official has requested the removal of an antisemitic sculpture from a church, the Jewish Chronicle (JC) reported on Monday.

Most recently, the German government commissioner for Jewish Life and the Fight against Antisemitism, Felix Klein, has made such a request.  The Stadtkirche Judensau depicts a pig with its hind leg and tail being held aloft by a rabbi so that other Jews, portrayed as small and hook-nosed, can drink milk from the pig’s teats.  Although Judensau’s have appeared elsewhere, it is primarily a German motif. They also vary from depiction to depiction, but they all feature Jews suckling on a pig’s teat.


Review of the play, The Brief Life & Mysterious Death of Boris III, King of Bulgaria (Edinburgh Fringe 2023):

Out of the Forest Theatre Company have brought a blinder of a production to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. A musically theatrical re-contemplation of the rule of Boris III, King of Bulgaria, this is ambitious work. Written by Sasha Wilson & Joseph Cullen, and directed by Hannah Hauer-King it proves an assured and stylish piece of musically enhanced theatre. Bravo indeed to The Brief Life & Mysterious Death of Boris III, King of Bulgaria.

Mixing undisputable fact, and reasonable supposition, the 5 strong cast first introduce us to Boris III by means of potted lineage, before following this more inoffensive of monarchs as he negotiates the onset of World War II. Caught between the rock of Nazi Germany, and the hard place of Communist Russia, the needs of the nation all but force allyship with Hitler’s Third Reich. Boris, however, has something resembling a plan. Bulgaria will ally with Germany in name, and then do everything possible to do…nothing. No Bulgarian will die in a war their nation had no part in starting, he declares, and sets out to make good on the promise. . . .

Now, it’s worth pointing out that there is continuing debate over the virtue, or lack thereof of Boris III. This play ultimately takes a generous view of his time in office, viewing him as constantly playing for time and inaction in the face of Nazi demands. His ruling that the Jewish population be put to work building roads is a pragmatic step to stop their deportation and execution. When he learns of the 11,343 Jews who would be deported from Macedonia, Thrace, and Pirot to their deaths, he is shown as unable to act due to Nazi control of these territories. When he finally says ‘no’ to Hitler, he does so at least partially through a sense of duty, and not only due to being shamed by Jewish friends, and the leadership of the Orthodox church.

  1. J. Quinn review in The Quintessential Review, 9 Aug.

(Letter to the editor of The Times)

King defied Nazis

Sir, You report that the play The Brief Life and Mysterious Death of Boris III, King of Bulgaria at the Edinburgh Fringe has been accused of “rewriting history” by falsely claiming that the Bulgarian king saved the lives of 50,000 Jews during the Holocaust.


The play reflects the historical facts correctly. On March 1, 1941, German troops crossed Bulgaria and that same day, Bogdan Filov, the prime minister, signed the accession to the pact. Antisemitic measures were introduced in all countries under the direct or indirect control of the Reich, and regrettably Bulgaria was no exception. However, the Bulgarian law had one significant difference from the Nuremberg legislation — Bulgarian Jews were not denied the protection of their citizenship. Later, parts of Yugoslavia and northern Greece with Bulgarian ethnic and cultural presence were handed to Bulgaria for administration, and without recognition of Bulgarian sovereignty over these territories. The criminal deportation of the Jews who were not Bulgarian citizens from Macedonia and Thrace was solely a German initiative.


The issue of the deportation of Jews from Bulgaria stood differently. Under massive German pressure, the government initially agreed to their deportation. As preparations became known, there were protest and rescue actions throughout the country. On the instructions of King Boris III Peter Gabrovski, the interior minister, cancelled the deportation and 50,000 Bulgarian Jews were saved. The king’s role was decisive, being the person in control of all main centres of power.  I recommend the play to anybody who is impartially interested.

Marin Raykov

Ambassador of Bulgaria

Times, 11 Aug.


U[nion of] J[ewish] S[tudents] Calls on Government to Proscribe Iran’s IRGC in Name of ‘Jewish Student Welfare’.

UJS president Edward Isaacs says:’I did not think I would ever have to directly call for a group to be proscribed in the name of Jewish student welfare. Nonetheless, this is what I must do’.  The Union of Jewish Students has joined other communal organisations in calling for the government to proscribe Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).


Writing in The Times new UJS president, Edward Isaacs, said: “I never thought I would need to speak out against Iranian military leaders speaking to students.  “I did not think I would ever have to directly call for a group to be proscribed in the name of Jewish student welfare. Nonetheless, this is what I must do.”  The student body’s decision to call for proscription of the IRGC, which is central to the Iranian military structure, followed reports that the Islamic Students Association of Britain broadcasted anti-Jewish hate speeches at meetings.  The Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies have also called for the proscription of the IRGC after the foreign office confirmed Iran has “increased its efforts to kill or kidnap individuals perceived to be enemies of the regime outside of Iran, including in the UK.”

Jewish News, 2 Sept.



Nechama Tec, Polish Holocaust Survivor and Scholar, Dies at 92.

She wrote about heroic Jewish resisters in her book “Defiance,” which was later made into a film starring Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber.

Nechama Tec, a Polish Jew who pretended to be Roman Catholic to survive the Holocaust and then became a Holocaust scholar, writing about Jews as heroic resisters and why certain people, even antisemites, became rescuers . . . .

In “Defiance: The Bielski Partisans” (1993), Dr. Tec’s best-known book, she described the courageous actions of Tuvia Bielski, who commanded a resistance group that fought the Germans and, more important, saved some 1,200 Jews. The partisans entered ghettos under siege and brought Jews back to the Belarusian forest, where Mr. Bielski had built a community for them.  “Defiance” gave Dr. Tec a platform to show that Jews saved other Jews during the war and were more active in resisting the Nazis than some have commonly believed.

New York Times, 13 Aug.


Lester L. Grabbe

3 September 2023


Middle East Study Centre—Newsletter August 2023


Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor, founder and president of the MESC, was elected President of the international Association of Israel Studies (AIS).  The AIS is an international scholarly society devoted to the academic and professional study of Israel. The Association’s membership is composed of scholars from all disciplines in the social sciences and many in the humanities.


Professor Lester L. Grabbe, a founding member of MESC, had the Enoch Seminar Life Achievement Award conferred on him in June in recognition of his contribution to the field of Second Temple Judaism and Christian origins and his service to the association.



In Egypt, a huge “New Administrative Capital” is being built, approximately 45km (28 miles) to the east of Cairo, on a swath of desert equal to the size of Singapore.  If you take a walk or drive across Cairo, you may be tempted to think that the Egyptian government embarked on this multi-billion-dollar project to meet an urgent need. . . .


So it is easy to believe the New Administrative Capital, which is expected to house embassies, government agencies, the parliament, 30 ministries, a spiralling presidential compound and some 6.5 million people when completed, is a necessity. It seems that it will not only move administrative buildings out of Cairo, but also create much-needed housing. Moreover, the government committed to allocate 15 square metres of green space per inhabitant in the new development. The new capital will have a central “green river”, a combination of open water and planted greenery twice the size of New York’s Central Park. So the project is also being sold as an effort to tackle pollution and make Egypt “greener”. . . .


But there are fears that the project will not only help the country’s backbone industries and struggling businesses to get back on their feet, but also allow the military to spread its tentacles further across the Egyptian economy. The military, for example, has the capacity to provide much of the steel and cement needed to complete the construction of the new city. Furthermore, it has access to cheap manpower in the form of low-paid conscripts. As such, it will likely be the military that gains the most from this unprecedented construction drive.

Al Jazeera, 5 July



Saudi-Israel Deal

[Comment by Anshel Pfeffer] In Washington they’re talking of a “game-changer” that will transform the Middle East. Jerusalem is abuzz with predictions of the “biggest breakthrough” in regional diplomacy in over 40 years. In Riyadh they’re a lot cagier, waiting to see what kind of deal is on the table. But there are encouraging noises there as well.


Is this going to be the big story of the summer out of the Middle East? Some good news for a change?  President Biden is apparently considering a significant American-Saudi-Israeli deal which will bolster the United States’ strategic ties with the oil-rich kingdom and formalise ties between its two main allies in the region. What’s in it for him?


An American diplomat explains that the president has been stung twice in the past 18 months in his dealings with the Saudis. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year, he had hoped for their co-operation in securing energy supplies and keeping petrol prices down, while Europe weaned itself off Vladimir Putin’s pipelines. But they preferred to sit on the fence and didn’t rush to increase output.


Then this March the Saudis signed a rapprochement agreement with their Iranian neighbours, ending seven years of open hostilities. Surely a good thing. What worried the Americans was the identity of the broker. The deal between the Iranians and the Saudis was achieved and signed in Beijing.


“It’s all about China and Russia,” said the diplomat. Biden, who less than three years ago had promised to treat Saudi as “the pariah it is” — a punishment for its horrendous human rights record and the butchering of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 — has put all those misgivings aside. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may be a tyrant but better America’s tyrant than China’s. And it’s not just the geopolitics.


Finally bringing the Israelis and the Saudis together, out in the open, a goal that previous American presidents tried and failed to realise, would be an impressive foreign policy success going into the presidential election. Or at least some of Biden’s team hope it will be. . . .

Times, 2 Aug.



The FBI is investigating the US special envoy for Iran, Rob Malley, over his handling of classified material, a Friday report said, after the Biden administration suspended Malley’s security clearance and put him on leave.  An internal security investigation into Malley has been turned over to the FBI, the US news outlet Semafor reported, citing a source in the State Department.  Two State Department officials had previously said the agency’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security was leading the inquiry.

Times of Israel, 8 July


Iran hanged two men in public on Saturday over a shooting at a revered shrine in the southern city of Shiraz last year that killed more than a dozen people, the judiciary said.  The October 26 attack on the Shiite Muslim shrine of Shah Cheragh, which left 13 people dead and 30 wounded, was claimed by the Sunni Muslim extremist Islamic State (IS) group.

Times of Israel, 8 July


WASHINGTON (AP) — The US is beefing up its use of fighter jets around the strategic Strait of Hormuz to protect ships from Iranian seizures, a senior defense official said Friday, adding that the US is increasingly concerned about the growing ties between Iran, Russia and Syria across the Middle East.  Speaking to Pentagon reporters, the official said the US will send F-16 fighter jets to the Gulf region this weekend to augment the A-10 attack aircraft that have been patrolling there for more than a week. The move comes after Iran tried to seize two oil tankers near the strait last week, opening fire on one of them.

Associated Press, 14 July


Police in Cyprus confirmed claims by Israel’s Mossad secret service that an Iranian hit squad planned to kill Israelis, the Associated Press reported Saturday.  A security official told the AP that Cypriot police had followed up a tip by “friendly intelligence service” and discovered an Iranian national identified as Yusuf Shahbazi Abbasalilu who was leading the plot. . . . In the video released by Mossad, he says that the operation was being led by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and faces the risk of also being listed in Europe. . . . The Associated Press said that Abbasalilu set up base in the Turkish occupied northern part of Cyprus but was sent back to Iran after being identified as a security risk.

Iran International, 15 July


As the lights dimmed at a cultural festival in the Iranian capital, Tehran, earlier this month, women in the audience were defiantly dancing, singing and clapping along to the music at the landmark Milad Tower.  They were also waving their hijabs (headscarves) in the air and that, according to Iran’s interpretation of Islamic law, is crossing a major line.  The hijab is a powerful political symbol in the Islamic republic, a bedrock of the ideology of the country’s clerical establishment.


Women who flout the mandatory dress code can face severe punishment, but since nationwide protests began in September, many younger Iranians have been openly questioning Iran’s strict hijab regulations, sometimes in public displays of civil disobedience.  Patrols by the country’s morality police – whose job it is to enforce the hijab regulations – had been paused since the protests erupted following the death in custody of 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for allegedly breaking the strict hijab rules.  But Iran has recently restored the morality police patrols to the streets as a “countermeasure against hijab negligence”, according to a police spokesperson.

BBC News, 27 July


A sex tape in Iran has led to the suspension of an official in charge of promoting Islamic values – and prompted authorities to deny any prior knowledge of his alleged behaviour.  A video posted online allegedly shows the head of culture and Islamic guidance in Gilan province, Reza Tsaghati, having sex with another man.  Their identities and the video’s authenticity have not been verified.  Mr Tsaghati has been removed from his post while authorities investigate.


Homosexuality is illegal in Iran, with LGBT+ people at risk of harassment, abuse and violence.  The video – which has been widely shared on social media – has caused furore online. Mr Tsaghati is the founder of a cultural centre focused on piety and the hijab.

BBC News, 29 July





Russia has been accused of “reckless behaviour” after Su-35 fighter jets flew close to three US Reaper drones over Syria and dropped parachute-attached flares in their path.  To prove the latest midair harassment by Russian aircraft operating in Syria, the US air force released a video taken by the drones as they were being targeted.  The video images show one of the Russian jets flying in front of an MQ-9 Reaper and accelerating away, causing an afterburner blast of hot air in an apparent attempt to damage the drone’s electronics. . . .


There are about 900 American troops still operating in Syria, engaged with Kurdish and Arab allies of the Syrian Democratic Forces in confronting remnants of Islamic State. The terrorist group were largely defeated by US-led coalition forces in December 2017 but sufficient numbers remain to challenge the Americans in the area.  The largest US military base is at the al-Omar oilfield in eastern Syria. US troops are also located at al-Tanf on the Syrian-Iraqi border.  Reaper drones are flown regularly over eastern Syria to try to spot Islamic State militants’ movements across the border with Iraq.

Times, 6 July


WASHINGTON (AP) — A Russian fighter jet flew very close to a U.S. surveillance aircraft over Syria, forcing it to go through the turbulent wake and putting the lives of the four American crew members in danger, U.S. officials said Monday.  The officials said the incident, which happened just before noon EDT on Sunday, was a significant escalation in what has been a string of encounters between U.S. and Russian aircraft in Syria in recent weeks. The intercept by the Russian Su-35 impeded the U.S. crew’s ability to safely operate their MC-12 aircraft, the officials said, calling it a new level of unsafe behavior that could result in an accident or loss of life.

Associated Press, 18 July





Tunisia’s democracy is being dismantled by a president who claims he’s saving it from anarchy. Parliament has been dissolved, scores of judges sacked and opponents jailed. Once Tunisia – the north African country of just 12 million people squeezed between it’s much bigger neighbours Libya and Algeria – was a beacon of democracy. It was the first Arab country to overthrow its dictator Ben Ali in 2011 during what became known as the Arab Spring. Now a new authoritarian leader, Kais Saied, dominates the country. Tunisia faces numerous problems, from soaring prices and shortages of some basic foods – to thousands of migrants – many Tunisians – trying to flee across the Mediterranean to Europe.

BBC News, 20 July


Tunisia in North Africa was the birthplace of the Arab Spring, a wave of popular uprisings that shook or toppled authoritarian regimes in the region. But, after a decade of fragile democracy, in 2019 a new strongman, President Kais Saied, came to power. Since then parliament has been dissolved, many judges have been jailed, and there’ve been protests against his increasingly authoritarian rule. What’s more, the economy is failing and the country’s treatment of sub-Saharan African migrants has been growing harsher. And as Mike Thomson experienced on a recent trip, the media are being closely watched.

BBC News, 29 July


Tunis, Tunisia – The image of Ivorian woman Fati Dosso and her six-year-old daughter Marie, found dead in the Libyan desert from apparent dehydration after being expelled from Tunisia, continues to prove problematic for the European Commission and Tunisia’s President Kais Saied.


Under the terms of a memorandum of understanding the two signed with each other in mid-July, Tunisia will receive 105 million euros ($115m) to support five pillars of the “new chapter in relations between the European Union and Tunisia”, one of which is migration.  Tunisia’s migration policies have seen at least 1,200 Black refugees and migrants expelled to the desert regions along the borders with Libya and Algeria and there is no evidence that it will stop the mass deportations, irrespective of its agreement with the EU.  As the expulsions continued and racist attacks against Black people increased in the country, much of Tunisia’s mainstream media has remained silent.

Al Jazeera, 2 Aug.





The UN says more than 2,000 people have been forced to flee violence between rival factions at a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon.  The clashes between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement and Islamist groups left 11 people dead, the UN says.  A ceasefire has now been agreed although gunfire was still being reported on Monday.


Established in 1948, the Ein el-Hilweh camp is the largest in Lebanon.  The UN says it houses more than 63,000 registered refugees, but some estimates say the population is higher.  The camp, situated near the southern city of Sidon, falls outside the jurisdiction of the Lebanese security forces.  It is left up to rival factions within the camp to maintain its security, but factional disputes are common.

BBC News, 31 July





The Iraqi government has opened an investigation into the kidnapping of Israeli-Russian academic Elizabeth Tsurkov.  A government spokesman said on Friday that they were waiting for the results of the investigation into the March kidnapping of the woman.  Tsurkov went missing after travelling to Iraq for research purposes on behalf of Princeton University, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on Wednesday.


“Elizabeth Tsurkov is still alive and we see Iraq as responsible for her fate and well being,” it said in a statement.  The Israeli government said Tsurkov was being held by the Shia militia Kataib Hezbollah. The group is a part of the Hashed al-Shaabi force, former paramilitaries that were recently integrated into Iraq’s security forces, and which have ties with Iran.

Al Jazeera, 7 July


The Israeli-Russian academic researcher believed to have been abducted in Iraq by a powerful radical Shiite group backed by Iran was reportedly warned a number of times against trips to the country amid fears for her safety.  In an unsourced report Thursday evening, Israel’s Channel 12 news said Elizabeth Tsurkov, a 36-year-old Israeli Middle East analyst who is said to have entered Iraq late last year and disappeared sometime in March, was given personal warnings in recent months about traveling to Iraq following repeated stays in the country.  An Israeli government official confirmed on Wednesday that Tsurkov had made previous trips to Iraq, which Israel considers an enemy country. (The New York Times quoted Iraqi officials saying she had made more than 10 visits.) According to Israeli law, it is illegal for Israeli citizens to enter enemy countries, even on a foreign passport.

Times of Israel, 7 July


Iraq has expelled the Swedish ambassador only hours after Iraqi protesters angered by the burning of copies of the Quran in Sweden stormed the Swedish embassy in central Baghdad, scaling the walls of the compound and setting it on fire.  The Iraqi prime minister, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, also recalled his country’s charge d’affaires in Sweden, the government said on Thursday, and suspended the working permit of Swedish telecom company Ericsson on Iraqi soil, according to state media.

Al Jazeera, 20 July





[Blog of Ron Werber (excerpt)]

Many in Israel’s Liberal-Democratic camp admire Hungary’s political opposition for its principled stand against Prime Minister Viktor Orban, under whose thuggish leadership the country’s judiciary, media, academia, and much of the business sector have been stripped of their independence, corruption has run rampant, and the cost of living has skyrocketed. But supporters of Hungary’s opposition ignore the simple fact that it was the opposition’s inter-faction division and mistrust, and the mutual animosity among leaders that paved the way for Orban’s sweeping victory and return to power in 2010, and for his repeated electoral successes since. Sadly, similar fissures within the Israeli opposition serve as the main strategic asset of the Netanyahu government.


While hundreds of thousands of Israelis stand united in an unprecedented nationwide protest, demanding change and rallying around common democratic and liberal values, Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz-Gideon Sa’ar, Avigdor Liberman, and Merav Michaeli choose to perpetuate the divisions within the opposition. Despite their rhetoric about saving the country from an impending nightmare scenario, they lack a strategy and a concrete political action plan. Instead, their efforts are dedicated mainly to exploiting the mass protest for their own short-term personal political gains.

Times of Israel, 3 July


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday evening that he was feeling “very good” after being taken earlier in the day to the emergency room at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan.  He was undergoing “further routine examination” on Saturday evening after the hospital said it assessed he was suffering from dehydration and “nothing untoward was found” in initial tests.  In January he had a colonoscopy and in October he went to hospital iwth chest pains.

Times of Israel, 15 July


As Military Reservists Threaten To Stop Serving, Debate in Israel Rages. . . .

As the Jewish state is torn between supporters of the current government and its very vocal opponents, many are warning of impending destruction. While both sides feud, they also caution that the heated discourse in the country could lead to a deep scar that will never heal.


This scar becomes even deeper as the talk of military reserve service increases. Once a consensus, the armed forces have become a hot topic dividing society.  Hundreds of reservists, including fighter pilots and members of elite combat and cyber units, have signed letters announcing they would no longer volunteer for service if the legislation continues.  As the government continues to progress in the legislation of the contentious judicial overhaul, the protest among military reservists appears to be spreading, as a heated debate ensues.

The Media Line, 16 July


President Biden invited Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, to a meeting in the U.S. later this year, easing months of tensions between the two leaders. It would be their first meeting since Netanyahu reassumed the role in December.  The invitation came on the eve of a visit to Washington by Israel’s president, which had long been seen as a slight to Netanyahu. It also reversed Biden’s decision in March to avoid meeting the prime minister “in the near term” after criticizing Netanyahu for pushing to overhaul his country’s judiciary.

New York Times, 17 July


Protesters Rally in Israel against the Judicial Overhaul.

Thousands of Israelis demonstrated in major train stations, blocked highways and rallied outside the homes of government ministers to loudly oppose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to finalize a law next week that would limit the power of the Supreme Court. They say that they fear the proposed law would undermine democracy by reducing judicial oversight over the cabinet.  In the U.S., President Biden met with President Isaac Herzog of Israel this afternoon at the White House. The diplomatic overture is meant to signal steadfast American support for Israel despite tensions between the Biden administration and Netanyahu.

New York Times, 18 July


Benjamin Netanyahu was released from hospital this morning after an emergency heart procedure. The prime minister of Israel now faces an unprecedented national crisis as parliament votes on reforming the country’s justice system.  Demonstrators, many of whom feel the very foundations of their country are being eroded by the government’s plan, pitched tents and took to the streets of Jerusalem in their thousands on Sunday as part of a last-ditch attempt to halt the plans of Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, to pass a law limiting the powers of the Supreme Court. Businesses across the country have also closed today in protest at the vote. . . .


In what was another blow to the government, military reservists pushed back by declaring last week their unwillingness to serve if the measures are passed. Some 10,000 Israeli reserve officers have said that they will suspend their voluntary service as they “refuse to serve under a dictatorship.” . . . Netanyahu, who spent most of Sunday in hospital having a pacemaker fitted, is discussing a compromised version of the amendment, but his hard-right coalition partners are pushing him to pass the law unchanged.

Times, 24 July


In an extraordinary filing on Tuesday, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara requested that the High Court of Justice strike down a law passed in March that prevents the court from ordering a prime minister to recuse himself from office, a stance – if accepted – that would mark the first time the court strikes down one of Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.


The dramatic filing by the government’s chief lawyer arguing for the invalidation of a law passed at the behest of that same government, came a day after the Knesset passed the first part of its program to severely restrict the court’s ability to exercise judicial review over government decisions and legislation.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by dismissing the court’s authority to strike down Basic Laws, sharpening battle lines in the growing fight over the judiciary.

Times of Israel, 25 July


Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers presented a bill on Tuesday to enshrine the value of Torah study in a quasi-constitutional Basic Law, as a way to further cement military draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox men — but the legislation was quickly shot down by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party amid backlash.  The bill, submitted by members of the United Torah Judaism party, defines Torah study as a core state value, elevating it to be roughly on par with serving in the armed forces, which is mandatory for most Israelis. . . .


But as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle reacted negatively, the Likud party immediately downplayed the development, saying in statement that the bill “is not on the agenda and won’t be advanced.”  The Yesh Atid party mocked Likud’s response and posted a photograph of Netanyahu’s signature on the coalition agreement promising Haredi parties that the bill will be passed.

Times of Israel, 25 July


Israel’s Supreme Court announced today that it would review a contentious new law that diminishes the court’s own role, setting the stage for a constitutional crisis. However, it did not issue an injunction barring the law from going into effect, as some critics had hoped.  The court will hear arguments in September. At that point, it must decide whether to reassert its dominance over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, or accept the move to reduce its own power.

New York Times, 26 July


Israeli Police ‘Use George Floyd Brutality’ against Protesters.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s hard-right national security minister, has been accused of fostering a culture of police brutality in trying to crack down on protests against the government.  Ben-Gvir, leader of the Jewish Power party and the most radical member of Binyamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition, has secured a guarantee that he will soon be given control of a new “national guard” of volunteers.


Before that, however, he is said to have started a sweeping overhaul of the police force. Tel Aviv’s police chief, Ami Eshed, is reported to have been forced from his role its police commissioner, Kobi Shabtai, to have been ousted for being too “lenient” with protesters.

Times, 1 Aug.



Israel and Palestine


UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday dismissed a demand from Israel that he retract his accusation that Israeli forces had “obviously” used excessive force during a counter-terror operation in Jenin earlier this week.  Guterres’s allegation during a Thursday press briefing marked a rare, direct condemnation of Israel from the secretary-general, and sparked an open dispute between the UN chief and Israel’s ambassador to the world body, Gilad Erdan.  After Guterres’s accusation, Erdan condemned the statement as “shameful,” demanded a retraction, and called on Guterres to condemn Palestinian terrorism.

Times of Israel, 8 July


“No one Can Stop this Generation of Jenin Fighters”.

Tall and gangly, his face pockmarked by acne, the teenage fighter winced in his hospital bed as he recalled how close he came to martyrdom. Wounded by a drone strike then hit by gunfire in his abdomen, Harbosh, 18, fell to the ground in the middle of Jenin refugee camp and prepared to die. “I smelt death, I saw death,” Harbosh said. “I felt my spirit go out from my body.”


Lying there, he raised one finger and whispered the shahada, the Islamic oath asserting the oneness of God. “I was ready to die and become a martyr,” he said, before admitting: “I was in a lot of pain and I wanted the pain to stop.”  Harbosh is one of a new generation in the Palestinian armed resistance, a member of the Jenin Brigades, the militant coalition that has sprung up and thrived in the squalid surroundings of the Jenin camp where this week Israel began its largest military operation in the West Bank in two decades.

Times, 8 July


CCTV footage has emerged appearing to show the moment a 16-year-old Palestinian boy – supposedly unarmed – was gunned down and killed by an Israeli sniper during last week’s Jenin military operation.  The video now appears to rubbish Israel’s claims that only militant combatants were killed in the intensive search for weapons in the Jenin refugee camp.


Abdulrahman Hasan Ahmad Hardan was killed as he stood in front of the al-Amal hospital, which is based outside of the camp. He had been responding to a call from his local mosque to donate blood.  The boy was killed just after midday last week on the second day of Israel’s raid of the camp, which has acted as a hub for Iranian-funded armed Palestinian militancy in recent years.  In the CCTV video, Abdulrahman can be seen, appearing empty-handed, as he looks down the street. The boy slumps to the ground after he appeared to be shot by an Israeli sniper.

Daily Mail, 10 July

Two Israeli settlers were arrested and another five were detained over their suspected involvement in the killing of a young Palestinian man in the West Bank, police said Saturday.  The prime suspect who allegedly opened fire was hospitalized after he was injured in clashes.  The second arrested individual formerly worked as an aide for a lawmaker from the far-right Otzma Yehudit party. Both are residents of the illegal West Bank outpost of Migron.                                                                                       Times of Israel, 5 Aug.





The official inquiry into Nazi atrocities committed on Alderney in the Channel Islands is under pressure to investigate why those responsible for committing war crimes on British soil were never brought to trial in the UK.  Prof Anthony Glees, the security and intelligence expert who advised Margaret Thatcher’s war crimes inquiry, told the Observer: “This is a vital opportunity to establish all the facts, and it must examine why those who perpetrated such heinous war crimes were never brought to trial in this country. The review into the atrocities on Alderney is to be warmly welcomed, but I believe it should not just focus on the numbers killed, as important as that is.”


Last week the Observer revealed that the UK’s Holocaust envoy, Lord Pickles, would be launching an inquiry into the number of prisoners murdered by the Nazis in the British crown dependency. But Glees said the investigation needed to delve more widely into the events on the Channel Island to uncover the truth about one of the darkest episodes of British history. He added that the events on Alderney had been excluded from his inquiry in 1989.

Guardian, 29 July


A former associate of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani has accused him of making derogatory remarks about Jewish people and being sexually aggressive to her. Noelle Dunphy is suing the former New York mayor in state court in a $10 million lawsuit, accusing him of sexual abuse. But lawyers for the former New York mayor said he “vehemently and completely denies the allegations”.


However, on Tuesday, Dunphy’s lawyers released several audio recordings of encounters she had with Giuliani.  In one 2019 recording, a transcript submitted as part of the lawsuit seen by the JC, Giuliani allegedly claimed Jewish men had small penises compared to Italians.  According to the transcript, he said: “The way natural selection works. Jewish men have small cocks because they can’t use them after they get married.  Whereas the Italian men use them all their lives, so they get bigger.”


It comes after Giuliani allegedly said that Jewish people need to “get over the Passover.”  A transcript from a conversation in April 2019, said: “Jews. They want to go through that freaking Passover all the time.  “Man, oh, man. Get over the Passover. It was like 3,000 years ago. Okay, the Red Sea parted. Big deal. Not the first time that happened.”

Jewish Chronicle, 2 Aug.


Antisemitism is growing among young people with a quarter of such racist incidents now committed by children.  Of the 415 anti-Jewish hate incidents recorded in the first half of this year in which the offender’s age was given, 103 were perpetrated by those under 18, according to data compiled by the Community Security Trust (CST), a charity that aims to protect British Jews.  The figures show a year-on-year increase in antisemitism among children, with only one in six incidents in 2019 having been by someone under 18.

Times, 3 Aug.



Book Review


The Forgers: The Forgotten Story of the Holocaust’s Most Audacious Rescue Operation by Roger Moorhouse (Bodley Head).


The forgotten Holocaust story of the passport forgers who saved Jews.  A group of Polish diplomats issued fake documents and visas, helping 10,000 people to escape the Nazis.  We have long been awed by the Nazi savagery of the Holocaust, but scope persists for revulsion at the indifference of the western world. In April 1944 a diplomatic struggle was being waged about the acceptability of forged Latin-American passports, which permitted thousands of Jews to escape the death camps. . . .


This book tells the story of the forgers of such documents, a group based at the Polish embassy in Switzerland. They worked with some of the estimated 10,000 European Jews whose lives were thus saved, including the mother of the Times journalist Daniel Finkelstein. He has memorialised her and his father in a bestselling family saga, Hitler, Stalin, Mum and Dad, published in June.


Among the many remarkable aspects of The Forgers is the fact that the prime movers were Poles, many of whom were notorious for antisemitism. The author, Roger Moorhouse, who in the past worked closely with Norman Davies, standard-bearer among historians for Poland, does well to highlight that some Poles displayed admirable compassion.

(Excerpt from the review of Max Hastings, Sunday Times, 29 July)


Lester L. Grabbe

5 August 2023

Middle East Study Centre—Newsletter July 2023


Iran has unveiled what it says is a hypersonic missile, part of an escalation of threats directed at Israel and a sign of the military pressure it is under from the so-called “Zionist entity”.

Times, 7 June


Major Progress Made in Nuclear Talks Between U.S. and Iran in Preparation for a New Agreement

Israel expects an agreement to be reached within a few weeks, with the understandings expected to include an Iranian agreement to stop uranium enrichment at high levels in return for easing sanctions.

Haaretz, 7 June


Touring the headquarters of Israel Aerospace Industries, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterates his opposition to any interim nuclear deal between the United States and Iran. “We are determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon,” Netanyahu says while standing before an array of missiles and weapons systems.

Times of Israel, 18 June


Iran will refrain from sending a new ambassador to Sweden in protest over the burning of a Koran outside a mosque in Stockholm, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Sunday.  A man tore up and burned a Koran outside Stockholm’s central mosque on Wednesday, the first day of the Muslim Eid al Adha holidays.  Swedish police charged the man who burned the holy book with agitation against an ethnic or national group. In a newspaper interview, he described himself as an Iraqi refugee seeking to ban it.

Reuters, 2 July


Iran has lashed out against France for allowing a meeting and rally by the blacklisted Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), or People’s Mujahidin Organization, which Tehran says amounts to support for “terrorism”.  French officials need to “make up for their past mistakes” in backing the “murderers of Iranian people” and focus on the country’s “deep internal crisis” and discriminatory behaviour against its own citizens, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said in a statement late on Sunday. . . .


Former US Vice President Mike Pence, who is running in the 2024 presidential election, and short-time former United Kingdom Prime Minister Liz Truss addressed the MEK gathering outside Paris.  Pence said the “Iranian regime has never been weaker than it is today” after protests that erupted in September and presented the MEK as an alternative, according to media reports.

Al Jazeera, 3 July



Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US has spoken of wanting to see a “thriving Israel” as part of a unified Middle East, in the latest sign that the kingdom could normalise relations after decades of enmity.  Princess Reema bint Bandar al-Saud, who is a member of the Saudi Arabian royal family, told an event in Colorado: “We want to see a thriving Israel, We want to see a thriving Palestine.”  Referring to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s long-term agenda, she added: “Vision 2030 talks about a unified, integrated, thriving Middle East, and last I checked, Israel was there. We want a thriving Red Sea economy.”


A possible normalisation between Israel and Saudi Arabia has been hailed as the “crown jewel” of agreements between the Jewish state and the Arab and Muslim world. Riyadh is believed to have a covert relationship with Israel but has yet to officially disclose those diplomatic ties. While Prince Mohammed has not yet followed the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco in establishing official relations under the US-brokered Abraham Accords of 2020, his country’s historic boycott has been softening, including opening its airspace to Israeli flights last year.

Times, 29 June


Saudi Arabia and Russia, the world’s biggest oil exporters, deepened oil cuts on Monday, sending prices higher despite concerns over a global economic slowdown and possible further interest rate hikes from the U.S. Federal Reserve.  Saudi Arabia said it would extend its voluntary oil output cut of one million barrels per day (bpd) for another month to include August, adding that the cut could be extended beyond that month.


Shortly after the Saudi announcement, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said Moscow would cut its oil exports by 500,000 barrels per day in August.  The cuts amount to 1.5% of global supply and bring the total pledged by OPEC+ to 5.16 million bpd.

Reuters, 3 July





Syrian Soldier Wounded After Israeli Airstrikes Targeted Damascus, Syrian State Media Says

An Israeli airstrike targeting Syria’s capital Damascus left one Syrian soldier with “serious injuries and caused some material damage,” state news agency SANA reported early on Wednesday citing a military source.

Haaretz, 14 June


In May, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attended the annual Arab League summit for the first time since the country was suspended in 2011 for its brutal and violent crackdown against protesters. While many Arab nations may view normalisation as an essential step towards a political solution for the country’s intractable civil war, some Syrians view the rapprochement as an outright betrayal.


The shift in regional dynamics is top of mind for the millions of Syrian refugees who fear normalisation could mean the acceleration of efforts to force their return. Over 5 million Syrians live in neighbouring countries and despite widespread generosity in welcoming those displaced compared to other parts of the world, in recent years increasingly bold efforts have been made to force their return as domestic political tensions morph into xenophobia against Syrians.  Rights organisations have documented myriad abuses that accompany forced and coerced returns. For those who do return, they often struggle to reclaim their homes from government seizure and face threats of violence and detention.

Al Jazeera, 21 June


The United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution that will establish an independent body to determine what happened to more than 130,000 people missing as a result of the conflict in Syria.  The resolution, an important response to appeals by their families and loved ones, was adopted on Thursday by the 193-member world body with 83 votes in favour, 11 opposed and 62 abstentions.

Al Jazeera, 30 June


Israeli warplanes targeted a Syrian air defence battery from which an anti-aircraft missile was launched towards Israel, an Israeli military spokesman said early on Sunday.  The warplanes also attacked other targets in the area, while no casualties were reported from the Syrian missile, said the spokesman, Avichay Adraee.

Reuters, 2 July





The European Union has offered Tunisia more than €1 billion in sweeteners in an attempt to persuade its increasingly authoritarian government to stop migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Italy.  Kais Saied, the autocratic Tunisian president, has accused the EU of secretly tying the offer of economic loans, linked to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout, to migration amid a surge of crossings to Europe. . . .


Saied is using his reluctance to act as a proxy border guard for the EU as his negotiating chip while his country sinks back into authoritarian rule and economic mismanagement after the Arab Spring in 2011.  With soaring energy prices, scarcity of food and high unemployment, Saied’s government has arrested opposition leaders, rewritten the constitution and, according to critics, incited hatred against sub-Saharan Africans.

Times, 13 June




The Taliban have ordered hair and beauty salons in Afghanistan to shut in the latest restriction faced by women.  A Vice and Virtue Ministry spokesman told the BBC businesses had one month to comply, starting from 2 July when they were first informed of the move.  Women’s freedoms have steadily shrunk since the Taliban seized power in 2021.  They have barred teenage girls and women from classrooms, gyms and parks, and most recently even banned them from working for the United Nations.  The Taliban have also decreed that women should be dressed in a way that only reveals their eyes, and must be accompanied by a male relative if they are travelling more than 72km (48 miles).

BBC News, 4 July





Intel is to spend $25 billion building a new computer chip factory in Israel, the latest in a string of recent investments that have shone a light on the UK’s more limited microchip ambitions.  Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, confirmed the deal yesterday and described it as the largest ever international investment in the country. “[It is] a tremendous achievement for the Israeli economy: 90 billion shekels [$25 billion],” he said.

Times, 19 June


China is engaging in an ambitious programme of diplomacy and peace initiatives, in the Middle East as well as Ukraine, in an effort to establish its credentials as a responsible global power and to exploit differences between the United States and its partners.  The latest object of Chinese attention is the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who announced this week that he has been invited to make a state visit to Beijing at a time of tension between Israel and the US. . . .


President Biden is keeping Netanyahu at distance because of the inclusion of far-right parties in his coalition and their attempt to pass laws that would drastically weaken Israel’s Supreme Court.  Rather than attempting to soothe the US president, Netanyahu has won himself an invitation to meet President Xi in Beijing. . . .  “I think it would be a very good idea for Netanyahu to use China as a go-between for indirect talks with Iran,” says Efraim Halevy, former Israeli intelligence chief and ambassador, who was appointed by Netanyahu in 1998 as director of Mossad, Israel’s spy agency. “Sadly, I think his real reason for going to China is to stick it to the Americans, which is a very bad idea.”

Times, 28 June


A Palestinian man has injured at least seven people in a car-ramming and stabbing attack in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, Israeli police say.  A police spokesperson said the “terrorist” rammed into pedestrians and then tried to stab them with a sharp object. He was shot dead by a civilian.  Three of the injured were in a serious condition, the spokesperson added.  The attacker has been identified as a Palestinian from the occupied West Bank who was a known Hamas activist.  The Palestinian militant group praised the attack, saying it was a “natural response” to the ongoing major Israeli military operation in Jenin refugee camp, in the northern West Bank.

BBC News, 4 July



Israel and Palestine


EU Human Rights Envoy: Israel Is Failing to Investigate and Stop Settler Attacks on Palestinians.

The European Union’s rights envoy also emphasized the number of Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli soldiers. . . . The European Union’s Special Representative for Human Rights says Israel needs to do more to investigate and stop attacks by Israeli settlers in the occupied territories against Palestinian civilians. In a conversation with Haaretz at the end of his three-day visit to Israel and the West Bank, special representative Eamon Gilmore said that he had urged Israeli officials to act on this issue but did not sound optimistic about the future.

Haaretz, 11 June


The US State Department said Sunday that it was “deeply troubled” by a pair of Israeli moves aimed at significantly advancing settlement construction in the West Bank, which Washington branded as an “obstacle to peace.”  The Biden administration has long criticized Israel over its policies in the West Bank, but the decision to release a statement over the weekend, rather than waiting until the issue is raised at a press briefing during the week, indicated a heightened sense of frustration in Washington, which has warned Jerusalem that such steps significantly complicate US efforts to advance issues of mutual concern such as a normalization with Saudi Arabia.


Earlier in the day, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced that the Defense Ministry body in charge of authorizing settlement construction had released its agenda for meetings next week where it will advance plans for 4,560 new settlement homes. A majority of the units will be located in Jewish communities located deep in the West Bank, east of the security barrier in what will further complicate efforts to create a contiguous, viable Palestinian state.


Hours later, the government passed a controversial resolution that gives practically all control over planning approval for construction in West Bank settlements to Smotrich, a settler himself and an impassioned advocate of the nationalist movement.  The decision approved at Sunday morning’s cabinet meeting, which takes immediate effect, also dramatically expedites and eases the process for expanding existing West Bank settlements and retroactively legalizing some illegal outposts.

Times of Israel, 19 June


At least four Israeli settlers have been killed in a shooting by two Palestinian gunmen near an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank – a day after a deadly raid carried out by Israeli troops.  Four people were confirmed dead and four others were wounded on Tuesday in the attack near Eli, in the northern West Bank, the Magen David Adom emergency services said in a statement.

One of the gunmen was shot dead at the scene and Israeli forces later killed the second suspect after he fled in a taxi near Nablus. Palestinian officials did not immediately comment. . . .


The shooting comes a day after six Palestinians were killed in Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank during a large-scale Israeli military incursion. At least 91 people were wounded during the nine-hour raid.  Israeli forces closed off entrances to Nablus.  Hazem Qassem, a spokesman for Hamas, the group that governs the besieged Gaza Strip, described Tuesday’s shooting as a “response to the crimes of the [Israeli] occupation” in Jenin and elsewhere.  The Palestinian Islamic Jihad also commended the attack, saying it was a natural response to growing Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people.

Al Jazeera, 20 June


Settlers armed with assault rifles opened fire at Palestinians during an attack on the West Bank town of Turmus Ayya earlier this week, surveillance camera footage circulating online Friday showed.  Hundreds of Israeli settlers tore through the Palestinian town on Wednesday afternoon, setting homes, cars and fields on fire and terrorizing residents shortly after Israeli victims of a Palestinian terror shooting in the West Bank were buried. One Palestinian was killed in unclear circumstances during the rampage in Turmus Ayya. . . .


Palestinian health officials said one Palestinian was killed in Turmus Ayya and another 12 were wounded during the attack by settlers and in clashes with Israeli troops. At least four were wounded by gunfire, including one listed in serious condition, according to the Palestinian Authority health ministry. . . .


Three settlers were being held by the Shin Bet security agency in connection with the incidents, the right-wing legal aid group Honenu said late Thursday, adding that the suspects were being denied legal counsel. . . . Police did not report any arrests.  The military has condemned the attacks, stressing that the settler violence made it harder for the army to focus on its main mission — protecting Israeli civilians. . . .


Three extremist settlers had their remand extended on Friday after they were detained by the Shin Bet in recent days in the wake of widespread reprisal attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank following a deadly terror shooting.  Also on Friday it was announced that a fourth suspect, a 19-year-old man, had been detained.  According to the Ynet news site, the suspects were detained on suspicion of carrying out a premeditated act of violence.

Times of Israel, 23 June


Israel Defense Forces chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, Shin Bet head Ronen Bar, and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai in a joint statement on Saturday strongly condemned an ongoing series of settler attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, branding them as “nationalist terrorism in the full sense of the term.” . . . “In recent days, violent attacks by Israeli citizens against innocent Palestinians have been carried out in the Judea and Samaria area,” the security chiefs’ statement read, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name. “These attacks contradict every moral and Jewish value and constitute nationalist terrorism in the full sense of the term, and we are obliged to fight them.”

Times of Israel, 24 June


Ministers and lawmakers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline coalition rejected the harsh criticism leveled by the military and the defense establishment on Saturday against the “terrorism” of extremist settlers who have attacked Palestinians in recent days. . . . Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, head of the coalition’s far-right Religious Zionism party, prodded the military and the security forces for a stronger response to Palestinian terrorism, and appeared to suggest that law enforcement takes a heavier hand with settlers compared to other communities.  “The attempt to create an equivalency between murderous Arab terror and [Israeli] civilian counter-actions, however serious they may be, is morally wrong and dangerous on a practical level,” Smotrich wrote on Twitter.

Times of Israel, 25 June


Israel’s military has launched air raids on the Jenin refugee camp in the northern occupied West Bank, carrying out an ongoing large-scale attack that involved a missile and the killing of at least eight Palestinians, according to residents and officials. . . .  Residents said Israel launched at least 10 air attacks in Jenin overnight on Monday, sending smoke billowing from the wreckage of buildings. A convoy of dozens of Israeli armoured vehicles also surrounded the refugee camp and launched a ground military operation, causing heavy damage to homes and roads.


The attacks on Monday came amid escalating violence in the West Bank, including the first Israeli drone assault in the area since 2006, increasing military raids on Jenin and northern occupied Palestinian territories and settler attacks in Palestinian villages.  The Israeli military said in a statement that it struck a “joint operations centre”, which served as a command centre for the Jenin Brigades, a unit comprised of fighters from different Palestinian armed groups. . . .


Al Araby TV channel correspondents and other journalists said they were directly targeted by Israeli live fire while reporting on events in the Jenin refugee camp.  A video shared by the crew showed the camera and the broadcast device on fire, with the journalists noting that the army “fired live ammunition directly at us”.  Al Araby TV correspondent Ameed Shehadeh said the army “hit the camera with about 10 bullets”. Shehadeh, along with four other journalists, were stuck inside one of the homes in the camp for two hours before Red Crescent teams were able to evacuate them in an ambulance.

Al Jazeera, 3 July


Violence between Palestinians and Israelis has become almost a daily event this year. When blood is spilt there is often a dynamic of retaliation, that includes Palestinian armed groups, Jews who live in settlements in the occupied West Bank that are illegal under international law, and the Israeli army. The Israelis said they moved in on the Jenin camp because more than 50 relatively recent attacks were launched from there. . . . The Israeli operation here in Jenin was in the air for months. Despite regular smaller Israeli raids, Palestinian armed groups had become strong enough and united enough to control the Jenin refugee camp. They seemed to be getting stronger. . . .


Volker Turk, the UN human rights chief, has called for the “killing, maiming and the destruction of property” to stop.  Both the car ramming attack in Tel Aviv in Israel and the military operation in Jenin, West Bank “underscore an all too familiar pattern of events” he said.  “That violence only begets more violence,” Turk added, according to the AFP news agency.

BBC News, 4 July



Israel, Russia, and Ukraine


A senior official close to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed frustration on Tuesday over Israel’s continued refusal to provide his country with military assistance, saying he hoped to receive Israeli technology to combat Iranian drones deployed by Russia as part of Moscow’s 16-month-long invasion.


Speaking in translation from Kyiv, Andriy Yermak — Zelensky’s chief of staff — said that “nobody but Israel can provide equipment to combat attacks by Iranian drones,” but declined The Times of Israel’s request to elaborate on the specific technology requested from Israel.  Yermak expressed frustration that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not openly supported Ukraine, and argued that weapons deals between Russia and Israeli enemy Iran should motivate Israel to join the fight.

Times of Israel, 20 June


In Kyiv’s harshest criticism of Israel to date, the embassy in Tel Aviv said in a statement that the Netanyahu government had ‘opted for a path of close cooperation with the Russian federation’.  The Ukrainian embassy in Tel Aviv charged on Sunday that Jerusalem has evinced a “blatant disregard for moral boundaries” when it comes to Russia, remaining “dead silent” in the face of senior officials’ blatant antisemitism and professing “a clear pro-Russian position” despite protestations of neutrality.

Haaretz, 25 June





A free antivax newspaper that has questioned the Holocaust has links to far-right extremist groups and a Germany-based conspiracy theory publication, it has emerged.  The Light newspaper, which prints up to 100,000 copies per month and has more than 18,000 followers on the social media app Telegram, has shared hateful and violent messages aimed at journalists, medics and MPs while offering a platform to far-right figures who have been accused of antisemitism.

Times, 12 June


Robert Bowers, the gunman who killed 11 worshipers in October 2018 in a Pittsburgh synagogue, was found guilty today of dozens of federal hate crimes and civil rights offenses. The jury convicted him after only five hours of deliberations over two days.  The mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue is considered to be the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history. Now the trial will turn to the question of whether Bowers should be sentenced to death.

New York Times, 16 June



Book Reviews


My Friend Anne Frank by Hannah Pick-Goslar (Rider, £22).

By now, more than 80 years after she was killed by the Nazis at age 15, it has been a long time since Anne Frank was merely yet another Jewish child who had the deep misfortune of living in the Netherlands in the 1940s. Instead she has become, Hannah Pick-Goslar writes in her memoir My Friend Anne Frank, “a symbol, in many ways, of all the hope and promise that was lost to hatred and murder”.  In other words she has become a Jewish quasi-Christ figure, something many Jewish novelists have understood for a while. . . . Strictly speaking it was written by Dina Kraft, an editor at the Israeli paper Haaretz, who interviewed Pick-Goslar. The latter died in October 2022 at the age of 93. Nonetheless, Pick-Goslar’s vivid memories of Frank and her family — their apartment in Amsterdam that smelt of “vanilla and books”, Frank’s exasperating childish need to be the centre of attention — emphasise their humanity as opposed to the usual deification.

Excerpt from the review of Hadley Freeman in Sunday Times, 11 June


Hitler, Stalin, Mum and Dad: A Family Memoir of Miraculous Survival by Daniel Finkelstein (William Collins, £25).

The journalist’s story of how his parents lived through the Holocaust reads like a thriller, but it’s the wider focus on how liberal values were powerless in the face of fascism that makes it a modern classic. . . . There are not too many whys either in Daniel Finkelstein’s powerful and beautifully written new book, which tells the story of how his Jewish parents lived through the Holocaust, as European civilisation was ripped apart by nazism and communism in the 1930s and 40s.  Finkelstein, a Times columnist and member of the House of Lords, isn’t trying to explain why these utopian ideologies arose. His preoccupation is on the who and how: “…how the great forces of history crashed down in a terrible wave on two happy families; how it tossed them and turned them, and finally returned what was left to dry land”.

Excerpt from the review of Rohan Silva in the Guardian, 4 June


Three World: Memoir of an Arab Jew by Avi Shlaim (Oneworld, £25).

The author of this remarkable upside-down tale enjoyed a childhood idyll until at the age of five he was cruelly plucked from his homeland and deposited among unwelcoming strangers. He is a Jew who grew up in a household that kept kosher, but lived happily among Arabs — and indeed spoke their language at home — as part of the large Jewish community in Baghdad. In 1950 that community fled or were expelled to make new lives in the two-year-old state of Israel. . . . Shlaim, born in October 1945, is today a respected Oxford historian and public intellectual who has devoted much of his career to challenging stereotypes of Israel and the Arab world. From his earliest years “I could see Arabs not just as an enemy but as a people, worthy of recognition and dignity”.

Excerpt from the review by Max Hastings in Sunday Times, 4 June

Lester L. Grabbe

4 July 2023


Middle East Study Centre—Newsletter June 2023


Supporters of Pakistan’s former prime minister, Imran Khan, took to the streets today soon after Khan was arrested in connection with one of the dozens of corruption cases against him. The arrest represented a major escalation in a political crisis that has engulfed the country since Khan was removed from power by a no-confidence vote in Parliament last year, seemingly buoying his popularity.  “For many people in Pakistan, this feels like a turning point, political tensions that have been simmering for months finally boiling over,” Christina Goldbaum, our Afghanistan and Pakistan bureau chief, said.

New York Times, 9 May


Pakistan’s Supreme Court has ruled that former prime minister Imran Khan’s dramatic arrest on corruption charges this week was illegal.  The court ordered Mr Khan’s immediate release. His lawyers had argued that his detention from court premises in Islamabad on Tuesday was unlawful.  At least 10 people have been killed and 2,000 arrested as violent protests have swept the country since he was held.  Tuesday’s arrest escalated growing tensions between him and the military.  The opposition leader, ousted in a confidence vote in April last year, was brought to court on the orders of Pakistan’s top judge., 11 May


Khan announced on Saturday that he had assembled a seven-member committee to lead negotiations on behalf of his Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party with the government, after about 10,000 PTI supporters were arrested in response to violent protests after his arrest on May 9.


Speaking to The Times via Skype, Khan said: “The committee is there to work out what we do from now on because this reign of terror is untenable. The economy is crashing, the rupee has gone into virtual freefall, unemployment is mounting and the only road map this government has is to crush PTI. There is no question of giving up. This fight will continue as long as I’m alive.”

Times, 30 May





President Erdogan claimed victory in Turkey’s presidential election run-off, securing another term that means he will serve a quarter century in power.  He took 52.08 per cent of the vote, defeating Kemal Kilicdaroglu, a secularist who stood as the candidate for a broad coalition of parties and conceded defeat at midnight.  Speaking in the Istanbul district of Uskudar three hours after the polls had closed, Erdogan claimed to have achieved “a victory where nobody is left behind”, but went on to lash out at LGBT people. He said the opposition was promoting gay rights, a siren call to his ultra-conservative religious base.

. . .


For the near half of the country that voted for Kilicdaroglu, however, the outcome represents a death blow to their democracy. Elections are the last check and balance left in Erdogan’s Turkey. Yet trust in the electoral process has plummeted in recent years and rival broadcasting of the results, huge crowds of observers at polling stations and repeated legal challenges have become the norm. In recent years Erdogan has stuffed the higher electoral board with loyalists and leant on it to bend the rules and overturn results.



How Turkey learnt to hate refugees

President Erdogan is celebrating another victory, but the real winner is a xenophobic and often conspiratorial brand of nationalism that has simmered up to set a new political paradigm. Before the votes both Erdogan and his rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu sought support from fringe, hardline nationalists whose manifestos centre around kicking out refugees.


The rhetoric is a vote winner: hate against refugees, in particular the Syrians, who number 3.6 million, has risen in a slow tide over recent years. Eleven years ago many Turks were proud to host the first refugees who fled Assad’s bombs; until then, Turkey had only hosted tiny numbers of Iranians and Afghans waiting for UN resettlement. By 2014 the Syrian numbers had swelled to the hundreds of thousands, and their communities were becoming visible in Turkish cities along the border, as well as parts of Istanbul. Erdogan welcomed them as Sunni brothers. Kilicdaroglu’s Republican People’s Party campaigned on an anti-refugee ticket in local elections that year. . . .


It is by coincidence the Turkish economy began tipping into decline at the moment the Syrian refugees began arriving. The number of Turks saying they don’t want Syrians in their country has risen as their living standards have dropped. Turkey’s economic crisis has escalated since 2018, and political rhetoric against refugees has risen in tandem. Erdogan has swivelled to the opposition’s position on Syrians, either pledging that they will return or threatening to open his borders and send them to Europe. Turkey has grown less hospitable, stopping residence permits and regularly rounding up and deporting paperless Syrians and others. One recent survey showed that the economy is the overwhelming concern for Turks; only 2.2 per cent said that refugees are their biggest worry. But the two can be easily conflated — and are.

Times, 25 May





Egypt launched a national political dialogue on Wednesday that authorities said was meant to generate debate around the country’s future but elicited mixed reactions.  The dialogue, announced by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in April 2022, aims to produce political, economic and social reform recommendations that could be presented for Sisi’s consideration.


It is one of several steps aimed at countering criticism of Egypt’s democracy and human rights and overcoming tensions in the country’s political life. Other measures include a five-year human rights strategy and a presidential amnesty committee that is considering thousands of requests to free some of those jailed under Sisi’s rule.


“I urge you to make the effort to make the national dialogue experience a success,” Sisi said in a recorded message to the dialogue’s opening session, adding that he had followed preparations closely and that “differences in opinion do not damage the cause of a nation.”  A number of political parties view the start of the dialogue in a positive light. They concede that the government has fulfilled its pledges by not trying during the preparatory sessions to impose any “red-lines” to the issues to be discussed in the dialogue.

Arab Weekly, 4 May





AMMAN, May 8 (Reuters) – Jordan carried out rare air strikes on southern Syria on Monday, hitting a Iran-linked drugs factory and killing a smuggler allegedly behind big hauls across the two countries’ border, local and intelligence sources said.  The sources said one strike hit an abandoned drug facility in Syria’s southern Deraa province linked to the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which is allied to Syria’s government. . . .


Jordan is both a destination and a main transit route to the oil-rich Gulf countries for captagon, a cheap amphetamine that Western and Arab states say is produced in and exported by war-ravaged Syria.  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government denies involvement in drug-making and smuggling. Iran says the allegations are part of Western plots against the country.

Reuters, 8 May





Iran Assembles Allies for Rocket Attacks on Israel

Quds Force tries to draw together Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad amid warning of ‘multi-front war’.  Iran is trying to forge a defence pact, drawing together militant organisations across the Middle East to co-ordinate rocket launches against Israel, regional sources say.  The organisations include the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah and the Palestinian movements Hamas and Islamic Jihad (PIJ), all of which have been funded by Iran for years but have operated separately.


For now, Hamas’s political leaders in Gaza are opposing the move. But the three organisations were involved in a series of missile attacks on Israel from Gaza, Lebanon and Syria three weeks ago, after clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in Jerusalem.  Western intelligence and other sources say Iran’s Quds Force, the overseas arm of the Revolutionary Guard, is trying to create a mechanism under which the organisations will take part in launching the rockets Iran has sent them and paid for as a deterrent against Israel.

Sunday Times, 4 May


Belgium’s Shameful, Dangerous Deal with Iran

The release of a jailed Iranian terrorist to free an aid worker held captive in Teheran spells the return of ‘hostage diplomacy’.  Olivier Vandecasteele, the Belgian aid worker held for 455 days in Iran, has finally been released, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced this past Friday. Vandecasteele was arrested on a visit to Iran in February 2022 and sentenced in January 2023 in a closed-door trial to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes on charges including spying. He worked with the Norwegian Refugee Council and Relief International in the Islamic Republic from 2015 to 2021.


The 42-year-old was released after a diplomatic battle with the Iranian regime, which conditioned his release on the freeing of an Iranian imprisoned in Belgium. In 2021, Assadollah Assadi had been sentenced in Belgium to 20 years in prison for his role in planning a June 2018 bomb attack that targeted the gathering in Villepinte, France, of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled Iranian opposition group abroad known also as Mujahedeen-e-Khalq. . . . Belgium’s prisoner swap deal negotiations since 2021 have only encouraged Iranian terrorism and paved the way for more Europeans to be taken hostage.

Times of Israel, 1 June





The Israeli army says its soldiers killed an armed man suspected of entering the country from Lebanon and blowing up a car at a junction in northern Israel, raising the risk of renewed tensions with Hezbollah. . . . “An explosive device was detonated adjacent to the Megiddo Junction on Monday, severely injuring an Israeli civilian,” the Israeli army said on Twitter. “During searches in northern Israel, security forces neutralized a terrorist armed with an explosive belt & multiple weapons in a vehicle.”


Soldiers stopped a car carrying the bombing suspect at a checkpoint shortly after the roadside explosion, the army said. “Our assumption is that he was aiming to conduct another terrorist attack,” perhaps before committing suicide, it said.  The army said it shot and killed the suspect and is questioning the driver.

Al Jazeera, 15 May


Five members of a Palestinian terror group in Lebanon were killed in a mysterious blast blamed on Israel on Wednesday morning, Arabic-language media reported. Israeli officials denied any involvement and a Lebanese security source said the explosion was accidental.


According to reports by Al Jazeera and other networks, the blast occurred at a base belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC), near the town of Qousaya in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, near the border with Syria.  PFLP-GC accused Israel of carrying out a strike at the base. Images posted to social media showed a crater, a damaged building, and a damaged car, apparently as a result of the explosion.

Times of Israel, 31 May


A military tribunal in Lebanon has formally accused five men of killing an Irish UN peacekeeper in December, local media and news agencies reported.  A senior judicial official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, alleged all five are linked with Lebanese group Hezbollah, The Associated Press news agency reported.


The indictment followed a half-year probe after an attack on a UN peacekeeping convoy near the town of al-Aqbiya in south Lebanon, a stronghold of Hezbollah. It included evidence from bystanders’ testimonies, as well as audio recordings and video footage from surveillance cameras, the Lebanese official said.


In some of the recordings of the confrontation, the gunmen reportedly could be heard telling the peacekeepers that they are from Hezbollah.  Hezbollah has denied any role in the killing, calling it an “unintentional incident” that took place solely between the town’s residents and UNIFIL, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon. There was no immediate comment from Hezbollah on Thursday.

Al Jazeera, 1 June





As global metropolises have always been the places of interest for international criminal cartels, Israeli media reports show that some Israelis have made Dubai the hub for establishment of their criminal mafia networks.  The Israeli media, citing senior Israeli police, claimed that Dubai authorities were unaware that these super criminals of Jewish mafia had created an advanced group in the city and have been pushing forward their illegal actions secretly. Some of them had foreign passports and this contributed to their free movement without being arrested.


Reports suggest that these Israeli criminal groups relocated to the Arab country after the Abu Dhabi-Tel Aviv normalization deal in 2020.  Israeli Channel 12 reported that these mafia members introduced themselves as Israeli businessmen, concealing the fact that they are dangerous criminals. According to this report, dozens of Israeli criminals are currently in the UAE and after faking themselves as businessmen, they conclude deals and projects with various companies.


The channel reported that some of these criminals have fled the occupied territories to Dubai and are wanted for murder and drugs trafficking cases.  It was predictable that the Israeli criminals have discovered a big market in Dubai, according to the Israeli broadcaster, which added that they are buying properties in the Arab city.

Islam Times, 1 June





The Israeli military has killed two Palestinian Islamic Jihad commanders in air strikes in Gaza during a third day of fighting with militants there.  A pre-dawn attack on an apartment in Khan Younis killed the head of PIJ’s rocket-launching force and two others, who the military said were militants.  In the afternoon, his deputy was killed in a strike in a nearby town.


Later, one man was killed when a rocket fired from Gaza hit a building in the central Israeli city of Rehovot.  It was the first fatality in Israel since it began an operation against PIJ on Tuesday morning with a series of air strikes that killed another three of the group’s commanders.  Twenty-nine people have been killed and 93 injured in Gaza over the same period, health officials there say. At least 10 civilians are also among the dead, which the United Nations has called unacceptable.


The Israeli military said four people, including three children, were killed in Gaza by rockets falling short on Wednesday, though this has not been corroborated by Palestinian sources. PIJ denied the allegation and accused Israel of trying to evade responsibility for their deaths.  Militants have launched at least 803 rockets since Wednesday, 620 of which have crossed into Israeli territory, the Israeli military says. Some have hit buildings, but most have landed in open areas or been intercepted. It says it has hit 191 PIJ sites since Tuesday.  On Thursday night a barrage of rockets reached the area around Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial capital, about 60km (37 miles) north of Gaza, with no immediate reports of injuries., 11 May


Emirati leaders extended a long-sought invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to attend the U.N climate conference, known as COP28, in November.  The United Arab Emirates’ President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum also invited Israel’s figurehead President Isaac Herzog and dozens of other leaders including Syrian President Bashar Assad to COP28, in Dubai.


The Israelis did not immediately accept the invitation, but Netanyahu thanked the Emiratis for the gesture.  The invitation falls short of the high-profile bilateral visit Netanyahu has sought. But a trip to the Gulf Arab country would nonetheless give an important boost to the Israeli leader who has established official ties with the UAE as part of the 2020 Abraham Accords, normalizing relations between the two countries. Netanyahu has repeatedly called for closer ties with Arab countries across the region, but has yet to pay the UAE an official visit since the accords were signed.

Independent, 23 May


A retired Mossad agent, who died earlier this week when a tour boat full of Israeli and Italian intelligence figures capsized, was buried Wednesday at the military cemetery in Ashkelon.  Though Israeli officials have not released the man’s name, Italian media reports identified him as 50-year-old Erez Shimoni. He died Sunday on Italy’s Lake Maggiore when the tour boat he was on with 22 other people sank in sudden stormy weather.

Times of Israel, 31 May


The head of the Shin Bet security agency was in Washington on Thursday for meetings with senior American officials amid growing US concern over the security situation in the West Bank and the deterioration of the Palestinian Authority, an Israeli official said.  Ronen Bar’s meetings will include ones at the White House, the State Department and the CIA, the official said, confirming a report in the Axios news site.


The official did not specify whether Bar would be meeting with CIA chief William Burns, who has been closely involved in US efforts to stabilize the PA.

Also in Washington this week were Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi who held meetings with White House and State Department officials to discuss the Iranian nuclear threat and peace prospects with Saudi Arabia.

Times of Israel, 2 June


JTA — A new Biblical translation that eschews gendered pronouns for God is now available through Sefaria, the online library of Jewish texts, prompting backlash on social media from some who see the change as a sacrilege. . . . The new English translation refers to individuals with pronouns that are consistent with traditional gender norms. But unlike nearly all translations of the Bible throughout history, the new edition, known as RJPS, does not refer to God with masculine pronouns. It doesn’t use feminine pronouns either: Instead, God is referred to simply as “God” throughout the text.

Times of Israel, 2 June





Germany’s official in charge of fighting antisemitism called Friday for Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters to be held accountable after the singer donned a Nazi-style uniform at a Berlin concert.  Previous legal proceedings had “gone in Waters’ favor, even though he spreads antisemitism and allegedly incites hatred,” Felix Klein told the Funke media group.


Hours earlier, Berlin police said they were probing Waters after images of the Pink Floyd co-founder circulated on social media, showing him wearing a long, black coat with red armbands on stage during a performance of “In the Flesh” at the Mercedes-Benz arena last week.  The song features a man in the midst of a drug-induced hallucination in which he turns into a dictator addressing a rally for neo-Nazis. . . . The “Another Brick In The Wall” singer denies the antisemitism accusations, saying he was protesting against Israeli policies and not the Jewish people.

Times of Israel, 27 May


A pro-Israel protester who rushed the stage with an Israeli flag during a Roger Waters concert in Frankfurt on Sunday told Israeli media Monday about the aftermath of his act, including that security guards had threatened to break his neck.  Footage posted online showed the young man managing to reach the upper deck while running from security, while groups of protesters dispersed in the crowd were also waving large Israeli flags and singing “Am Yisrael Chai” (The people of Israel live), in what appeared to be a coordinated response to the former Pink Floyd frontman’s latest antisemitic controversy on his current tour.  On Monday night, Israel’s Channel 12 news reported that the man who got onto the stage was a pro-Israel Christian who heads the German-Israeli Society organization’s youth forum in Frankfurt, naming him only as Marcel L.

Times of Israel, 30 May


Museums and libraries from London to Albuquerque are racing to record and digitize oral histories of the last generation of Holocaust survivors, Axios’ Russell Contreras reports.  Why it matters: Advocates fear the horrors of the Holocaust may slip from public memory.  Fewer than 50,000 survivors remain in the U.S., according to the Anti-Defamation League. The very youngest survivors are in their 80s. . . .


USC’s Shoah Foundation launched a “Last Chance Testimony Collection Initiative” as “an urgent effort to give voice to survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust” through online video testimonies.  Most U.S. states don’t require public school students to learn about the horrors of the Holocaust, according to an Axios analysis of data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Axios AM, 29 May
















New Book

Hall Gardner, Year of the Earth Serpent Changing Colors 

An Anti-Marco Polo Voyage to Cathay 







 Genesis of the Novel | Hall Gardner | Un poem by Hall Gardner



Apocalypse or Tai Ping Dao?


Themes of geo-eschatological novel


Published by Edition Noema


Distributed by Columbia University Press

Barnes and Noble


A work of historical and literary fiction, the story is based upon Gardner’s experiences in China in 1988-89 and represents over 30 years of reflection upon the events led to the brutal June 4th 1989 repression on Tiananmen Square. The novel explores differences in cultural outlook, understanding of human rights, religious views and interpersonal relations that profoundly impact East-West relations, while depicting individuals who engaged in the risky struggle for democracy and freedom in China.


In essence, Year of the Earth Serpent Changing Colors seeks to describe the social and political “changing colors” that were taking place in societies throughout the world at the presumed end of the Cold War as seen through the eyes of American, German, Russian and African expats living in China at that time when the Soviet Union ostensibly began to democratize, and before China opted for a nationwide crackdown on the pro-democratic movement and the US deluded itself into believing that the world was at the “End of History.”



Recent Article of Interest


“Academic freedom and the anti-Israeli BDS movement”


Raphael Cohen-Almagor looks at the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign to boycott Israeli academics and ban Israel tout court. He argues that there is no justification for any academic organisation to do this. Any such decision would be unjust, unfair, and counterproductive:

The Loop, ECPR














Lester L. Grabbe

4 June 2023


Middle East Study Centre—Newsletter May 2023




USS Florida (SSGN-728) deployed to the Middle East this week after spending months in the Mediterranean Sea, the U.S. Navy said in a rare public announcement.  The Ohio-class guided-missile submarine entered the Suez Canal on Friday from the Mediterranean Sea bound for U.S. 5th Fleet, a Navy spokesperson told USNI News on Saturday. . . .


The rare public announcement follows Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s extension of the deployment of carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) following March attacks on U.S. forces in Syria that injured a dozen Americans and killed a contractor. The U.S. is also sending a squadron of Air Force A-10 Warthogs close air support aircraft to the Middle East.  The latest moves of U.S. forces come as Iran’s sectarian Revolutionary Guard Corps is planning drone attacks against Israeli merchant ships in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea in relation for Israeli air strikes on targets in Syria that killed two members of the IRGC, reported The New York Times on Saturday.

USNI News, 8 April


Iranian police say they have filed a legal case against two female actors, Katayoun Riahi and Panthea Bahram, who have recently appeared in public without a mandatory head covering.  The two actresses are accused of “removing hijab in public and publishing pictures on the internet,” Tehran police said in a statement on April 24.


Riahi and Bahram are among dozens of artists and sportspeople who have faced economic sanctions, travel bans or detention over the past months for flouting mandatory hijab rules and for supporting protesters’ calls for more freedoms and women’s rights.  Riahi, one of the first Iranian actresses to remove her hijab in support of the protests, recently attended a funeral ceremony without wearing a headscarf. She was reportedly arrested in November 2022 and released on bail a week later.  Iranian social media users widely praised Bahram for attending the public screening of a production on April 19 without a head covering. The manager of Tehran cinema where the screening took place has been dismissed.

Iranwire, 25 April


Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani, was leaving Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020, when his car was hit by American guided missiles fired from a drone. . . . Soleimani was the right-hand man of the “supreme leader”, Ali Khamenei, and commanded Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) . . . .Three years on, the “arm” has grown back and the group that Soleimani controlled, and which is accused of plotting assassinations in Britain, is more prosperous than ever: secret documents seen by The Sunday Times show that the IRGC, created in 1979 to defend the Iranian revolution that toppled the Shah, is not just a giant military and intelligence organisation but has effectively taken charge of Iran’s economy. . . .


Marked “confidential”, the documents consist of memos to and from Bagheri and other IRGC and military commanders discussing ways of boosting oil production as well as joint ventures with countries friendly to the regime. One letter from December 2022 orders military heads to propose economic co-operation projects for President Raisi to sell on his visit to China earlier this year.

Sunday Times, 30 April


A former senior Iranian official who was executed by Tehran in January is now being revealed to have been a British mole . . . .  Iran’s former deputy defense minister, Alireza Akbari, was secretly a British asset deep in the Islamic Republic’s regime, sharing valuable intelligence on Iran’s nuclear and military programs for over a decade.


According to the New York Times report, Akbari began sharing information with the United Kingdom in 2004 and continued up until he was caught in 2019.  Publicly, Akbari was seen as a religious zealot and political hawk, a respected military commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and a deputy defense minister. Akbari eventually moved to London to enter the private sector, but reportedly never lost the trust of Iran’s leaders.


Akbari not only supplied the West with military and nuclear secrets, but the Iranian official also disclosed the identity and activities of over 100 officials in Iran, including Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s chief nuclear scientist who was assassinated by Israel in 2020.

New York Times, 1 May


The Tehran Police Information Center announced the filing of a legal case against Afshana Baygan and Fatemeh Motamedarya. These two famous actors recently attended Attila Pesiani’s memorial service without the obligatory hijab.

. . . At the ceremony on the 10th of Ardibehesht, movie actress Reza Kianian also spoke about women’s hijab and told the audience that it is a “citizenship right of women” not to wear a headscarf, and continued: “Women have the right to choose their type of clothing. Everyone is free to choose their clothing and no one can force you to put on or take off a headscarf. We should not empty the stage.” . . .


According to these media, the filing of a court case for these well-known actors is in line with the implementation of the plan “Chastity and hijab and dealing with the detection of hijab in roads, guilds and cars” which started on 26 April by the order of Ahmadreza Radan, the country’s chief police officer.

Iran International (, 2 May





Musicians who fled as the militants [Taliban] returned to power are making a new life in Portugal.  It was the first evening of Easter celebrations in Portugal’s oldest cathedral and the haunting strains of John Rutter’s Requiem played by the Braga Conservatory Orchestra filled the hallowed space. In the centre, amid all the Portuguese students watched by proud parents, was a female violinist whose own family was very far away and whose inspiration very different.


“My own country is silent as the Taliban have banned music,” says Sevinch Majidi, 19. “I feel guilty that I have this opportunity while my friends and sisters back home can’t study or work but they tell me seeing us here gives them hope.” . . . The girls in the orchestra all long to go home. “The Taliban won’t be there for ever,” insists Alina. “Any regime that doesn’t respect half its population is doomed to failure.”


Meanwhile she and the other girls take every chance to play, knowing they are watched back home. Their recent concert for the Persian New Year had thousands of downloads back home. . . . The Taliban haven’t given up its attacks on the orchestra, running social media campaigns denouncing [Dr Ahmed] Sarmast [who set up the first institute for classical music] as “promoting prostitution”.  “We may have left Afghanistan but are still very loud,” he said. “Every performance we do is a protest against the Taliban.”

Christina Lamb, Times, 9 April


A United Nations Security Council committee has agreed to allow the Taliban’s interim foreign minister, Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi, to travel to Pakistan from Afghanistan to meet with Pakistani and Chinese counterparts, according to news reports.  The Reuters news agency reported on Monday that Pakistan’s UN mission requested an exemption for Muttaqi to travel between May 6 and 9 “for a meeting with the foreign ministers of Pakistan and China”.


Muttaqi has long been subjected to a travel ban, asset freeze and arms embargo under UN Security Council sanctions. The UN Security Council committee agreed to allow Muttaqi to travel to Uzbekistan last month for a meeting of the foreign ministers of neighbouring countries of Afghanistan to discuss urgent peace, security, and stability matters.  Afghanistan’s TOLOnews outlet said earlier on Monday that media in Pakistan were reporting on the upcoming visit and that Muttaqi would meet with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. . . .


News of the Taliban official’s trip comes as representatives of nearly two dozen countries and international institutions met on Monday in Qatar with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for talks on Afghanistan, focusing particularly on the plight of women and girls under the Taliban administration.  Taliban authorities were not invited to attend the closed-door two-day meeting in Doha, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.

Al Jazeera, 2 May


Saudia Arabia

Alliance of Arab Autocracies Leaves US out in the Cold.

Arab leaders gathered in Saudi Arabia to discuss normalising relations with the Assad regime in Syria as the West’s regional allies defied America and moved to create a new alliance of autocracies.  The meeting of ministers from the once loyal Gulf states and key strategic western allies, including Egypt and Jordan, was called by Saudi Arabia, which has reversed its position on President Assad.


This week Faisal Mekdad, the Syrian foreign minister, made the first visit by a senior Damascus official to Saudi Arabia since the start of the civil war. The two sides announced a resumption of flights and consular services, which is likely to be a preliminary step towards reopening full diplomatic relations.  The ministers meeting in Jeddah were discussing readmitting Syria to the Arab League, which has little power but is a symbolic expression of Arab unity. It was suspended when Assad refused to compromise with protests against his regime in 2012.


Qatar opposes the moves but whether successful or not, the discussions are a sign of a further shift in the Arab world in general and the Gulf in particular away from reliance on America as the arbiter of international relations. The US, Britain and other western countries reject any “normalisation” with the Assad regime.  Mekdad’s visit on Wednesday coincided with a visit by an Iranian delegation to prepare the reopening of Tehran’s embassy in Riyadh.  Ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran were broken seven years ago. Since then they have supported opposing sides in conflicts across the region, most notably in Yemen, from where Iran-backed Houthi rebels have fired Iranian-supplied rockets at Saudi cities and oil installations.


Following the Chinese-brokered rapprochement between Riyadh and Tehran last month, that conflict may also be ending. This week a Saudi delegation visited Houthi leaders in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, which they control, and an exchange of prisoners to mark a ceasefire and potential peace deal was started. More than 700 rebels will be released by the Saudi-backed government, while the Houthis will release 181 prisoners.

Times, 15 April


Egypt and Libya

Libyan Militia and Egypt’s Military Back Opposite Sides in Sudan Conflict.

Involvement of regional forces raises risk that fighting between warring Sudanese generals could widen and set back cease-fire efforts.  A powerful Libyan militia leader and the Egyptian military have sent military support to rival generals battling for control of neighboring Sudan, people familiar with the matter say, an illustration of how the fighting threatens to draw in regional powers.

Wall Street Journal, 19 April


A total of 2,648 Egyptians returned to Egypt from Sudan on Thursday, bringing the figure to 5,327 since the beginning of the crisis in the southern neighbor. Egypt, which has around 10,000 citizens, including students, in Sudan.  The Egyptian Armed Forces organized nine flights on Thursday, and 23 in total. The Armed Forces have provided food and first aid supplies to more than 1,000 Egyptian citizens in Sudan who are expected to be evacuated during the ongoing air evacuations.  Egypt has stepped up its evacuation efforts in Sudan as it managed to evacuate more than 16,000 people, including Egyptians and other nationals, according to a statement from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry on Thursday.

Egypt Today, 28 April



Erdogan returns to Turkey election campaign trail after illness.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has appeared in public for the first time in three days after a stomach infection kept him off the campaign trail before key presidential and parliamentary polls on May 14. . . .

Erdogan had been laying low since getting sick live on television on Tuesday night. Turkey’s Health Minister Fahrettin Koca has said Erdogan is suffering from gastroenteritis. . . . it has disrupted Erdogan’s attempts to seize momentum in the run-up to Turkey’s most important election in generations in approximately two weeks.


Erdogan looked healthy addressing the crowd with a microphone in his hand, describing government efforts to help the victims of a massive February earthquake that claimed more than 50,000 lives. But he refrained from addressing his absence or the health scare.                                                                        Al Jazeera, 29 April


Mr Kilicdaroglu, 74, and his multi-faceted alliance are posing Mr Erdogan’s toughest election challenge since his Islamic-rooted party first swept to power in 2002.  Mr Erdogan became prime minister a year later, consolidating control as a powerful president under a new constitution in 2018.  The coming vote is too close to call and will probably lead to a run-off on May 28.


Mr Kilicdaroglu and his allies have fanned out across the country, holding daily events that are starting to get coverage on pro-government media.

He staged an equally massive rally along the embankment of the opposition-controlled Aegean city of Izmir, where Mr Erdogan drew slightly smaller crowds on Saturday.  “These elections are elections to rebuild our democracy,” Mr Kilicdaroglu, a former civil servant, told the cheering crowd after walking on to the stage with his wife, Selvi.


“We will bring peace to this country, I will bring brotherhood to this country.”

The massive turnout is a sign of the huge interest Turks have in the election, which has turned into a referendum on Mr Erdogan’s rule.  His party is also in danger of losing control of Parliament, which it holds through an alliance with an ultra-nationalist group.  Mr Erdogan in 2019 lost landmark municipal votes in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir — Turkey’s three biggest and most economically powerful cities.

The National News, 2 May



Jordan’s first ambassador to Israel, who subsequently served as the kingdom’s foreign minister, has said that the two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer a possibility and that Amman needs to change its approach to relations given Jerusalem’s hardline government.


“We are dealing with a religiously and ethnically extremist Israeli government…which is impossible to be flexible and adaptive to,” Marwan Muasher said, according to an unofficial translation of a Radio Al-Balad interview this week published on the Ammanet website.  “The old tools that Jordan used to deal with the Israeli government no longer work on this government,” Muasher said, adding that Amman needed to change its approach and stop working with Israel “diplomatically and flexibly.”


“When extremism is the byword of the government, diplomatic tools do not work on it. This government does not give any weight to diplomatic tools,” Muasher said. “And if the government is extremist from two angles, ethnically extremist and religiously extremist? Never before in the history of Israel has there been such a government, in which some of its members openly believe that Palestinians have no right to exist, and define the Land of Israel as including Jordan and Palestine.”


Last month, Jordan summoned the Israeli envoy in protest of far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s speech at a conference in Paris, during which he claimed the Palestinian people are an “invention” while standing behind a map of “Greater Israel” that includes modern-day Jordan. Days earlier, Smotrich stirred international outrage with a call to “wipe out” a Palestinian town in the West Bank following the killing of two Israeli brothers in a terror attack.

Times of Israel, 12 April




The F.B.I. is building a war crimes case against top Syrian officials.

After months of torture in a Syrian prison, Layla Shweikani, a 26-year-old American aid worker, was executed in 2016 for crimes she didn’t commit. At the time, her death received little public attention from the U.S. government. But for five years, the Justice Department has been quietly investigating her killing, according to four people with knowledge of the inquiry.  The inquiry aims to bring to account top Syrian officials considered key architects of a ruthless system of detention and torture that has flourished under President Bashar al-Assad.

New York Times, 18 April


The United States is so far declining to back up claims by Turkey that Ankara’s forces have killed the current leader of the Islamic State terror group following an operation in northern Syria.  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the claim during an interview with broadcaster TRT on Sunday, saying IS leader Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurashi “was neutralized as part of an operation by the Turkish national intelligence organization in Syria [Saturday].”


Turkish media, citing security sources, reported the operation took place in the northern Syrian town of Jandaris, in an area controlled by Turkish-backed rebel groups, and that the IS leader had been under surveillance for some time.  A U.S. official, speaking to VOA [Voice of America?] on the condition of anonymity, said that so far Washington has seen nothing to suggest the Islamic State leader has indeed been killed. . . .


U.S. officials, however, have told VOA that unlike his predecessors, Abu al-Hussein is not part of the group that founded IS and is, instead, among the first of a new generation of leaders now charting the terror group’s course.  Intelligence shared by the U.S. and by United Nations member states in a series of public reports over the past year indicate IS leaders, like Abu al-Hussein, have been trying to keep low profiles to escape from counterterrorism pressure that has resulted in the death or capture of at least 13 senior officials since early 2022.

New Delhi Times, 2 May




Is Netanyahu’s government botching the Abraham accords?

. . . “Because this is not only a peace between leaders, it’s a peace between peoples—Israelis, Emiratis and Bahrainis are already embracing one another,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House signing ceremony. “We are eager to invest in a future of partnership, prosperity and peace.”


“What we are doing here today is making history,” crowed then-foreign minister Yair Lapid at the 2022 Negev Summit. “Building a new regional architecture based on progress, technology, religious tolerance, security and intelligence cooperation.”


But two and a half years into the agreements, and three months into the tenure of the latest Netanyahu-led government, there is ample reason to watch the trajectory of Israel’s ties with its new partners with a concerned eye. The ballyhoo and momentum around the initial signing has ebbed, and if new life is not injected into Israel’s new relationships with Arab countries, they too could settle into something that pales in comparison to the initial vision. . . .


Israel’s Gulf allies certainly don’t have any problem with Netanyahu himself, and might well be happy to see the man who strode into Washington to oppose the American president on the Iran nuclear deal back in office.


But they do seem skittish about members of Netanyahu’s government. During its first week in power, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visited the Temple Mount, prompting Abu Dhabi to lambaste the “storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard” and call for an end to “serious and provocative violations.” It also co-submitted the request that led to an emergency gathering of the UN Security Council, further escalating the issue on the international stage.


Netanyahu had been pushing to make his first visit to the UAE the very next week, but the Emiratis postponed his visit, citing scheduling problems. A Middle East diplomat who spoke with The Times of Israel confirmed that Ben Gvir’s actions were what underlay the postponement of the visit. “A decision was made to slow down the public engagement,” the diplomat said in late February.


Since then, no senior Israeli officials have been invited to either the UAE or Bahrain, nor have they have not sent any ministers to Israel.

And the two Gulf countries – the UAE especially – have repeatedly and openly condemned Israeli leaders and policies.

Times of Israel, 6 April


Two Israeli sisters killed, mother critically hurt in West Bank shooting attack.

Terrorists open fire at car, causing crash, then fire 22 bullets at it again in northern Jordan Valley; IDF launches manhunt; victims were also British citizens.

Times of Israel, 7 April


Mother of British sisters shot dead on West Bank dies of her injuries.

Father of girls had told funeral: How will I tell their mother when she wakes that her precious gifts are gone?

A British rabbi has described his devastation at finding out his “family of seven is now a family of four” after his wife died in a Jerusalem hospital yesterday.

Rabbi Leo Dee spoke of the loss of his wife, Lucy, 48, who died from the injuries she suffered in a terrorist attack in the West Bank on Friday. The couple’s daughters Rina, 15, and Maia, 20, were killed when a gunman opened fire at close range as they were travelling for a family hiking trip. . . .


Rabbi Leo Dee spoke of his terrible loss in the West Bank attack

Speaking for the first time since the attack, Dee, who had been an active leader in the British Jewish community before the family moved to Israel in 2014, introduced himself as “the husband of Lucy Dee and the father of five beautiful kids — that is, until Friday morning at 10.52 am”.  Referring to his wife, he said: “There was an operation, there was reason for hope. But alas, our family of seven is now a family of four.”

Times, 11 April


Netanyahu bars Jewish visitors from Temple Mount for last 10 days of Ramadan.  PM’s office says there was unanimous support among security chiefs for decision; police minister Ben Gvir blasts move as ‘serious mistake’ that risks further inflaming tensions. . . .


While the decision was in line with longstanding Israeli policy aimed at limiting friction during the holiday period, there had been speculation that the new hardline government would change course, with far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir pushing to allow Jews to continue ascending the Temple Mount through the end of Ramadan, particularly on Wednesday, the last day of Passover.


The statement from Netanyahu’s office on Tuesday said that the decision to shutter the Temple Mount to Jewish visitors was unanimously recommended by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai following a consultation earlier that day.

Times of Israel, 11 April


Haredi protesters accused of chasing diners from non-kosher Jerusalem eatery.

Over a dozen ultra-Orthodox picketers outside Menza served up chants against consuming hametz [leavened products] over Passover, scaring tourists but sparking flood of support for popular restaurant.


Ultra-Orthodox protesters picketed a Jerusalem restaurant selling non-Passover food this week and were accused of chasing would-be diners as they tried to eat at the establishment.  Tomer Kaiser, a co-owner of hip foodie spot Menza, said 15-20 protesters in ultra-Orthodox garb harassed customers, including tourists in the city for the holiday, on Monday and Tuesday.


After Ben Yehuda’s video of the Monday protest went viral, many patronized the restaurant on Tuesday to show support as picketers returned. The contemporary food offered at Menza is decidedly unkosher, including shellfish, pork, bacon cheeseburgers and calamari. It is also open on Saturday. While some establishments close down over Passover, many stay open . . . .

Times of Israel, 12 April


ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) — Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on Thursday opened the country’s permanent embassy in Turkmenistan and said the move will strengthen Israel’s position in Central Asia.  Cohen, in the first visit by an Israeli top diplomat since 1994, met with Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhamedov.  “Ties with Turkmenistan have great importance for security and diplomacy, and the visit will strengthen Israel’s place in the region,” Cohen said on Twitter.


Opening the permanent diplomatic mission in the capital Ashgabat, about 25 kilometers (16 miles) from the Iranian border, gives Israel its third embassy in former Soviet Central Asia, after Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.  Turkmenistan, which holds vast natural gas reserves, maintains a firmly neutral foreign policy. It has remained largely isolated under autocratic rulers since independence after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

AP News, 20 April


House Speaker McCarthy: “If Biden Doesn’t Invite Netanyahu to Washington, I Will.”  Netanyahu has been growing increasingly irritated about the lack of invitation to the White House, the longest a U.S. administration has gone without extending such an invitation to an Israeli prime minister upon assuming office. McCarthy on Sunday said that he would soon invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington should U.S. President Joe Biden continue to refuse extending such an offer.

Haaretz, 30 April


A senior figure in the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad, Khader Adnan, has died in an Israeli jail after 86 days on hunger strike.  The Israel Prison Service (IPS) said he was found unconscious early on Tuesday. He was taken to hospital but attempts to resuscitate him failed.  The IPS said he had refused to undergo medical tests and get treatment.


After the death was announced, militants fired at least three rockets from the Gaza Strip, with no one hurt.  Islamic Jihad, which is based in the Gaza Strip, had earlier warned Israel would “pay a heavy price” should he die in jail.  Khader Adnan, 44, had been charged with belonging to a terrorist group and incitement and had been due to stand trial this month.  Adnan was from Jenin in the occupied West Bank, and had been in and out of Israeli detention over the past two decades., 2 May




A newly published transcript has revealed that the French literary giant Louis-Ferdinand Céline once expressed regret that Adolf Hitler had not wiped out the English.  The Journey to the End of the Night author is considered by many to be the most influential French author of the last century.  Céline, who died in 1961 aged 67, remains a controversial figure in history, however, due to his antisemitic views and advocation for a military alliance with Nazi Germany.  The French newspaper Le Figaro this week obtained and published a full transcript of the Paris Match’s 1960 interview with the author. . . .


“Hitler lacked Napoleon’s genius. He was an empirical [man], Hitler. He messed up the day when he did not hit England straight away,” he said.  “He was a show-off. He looked good. He was a star but didn’t have any military genius at all,” he added. . . . After Allied forces landed in Normandy in 1944, Céline fled to Germany and then Denmark where he lived in exile.  Six years later, the author was convicted of collaboration by a French court but was then pardoned by a military tribunal based on his status as a disabled war veteran.

Independent, 21 April





Benjamin B. Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor of the Nuremberg trials, who convicted Nazi war criminals of organizing the murder of a million people and German industrialists of using slave labor from concentration camps to build Hitler’s war machine, died on Friday at an assisted living facility in Boynton Beach, Fla. He was 103.


His son, Don, confirmed the death.  A Harvard-educated New York lawyer whose concept of evil was formed when he was a Jewish soldier in Europe and a war-crimes investigator at Buchenwald, Mauthausen and Dachau, Mr. Ferencz (pronounced fer-RENZ) campaigned after World War II for restitution of property seized by the Nazis. For much of his life he crusaded for an international criminal court, and for laws to end wars of aggression.


The author of nine books and scores of articles, he was fluent in French, Spanish, German, Hungarian and Yiddish and spoke at world peace conferences. He was also widely quoted in interviews and wrote countless letters to editors.  His dream of a tribunal to prosecute war crimes was partly realized in 2002 with the establishment of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. But its effectiveness has been limited, and many nations, including the United States, do not recognize its authority.

New York Times, 8 April


Lester L. Grabbe

5 May 2023



Middle East Study Centre—Newsletter April 2023

Forward Thinking Report

The think-tank Forward Thinking presents “Exploring the Role of Religious Leadership in Promoting an End to Conflict”, a report on a conference at St George’s House, Windsor (Nov. 2022).  Here is the Executive Summary (much of the report is on the Middle East, even though this is not obvious from the Executive Summary):


A conference held in Windsor in November 2022 under the auspice of Forward Thinking explored the role of religious leaders in conflict resolution, with participants offering perspectives from the three main Abrahamic faith traditions.


An open and frank discussion included a hard look at the problems raised by the sometimes toxic history of religious conflicts and the complex link between religious belief and identity, against a background – particularly in secular Western societies – of ignorance about and lack of interest in religious issues, and a generally negative view of the potential contribution of religious leaders to conflict resolution.


This background meant, inter alia, that would-be conflict mediators frequently ignored or underrated the religious element of conflicts, even if the majority of conflicts had a religious element. Moreover, political leaders of communities involved in conflict could cynically play the ‘religion card’ as a way of consolidating their control over those communities. It could however be very difficult to separate the religious dimension from other political, social and economic issues involved in grievance-driven conflicts.


The potential contribution of religious leaders to the cause of conflict resolution was underpinned by the emphasis in all three Abrahamic faith traditions on tolerance and respect for others whatever their beliefs, and there were positive examples in Northern Ireland and elsewhere of the role religious leaders could play in peace-seeking and the equally demanding task of peace implementation. This required courage and a willingness to risk losing support in a leader’s faith community.


Sacred spaces such as Jerusalem presented particular challenges and could easily become targets for violence since they were central to individual and collective identity. But ways could be found to make sacred spaces inclusive and part of the conflict resolution and peace implementation effort.


Recommendations flowing from the discussion included the proposal that interfaith discussions at all levels should regularly review the scope for joint action to contribute towards conflict resolution/peace implementation; that religious leaders should consider production of a joint ‘Toolkit’; and that political leaders/diplomats/mediators should always consider the extent to which religious leaders might be involved in conflict resolution and peace implementation.

The full report is available at





Syria: Arab states including Jordan, Egypt and Oman wanting to bring the Assad regime in from the cold are heading for a confrontation with western allies who oppose lifting sanctions and normalising relations.

Times, 7 March


BEIRUT (AP) — Saudi Arabia is in talks with Syria to reopen its embassy in the war-torn nation for the first time in a decade, state television in the kingdom reported late Thursday, the latest diplomatic reshuffling in the region. The announcement on state TV comes after Chinese-mediated talks in Beijing saw Saudi Arabia and Iran agree to reopen embassies in each others’ nations after years of tensions. Syrian President Bashar Assad has maintained his grip on power in the Mediterranean nation rocked by the 2011 Arab Spring only with the help of Iran and Russia, which made a historic call earlier in the day to Oman.


Saudi Arabian state television aired a report late Thursday, quoting an anonymous official in the country’s Foreign Ministry, acknowledging the talks between the kingdom and Damascus. “A source in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed to Al-Ekhbariyah that ongoing discussions have begun with the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, commenting on what was circulated by some international media,” an anchor said on air. “Discussions are underway between officials in the kingdom and their counterparts in Syria about resuming the provision of consular services.”

AP News, 24 March


Syrian state media did not immediately acknowledge the talks. Officials in both Saudi Arabia and Syria did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press early Friday.  Earlier Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, which the Kremlin called the “the first high-level bilateral contact since the establishment of diplomatic relations” between the nations. Muscat established ties with the Soviet Union in 1985.


Oman long has been an interlocutor between the West and Iran. Recent months have seen talks in Oman over Yemen’s long-running war, in which Saudi Arabia backs the country’s exiled government against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels that hold its capital, Sanaa.  The kingdom backed the Syrian opposition against Assad during Syria’s uprising-turned-civil war that began in 2011. However, in recent years, a regional rapprochement has been brewing. Last month’s devastating earthquake in Syria and Turkey sparked international sympathy and speeded up the process, with Saudi and other Arab countries shipping aid to Damascus.


Assad visited Oman in late February. He traveled Sunday to the United Arab Emirates, another nation that earlier had backed fighters trying to topple his government.  Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has acknowledged publicly that there is a growing consensus among Arab countries that dialogue with Damascus is necessary. Saudi Arabia is hosting the next Arab League summit in May, where most states hope to restore Syria’s membership after it was suspended in 2011, the league’s secretary-general, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, has said.


China’s and Russia’s interest in the Middle East long has been a concern for U.S. officials, which view the region as crucial to global energy prices even as America pumps more crude oil than ever before and doesn’t rely on Saudi oil as much as it once did. Saudi Arabia has grown closer to Russia as Moscow has rallied allies to back production cuts by OPEC to boost global oil prices amid the coronavirus pandemic.  Relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia also have been at a low since President Joe Biden took office calling the kingdom a “pariah” over the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. The State Department and White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Independent, 24 March



Iranian-backed Militias and USA in Syria


The United States military has carried out multiple air strikes in eastern Syria against Iran-aligned groups that it blamed for a deadly drone attack that killed a contractor, injured another and wounded five US soldiers.  Although American forces stationed in Syria have been targeted by drones before, fatalities are rare.

The US raids, which a United Kingdom-based war monitor said killed 11 pro-Iranian fighters, were in retaliation for a drone attack on Thursday against a US-led coalition base near Hassakeh in northeastern Syria at 1:38pm (10:38 GMT), the Pentagon said in a statement.


US intelligence assessed the attacking drone was Iranian in origin. Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said the US then targeted groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, adding that he authorised the retaliatory raids at the direction of US President Joe Biden.                                                                        Al Jazeera, 24 March


Pro-Iranian forces in Syria have said they have a “long arm” to respond to further United States air strikes on their positions, after tit-for-tat missile and drone attacks in Syria over the last 24 hours. The online statement, released late on Friday and signed by the Iranian Advisory Committee in Syria, said US air strikes had left several of their fighters dead and wounded, without specifying the fighters’ nationality.  “We have the capability to respond if our centres and forces in Syria are targeted,” the statement said.


On Friday night, two Syrian opposition activist groups reported a new wave of US air attacks on eastern Syria, which hit positions of Iran-backed militias, after rockets were fired at bases in Syria housing US troops. Several US officials, however, denied that attacks were launched late on Friday. US officials said two simultaneous attacks were launched against US forces in Syria on Friday. Officials said that, based on preliminary information, one US service member was injured in a rocket attack at the Conoco plant but was in stable condition. At about the same time, several drones were launched at Green Village, where US troops are also based.


All but one of the drones were shot down and there were no US injuries there, said the officials who spoke to the Associated Press news agency on condition of anonymity.  US President Joe Biden on Friday said the US would respond “forcefully” to protect its personnel after, earlier in the day, it attacked Syrian sites used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. The US air strikes were launched after an attack on Thursday by a suspected Iranian-made drone killed one US contractor, injured another and wounded five US troops at their base in northeast Syria.


“The United States does not, does not seek conflict with Iran,” Biden said in Ottawa, Canada, where he is on a state visit. But he said the US was prepared “to act forcefully to protect our people. That’s exactly what happened last night”.

Al Jazeera, 25 March





In a remote corner of southeastern Iran, protesters from a Sunni Muslim minority are pushing for more rights and autonomy in a sustained challenge to the government, which had largely managed to tamp down last year’s nationwide protests.


On Friday, large crowds of residents of Zahedan, the provincial capital of Sistan-Baluchistan, took to the streets following noon prayers to protest against the government, according to unverified footage on social media.  As they marched outside Zahedan’s main mosque, protesters on Friday chanted, “I will kill whoever killed my brother,” referring to the government’s lethal crackdown in recent months on rallies in the province.


The antigovernment rallies in Zahedan erupted simultaneously with unrest across the country following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in Tehran in mid-September. They took on a life of their own two weeks later when more than 80 people were killed in weeklong clashes with security forces, after marching toward a police station in Zahedan, demanding justice for a 15-year-old local girl they said had been raped by the police chief.


Protesters have now gathered every week since Sept. 30 to commemorate the bloodshed that day—an incident Iranians across the country dubbed “Bloody Friday” and which stirred longstanding grievances in the region.  The unrest in Sistan-Baluchistan is in part fueled by a religious leader who accuses the government in Tehran of discriminating against minorities and holding political prisoners, and its officials of lying about killing and injuring protesters. Molana Abdolhamid, who has led Friday prayers in Zahedan for over 30 years, has said the military has grabbed too much power and called for a referendum to allow Iranians to decide what kind of political system they want more than four decades after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.


“Every government in Iran must be national and consider all ethnic groups and religions,” Mr. Abdolhamid said in his sermon Friday. “One religion cannot rule the country.”  Sistan-Baluchistan, bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan, is the poorest and most underdeveloped of Iran’s 31 provinces. It is home to a Sunni Muslim minority that constitutes less than 5% of Iran’s population. With a distinct cultural identity and their own language, the Baloch have for decades complained of state discrimination and neglect, and the area is home to a long-lived armed insurgency that Iran says has links to al Qaeda. In recent years, rebels have conducted several bombings against the state, although there has been no visible presence of militants linked to the insurgency during the recent protests.

Wall Street Journal, 17 March






Protests in Israel over the government’s proposed judicial reforms are spreading to the military.  Hundreds of members of Israel’s military reserves have pulled out of training missions or signed letters expressing reluctance to participate in nonessential duty, citing misgivings about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to severely curtail the powers of the Supreme Court.


Some reservists fear that they may be asked to engage in illegal operations, and that restraints on Israel’s judiciary may strengthen foreign calls to prosecute them in the International Criminal Court, the officials said. The military leadership fears that growing anger within the ranks over the government’s plans will affect the operational readiness of Israel’s armed forces.  The reservists are the latest in a series of high-profile denunciations of Netanyahu’s plans, but given the military’s prominence, it may be the most significant reaction yet.

New York Times, 6 March


Israel’s Parliament passed a divisive law as tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets. The new legislation, which passed by the narrowest of majorities, would make it more difficult to declare prime ministers incapacitated and remove them from office. Critics said it was aimed at protecting the country’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges. The law’s passage came at the start of another day of large-scale protests in opposition to the government plan for a broad overhaul of the judiciary. Later in the day, Netanyahu defiantly said in a televised speech that he would proceed with the overhaul next week.

New York Times, 23 March


The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, was expected to announce that he would scrap his overhaul of the judiciary after criticism from President Herzog and violent protests across the country.  However, Netanyahu’s hardline national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, said that the reforms must go ahead and urged his coalition partner not to “surrender to anarchy”.  Herzog, Israel’s ceremonial president, called for Netanyahu to “wake up” after protesters broke barricades near the prime minister’s home.

Times, 27 March


An uneasy calm is returning to Israel after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he would delay a key part of controversial plans to overhaul the justice system.  On Monday night he said he would pause the legislation to prevent a “rupture among our people”.


However it is unclear what a delay will achieve beyond buying time.  It followed intensified protests after he fired his defence minister, who had spoken against the plans.  In unprecedented events, the country’s biggest trade union called a strike, and Israelis watched society close down around them.  From the main airport to shops and banks – even in hospitals – services were stopped. The co-ordinated action was designed to push Mr Netanyahu back from the brink of pushing through the reforms by the end of this week.


Opposition Leader Yair Lapid called it the “biggest crisis in the history of the country”.  The government, Israel’s most right-wing ever, is seeking to take decisive control over the committee which appoints judges. The reforms would give the parliament authority to override Supreme Court decisions with a basic majority and would make it difficult to declare a prime minister unfit for office and remove them from power.


Mr Netanyahu said the changes would stop courts over-reaching their powers, but critics said they would help him as he faces an ongoing trial for corruption. He has been on trial facing charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three cases. The prime minister denies any wrongdoing and claims he is the victim of a “witch hunt”.  The proposed changes have provoked an outpouring of anger from nearly all parts of Israeli society, including parts of its powerful military, since they were announced on 4 January., 27 March


The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, kept the country waiting all day, but in the end, . . . it was a theatrical speech. The 73-year-old compared the unprecedented rift dividing Israel to the tale of Solomon, who commanded an infant be cut in half to decide which of two women was its real mother. Try as he might, however, in this story Netanyahu is not playing the role of the wise king. . . .


The prime minister’s inability to grasp the scale of the public hostility to the anti-democratic plans, coupled with his struggle to cajole belligerent elements of his coalition pushing for the changes, has also exposed a weakness that wasn’t there before.


“This would never have happened to the old Bibi; he would never have let it get to this point, where he’s out of control,” said Anshel Pfeffer, a Netanyahu biographer and columnist at Haaretz, Israel’s newspaper of record.  I always think about Bibi as someone who knows how to read the audience and public opinion and how to manipulate it. It’s a flabbergasting failure at things he is usually good at.”


Part of Netanyahu’s unwillingness to engage with either domestic or international opposition to the judicial overhaul is because it’s not a burning goal for him. The changes are being spearheaded by his Likud colleague Yariv Levin, the justice minister, and the Religious Zionist party MK Simcha Rothman, who chairs the Knesset’s law and justice committee. Both men have a longstanding, ideological hatred of Israel’s highest court, which they believe is too powerful and biased against the right.

Guardian, 28 March


U.S.-Israel tensions rise over Israel’s planned judicial overhaul.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, said today that Israel is “a sovereign country” that will make its own decisions, in response to U.S. criticism of his plan to weaken the country’s judiciary. Netanyahu’s statement was released at the unusual time of 1 a.m., hours after President Biden said he was “very concerned” about the events in Israel.


The back-and-forth came after the Biden administration had flooded Israel’s government with warnings that its judicial proposals were threatening its reputation as a true democracy, causing Netanyahu’s opponents to accuse him of endangering the critical relationship between the U.S. and Israel.  Biden’s blunt remarks this week — which included him saying Netanyahu would not be invited to the White House in the near term after the U.S. ambassador had floated the possibility — indicated that the U.S. would wait to see the outcome of the negotiations in Israel.

New York Times, 29 March


Some 150,000 protesters rally against overhaul in Tel Aviv.

Approximately 140,000-150,000 are protesting the government’s judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, Channel 12 news and Ynet report.  Opposition leader Yair Lapid is in attendance, tweeting: “We are on our guard. The danger has not passed.”  Lapid has sent negotiators to talks on a compromise reform package, but is suspicious that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s suspension of the legislative process is a delaying tactic.

Times of Israel, 1 April


Israel is facing more turmoil as a result of the government’s plans to form a militia headed by a far-right minister.  Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, promised Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the Jewish Power party, that a “national guard” would be formed under the command of his national security ministry.  Netanyahu made the pledge in return for Ben-Gvir’s agreement not to resign after the prime minister suspended the controversial legislation to weaken the Supreme Court.  Without Jewish Power, Netanyahu would have lost his majority.

Times, 3 April


Israeli police have clashed with dozens of Palestinian worshippers at Jerusalem’s contested holy site.  Police say they conducted a pre-dawn raid after what they called “agitators” with fireworks, sticks and stones shut themselves inside the al-Aqsa mosque.  Palestinians say 14 people were hurt after the police used stun grenades and rubber bullets to clear out the group.


At least nine rockets were later fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel, with air alert sirens sounding near Sderot.  The Israeli army said five rockets were intercepted, and another four “landed in open areas”.  No group has so far claimed responsibility – but it is believed that the militant group Hamas approved the firing.


Hamas’ deputy head Saleh Al-Arouri warned that “attacking Islamic sanctities will have a great price and we will burn the ground under their [Israeli] feet”.

The Israeli military later said its war planes targeted militant sites.  The clashes in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem started after a number of Palestinian worshippers had barricaded themselves in the mosque after Ramadan prayers., 5 April



Interview with Professor Motti Inbari by Ayelett Shani


The Influential Rabbi Who Wants to Turn Israel into an Iran-style Fundamentalist State:  The radical theocratic vision of Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh aims to uproot secular Zionism, crush the courts, subjugate the army and, in general, bring down the State of Israel as we know it, warns Prof. Motti Inbari, a scholar of Jewish fundamentalism.

[From Haaretz and Jewish Voice for Labour, 24 March]


Please introduce yourself.


I’m Motti Inbari, a professor of religion at the University of North Carolina, Pembroke. I was educated at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and received a doctorate from its Institute of Contemporary Jewry.


Your doctoral dissertation deals in part with Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh. Tell us a little about him.


Yitzchak Ginsburgh, who is 78, was born in the United States and moved to Israel at a young age. He became religiously observant. Basically, he belongs to circles of the Chabad Hasidic movement, but the students and groups that are his followers do not necessarily belong to Chabad, but rather to what’s known as “hilltop youth.” They are the young generation of settlers in the territories, who are in revolt against the worldview of their parents and grandparents – those who actually established the settlements. What distinguishes Rabbi Ginsburgh’s doctrine is the radical theocratic worldview that emerges from his speeches and writings.


Of which there are many, it needs to be said. To the general public, his name is known for his essay “Baruch Hagever” [praising Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Muslim worshippers in Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994]. Before we get to his worldview, perhaps you can explain the different approaches to messianism.


Orthodox Jewry, within which I include both the Haredim [ultra-Orthodox] and followers of religious Zionism, seeks a Torah-based regime. The Jewish state should function exclusively according to the laws of the Torah. That is the ideal and the consensus; opinions differ only in regard to the path for getting there. Haredi Jewry reached the conclusion that this goal will only be attainable in the time of the Messiah, and therefore it has adopted a reserved stance, which says: We’re not crazy about the State of Israel, but it is part of the world we live in, and accordingly there is no choice but to cooperate with it. That is the approach of the Agudat Yisrael party, and in large measure also of [Sephardi Haredi] Shas. They do not identify very much with the state; they are unwilling to serve in the army.


But religious Zionism takes a different view.


The religious Zionism movement, which draws primarily on the teachings of Rabbi [Abraham Isaac] Kook, believes that the Zionist movement, and the State of Israel that arose in its wake, reflect a messianic process that is being implemented by human beings. God will not send the Messiah to transform the world order. That is an earthly process, not a divine one, and one in which it is necessary to participate.


That is the approach of Gush Emunim, for example.


Yes. The Gush Emunim movement began to spring up after the Six-Day War, and its organizing principle was that the messianic process, which is being advanced by people, had made significant progress in the wake of that war and of Israel’s conquest, and that now we were the midst of it. That understanding motivated the young people of the religious Zionist movement to establish settlements and take part in the process. That is also why territorial compromises have always posed the greatest threat to them.


Because they believe that the occupation is an act of redemption, a divine act.


Indeed. The victory in 1967 was achieved because that is what God wanted, and the import is that we, the Jewish people, must try to understand what God wants and is requesting, and to cooperate with that by means of the settlements. Giving up territory undermines the entire religious worldview, which sees itself as the connection between Zionism and redemption. Any territorial compromise is detrimental to the messianic process which Israel is undergoing.


Accordingly, the purpose of Gush Emunim from day one was to create facts on the ground, to ensure that no withdrawal from any of the territories occurs, not in exchange for peace or for anything else. Since the withdrawal from Sinai [in 1979], via the Oslo Accords [of 1993], down to the disengagement [from the Gaza Strip in 2005], a kind of question mark has hung over the territories. The rabbis and other leaders of the religious Zionist movement are attempting to grapple with this question: how to respond to territorial compromise, how to understand it, what God wants and how he expects us to behave.


The difficulty they seek to resolve is how the divine plan could have gone so awry? . . . And the state is to blame, actually. It’s the state that worked against the divine will, that decided to give back territories and undid the plan.


That is exactly the point. The mainstream of religious Zionism is caught in a trap. From their point of view, the Land of Israel is holy, because that is what is written in the Torah. But they themselves developed a model according to which the State of Israel is holy, too, because God decided to bring about redemption via the State of Israel. But what happens when the holy State of Israel inflicts harm on the holy Land of Israel? What are we supposed to be loyal to? To the state, by means of agreeing to territorial compromises, or to the Land of Israel, through acts of resistance?


A constitutional crisis, the believer’s version.


This crisis is the key to understanding the situation of religious Zionism in our time. It is an integral part of the judicial revolution being led by these kippa-wearers, whose motivation, I assume, is the thought that if they control the Supreme Court they will be able to avert a territorial compromise in the future. From their point of view, as long as they are not in control of the Supreme Court, the Land of Israel is in danger.


Effectively, the mainstream of religious Zionism is surrendering to the holiness of the state. They’ve understood that they need to advance their agenda from within, via politics, the courts, the education system, demonstrations – but in the clear knowledge that if that doesn’t help, they will be compelled to reconcile themselves with reality. Indeed, at all the [past] crossroads of territorial concessions, despite all the rage and resistance, they accepted the concessions.


But the extremist circles have not accepted this by any means.


No. In those circles, which Rabbi Ginsburgh also belongs to, they say: “Wait just a minute, sorry, we have to recalculate our route.”


Ginsburgh . . . doesn’t believe in change “from within,” through such democratic mechanisms as elections, legislation and so forth. He preaches disengagement from the state, entrenchment in a religious enclave and deployment for the moment of truth, at which time it will be possible to seize control of the state by force. From the outside.


And it’s a very activist approach: activist messianism. The state isn’t falling into line, so we will bring it into line.


Ginsburgh doesn’t want to wait for the Messiah to come and save him. He wants to take control of the state’s institutions so that the Messiah will be able to arrive. It’s an aggressive approach. . . .


And after the theoretical stage, he moves on to the operative stage.


He shifts from theoretical approaches to supposedly concrete ones, explaining what needs to be done: . . . to uproot the Zionist-secular spirit and to topple the government, until a Torah-based regime can be established. The Supreme Court, with its criminal decisions, must be crushed. The army does not need to be crushed, only subjugated. In this context, it’s important to draw comparisons, and this must be stated explicitly: This is the way of thinking of ISIS and Al-Qaida. Those organizations place no faith in the Muslim states in which they exist, and therefore they are out to take them over from outside and to impose a halakhic-style regime – which in their case would be sharia. These are the same patterns and the same way of thinking. . . .



And what is the ultimate goal? Where does all this lead to? Or, at least, what operative stages are involved?


The final goal is a Torah state and the Temple, which heads it. So, there are two ways to reach that goal. One is through the tools the political system provides – via elections and legislation – and the second is by a total disconnect from the Israeli [state] systems altogether and preparation for a fundamentalist revolution along the lines of the revolution in Iran. The Religious Zionism party belongs to the camp that believes that it’s possible and necessary to change things from within. Ginsburgh wants a revolution from the outside. But both those groups are striving for the same goal. The difference is only in the path. How to get there.

[The full interview can be found at






The culture secretary has warned Elon Musk that Twitter will be “hit where it hurts” if his company fails to comply with the online safety bill.  Research has shown that antisemitism on the network has doubled under Musk’s watch. In the three months before the billionaire bought the social media site, in late October 2022, there was a weekly average of 6,204 tweets deemed “plausibly antisemitic”, a study found.


Michelle Donelan, questioned at The Times Tech Summit on whether Twitter would be able to comply with the bill when it becomes law, said: “No matter the leadership or what have you, the ramifications of not complying with the law will still be so stringent and hit them where it hurts.”  Since the takeover until February 9 the average has been 12,762, an increase of 105 per cent, according to research from King’s College, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and CASM Technology.

Times, 23 March


The leader of a U.S. neo-Nazi group wanted in the United States for allegedly fomenting violence at political rallies has been apprehended by Romanian authorities in Bucharest. Robert Paul Rundo, 33, was taken into custody in the Romanian capital with the help of a police special-forces unit after he was spotted at a gym on March 29.  He had a document identifying himself as Robert Lazar Pavic, according to judicial sources. It is not clear when he entered Romania.


The U.S citizen is currently being held by the General Directorate of Police in Bucharest. U.S. authorities have sent a request for his extradition on charges that he conspired to attend political rallies and use combat tactics and physical violence against people and groups that did not support their ideology. . . .


Rundo is suspected of promoting white-supremacist ideology for the past three years in Serbia, Bulgaria, and Hungary.  “The suspect is said to be one of the founders of an organization that supports the ideology of white supremacy, which has publicly presented itself as a group ready to fight, campaigning for a new nationalist movement of white supremacy and identity,” a Romanian police statement said. . . .


According to the Anti-Defamation League, Rundo tried to create a group dedicated to white supremacy in Eastern Europe. The open-source investigative group Bellingcat revealed in 2020 that Rundo was in Serbia and had posted videos of himself and others on Telegram in which they are seen writing white-supremacist messages on walls in Belgrade. . . .


Bellingcat reported that Rundo also participated in a neo-Nazi commemoration that took place in Budapest in February 2020 and was attended by 600 neo-Nazis from Europe. They gathered in the Hungarian capital for what they call Honor Day, commemorating an escape attempt by besieged Nazi forces in 1945.  Two weeks later, Rundo was in Sofia, Bulgaria, for a neo-Nazi march that was banned by local authorities.  In an interview on a neo-Nazi podcast in September 2020, Rundo used anti-Semitic language, referenced to Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf, and claimed he left the United States because of nonstop harassment by U.S. authorities.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 31 March



Book Review


A Small Town in Ukraine: The Place We Came From, The Place We Went Back To by Bernard Wasserstein (Penguin £25) pp320.


Some societies seem doomed to be perpetual victims. Consider the plight through recent centuries of the Jews of Krakowiec, a small community in the “bloodlands” of Galicia, what was then mostly eastern Poland. They were oppressed by local landlords possessed of the powers of life and death; punchbags between mutually antagonistic Poles and Ukrainians; in tumult amid a 1648-55 Ruthenian peasant uprising; collateral damage in the 1700-21 Great Northern War; and overrun by Russians in the 1732-35 War of the Polish Succession. Maria Theresa’s son and co-ruler, the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, wrote in revulsion on his 1773 first visit to Galicia that its typical inhabitant was “an unfortunate who has nothing but a human face and physical life”.


And all that was before the 20th century and its homicidal Poles, Austrians, Cossacks, Ukrainians (yes), Soviets and, of course, the Nazis, history’s most successful persecutors of Jews. This book addresses all of these scourges, and how they afflicted 2,000 people in “a little place you’ve never heard of”. . . .

Max Hastings, Sunday Times, 12 Feb


See also other reviews: for example, by Matthew Reisz (Guardian, 14 Feb.) and Roger Boyes (Times, 11 Feb.).

Lester L. Grabbe

5 April 2023


Middle East Study Centre—Newsletter March 2023


AIS Statement regarding the Planned Judicial Reform Proposed by the Israel Government

The Association for Israel Studies views with grave concern the recent developments in Israel, including the looming changes in the state’s political and legal system, and the growing support for racism and incitement. As an academic association, we are committed to intellectual integrity and academic freedom—necessary foundations for any healthy and free society, and to the values of freedom, equality and pluralism, which must exclude any discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnicity, or gender. We believe that all efforts should be made to ensure that the rights and responsibilities upon which freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas are based, and the checks and balances that are the underpinning of democracy—the precondition for free academic discourse—will continue to flourish in the academic study of Israel, in Israeli society, and in the Israeli body politic.


US Law Professors’ Statement About the Proposed Law Reforms in Israel

Initial Posting Date: January 29, 2023

List of Signatories Updated: January 30, 2023


We, law professors in the United States who care deeply about Israel, strongly oppose the effort by the current Israeli government to radically overhaul the country’s legal system. This effort includes proposed reforms that would grant the ruling coalition absolute power to appoint Justices and judges, make it almost impossible for the Supreme Court to invalidate legislation, severely limit judicial review of executive-branch decisions, and curtail the independence of the Attorney General and legal advisers assigned to different government agencies.


Some of us believe that the Israeli Supreme Court has over-reached in important respects and would support a scaling back of its power to review legislation and executive decisions. Others believe that the legal status quo need not be changed. Regardless of the disagreement amongst us, we are all deeply worried that the speed and scale of the reforms will seriously weaken the independence of the judiciary, the separation of powers and the rule of law. These safeguards have contributed to Israel’s flourishing over the last 75 years, helping it weather severe security, political and social challenges. Weakening them would pose a dire risk to freedom of expression, to human and civil rights, and to efforts to reduce corruption, making it harder for Israel to survive such challenges going forward. We hope for Israel’s sake that it chooses a wiser path.



[university name added for identification only and not as a sign of institutional support]


Organizers / Initial Signatories

Oren Bar-Gill (Harvard University)

Jesse Fried (Harvard University)

Amos Guiora (University of Utah)


Additional Signatories

David Abraham (University of Miami)

Matthew Adler (Duke University)

Bill Alford (Harvard University)

Anat Alon-Beck (Case Western Reserve University)

Reuven Avi-Yonah (University of Michigan)

Tom Baker (University of Pennsylvania)

Kenneth A. Bamberger (University of California, Berkeley)

Michal Barzuza (University of Virginia)

Lucian Bebchuk (Harvard University)

Yochai Benkler (Harvard University)

Omri Ben-Shahar (University of Chicago)

Lisa Bernstein (University of Chicago)

Gabriella Blum (Harvard University)

Erwin Chemerinsky (University of California, Berkeley)

Harlan Grant Cohen (University of Georgia)

Alan Dershowitz (Harvard University)

Melvin Eisenberg (University of California, Berkeley)

Eleanor Fox (New York University)

Barry Friedman (New York University)

Clayton P. Gillette (NYU School of Law)

Talia Gillis (Columbia University)

Ronald J. Gilson (Stanford University and Columbia University)

Rebecca Goldstein (University of California, Berkeley)

Ellen Goodman (Rutgers University)

Jeffrey Gordon (Columbia University)

Jonathan Gould (University of California, Berkeley)

Bruce Green (Fordham University)

Ariela J. Gross (University of Southern California)

Daniel Hemel (New York University)

David Hoffman (University of Pennsylvania)

Samuel Issacharoff (New York University)

Debbie Kaminer (City University of New York)

Amalia Kessler (Stanford University)

Christopher Kutz (University of California, Berkeley)

Alexandra D. Lahav (Cornell University)

Pnina Lahav (Boston University)

Yair Listokin (Yale University)

Omri Marian (University of California, Irvine)

Andrei Marmor (Cornell University)

Florencia Marotta-Wurgler (New York University)

Peter S. Menell (University of California, Berkeley)

Martha Minow (Harvard University)

Robert Mnookin (Harvard University)

Noga Morag-Levine (Michigan State University)

Dotan Oliar (University of Virginia)

Barak Orbach (University of Arizona)

Nizan Geslevich Packin (City University of New York)

Robert Post (Yale University)

Richard Primus (University of Michigan)

Barak Richman (Duke University)

Edward Rock (New York University)

Guy A. Rub (Ohio State University)

Daniel Rubinfeld (New York University)

Samuel Scheffler (New York University)

Richard Schragger (University of Virginia)

Avital Schurr (University of Louisville)

Alan Schwartz (Yale University)

Dan Simon (University of Southern California)

  1. Daniel Sokol (University of Southern California)

Michael Stein (Harvard University)

Nomi Stolzenberg (University of Southern California)

Jennifer Taub (Western New England University)

Joseph William Singer (Harvard University)

Matthew Stephenson (Harvard University)

Lior Strahilevitz (University of Chicago)

David Webber (Boston University)

Laura Weinrib (Harvard University)

Mark G. Yudof (University of California, Berkeley)

Jonathan Zasloff (University of California, Los Angeles)




Iran is trying to hire gangsters to attack dissidents in the UK and the West.

Security officials are understood to be aware of attempts by Iranian spies to recruit members of organised crime groups to target opponents of the regime on British soil. It follows recent claims by the head of MI5, the British intelligence service, that Iran sought to kidnap or assassinate British residents on at least ten occasions last year.


Sepaately, dissidents in London have been warned about Iran’s latest modus operandi by counterterrorism police as the regime seeks to clamp down on widespread human rights protests.  Iranian spies are thought to be forging closer ties with criminals as sanctions and increased scrutiny by the security services aim to make it more difficult for them to deploy their own agents and assets in Britain and other western nations. The use of hired “muscle” to carry out a murder or attack could also allow Iran to deny any involvement as it seeks to maintain diplomatic ties., 5 Feb.


A UK-based Iranian broadcaster has moved its operation to the US after mounting threats and safety concerns against its journalists from Tehran.

Acting on advice from the Met police, Iran International TV “reluctantly” closed its London studios after state-backed threats, a statement said, as safety concerns made it no longer possible to protect the channel’s staff and the surrounding public.


“I cannot believe it has come to this. A foreign state has caused such a significant threat to the British public on British soil that we have to move,” said Mahmood Enayat, the station’s general manager.  The channel will continue its output from its Washington DC site, while Afghanistan International TV continues as normal to broadcast from the London studios.

Enayat described the escalation as a threat to the British public, calling it an “assault” on the values of sovereignty, security and free speech. “We refuse to be silenced by these cowardly threats. We will continue to broadcast. We are undeterred,” he said.

Guardian, 18 Feb.


Ex-Labour MP Chris Williamson has lost his access to Parliament over his ‘unacceptable’ role as a host on Iranian state TV.  The former shadow minister, a staunch ally of ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, was MP for Derby North between 2017 and 2019.  Up until this week, he had continued to enjoy privileged access to Parliament by holding one of more than 300 passes doled out to former MPs.  But his pass has now been suspended until further notice after concerns were raised about his work for Iran’s PressTV.  The 66-year-old also recently caused fury by claiming Volodymyr Zelensky is ‘backed by literal Nazis’ on the day the Ukrainian President made his historic address to Parliament.

Daily Mail, 22 Feb.


The Iranian government has been behind 15 credible threats to kill or kidnap British citizens or UK-based people in just over a year, security minister Tom Tugendhat has told parliament following intimidation that forced the closure of a Persian-language television station.  Tehran had also tried to gather information on UK-based Jewish and Israeli individuals as “a preparation for future lethal operations”, the minister told the House of Commons in a statement. . . .


The minister’s statement yet is the clearest indication yet of the UK government’s growing concern about the Iranian government’s activities inside the UK. Earlier in the day, the government announced sanctions against eight Iranian officials — including three senior figures in the Revolutionary Guard — over human rights violations. . . .


The minister went on to name a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards who he said was behind some of the threats.  “In 2021, UK police asked partners to share information on Iran-based Mohammad Mehdi Mozayyani, a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who worked to conduct a lethal operation against Iranian dissidents here in the United Kingdom,” Tugendhat said.

Financial Times, 20 Feb.


Iran is investigating the suspected poisoning of hundreds of schoolgirls.

More than 800 schoolgirls in at least 10 cities in Iran have come down with respiratory, cardiac and neurological symptoms over the past three months. This week, after toxicologists said toxins found in the schools were nitrogen gas, President Ibrahim Raisi ordered an investigation into the possible poisoning.  Until recently, the government had dismissed the cases, but the rise in the number of sick schoolgirls meant the illnesses could no longer be ignored. Videos circulating widely show girls collapsing to the ground, gasping for air and lying on emergency room beds.  Several government officials who said they suspected the poisoning was deliberate suggested that the motive was an attempt to prevent girls from attending schools — raising alarm about the possible infiltration of Islamic extremist groups.

New York Times, 2 Mar.


Turkey/Syria Earthquakes

The death toll in Turkey and Syria sharply rises as the aid effort looks to overcome hurdles.  The official death count from Monday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake — which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey called “the disaster of the century” — has now surpassed 20,000. With more than 17,000 dead in Turkey, it is the country’s deadliest quake since 1939.


In Turkey, truck shortages, blocked roads and other logistical hurdles impeded efforts by the 100,000-plus rescue personnel to unearth victims, bury the dead and provide aid to desperate survivors. Making it all the more challenging, the area is experiencing subfreezing temperatures and widespread shortages of heating and electricity. An open-air, makeshift morgue in a Turkish parking lot provided a grim reminder of the toll.  In northwest Syria, the first international relief arrived after days of waiting, but emergency workers there said the aid fell far short of what was needed. Millions of people there had already been displaced by the country’s civil war when the earthquake hit.

New York Times, 9 Feb.



The Times View on the Second Looming Disaster in Syria: After Shocks


A second humanitarian disaster among survivors of Monday’s earthquake looms in rebel-held Syria unless Russia and the Damascus regime allow aid to flow.   Three days after the earthquake struck, the desperate search for survivors amid the rubble of towns and cities in Turkey and Syria goes on, though with rapidly dwindling expectations of success. The death toll from the most powerful seismic shock to hit the region since 1939 has already surpassed 20,000 and is sure to grow far higher as more bodies are pulled from the debris of collapsed buildings. Meanwhile the urgent challenge facing rescuers is to prevent an even greater number of deaths as the effects of bitterly cold weather take their toll on survivors left without shelter after the collapse of their homes. Our report from Antakya in Turkey, close to the epicentre, makes for harrowing reading. The devastation is so great that the city is unrecognisable, while the overstretched disaster agency has yet to arrive.

The risk is that the relief effort becomes hampered not just by weather and blocked roads but politics. The situation is challenging enough in Turkey, where the emergency is spread across ten provinces but where supplies are at least starting to flow into the country from around the world. There is already growing anger that little attempt was made to retrofit buildings to comply with new building standards introduced following the 1991 earthquake in Izmit, leading to the collapse of many older high-rise buildings. An even greater disaster may lie in store in Syria. . . .

The Syrian government has insisted that aid to the north of the country should be directed via the Damascus regime. Given President Assad’s record of appropriating aid, western governments are rightly reluctant to yield to his demands. There is little expectation that Damascus will send any aid that it receives from allies including Russia and Iran to assist in rebel-held areas.

. . .

Times, 9 Feb.


More than a million people were left homeless after the earthquake in Turkey and Syria.  More than 200,000 emergency relief workers raced to distribute an enormous quantity of tents to displaced families over the last week. But the sheer scale of the disaster — with the death count now at 35,000 — has meant that many people still lack shelter from the freezing temperatures.


The situation in northern Syria is perhaps even more dire. Little aid has reached parts of the region held by the opposition because of political divisions there after years of civil war, and much of what has arrived does not contain the most urgently needed supplies, such as food.  Residents at an upscale apartment complex in Malatya, Turkey, were promised that their building was safe against earthquakes. It collapsed anyway, perhaps because of a design flaw.

New York Times, 13 Feb.


The UK was been warned that international aid delivered to Syria could end up in the wrong hands after President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime agreed to open two new crossing points from Turkey to the country’s rebel-held northwest. The international community has been accused of ignoring the war-ravaged country for weeks after two earthquakes killed more than 5,700 people and little aid came through to help. The United Nations (UN) has ceded to pressure and allowed more support and heavy equipment into Syria amid backlash from the White Helmets’ head who said the move would allow Al-Assad to score “political gain”.

Guardian, 16 Feb.


Bashar al-Assad is laughing. Four days after an earthquake devastated northwest Syria, President Assad and his wife Asma visited sites of destruction and survivors in regime-held Aleppo. This was Assad’s first public appearance after the natural disaster struck. He was not solemn. He was literally laughing.

. . .

This is Syria’s Assad, the same dictator who has been butchering his people for more than a decade. Until the day of the earthquake, Assad’s air force — with Russian support — continued to bomb the opposition-held northwest, the area which was also worst hit by the natural disaster. Assad had always wanted the area destroyed, its people killed. The earthquake came and gave his deadly mission a tactical gain. His loyalists circulated online messages saying that divine intervention had saved Assad the cost of barrel bombs.

Sunday Times, 19 Feb.


Two new powerful aftershocks hammered Turkey and Syria, both countries still reeling from devastating earthquakes on February 6 that killed at least 47,000 people.  A magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit the Turkey-Syria border region at a depth of just 2km (1.2 miles), the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre said.  At least three people have been killed, and 213 have been wounded in the tremors, according to Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu. The shallow aftershock was followed by a magnitude 5.8 earthquake several minutes later, centred not far from the first in Turkey’s Hatay region.

Al Jazeera, 20 Feb.



About 100,000 protesters filled Jerusalem’s streets.

In one of the largest-ever demonstrations in the city, protesters gathered to oppose sweeping judicial reforms proposed by Israel’s new right-wing government. The changes would reduce the Supreme Court’s ability to revoke laws passed in Parliament and give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government greater influence over who gets to be a judge.


Those opposed to the plan have portrayed it as a threat to the soul of Israel’s democracy and a possible prelude to civil war. The protest followed a dramatic televised speech on Sunday night by Israel’s mainly ceremonial president, Isaac Herzog, who warned that the crisis had left the country “on the brink of constitutional and social collapse.”

New York Times, 13 Feb.


An Israeli soldier will serve 10 days in a military prison after being filmed assaulting a Palestinian man in Hebron.  In a video circulated on social media, the soldier can be seen placing his hand on the neck of a man before pushing him to the ground and kicking him before another soldier approaches to move him away.


The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) claim the incident unfolded after the soldier had asked a Palestinian man approaching a military post to step away.  “In response, the Palestinian began recording and cursing the soldier. A verbal confrontation followed, which soon became a physical confrontation, during which the soldier hit the Palestinian,” they explained in a statement.  “As the video shows, the soldier did not act as expected and did not follow the IDF code of conduct.”  An Israeli army spokesperson revealed on Wednesday that the soldier in question has been sentenced to ten days in military prison.

Jewish Chronicle, 15 Feb.


At least 10 Palestinians were killed during an Israeli raid.  An hours-long gunfight broke out this morning between Israeli security forces and armed Palestinian groups in the West Bank city of Nablus, leaving more than 100 Palestinians wounded. The Israeli military was conducting an operation to arrest Palestinian gunmen.  Three armed Palestinian groups said that six casualties were fighters in their movements. Others appeared to be noncombatants: Time-stamped footage that circulated on social media seemed to show the shooting of at least two unarmed Palestinians, as they ran away from gunfire.  The incident left the region bracing for further unrest. Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, warned that the killings would not pass “without a response.”

New York Times, 22 Feb.


A Palestinian gunman fatally shot two Israeli men in the West Bank on Sunday [26 Feb]. Hours later, Israeli settlers burned and vandalized at least 200 buildings in four Palestinian villages as the area braced for more violence.

New York Times, 27 Feb.


Israeli settlers have set dozens of Palestinian homes and cars on fire in Huwara, a town in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus, in what appeared to be the worst outburst of settler violence in decades.  Palestinian media said some 30 homes and cars were torched during the late-night rampage by the settlers, which came a day after two settlers were killed. Earlier this month, 11 Palestinians were killed in an Israeli military raid in Nablus.


The Palestinian health ministry said a 37-year-old man was shot and killed by Israeli fire on Sunday. The Palestinian Red Crescent said two others were shot and wounded, a third person was stabbed and a fourth was beaten with an iron bar.  Some 95 others were being treated for tear gas inhalation.  Ghassan Douglas, a Palestinian official who monitors Israeli settlements in the Nablus region, estimated about 400 Jewish settlers took part in the attack, which came after the Jordanian government said the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israeli officials agreed to take steps to de-escalate the situation.

Al Jazeera, 27 Feb.


Israeli troops fired stun grenades and tear gas on Friday to block busloads of Israeli left-wing activists from staging a solidarity rally in a Palestinian town that was set ablaze by radical Jewish settlers earlier this week, protesters said.

The soldiers shoved protesters to the ground in the occupied West Bank town of Hawara, activists said, pressing their knees into their necks and backs before briefly detaining them. According to Sally Abed from the group Standing Together, at least two protesters were briefly arrested. The army threw them to the ground, kicking and handcuffing them, she said.

In another case, a group of soldiers violently pushed former Israeli parliament speaker, Avraham Burg, until he stumbled to the ground.  The Israeli army said it had decided to declare Hawara a closed military zone because of the soaring tensions following Sunday’s settler-led attack. When Israeli and Palestinian activists attempted to violate the military order, security forces used tear gas and other means to disperse the crowds and maintain order, the military said.

NBC News, 3 March


Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust

Police are investigating racist threats made to a Jewish Arsenal fan during the game against Tottenham Hotspur on 15th Jan.  Fighting broke out in a north London pub, The Cally, when Katie Price objected to anti-Semitic chants.  She wrote in the Jewish Chronicle that they were chanting “Yiddo, yiddo”.

Jewish Chronicle, 16 Jan.


Britain’s counter-extremism strategy is failing to address extreme antisemitism, according to the independent review of the Prevent programme.  William Shawcross said he was “disturbed by the prevalence” of hatred towards Jews among people referred to Prevent, a programme which aims to stop people becoming terrorists.  He said those who referred individuals to Prevent and staff carrying out Prevent programmes did not understand antisemitism sufficiently and were failing to tackle it as a growing extremist threat.

He added that more needed to be done to address the anti-Jewish components of Islamist and extreme right-wing ideology.  Antisemitism was uniting Islamist extremists and the far right wing in “a kind of modern-day Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact,” Shawcross said, referring to the non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that enabled the powers to divide eastern Europe between them.

Times, 9 Feb.


Holocaust ignorance in the Netherlands:

Almost one in four Dutch people born after 1980 think the Holocaust is “a myth” or that the number of Jewish people killed by the Nazis is “greatly exaggerated”.  Research by the US-based Claims Conference, an organisation representing Jews in negotiations with Germany for compensation and restitution, has found “shocking and disturbing” ignorance among millennials and Generation Z in the Netherlands, which ranked the worst for Holocaust denial from a selection of Western countries surveyed.

Almost a third (32 per cent) of Dutch millennials do not know that Anne Frank, whose diary written while hiding under Nazi occupation is a worldwide bestseller, died in a concentration camp.  A total of 2,000 Dutch people were polled last December following similar surveys in the United States, Britain, France, Austria and Canada.  More than half of those surveyed in the Netherlands, and up to three out of five younger people, do not know that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, while 23 per cent said the crimes of Nazi Germany were untrue or exaggerated.

Twenty-nine per cent of Dutch people believed that two million or fewer Jews were killed, a number that rises to 37 per cent of millennials and Generation Z.

“The number of Dutch adults who believe the Holocaust is a myth was higher than any country previously surveyed,” said Gideon Taylor, president of Claims Conference. . . . While 12 per cent of Dutch people said the Holocaust was a myth or greatly exaggerated, less than one in ten British people hold that view.

Times, 25 Jan.

Prominent former UK Labour lawmaker Luciana Berger, who left the party over antisemitism, said Saturday she would return to the opposition party at the invitation of its leader, Sir Keir Starmer.  Berger tweeted that “the Labour Party has turned a significant corner under Keir’s leadership.” . . . Berger, 41, resigned from Labour in 2019 under former chief Jeremy Corbyn, whom she accused of not doing enough to stamp out institutional antisemitism in the party. She later campaigned unsuccessfully for a rival party.  In her response to Starmer’s invitation to return, Berger wrote that Labour “fell into the depths of the abyss under Jeremy Corbyn’s reign”.

Times of Israel, 26 Feb.


Book Reviews

David McCloskey, Damascus Station (New York: W. W. Norton, 2021; London: Swift Press, 2023).

This is a book set in the period of the “Syrian civil war”.  It is a work of fiction but is written by a CIA-experienced operative and is considered to reflect the authentic world of espionage at the time in a way not usually found in such thrillers.  While at the CIA, the author worked in field stations across the Middle East and briefed senior White House officials and Arab royalty.  Here is one review of it:

It is a dazzling debut and comes from a place of great personal knowledge. McCloskey himself covered Syria as a CIA analyst from 2008 to 2014, living and working in field stations throughout the region and briefing officials in Washington.  “The seed for the novel,” he says, “goes back seven years, when I was leaving the Agency. I had been working on Syria and was struggling to process the tragedy and hopelessness of that conflict. . . .

“Ultimately, I was interested in telling an authentic story: one that described the actual CIA, its tradecraft and operations and the real Syrian war. . . . I wanted to write a spy novel in which the protagonist is a CIA case officer — not an assassin or in the special forces — so I created Sam as a composite of several people that I knew well at Langley. The job is fascinating: these men and women spend their days spotting, developing and recruiting sources to spy against their governments. A case officer protagonist opens the door to action and suspense and intrigue, but because the centerpiece of the job is to recruit agents, there is an authentic emotional component that I think runs the gamut of the human experience. . . . But I really tried to let the sketches of these real-life case officers be my guide.” . . .

Neil Nyren, review in BookTrib, 24 Sept 2021


Dan Stone, The Holocaust: An Unfinished History (Pelican Books, 2023).

People glancing at this book might ask whether we need another general history of the Holocaust. There are already well-established syntheses and original overviews, including Saul Friedländer’s path-breaking two-volume history of the persecution and extermination of Europe’s Jews, in which he called for an ‘integrated history’ giving voice to victims. What does Dan Stone’s latest have to add to the existing literature?

The Holocaust is, as the subtitle of this book indicates, an almost overwhelming topic to tackle and one on which it is impossible to say the final word. Even the concept itself is problematic. While some historians interpret the term widely, to encompass the persecution and murder of a range of groups – including Sinti and Roma, and the mentally and physically disabled – others, such as Dan Stone and his late colleague David Cesarani, prefer a narrower definition relating specifically to the Jews. While some see the Holocaust as one case in a longer history of genocide or situate it in a wider framework of colonialism, others see the mass murder of Jews as sui generis. . . .

Mary Fulbrook, Literary Review, February 2023


. . .Dan Stone’s thought-provoking book is essentially a present-day reckoning. Why are questions about the Shoah still hanging in the air? Why is our understanding of this unimaginable period “an unfinished history”? A professor of Modern History at the University of London, Stone forensically dissects many suppositions, but above all he casts a spotlight on those “neutrals” who assisted — the Norwegian policemen who arrested the Jews and the taxi drivers who took them to their destruction.

Stone’s central point is that the Shoah was a transnational event, mired in complex motives for murdering multitudes, and not purely a German affair. It was series of interlocking genocides that Hitler’s masterplan for a judenrein Europe provided cover for and distorted perceptions of the Shoah after 1945.  In March 1942, 80 per cent of the Jewish victims were still alive. Almost a year later, 80 per cent of the six million were dead.  During that year, large numbers of non-German volunteers became identifiers of Jews, guards in labour and extermination camps and perpetrators in the killing fields. . . .

Colin Shindler, The Jewish Chronicle, 9 Feb.



Lester L. Grabbe

5 March 2023


Middle East Study Centre—Newsletter February 2023


The protest movement that began with the Iranian regime killing of Mahsa Amini has likely culminated for the most part. Protest activity has gradually decreased since December 2022, and protester organizers again failed to generate turnout on January 20 despite their heavily circulated calls for countrywide demonstrations. American military doctrine defines culmination as the “point at which a force no longer has the capability to continue its form of operations, offensive or defensive,” and “when a force cannot continue the attack and must assume a defensive posture or execute an operational pause”    . . . using the term “culminated” rather than “ended” to reflect its assessment that conditions for a strong and vibrant anti-regime movement remain and that protests or other forms of anti-regime activity will likely resume at some point within the coming months.  Some components of the protest movement still retain their momentum.

Institute for the Study of Iran, 20 Jan.

Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of a former president of Iran has been sentenced to 5 years for “propaganda acts”, after being arrested in Sept for taking part in mass protests.  She has long been a women’s rights activist and has been jailed several times before.  She has said she would appeal.  Her father, Rafsanjani (who died in 2017 aged 82), was considered a moderate., 10 Jan.


The leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has threatened France and the editors of the Charlie Hebdo with the same fate as Salman Rushdie after the satirical magazine doubled down on its ridicule of supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei [with cartoons]. . . . “I advise the French and directors of the Charlie Hebdo magazine to take a look at the fate of Salman Rushdie,” the IRGC’s Commander-in-Chief Hossein Salami said yesterday, according to Iran’s Mehr news agency.  “Do not play with Muslims – Salman Rushdie insulted the Quran and the holy Prophet of Islam 30 years ago and hid in dangerous places,” he said, adding that Muslims would “sooner or later” take revenge for the cartoons.

(Daily) Mailonline, 11 Jan.


Alireza Akbari, a British-Iranian dual national who had previously held a senior position in the Iranian government, was executed on Saturday morning, despite urgent calls for his release by the UK foreign secretary, James Cleverly.

Guardian, 14 Jan.


Prince Harry has been criticised by the official Twitter account of the Iran Foreign Ministry which said the Duke of Sussex showed no remorse over the killing of 25 “innocent” people in Afghanistan.  Prince Harry has been dragged into the row between the UK and Iran over a British man’s execution after he confessed in his memoir Spare that he killed 25 Taliban when he was younger.  The Duke of Sussex came under fire after claiming to have taken out more than two dozen enemies during two tours of Afghanistan.

Daily Mirror, 17 Jan.


BEIRUT — Iran on Thursday accused Israel of conducting a drone attack over the weekend on a Defense Ministry complex in the city of Isfahan. The facility took slight damage, by Iran’s account.  “Early investigations suggest that the Israeli regime was responsible for this attempted act of aggression,” reads a letter published by Iran’s mission to the United Nations. Iran has accused Israel of such attacks in the past.  During a CNN interview Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to confirm or deny whether Israel had targeted the complex. “I never talk about specific operations,” he said, “and every time some explosion takes place in the Middle East, Israel is blamed or given responsibility — sometimes we are, sometimes we’re not.”


Iran’s letter, signed by Ambassador Amir Saeid Iravani, did not provide details about the investigation or its findings, but said that a Defense Ministry workshop complex was targeted by three “micro aerial vehicles,” two of which were intercepted.  The site probably held sensitive information related to Iran’s nuclear technologies and weapons program, said Farzin Nadimi, an Iran analyst at the Washington Institute, a think thank.  These attacks aim to send “a message to the regime in Tehran” that Israel has “access to their sensitive sites and that their air defenses are not impenetrable,” Nadimi said earlier this week. A research center affiliated with Iran’s civilian space program sits across the road from the complex, which Nadimi said is “very active in supporting the military and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”

Washington Post, 2 Feb.


A plan to ban Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the UK for being a terrorist organization has been temporarily shelved by the government over fears that the move could harm diplomatic communication channels between London and Tehran. It is not known how long the pause will last.


The IRGC, established in 1979 in the wake of Iran’s revolution, has been accused of orchestrating insurgencies, assassinations, attacks and other acts of aggression worldwide. The proposed ban would have made membership of the IRGC or attendance of meetings in support of it illegal in the UK, and hindered its ability to raise funds in the country.  In November, the director general of UK intelligence branch MI5, Ken McCallum, accused the IRGC of plotting to assassinate or kidnap people living in Britain on at least 10 occasions in 2022.


The IRGC was also accused by British security services of threatening journalists working at London-based news outlet Iran International, which necessitated the deployment of armed police at its offices.  The IRGC’s outlawing has long been supported by senior British politicians, including Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Minister of State for Security Tom Tugendhat.

Arab News, 2 Feb.


Iran’s supreme leader has pardoned “tens of thousands” of prisoners, including many linked to anti-government protests.  State media reports the pardons by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei came with conditions.  The pardons come on the eve of the anniversary of the Islamic revolution in 1979.  Authorities have portrayed the protests – which are still continuing – as foreign-backed “riots” and at times have responded with lethal force.  Human rights groups say more than 500 demonstrators have been killed, including 70 minors, and around 20,000 have been arrested.

Iran’s state media says Ayatollah Khamenei’s latest pardons came after a letter from the head of the judiciary framed many of those detained as young people who’d been led astray by foreign influence and propaganda.  The letter claims that a number of protesters had expressed regret and asked for forgiveness.

But those charged with more serious offences – such as spying for foreign agents, murder or destruction of state property – will not be pardoned.  The measure will also not extend to any dual nationals currently being detained.   Sadeq Rahimi, the deputy judiciary chief, explained that those inmates who are qualified to be pardoned must pledge in writing that they regret what they have done otherwise, they will not be freed.                                                                                                                                                                                                              BBC News, 5 Feb.



An explosion inside a mosque killed at least 32 people and wounded about 150 more in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar, a government official said, adding many of the casualties were police officers who had gathered for noon prayers.  The mosque is located within a compound that includes the headquarters of the provincial police force and a counterterrorism department, Peshawar’s police chief Ijaz Khan said on Monday.  The possibility of a suicide bombing could not be ruled out, he said, adding that traces of explosives were found inside the mosque.

Al-Jazeera, 30 Jan.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — After frantically combing through the debris of a devastated mosque throughout the night and Tuesday morning, police called off the search for survivors of a terrorist suicide bombing in the highly guarded site where several hundred police and army men had gathered for afternoon prayers.  The acting chief minister of this northwestern province, Muhammad Azam Khan, announced that 95 people were killed and 221 injured, making it one of the deadliest attacks ever carried out against Pakistan’s security forces. The blast signaled the brazen revival of violent tactics by the extremist Pakistani Taliban group, which had once been quelled by a military crackdown and until recently was in peace talks with the government.

Monday’s shockingly successful attack on a government compound that should have been one of the more secure parts of Peshawar has raised serious questions about Pakistan’s ability to confront its long-standing militant threat as the Muslim-majority country of 220 million remains mired in an economic crisis and a political standoff.

Washington Post, 31 Jan.


Wikipedia has been blocked in Pakistan for hosting “blasphemous content”.

The move was announced on Saturday after the free online encyclopaedia was given a 48-hour deadline to remove some material.  The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said Wikipedia failed to comply with its ultimatum.  The Wikimedia Foundation, which hosts Wikipedia, said the ban meant Pakistanis would be denied access “to the largest free knowledge repository”.  Blasphemy is a highly sensitive and incendiary issue in Pakistan.   Other platforms including Tinder, Facebook and YouTube were previously blocked in the Muslim-majority country.

PTA spokesperson Malahat Obaid said Wikipedia failed to respond to “repeated correspondence” over the removal of “blasphemous content”.  “They did remove some of the material but not all,” he added, confirming that the website would remain blocked until “all the objectionable material” was removed.  Details of the material in question have not been revealed.  The Wikimedia Foundation said if the ban continued it would “deprive everyone access to Pakistan’s knowledge, history, and culture”.

Free speech campaigners have raised concerns over the move, saying there seemed to be “a concerted effort to exert greater control over content on the internet”.  “The main purpose is to silence any dissent,” said digital rights activist Usama Khilji.  “A lot of times blasphemy is weaponised for that purpose,” he added.  In 2010 Pakistan blocked YouTube because of its “growing sacrilegious content”.  Facebook was blocked in 2010 following a row over an internet campaign inviting people to draw images of the Prophet Muhammad.  Dating apps including Tinder and Grindr were also previously banned for disseminating “immoral content”.

BBC News, 4 Feb.

Israel and Palestinians

JENIN REFUGEE CAMP, West Bank —  Israeli forces on Thursday killed at least nine Palestinians — including at least seven militants and a 61-year-old woman — in the deadliest single incident in the occupied West Bank in two decades, Palestinian officials said. The raid prompted Palestinian leaders to cut security ties with Israel, a move that could lead to more violence.  Early on Friday, the Israeli military said two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip and intercepted by its Iron Dome missile defense system. It was the first such attack from the militant Hamas-ruled territory since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power at the head of a far-right government that has pledged a tough line against Palestinian militancy.

Raising the stakes, the Palestinian Authority said it would halt the ties that its security forces maintain with Israel in a shared effort to contain Islamic militants. Previous threats have been short-lived, in part because of the benefits the authority enjoys from the relationship and also due to U.S. and Israeli pressure to maintain it.  The authority already has limited control over scattered enclaves in the West Bank, and its forces have little authority in militant strongholds like the Jenin camp. But the announcement could pave the way for Israel to step up operations it says are needed to prevent attacks.

Los Angeles Times, 26 Jan.

Blinken visited the occupied West Bank to meet with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. The secretary of state called for a defusing of the violence that has gripped the region in recent weeks and conceded that Palestinians face dwindling prospects in their larger struggle for independence.  In Israeli politics, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is being tugged by competing forces: His domestic political partners who want him to annex the West Bank and his global allies, like the U.S., that are pushing him toward moderation.

New York Times, 31 Jan.

Israel’s government is pushing to destroy the family homes of Palestinians accused of attacks.  The practice, which is decades old, has long drawn criticism from human rights groups that call it collective punishment, prohibited by international law.  But Israel defends the demolitions as a deterrent, and the new government — the most right-wing in Israel’s history — is pursuing the policy more aggressively after a surge of violence.

New York Times, 2 Feb.

Seven people were shot and killed and at least three others were wounded in a terror shooting attack near a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Neve Yaakov neighborhood, police and medics said Friday night. According to police, the terrorist arrived by car at 8:13 p.m. in the Jewish East Jerusalem neighborhood and opened fire at people outside the synagogue and other passersby.  This was on Holocaust Memorial Day.  He then fled the scene by car toward the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina — several hundred meters away — where, about five minutes later, he encountered officers who were called to the scene.  Police said the terrorist — a resident of East Jerusalem — was shot dead after he exited the car and opened fire on the officers while trying to escape on foot.  A handgun used in the attack was seized.

The Times of Israel, 4 Feb.


Israel: Netanyahu Government

The Supreme Court of Israel has ruled that a coalition partner cannot serve in Binyamin Netanyahu’s cabinet, further deepening a rift with the judiciary.  Netanyahu’s government was thrown into disarray barely three weeks after its inauguration as the court ruled that Aryeh Deri, leader of Shas, the second-largest party in the coalition, was unsuitable to serve in cabinet. Deri, 63, a long-time ally of Netanyahu, was appointed on December 29 as deputy prime minister, as well as health and home affairs minister.

In a 10-1 decision, the court ruled that his appointment was “unreasonable” because of a conviction a year ago for tax fraud, in which Deri agreed to a plea bargain in return for a suspended prison sentence. Some of the judges also based their ruling on the grounds that Deri had agreed to leave political life.  Since then, Deri has led his Shas party to help Netanyahu’s coalition to win the election on November 1. It was his second political comeback. He was convicted in 1999 of fraud and taking bribes, for which he spent two years in prison.

During the election, Deri dismissed the notion that his conviction would stop him from serving in cabinet. The ruling will either force him to resign or Netanyahu will have to dismiss him. Deri’s party released a statement last night accusing the court of “throwing in the bin the voices and votes of 400,000 Shas voters”.  Netanyahu, who relies on the Shas members of the Knesset, rushed to Deri’s home after the ruling but must now make do without him in his cabinet. Deri can remain a member of parliament and leader of his party. The prime minister’s main worry is whether Shas will stay loyal. Netanyahu has refrained from commenting on the ruling but his Likud party said: “We will use all legal means and work without delay to fix the injustice caused to Aryeh Deri.”

The ruling comes at a fraught moment. The Netanyahu government has published plans for a sweeping judicial reform that would drastically reduce the power of the Supreme Court to hold the government to account.  Esther Hayut, the court’s president who presided over the disqualification, said last week that the government’s plans were “a mortal wound to the independence of the judiciary”.  An estimated 90,000 Israelis protested on Saturday night against the reforms. Netanyahu, who is on trial on charges of bribery and fraud, must decide whether to ditch his old ally or intensify his conflict with the judges.

Times, 19 Jan.

A new fissure in Netanyahu’s administration was on display on Friday as Israeli settlers established a fresh illegal outpost on the land of a Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank. Israeli soldiers were sent to evict them within hours, to the anger of members of the Religious Zionist far-right party. The party’s leader, finance minister Bezalel Smotrich, who under the coalition agreement has also been appointed a minister in the defence ministry with responsibility for the settlements, issued an order to stop the eviction, but was countermanded by the Likud defence minister Yoav Galant, who also put out a public statement saying that “every action on the ground must be done according to law”. Netanyahu backed him up, leaving Smotrich and the national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir fuming.

This morning Netanyahu’s new cabinet will meet for just its fourth weekly meeting. Twenty-three days after taking office, it is already split over the settlers, obedience to the Supreme Court and Dery’s tax affairs. How Netanyahu navigates these divisions could determine the fate of his sixth term.  There was another interesting detail in the official photo from his meeting with Halevi. At the edge of Netanyahu’s desk, just within the photographer’s frame, was a book — Augustus, by British academic Anthony Everitt.  Two thousand years ago Gaius Octavius eliminated his fellow members of the second Roman triumvirate, Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus, forced the senate to make him leader for life and became Rome’s first emperor – Augustus Caesar.  Was Netanyahu reminding his friends and foes alike that some leaders outlast the forces that strive to keep them in check?

Times, 22 Jan.

Labour MP Kim Johnson has apologised “unreservedly” for calling the Israeli government “fascist” at Prime Ministers Questions (PMQs) earlier today.

Ms Johnson used the descriptor towards the end of PMQs on Wednesday, and asked the prime minister how he is “challenging” Israel on alleged human rights violations against Palestinians while failing to mention the terror attacks on Israeli civilians just days ago.  A Labour spokesperson slammed Ms Johnson’s comments as “completely unacceptable”, and after a meeting with the Chief Whip following PMQs, Ms Johnson apologised in the House of Commons and withdrew her assertion that Israel is an “apartheid state”.

Speaking towards the end of PMQs today, Kim Johnson MP asked: “Since the election of the fascist Israeli government in the election last year, there has been an increase in human rights violations against Palestinian civilians, including children. So, can the prime minister tell us how he is challenging what Amnesty and other human rights organisations are referring to as ‘an apartheid state’?”  Prime Minister Rishi Sunak responded: “Well, Mr Speaker, the honourable lady also failed to mention the horrific attacks on civilians inside Israel as well, and it’s important in this matter to remain calm and urge all sides to strive for peace, and that’s very much what I will do as prime minister and in the conversations that I’ve had with the Israeli prime minister.”

Jewish Chronicle, 1 Feb.



Hospital burn wards in Tunisia hold the wounds of a failed democracy.  In a sense, Tunisia’s 2010 revolution — and the wave of pro-democracy Arab Spring uprisings it inspired — began in a burn ward near Tunis, the capital. A 26-year-old fruit seller set himself on fire, representing the rage that would bring down a dictator and launch a democracy.  But elected leaders — 10 prime ministers in 10 years — have failed to deliver on a promise of prosperity. Now, during what Tunisians have called the “black decade” after the revolution, one hospital has housed hundreds of self-immolation copycats and a host of doctors trying to escape.

NYT, 3 Jan.

Dead Sea Drying Up

The Dead Sea is losing the equivalent of 600 Olympic swimming pools of water each day and causing devastation to people whose livelihoods depend on it.  Its once white crystalline shores are now speckled with sinkholes, more grey than they were before. The 1.5 million cubic metres of water lost per day means that the coastline, which lies between Israel and Jordan, drops by up to 1.5 metres each year.  With the loss of the flow of water into the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the Earth’s surface, from the River Jordan and the Sea of Galilee, time is running out to save the landscape and the waters that have the world’s highest salt concentrations.  The issue is in part a result of water that ordinarily feeds the sea drying up or being diverted for agricultural use or drinking water as well as being taken by factories.

Campaigners such as EcoPeace Middle East are lobbying for contracts with the big offenders to be cancelled when they end in 2030.  Only about 10 per cent of the Dead Sea’s main source, the Jordan, now reaches the sea, said Noam Bedein, of the Dead Sea Revival Project. “In order to preserve and keep the Dead Sea in balance it needs about 750 million cubic metres of water every single year,” he said.  It has had a devastating impact on the communities around the sea, causing what locals call a “demographic disaster”, affecting the Israeli side of the lake once dotted with spas and resorts, farms and cafés. People have been forced out geographically and economically.

Times, 24 Jan.

Lester L. Grabbe

5 February 2023




Middle East Study Centre—Newsletter January 2023

MESC Announcements

We are approaching funders who may support the work of the MESC and we welcome your ideas and suggestions.

At present we approach the Jagclif Charitable Trust. Please let us know if you happen to know one, or more, of their trustees and are willing to write to them.


Thank you!



Iran announced that it had hanged a man in a public execution. It is believed to be the second death sentence carried out against a protester since anti-government demonstrations first flared in September.

New York Times, 12 Dec.


At least 100 people have now been sentenced to death or charged with capital offences in connection with the protests in Iran, a rights group says.  Five women were among those at risk of execution, Norway-based Iran Human Rights reported.  The real number of protesters facing the death penalty was believed to be far higher because families were being pressured to stay quiet, it warned.  Two men were executed this month after what activists said were sham trials.  Mohsen Shekari and Majidreza Rahnavard, who were both 23, were found guilty by Revolutionary Courts of the vaguely-defined national security charge of “enmity against God”.

BBC News, 28 Dec.


A Mahan Air flight in which the wife of Ali Daei, Iran’s top international football goalscorer, was a passenger was forced to land by Iran authorities.  She had their daughter with her.  This was apparently to prevent Daei’s family from leaving the country.  He has joined the protests against the government.  Supposedly his wife was on the way to the USA.

Times, 28 Dec.


Hundreds of thousands of Iranians have welcomed the same New Year Message tweeted by the former Crown Prince and several opposition figures as a sign of unity:


“In 2022, we witnessed the blossoming of unprecedented solidarity among Iranians of diverse backgrounds and beliefs,” tweets posted simultaneously on the eve of the new year by the former Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, footballer Ali Karimi, actor Golshifteh Farahani and activists Nazanin Bonyadi, Masih Alinejad and Hamed Esmaeilion said in Persian, in some cases accompanied by English versions.  Through further solidarity and organizing, 2023 will be the year of victory for the Iranian nation, and the achievement of freedom and justice in Iran,” the tweets said.


Some other prominent figures such as Iran’s Peace Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi and many activists have also shown support by sharing the same greeting message on their social media.

Iran International (, 1 Jan.


The UK is set to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization after 10 plots to kidnap or murder people in the UK last year.  The legal change would mean it becomes a criminal offence in the UK to belong to the group or support its activities.  Whitehall sources said no announcement was imminent and many details remained to be sorted out.  But they said it was “broadly correct” to say the government intended to proscribe the Revolutionary Guard.  This would follow a similar decision made by the US in 2019.

Telegraph, 2 Jan.


An international chess player Sara Khadem defected to Spain, meaning not one of Iran’s six women grandmasters is now representing the country.  Five have moved abroad, some in direct protest at being compelled to wear the hijab or headscarf while competing. The sixth is now an official with the Iranian chess federation but no longer plays competitively.  Khadem travelled to a tournament in Kazakhstan just after Christmas along with her husband and baby son.  There she played without a hijab, and after being photographed took a flight at the end of the tournament to Spain, where the couple had already bought an apartment.

Times, 4 Jan.



Authorities in Iran have released a top actress who was arrested last month after expressing solidarity with anti-government protesters.  Taraneh Alidoosti was pictured being greeted by friends outside Tehran’s Evin prison, her hair uncovered.  The 38-year-old star was freed on bail after being accused of “posting inflammatory content”.  She had posted a picture on social media without a headscarf and condemned the first execution of a protester.

BBC news, 4 Jan.


Iran says it has closed a Tehran-based French institute over “sacrilegious” cartoons of its supreme leader in a French satirical magazine.  Charlie Hebdo’s latest edition features caricatures mocking Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and fellow Shia Muslim clerics sent in by readers in support of the anti-government protests in Iran.  Some of them are sexually explicit.


Iran’s foreign ministry said shutting the French Institute for Research in Iran was its “first step” in response.  It threatened further action if France did not “hold to account the perpetrators and sponsors of such instances of spreading hatred”.

BBC news, 5 Jan.

Israeli Election

For the sixth time in his long career, Binyamin Netanyahu, aged 73, was sworn in as Israel’s prime minister on December 29th. But the cabinet that joined him on the front bench of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, is like no other Israeli government that has preceded it.  Among the new ministers congratulating each other on the government’s inauguration was a former member of an organisation denounced for advocating terrorism who becomes Israel’s new national-security minister; a finance minister who believes that following God’s commandments is the key to economic policy; and a justice minister who plans to eviscerate the power of Israel’s Supreme Court, long regarded as a bastion of liberal-minded independence.

Economist, 29 Dec.


Mr Netanyahu has promised to pursue peace and safeguard civil rights.  Addressing a special session of the Knesset (parliament) in Jerusalem, he stated that his administration would “restore governance, peace and personal security to the citizens of Israel”.

Mr Netanyahu was heckled by his opponents, some of whom chanted “weak”.

They suggest he has been forced to sign deals with hard-line parties because more liberal ones refuse to sit in government with him while he is on trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies any wrongdoing.

Several hundred protesters meanwhile gathered outside, waving Israeli flags, rainbow flags bearing the Star of David, and signs reading “shame”, “danger” and “down with racism”.

The first guiding principle of the new government, published on Wednesday, declares that “the Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the land of Israel”. It says that includes the occupied West Bank and promises to “advance and develop” settlements there.

About 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967. Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.  There are also some 100 outposts – small settlements built without the Israeli government’s authorisation – across the West Bank.

In a coalition deal with the ultranationalist Religious Zionism party he signed last week, Mr Netanyahu agreed to retroactively legalise the outposts. He also promised to annex the West Bank while “choosing the timing and weighing all of the State of Israel’s national and international interests”. Such a step would be opposed by Israel’s Western and Arab allies.


Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, a West Bank settler, will be finance minister and also oversee the Civil Administration, which approves settlement building in the West Bank and controls important aspects of Palestinians’ lives.

Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, another settler and ultranationalist politician who has previously been convicted of racism and supporting a terrorist organisation, will be national security minister, responsible for the police.  A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned that the plans to develop West Bank settlements would have “repercussions for the region”.

Mr Netanyahu’s coalition partners reject the idea of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict . . . . Avi Maoz, head of the anti-LGBTQ Noam party, will serve as a deputy minister in the prime minister’s office. He has called for Jerusalem’s Gay Pride event to be banned, disapproves of equal opportunities for women in the military, and wants to limit immigration to Israel to Jews according to a strict interpretation of Jewish law. . . . Mr Netanyahu has said his administration will not allow any harm to the LGBTQ community. He has also chosen an openly gay member of Likud, Amir Ohana, to be parliamentary Speaker.


Critics have expressed concern at the coalition’s intention to pass legislation that would give a parliamentary majority the ability to override Supreme Court rulings.  Mr Netanyahu’s coalition partners have also proposed legal reforms that could end his corruption trial.

BBC News, 29 Dec.



Several international aid organisations have suspended their work in Afghanistan in response to a new Taliban edict barring Afghan women from working with any local or foreign NGO until further notice, while the UN is urging the Islamic Emirate to reverse its decision.

The Afghan Ministry of Economy issued an order on 24 December, warning that any organisation that fails to comply will have their licence to operate in the nation revoked. By the following day, the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council, CARE International, and Islamic Relief had all announced they would halt their work in Afghanistan until all female staff are able to return to work. The decree came days after the Taliban-run government ordered universities to stop classes for women.  Aid workers who spoke to The New Humanitarian recognised that suspending work now was particularly bad timing, but several said they felt they had little choice but to send a clear message to the Taliban authorities.

The New Humanitarian, 27 Dec.


The World Cup is over, but the migrant labour economy continues.  It took hundreds of thousands of Nepali migrants to prepare Qatar for the world’s largest soccer tournament. Working conditions were often exploitative and dangerous, and many workers died. But Nepalis stuck in poverty and debt see few other options.  “Working in a foreign country is not a choice,” said one migrant worker who, despite developing severe asthma working in Qatar, is considering returning. “We are compelled to do it.”

The country’s women’s national soccer team, which was featured in its 2010 bid to host the World Cup, hasn’t played a game in eight years.

Belgian authorities charged a top E.U. lawmaker and three others with corruption said to be tied to Qatar.

New York Times, 12 Dec.


A second migrant worker died after falling from the eighth floor of the Lusail Stadium, which was to host the final on the following Sunday.  His family said they had received no details from authorities of what happened.

Times, 15 Dec.


Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust

A menorah that symbolized defiance was returned to its hometown.  A 1931 photograph taken by Rachel Posner, a rabbi’s wife in Kiel, Germany, has represented Jewish pride and resilience for decades. The image shows her family’s Hanukkah menorah, framed in a window through which a large Nazi banner can be seen hanging across the street.  Now, this Hanukkah, 90 years since the Posners fled Germany, the menorah has returned to the town where the family once lived. Posner’s descendants travelled back to Kiel this week and lit the menorah for the first time in Germany since the family escaped.

New York Times, 20 Dec.


Whoopi Goldberg‘s comments about the Holocaust have landed her in hot water for the second time this year. But the “Till” actor said she did not mean any harm.  Months after Goldberg claimed on The View that the Holocaust was “not about race,” the actor spoke to the British newspaper the Times about her controversial comments in an interview that was published over the weekend.  “My best friend said, ‘Not for nothing is there no box on the census for the Jewish race. So that leads me to believe that we’re probably not a race,’” Goldberg told the news outlet.

Los Angeles Times, 27 Dec.


The American actress Whoopie Goldberg has apologised for repeating comments suggesting that the Holocaust was “not about race”.  But in an interview with The Times Magazine last week she repeated the sentiments, prompting a fresh outcry.  Janice Turner of the Times pointed out that the Nazis saw Jews as a race.  Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, described Goldberg’s remarks as “deeply offensive and incredibly disappointing”.

Times, 29 Dec.


The actor Pip Utton, who has been performing Adolf for 26 years, is furious that a school has apologized because pupils in the audience executed a Nazi salute.  The play was performed shortly before Yom Kippur, which upset some parents.  However, Utton pointed out that the play had been performed at Millfield School previously as well as other leading schools around the world: “I’m very hurt by this reaction.  It doesn’t show any support for school staff or respect for me.  It’s a taboo subject [but] that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. . . . it’s an attempt to reveal how people like Hitler and other leaders can subvert ordinary people’s prejudices and blow that up to manipulate them.”

Times, 19 Dec.



Bibi: My Story, by Benjamin Netanyahu (Simon & Schuster)


A review of Netanyahu’s autobiography was made by Avi Shilon:


“In the book, I encountered a cautious leader who is committed to ‘non-extremism’ and is proud of the resources his governments have invested in Arab communities. On the news [in the 2022 elections], I watched a populist leader pandering to far-right elements in Israeli society.”  December Literary Review.



Another review was written by Richard Spencer:


“The real Netanyahu has two overriding characteristics.  First, he is tremendously insecure. . . . He is vain, uninterested in the lives of those whose existence does not impinge on his.  He stitches people up left, right and centre. . . . But then again, his second characteristic is rescuing himself through work.  We in the international press, who he is right to say largely dislike him, should give credit where it is undeniably due. . . . He never stops thinking, working and campaigning.  Above all—and this is surely his most unrecognised virtue—while he is stubborn, it is obvious he has a voracious appetite to learn and listen. . . . Above all, thanks to his bypassing the issue of Palestinian statehood, Israel must now apparently cease to be a democracy or cease to be a Jewish state, the two attributes of which it, and he, are most proud.  But he does not care. . . . The present and immediate triumph is all that counts.” 10 Dec. Times.

Lester L. Grabbe

5 January 2023


Middle East Study Centre—Newsletter December 2022

MESC Announcements

MESC Director, Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor, was awarded the 2023  Olof Palme Guest Professorship.

The Professorship was established by the Swedish Riksdag in 1987 in memory of Sweden’s former prime minister, Olof Palme. Every year or two, the Swedish Research Council issues a call and Swedish universities compete by nominating internationally prominent researchers in areas of importance for the understanding of peace in a broad context – areas to which Olof Palme had a life-long commitment. The research may cover areas such as international politics, peace and conflict research and the comparison of social institutions.

Many congratulations to Professor Cohen-Almagor!


The MESC is pleased to welcome our new Affiliate Member, Sir John Jenkins.


Sir John is currently a Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange, the London-based think tank, for whom he has written extensively on Islamism and extremism more generally. Between 1980 and 2015 he served as a British diplomat, initially in Abu Dhabi (1983-86), Malaysia (1989-92) and Kuwait (1995-98) before being appointed Ambassador to Burma (1999-2002). He was subsequently HM Consul-General, Jerusalem (2003-06), Ambassador to Syria (2006-07), FCO Director for the Middle East and North Africa (2007-09), Ambassador to Iraq (2009-11), Special Representative to the National Transitional Council and subsequently Ambassador to Libya (2011) and Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (2012-2015). He took an active part in Sir John Chilcott’s Iraq Inquiry and in March 2014 was asked by the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, to lead a Policy Review into the Muslim Brotherhood and Political Islamism. Until his departure from the FCO he was the government’s senior diplomatic Arabist. After leaving the FCO, he was Executive Director of The Institute for Strategic Studies – Middle East (2015-2017) and a Senior Fellow at the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs (2017), teaching courses on Middle Eastern Politics. Sir John holds a BA (Double First Class Honours), MA and PhD from Jesus College, Cambridge. He also studied at The School of Oriental and African Studies in London (Arabic and Burmese) and through the FCO with the London and Ashridge Business Schools. He is an alumnus of the Salzburg Seminar.  He has written for The Guardian, The Times, The Spectator, The New Statesman, Al Arabiya and Arab News.



Nukes, Protests, and Iran With Robert Malley


Robert Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, discusses with Aaron David Miller (MESC) for a wide-ranging conversation on the Biden administration’s Iran policy, the ongoing protests in Iran, and the fate of the nuclear deal.




Another interesting conversation is America in the World With Thomas L. Friedman,


The MESC has a new Facebook page. Thank you for promoting it:





On 10 Nov, the top Iranian actress Taraneh Alidoosti ( best known for her role in the Oscar-winning film The Salesman) posted an image of herself on Instagram without a headscarf to signal solidarity with anti-government demonstrations.  She also held up a sign reading “Woman, Life, Freedom” in Kurdish, which has become a common rallying cry among protesters.


On 21 Nov it was reported that two other prominent Iranian actresses have been arrested for publicly supporting mass anti-government protests.  These were Hengameh Ghaziani and Katayoun Riahi who are accused of collusion and acting against Iran’s authorities, according to the Irna news agency.  Both women earlier appeared in public without their headscarves.


Iranian authorities have brutally cracked down on youth protesters.  The average age of protesters is 15, according to Iranian officials. Some have been beaten and detained. Rights groups say that at least 50 minors have been killed. The authorities have raided schools in an effort to crack down on dissent. “They are terrorizing the kids because they are afraid of the future and they know these kids will fight for their rights,” said the uncle of a boy whose school was raided.


Iran launched ballistic missile and drone attacks at Kurdish Iranian opposition bases in Iraq, killing at least two people.

New York Times, 14 Nov.


Further reports of crack downs, with security forces storming cities at the heart of the protests, came on 21 Nov.  Tear gas was widely used and protesters were fired upon in Mahabad and other Kurdish cities.  Fighting has occurred on university campuses where members of the security forces have posed as students.  Students have been attacked and also kidnapped from dormitories.  In some cases, university administrations have cooperated with the security forces.


Earlier Iran was blamed for a drone strike on an Israeli oil tanker in the Arabian Sea.  The Pacific Zircon, owned by the Singapore-based Eastern Pacific Shipping, was reported to have suffered only minor damage.

Times, 17 and 21 Nov.


Iran’s security forces are using ambulances to infiltrate protests and detain people.

New York Times, 23 Nov.


MI5 Director General, Ken McCallum said on 16 Nov that Iran is a “mounting concern” (along with Russia and China).  According to MI5, Iran poses a major security threat for the United Kingdom as it uses “coercion, intimidation, and violence to pursue its interests.”  During his annual threat update in Thames House, London, Director McCallum underlined that Iran is a state actor which most frequently crosses into terrorism: “Iran projects threat to the UK directly, through its aggressive intelligence services. At its sharpest this includes ambitions to kidnap or even kill British or UK-based individuals perceived as enemies of the regime.”


Iranian journalists and others regarded as against the regime living in this country are under threat.  At least two journalists of Iran International have received credible death threats because of coverage of the protests in Iran.  McCallum further stated that UK authorities have discovered at least 10 “potential threats” since January to “kidnap or even kill British or UK-based individuals perceived as enemies of the regime.”  Counter-terrorism police have warned many Iranians that their lives may be at risk from hit squads sent by the regime.


Later Scotland Yard placed armed response vehicles outside the channel’s broadcasting house.  The Metropolitan Police stated, “These lethal threats to British citizens come after weeks of warnings from the IRGC [the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] and Iranian government about the work of a free and uncensored Persian-language media in London.”  Concrete barriers have been installed on roads and 24-hour security has been set up.  All vehicles are being checked.


Protesters in Iran set fire to the ancestral home of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Islamic republic’s founder.  Social media showed the house in the city of Khomein in the western Markazi province ablaze with crowds of jubilant protesters marching past.  Khomeini died in 1989 but remains the subject of adulation by the clerical leadership under his successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  The house was later turned into a museum commemorating Khomeini.

Guardian, 18 Nov.


As the Iranian national anthem was played before the Iran team’s match at the World Cup (against England), the Iran players refused to sing.  At the same time, Iranian fans jeered at the anthem, and some held up signs with the slogan, “Woman. Life. Freedom”.  Before the game the Iranian captain had said that the players supported the anti-government demonstrations.


In its turn, the regime blamed the defeat of their team on the “ruthless and unprecedented psychological media war”.  A newspaper representing the government claimed that the team had been distracted by a propaganda war and had shown a “lack of pride” in refusing to sing the national anthem.


The London-based Islam Centre of England is a British charity run by a representative of Ayatollah Khamenei.  The Charity Commission is conducting an inquiry on it after it held a vigil for General Qasem Soleimani, an Iranian general killed by a US air-strike.  The director has also claimed that those protesting against the Iranian regime are “soldiers of Satan”.

Times, 22-23, 25 Nov.


Iran’s morality police is being disbanded, the country’s attorney general says.  Mohammad Jafar Montazeri’s comments have yet to be confirmed.  At an event on Sunday (4 Dec.), he stated: “The morality police had nothing to do with the judiciary and have been shut down from where they were set up.”  Control of the force lies with the interior ministry and not with the judiciary.  On Saturday, Mr Montazeri also told the Iranian parliament the law that requires women to wear hijabs would be looked at.  Protesters were understandably sceptical of the announcement until it can be confirmed by action. Dec.



Qatar and the World Cup


Qatar agreed to allow charter flights from Israel to bring Israeli and Palestinian fans together to World Cup finals.  This was negotiated for the period of the tournament only, since the two countries do not have diplomatic relations.  Qatar had had to agree to let Israelis attend in order to stage the World Cup.

Times, 11 Nov.


Migrant workers were alleged to have fuelled Qatar’s World Cup preparations.  The work force was so large and anonymous that no one is able to agree on how many migrants died to get the World Cup across the finish line. But human rights organizations have put the death toll in the thousands.  Qatar apparently spent $220 billion redrawing its entire landscape since being selected to host the tournament in 2010. The construction of sites like an enormous sparkling new stadium at Lusail, where the World Cup final is being held, was carried out by hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who did dangerous work in the searing heat.

New York Times, 16 Nov.


(See “Iran” above for the protests by the Iranian team in Qatar.)





Bomb attacks in Jerusalem killed a teenager and injured at least 18 others.  These were the first bomb attacks on civilians in Israel in more than six years, according to Israeli police.  They were caused by explosive devices planted at two bus stops. One of the explosions killed a 15-year-old yeshiva student who was a dual Israeli-Canadian citizen.  The attacks came as Israel and the occupied West Bank experienced their deadliest wave of violence since 2015.  A Palestinian teenager was killed during a firefight between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants, and Palestinian gunmen abducted an Israeli teenager whose family insisted that he was alive at the time and later died.

New York Times, 23 Nov.


Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu reached a coalition deal with the far-right Religious Zionism party, bringing him closer to securing a new government after the election on 1 Nov.  Religious Zionism will be given control of the Finance Ministry as part of a rotation, Likud said. It will also have strong influence over policies in the occupied West Bank and the country’s justice system.  Religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich had been lobbying to be defence minister.


Ultra-nationalist Jewish Power leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, an Israeli far-right politician, got involved in a row with a military chief over the jailing of a soldier who had taunted leftist activists in the occupied West Bank.  The soldier had been filmed warning pro-Palestinian activists in Hebron: “Ben-Gvir will sort this place out.”  Netanyahu has promised Ben-Gvir the post of national security minister, with expanded powers over police in the West Bank, much to the consternation of the Israeli defence establishment.

Reuters, 30 Nov., 1 Dec.



Turkey and Syria


In an Istanbul bomb attack, six people were killed and 81 injured after an explosion on the popular pedestrian thoroughfare İstiklal Avenue.  It was not clear who was behind the attack, though speculation took in the usual “suspects”: Isis or a Kurdish group.

Guardian, 13 Nov.


Russian efforts to broker a summit with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, is being resisted by Syria, according to several sources.  The Erdogan government has supported rebel fighters who tried to topple President Bashar al-Assad and has accused the Syrian leader of state terrorism, saying earlier in the conflict that peace efforts could not continue under his rule.  However, two Turkish sources, including a senior official, disputed that Damascus was delaying and said that things were on track for an eventual meeting between the leaders.

Reuters, 2 Dec.


A protester and a policeman have reportedly been killed during demonstrations in the southern Syrian city of Sweida.  Crowds angry because of the worsening economic conditions in Syria stormed the governor’s office.  Eyewitnesses say the protesters set fire to the building amid exchanges of gunfire in the Druze-majority city.  Earlier about 200 demonstrators were reportedly calling for President Bashar al-Assad’s overthrow.  Syria is in the grip of a severe economic downturn, which has led to spiralling prices and increasing anger towards President Assad’s regime in Sweida, which has avoided the worst violence of the Syrian war. Dec.





Isis is using Tinder love scams to gain funds for terrorism.  Agents of the Islamic State have been using the South African version of Tinder to trap victims.  They have created fake profiles and used them to defraud unsuspecting users of the app.

Times, 14 Nov.


The Islamic State militant group has appointed a previously unknown figure as its head after its leader blew himself up in October while being besieged by former anti-government rebels in southern Syria.  They selected Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Quraishi as its new leader, a spokesman for the group said in a recording.

Reuters, 1 Dec.





The anti-Semitic posts of rapper Kanye West were mentioned in the November Newsletter.  He now goes by the name Ye and was invited to have dinner with Donald Trump on 22 Nov.  When he arrived, he had brought three guests with him, including white nationalist and anti-Semite Nick Fuentes.  Trump claims that he did not know who Fuentes was, though he apparently claimed that he “liked” him during dinner.


On 1 Dec. Ye praised Adolf Hitler and Nazis in an interview with far-right provocateur Alex Jones.  He also posted a Star of David with a swastika inside it on Twitter, with the result that Twitter has suspended his account once again.





Hannah Pick-Goslar has died at the age of 93.  She had been a childhood friend of Anne Frank and had reunited with her in Bergen-Belsen.  Anne died in the camp, but Hannah survived.  She emigrated to Israel where she married and had three children.  After her husband died, she travelled the world to talk about the Holocaust and its lessons.  This led to a book, Hannah Goslar Remembers, in 1998, and last year’s Dutch film, My Best Friend Anne Frank.





Lester L. Grabbe

4 Dec. 2022






Middle East Study Centre—Newsletter November 2022


Continuing Demonstrations in Iran

The women-led demonstrations against the regime (described in the October Newsletter) have not stopped or been successfully suppressed.  The government continues to blame Western powers for allegedly being behind the demonstrations, even though they have spread to many cities in Iran. Even oil field workers have joined the demonstrations.


In early October students chanted “get lost” to President Raisi as he spoke at an all-women university.  Yet security vans have come to make arrests at schools across the country because school girls have been involved in the widespread protests.  About 300 people have been killed, including 50 under age 18.


Lyse Doucet, chief international correspondent wrote:

“In addition to those killed across Iran, more than 13,000 have been detained so far. The UN has expressed concern that the authorities are now refusing to release some of the bodies of those who have died – they know every new death provokes yet another outpouring of anger and grief.


“The authorities are still trying to dismiss and discredit them as ‘rioters influenced by foreigners’.


“It’s hard to square that with extraordinary images of teenage schoolgirls rejecting obligatory headscarves, of women of all ages walking bare-headed in public spaces.”, 30 Oct.


The headline of an article in the Times of 1 Nov was, “Defiance the new normal for Iran’s women”.  Not only women but also teenage girls are defying the regime by taking to the streets over the hijab.  Many girls are resisting arrest by the morality police, though several thousand girls (with an average age of 17) have been imprisoned for demonstrations.



According to the New York Times of 27 October, thousands of Iranian mourners travelled to Mahsa Amini’s hometown on that date to mark 40 days of mourning since her death in police custody.  This was in defiance of government decree, and they claimed they were fired upon by the police.


Wearing the hijab has become an issue as far away as the Gaza strip, because it is governed by Hamas who is supported by Iran.  Both pupils and teachers have complained that school heads have tried to enforce the wearing of the hijab, even though it is not a part of Islamic law.  Courts have required female lawyers to wear the hijab in court, opposed by the syndicate of lawyers.  Hamas has denied that wearing the hijab is compulsory, but regulations have also begun to appear even in universities.

Times, 24 Oct.



Israeli Elections—Netanyahu Once More Trying to Form Government


Israelis went to the polls on 1 Nov, and Likud and associated parties have won the largest share of the votes, against the coalition around Yesh Atid and Benny Ganz.  As of today (4 Nov.) it appears that Netanyahu’s coalition will have about 65 delegates in the 120-member Knesset.  Part of his problem is that he has often had altercations with members of his coalition in the past, since each minority party uses its cooperation to made demands for cabinet posts or other concessions.  The far-right Ben-Gvir continues to make anti-Arab (meaning Israeli Arabs who are Israeli citizens) comments and is seeking to become minister for the police.


According to Israeli law, the official results must be handed to President Isaac Herzog eight days after the election, meaning by 9 November. The president then has a week, until 16 November, to consult with the heads of the parties as to who should receive the mandate to form a government. The Knesset member who receives the mandate, presumably Netanyahu, then has 28 days to form a government.


In the meantime, Netanyahu remains under investigation for corruption in previous periods when he was prime minister, though there is the threat of his (or his partners’) using his Knesset position to change the law and bring the investigation to a halt.


Political scientist Gayil Talshir, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, warned that if the exit polls at the time “reflect the real results – Israel is on its way to become Orban’s Hungary”.

BBC, 1 Nov.


In a press release on behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, Central Conference of American Rabbis, and the American Conference of Cantors, the leadership of these organizations state that they “affirm Israel’s robust democracy, reflected in the more than 71% turnout for the fifth election in four years.” They stressed that they “love Israel,” and are “committed to the vision of Israel as a democratic, pluralistic Jewish state.” In addition, they congratulated Benjamin Netanyahu, who is expected to become prime minister for his sixth term—even though they have a very complex relationship with the likely next prime minister, who would not meet with them in the last years of his tenure.


The press released stated, “As Netanyahu assembles his coalition, we are profoundly concerned about promises of cabinet positions he has made to Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leaders of the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionism Party.  Their platforms and past actions indicate that they would curtail the authority of Israel’s Supreme Court and inhibit the rights of Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, members of the LGBTQ+ community and large segments of Jews who are non-Orthodox.”


These Reform leaders suggested that “including Ben-Gvir and Smotrich in the government will likely jeopardize Israel’s democracy and will force the country to reckon with its place on the world stage.” They added that this sort of government “will almost certainly lead to challenging moments in the US-Israel relations” and will “be painful for Jews worldwide who will not see the Israel they love and believe reflected in these leaders, nor in the policies they pursue.”

Jerusalem Post, 3 Nov.



Cop27 at Sharm El-Sheikh


The issue of attendance at Cop 27 (6-18 Nov.) continues to churn, with Rishi Sunak, having stated he would not attend, now changing his mind and saying that he will participate.  There was pressure from several sources.


Earlier a spokesman had stated, “As we’ve said, the Prime Minister is focused on pressing domestic issues, most significantly preparing for the autumn statement, so any attendance at Cop would depend on progress on preparation for that fiscal event, and that work is ongoing,”  Sufficient progress has now been made on the budget, it is stated.


Boris Johnson has also indicated his intention to attend.  He participated in the Cop26 in Glasgow last year as prime minister.  No 10 Downing Street has continued to advise King Charles not to attend, which sources indicate is very disappointing for him.  He has been described as “champing at the bit” to address the conference.  However, he is hosting a reception at Buckingham Palace for 200 business leaders and others, including US climate change envoy John Kerry; Sunak has also been invited.  Kerry has stated his opinion that Charles should be going to Cop 27.

Evening Standard, 31 Oct.


On 3 Nov., the Times reported that Sunak had privately withdrawn Liz Truss’s advice to the King not to attend the conference.  However, after discussions it was decided that it was now too late to organize the King’s attendance at such short notice.  Therefore, no public announcement was made about a change with regard to the His Majesty’s situation in regard to Cop27.


Bill Gates plans to attend and made comments in his recent book [Bill Gates extract

From How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, published by Allen Lane at £20]:


Gates said that Egypt, as host of next month’s Cop27 climate summit, had the opportunity to put adaptation to a warming world higher up the agenda. “The farmers near the equator deserve dramatically better seeds and better credit and advice, so they don’t become the first victims of climate change,” he said.


Overall, he said he was feeling good about the progress being made by businesses. “The small companies, many of them spin-offs from universities, that are looking at all the different areas of emissions — from cheap green hydrogen, to direct air capture [of CO2], to steel, cement, to agriculture — they’ve really looked at completely new approaches, where the extra costs, what I call the green premium, could be zero. Or in some cases, even negative.”


The BBC reported on 3 Nov. that 15 Nobel prize winners called on Egypt to release Alaa Abdel Fattah, a British-Egyptian dissident, who has been on hunger strike.  The hope is that with Cop27 being hosted by Egypt, pressure can be brought to help not only Abdel Fattah but many other political prisoners who are in a vulnerable position.  Thousands were imprisoned after the 2013 coup which brought Sisi to power.



Israel and Lebanon


Israel and Lebanon have agreed to resolve a dispute that has gone on for decades.  The two countries have technically remained at war.  Now they have agreed to a draft deal to resolve the conflict over control of an eastern stretch of the Mediterranean Sea.  The deal would allocate drilling rights at one contested gas field to Lebanon and confirm Israeli control of another field to the south.  If the agreement is ratified, it could help relieve some of the tensions between Israel and Hezbollah.

New York Times, 11 Oct.



OPEC Decreases Oil Production


Russia and the rest of the OPEC Plus energy cartel have plans to cut oil production.  What is surprising is that Saudi Arabia also supports this, in spite of the US request for it to increase production. The move to reduce output by two million barrels a day was a rebuke for Western efforts to ease gas prices and punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. The prices for petrol and crude oil rose after the meeting.


“This is completely not what the White House wants, and it is exactly what Russia wants,” said Bill Farren-Price, a director of macro oil and gas analysis at Enverus, a research firm.  The production cuts could complicate plans by the EU to impose a price cap on Russian oil. But Saudi Arabia and Russia’s pricing power may also be weakened by falling demand in China, where the economy is slowing, and by increased production from non-OPEC nations.

New York Times, 5 Oct.



LBGT Incidents relating to the World Cup in Qatar


The stance of Qatar on LBGT people (who are criminalized there) continues to cause controversy and present a dilemma of whether to attend or not.  Prince William was not planning to attend, because of “diary constraints”, unless the UK was in the finals.  He is president of the Football Association.  The Qatari security forces have been accused of arresting and beating up LBGT people., 28 Oct.



Mining Disaster in Turkey


41 miners were killed in a disaster on 14 Oct at Amasra, a tourist resort on the Black Sea.  Many were young and some recently married.  This is only the most recent in a string of disasters in Turkish mines.  Between 2019 and 2021, 189 workers died in accidents, and 300 were killed in the Soma mine eight years ago.  A lawyer investigating some of this and earlier accidents expressed fear that the official investigation will be flawed, especially considering that the mining company is state owned.  Previous investigations have been badly done.  He stated, “After Soma, some improvements were made in mining legislation but Amasra shows that nothing has changed in the management or infrastructure.”

Times, 24 Oct.



Planned Trade Deal with India


The foreign secretary James Cleverly is giving priority to a trade deal with India and is confident of getting one.  However, no date can be given at the moment.  The previous prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss had hoped a deal could be signed by Diwali, which was last Monday, 24 Oct.  It was widely thought that Suella Braverman’s comments helped to delay the process.

Reuters, 29 Oct.


In early October Suella Braverman, then the home secretary, said she had “reservations” about a trade deal with India because it would increase immigration to the UK.  This went contrary to the intent of the then prime minister Liz Truss who was trying to establish a trade deal with India.   Braverman argued that a trade deal with India would increase immigration to the UK.


Braverman stated that Indians are the most frequent visa overstayers. She also said a deal signed with India by Priti Patel, her predecessor as home secretary, that would raise the number of illegal arrivals and those who overstayed their visa would be returned had not worked very well.  The latest Home Office statistics show that 20,706 Indians overstayed their visas in 2020, more than any other nationality, although other countries recorded a higher proportion.

The Guardian, 6 Oct.



Continuing Anti-Semitism


Community Security Trust’s Antisemitic Incidents Report 2021, published in February, shows 2,255 anti-Jewish hate incidents reported nationwide in 2021. This is the highest annual total that CST has ever recorded and is a 34% increase from the 1,684 anti-Semitic incidents reported in 2020. 111 incidents of anti-Semitic abuse were reported for universities in 2020-21.  This is the background to the National Union of Students investigation of anti-Semitism.


An investigation by the National Union of Students (NUS) has now led to the dismissal of its president, Shaima Dallali, over anti-Semitism claims.  This follows an independent code-of-conduct investigation after allegations were made against her.


The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) said it “respects” the decision to dismiss Ms Dallali but the fact she had been elected in the first place was “a symptom of a wider problem” in the NUS.  The findings of a wider investigation into the NUS are yet to be published.                                                   ;, 1 Nov.


The rapper Kanye West had his Twitter account suspended over alleged anti-Semitic posts.  He had earlier been suspended by Instagram for the same offence.  Adidas has now cut its ties with him after his endorsement of their products, producing an estimated $2 billion in the deal.  The Gap had already cancelled their partnership with him in Sept.  Hollywood is also jettisoning prospective deals with him.  Donda Academy, a private school named after his mother, closed with immediate effect, though it planned to re-open in Sept.  It promised a faith-based education that promoted Christian values, charging $15,000 per year. Oct.


The Royal Court theatre received anti-Semitic abuse because of staging the play, Jews, in their Own Words.  It is a play about anti-Semitism, based on interviews with 12 Jewish people from Britain, including the novelist Howard Jacobson.  The situation is somewhat ironic since the theatre staged Seven Jewish Children, A Play for Gaza.  This was a response to the death of a thousand Palestinians in the war between Israel and Hamas in 2008-9, and was labelled as “anti-Israel” by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

The Telegraph, 8 Oct.


The director James Gray has been criticized for casting Anthony Hopkins as a Holocaust survivor in his latest film, Armageddon Times.  Gray, who is himself Jewish, bases some of the content on his own upbringing in New York city.  He stated, “Does that person watch The Godfather and complain that Marlon Brando is from Omaha, Nebraska, and not an Italian New York guy?  At some point, we have to acknowledge that our whole function as artists is to try and step into the consciousness of someone else and find compassion and emotional power in doing that.”

Los Angeles Times, 31 Oct.


Sunak Cancels Any Move of Embassy to Jerusalem


The Times of today reports that Liz Truss’s review of the situation has now led to a cancellation of any change. Sunak, however, is a strong supporter of Israel.




Lester L. Grabbe

4 November 2022



Middle East Study Centre—Newsletter October 2022


A Note on the MESC Programme 2022-2023

We finalised the MESC programme for the coming year and presented it in the September Newsletter.  There was an additional participant for the Book Session that should have been listed.  Here is the corrected version:


17 May 2023, at 17:00 LONDON TIME

MESC Book Celebration

Chair: Professor Giuliana Mazzoni (MESC)

Professor Glenn Burgess (MESC)

Professor Jo Carby-Hall (MESC)

Dr Bhumitra Chakma (MESC)

Professor Hall Gardner (MESC)

Professor Lester Grabbe (MESC)

Professor Daniel Kurtzer (MESC)

Professor Ruth Wodak (MESC)

Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor (MESC)


Please feel free to circulate the information on the programme to interested parties. All are welcome to our events.


An Invitation to Publish an Article in the Transatlantic Policy Quarterly


My name is Aybars, and I am the Editor-in-Chief of Transatlantic Policy Quarterly (, an independent academic journal centralizes on global affairs. Since 2002, we have been publishing a journal once in every three months, cooperating with various national and international organizations including NATO, FNF and World Bank.


Our upcoming Fall 2022 issue will deal with the recent changes in Israel’s Foreign Affairs, and the consequences of these developments in the broader MENA region. Considering this, we plan to focus on topics including – but not limited to -:

Rapprochement of Israel with other prominent regional actors – De-escalation of tensions between Israel and Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and most recently Türkiye.

The Future of Abraham Accords – A pathway for stable peaceful environment in the Middle East politics or a temporary setback of conflicts?

Possibility of a Two-States Solutions for Israeli – Palestinian Conflict

Israel’s increasing role and importance in the Mediterranean energy crisis

The list can be expanded, but our main aim is to provide an issue that concerns with the changing dynamics in Israel’s foreign policy and the recent rapprochement processes taken place between Israel and other regional powers.


Our desired length for the article contributions are 2500 – 3500 words. This amount can be expanded to 4000 words if necessary. The articles should be submitted with Times New Roman, 12pt, single interval. All references should be given as footnotes (Times New Roman, 10 pt).

Our desired deadline is November 8.

All submissions are set to be published in our website,, by December 1, 2022. Selected works will be included in the hard-copy version of TPQ’s Fall 2022 issue, which will be printed by the beginning of December 2022.


Any questions regarding the article submissions can be addressed to

Kindest regards,



The Israeli Elections

The upcoming Israeli elections have been largely ignored by the UK press, but they are scheduled for less than a month from now, on 1 Nov.  A poll on Sunday, 2 Oct, gives the lead to the Lekud coalition, with 60 seats, one short of a majority.  The Yesh Atid coalition would have 56 seats.  (The poll drew on 701 respondents, conducted by Midgam and StatNet.)  It is suggested that three question will determine Israel’s election results:

Will Arab turnout come in at 40-plus percent or more?

Will Netanyahu wake up the Likud base?

Can Benny Gantz’s party lure some religious voters?

Everyone has an opinion about Netanyahu, either pro or con, and there have been anti-Netanyahu protests. Winning is very important to the former prime minister.  With a Knesset majority he is expected to go ahead with legislation that would suspend his ongoing corruption trial on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust:

“Netanyahu’s plans for ‘reforms’ in the judicial system could significantly diminish the independence of the criminal prosecution and the supreme court and further erode Israel’s democratic institutions. The former prime minister denies the corruption charges.”

Ha’aretz and the Jerusalem Post, 3 Oct.


Right Wing Gains in Italian Elections

The right-wing candidate Giorgia Meloni, of the hard-right Fratelli d’Italia (FDI, or “Brothers of Italy”), has become the Italian prime minister.  Her triumph has worried many Italian Jews.  One FDI candidate praised Hitler as a great statesman.  Calogero Pisano was candidate for a seat in the constituency of Agrigento, southern Sicily.  He was suspended by the party over the comment days before the poll, yet he still won the seat.

In Milan there were two candidates.  One was Isabella Rauti, whose father backed Mussolini’s regime in 1943 and became leader of the post-war Fascist party, Italian Social Movement.  The other was Emanuele Fiano, representing the Democratic Party, who is son of an Italian Jew who barely escaped death in Auschwitz. In the end, Rauti and the Brothers party won the seat.

Jewish Chronicle, 27 Sept., and Times, 20 Sept.


Giorgia Meloni is said to have revered works by the British writer J.R.R. Tolkien.  The hard right sees The Lord of the Rings as a sacred text.  For the last half-century, the country’s descendants of post-war Fascism have looked to Tolkien’s works to reconstruct their rightwing identity, looking for symbols, heroes, and creation myths to escape from the old Fascist taboo baggage.  Apparently, Meloni used to dress up as a hobbit; she said, “I think that Tolkien could say better than us what conservatives believe in. I don’t consider ‘The Lord of the Rings’ fantasy.”

New York Times, 21 Sept.


Protests in Iran over Death of Woman in Police Hands

Weeks of protests have affected Iran after the death of woman arrested by the “morality police”.  The situation was widely reported:

“The protests, now in their seventh day, have reached 80 other cities and towns. A human rights group said at least 31 civilians had been killed, while state television put the death toll at 17. . . .

“Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman from the north-western city of Saqez, died in hospital in Tehran on Friday following three days in a coma.

She was visiting the capital on 13 September when she was arrested by morality police officers, who accused her of violating the law requiring women to cover their hair with a hijab, or headscarf, and their arms and legs with loose clothing. She collapsed after being taken to a detention centre.


“There are reports that officers beat Ms Amini’s head with a baton and banged her head against one of their vehicles. The police have said there is no evidence of any mistreatment and that she suffered ‘sudden heart failure’., 22 Sept.


“Iranian forces attacked what they said were the bases of Kurdish separatist groups in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, unleashing drone and artillery attacks for almost eight hours today. A semiofficial news agency accused paramilitary groups in the region of fostering chaos in Iran.

“Protests have swept the country for 10 days in response to the killing of Mahsa Amini, 22, an Iranian Kurdish woman who was in police custody for violating the country’s strict dress codes for women. The demonstrations — larger than any antigovernment movement in Iran since the Green Revolution in 2009 — have been especially intense in northwest Iran, where many members of the country’s Kurdish minority live.”

New York Times 27 Sept.


A journalist who reported details of Mahda Amini’s death at the hands of police is held in solitary confinement, as the judiciary sets up special courts to try demonstrators after more than a hundred protests across Iran.

Times, 28 Sept.


Morality police retreated from streets in wake of widespread protests against the death of Mahsa Amini, perhaps for their own safety.  Iranian journalists, however, warned that this would not be permanent and doubted the government would back down for long.

Times, 30 Sept.


The official government position was that the protests were instigated by foreign forces.  On the other hand, public anger was so widespread that a daily newspaper sympathetic to the regime nevertheless accused the authorities of denial of their own shortcomings.  An editorial in the Jomhuri Eslami stated, “Neither foreign enemies nor domestic opposition can take cities into a state of riot without a background of discontent. The denial of this fact will not help.”

President Ebrahim Raisi called for unity against the protests even as they continued to grow, bringing together Iranians across ethnic and class divides, despite the government crackdown.  The security forces have clashed with students at Isfahan University the past two days.  It is reported that some members of Iran’s military have refused to assist with the crackdown on the protests.  There have been many deaths, though the number is uncertain: 50 are acknowledged, but some sources say 130 or more.  Military strikes on Kurdistan have also continued.

The Guardian, 4 Oct.



US Considers Sanctions on Iran over Rushdie Attack

The Biden administration is reported to be considering sanctions to target entities linked to Iran for encouraging attacks on Salman Rushdie.  Some of them have offered rewards to kill Rushdie who was stabbed before a lecture on 12 Aug.  The sanctions under consideration include restricting access to the global financial system.  Hadi Matar, a New Jersey man of Lebanese descent, has been arrested for the stabbing, though his possible motives are still being investigated.  U.S. officials point to the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 which called for Rushdie’s death over The Satanic Verses.  Secretary of State Antony Blinken is quoted as vowing to use “every appropriate tool at our disposal” in response.  He is convinced that Iran is responsible, stating,  “Iranian state institutions have incited violence against Rushdie for generations, and state-affiliated media recently gloated about the attempt on his life”.

Wall Street Journal, 14 Sept.



Holocaust Survivor Challenges Iran

The president of Iran Ebrahim Raisi was asked on American TV about a week ago whether he believed the Holocaust had taken place.  His reply was ambiguous:  “Look. Historical events should be investigated by researchers and historians. There are some signs that it happened. If so, they should allow it to be investigated and researched.”  He has now been challenged by a 91-year-old survivor of the Holocaust to “learn compassion” and educate himself after he seemed to dismiss the Holocaust.   This was Rae Goldfarb who was born to a Polish-Jewish family in what is today Belarus.  She stated, “I would like to take him to my town, and have him open up the grave where 3,000 people were shot dead.”  State-sponsored antisemitism and Holocaust denial has been rampant in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iranwire, 21 Sept


Moving British Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem

Liz Truss spoke to the Conservative Friends of Israel at an event in Birmingham.  She stated that “the UK will stand up for Israel”, that she was a “huge Zionist and huge supporter of Israel” and pledged that she would “take the UK-Israel relationship from strength to strength”.  At the same event, Israel’s Ambassador, Tzipi Hotovely, suggested that a “review” of the British embassy’s location ought to be pursued.  She said, “Nothing can be more significant to show the friendship between Israel and the UK than this step.  There is just one capital to the UK, and that is London. There is just one capital to Israel, Jerusalem.  For the past two thousand years, it’s been Jerusalem, always our spiritual home. We can’t ignore the historic truth.”  The president of the Board of Deputies has also urged the British government to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Chronicle, 3 Oct.

Name of Oxford “Oriental Faculty” Changed

Announcement from Oxford University on 1 August:

“The Faculty of Oriental Studies’ name has changed to the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies from today (1 August).

“This follows extensive conversations with students, staff, alumni and other relevant stakeholders over the past two years. Three surveys were conducted across the Faculty and the proposed name has now been approved by the Faculty Board and relevant University committees.

“Professor David Rechter, Faculty Board Chair, said: ‘The Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies was selected as the new name after an extensive consultation process and I would like to thank the many staff and students who took part in surveys and gave their views.

“‘I am confident that this change is the right decision. Many considered the word ‘oriental’ to be inappropriate and, while the change will not affect what the Faculty researches and teaches, it does better reflect the breadth and diversity of the academic activity in the Faculty.’

“Along with the Faculty’s name, the Faculty’s building in Pusey Lane in Oxford will no longer be called the Oriental Institute.”

Lester L. Grabbe

5 October 2022


Middle East Study Centre—Newsletter September 2022

MESC Programme 2022-2023

We finalised the MESC programme for the coming year. As in previous years, we were able to secure an impressive list of international speakers who will speak on different pertinent topics. Please feel free to circulate the information to interested parties. And, of course, we welcome you to all our events.

Trimester 1

26 September – 30 January 2022


19 October 2022, at 18:00 LONDON TIME

MESC Annual Lecture

Dr Yossi Beilin (MESC)

Prospects For a Palestinian-Israeli Peace Agreement

Chair: Professor Glenn Burgess (MESC)

Discussant: Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor (MESC)


9 November 2022, at 17:00 LONDON TIME

MESC Leadership Seminar

Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan

Yom Kippur War – Its Lessons and Impact on the Middle East

Chair: Dr Raymond Swaray (MESC)

Discussant: Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor (MESC)


23 November, at 17:00 LONDON TIME

MESC Ambassador Forum

Sir John Jenkins

The Gulf and its Islamists

Chair: Professor Niaz Shah (MESC)

Discussant: Sir Tom Phillips (MESC)


14 December 2022, at 17:00 LONDON TIME

Professor Isabell Schierenbeck (MESC)

Newly arrived Syrian migrants meet street-level bureaucrats: Refugee integration in Jordan, Sweden, and Turkey

Chair: Dr Rene Brauer (MESC)

Discussant: Professor Simon Smith (MESC)


Winter break

19 December – 8 January 2023


Trimester 2

30 January – 29 May 2023


1 February 2023, at 17:00 LONDON TIME

Professor Lester Grabbe (MESC)

“Is Shulgi also among the Prophets?”: Israelite Prophecy in its Ancient Near Eastern Context

Chair: Professor Thomas Lundmark (MESC)


22 February 2023, at 17:00 LONDON TIME

Professor Eugene Rogan

The 1860 Damascus Massacres:  A Genocidal Moment?

Chair: Mr Ahmed Zaky (MESC)

Discussant: Sir Tom Phillips (MESC)


22 March 2023, at 18:00 LONDON TIME

MESC Women Forum

Professor Naomi Chazan (MESC)

Ms. Merissa Khurma

Professor Aili Mari Tripp

Dr Fadiah Alraies

Chair: Dr Marianne Afanassieva (MESC)

Discussant: Professor Beverly Metcalfe


Easter vacation

3 April – 16 April 2023


26 April 2023, at 17:00 LONDON TIME

Dr Robert Satloff

The Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands

Chair: Professor Lord Bhikhu Parekh (MESC)

Discussant: Professor Anthony Julius (University College London (UCL)


17 May 2023, at 17:00 LONDON TIME

MESC Book Celebration

Chair: Professor Giuliana Mazzoni (MESC)

Professor Glenn Burgess (MESC)

Professor Jo Carby-Hall (MESC)

Dr Bhumitra Chakma (MESC)

Professor Hall Gardner (MESC)

Professor Lester Grabbe (MESC)

Professor Daniel Kurtzer (MESC)

Professor Ruth Wodak (MESC)

Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor (MESC)


Cairo Review of Global Affairs

The MESC is pleased to include information on the Cairo Review of Global Affairs. The Editor of the Cairo Review welcomes contributions by our faculty and would be happy to discuss further.

The Cairo Review of Global Affairs is American University in Cairo (AUC) ’s flagship policy journal published quarterly by the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy (GAPP). The Cairo Review provides a forum for high-quality commentary to a global and regional readership, focused on the complex linkages between the Middle East region and broader global public policy issues.

As such, the Cairo Review constitutes an important vehicle for the University’s engagement with global audiences on key issues of public policy at the regional and global levels. This is achieved through the contribution of high-profile authors to the Cairo Review, as well as through engagement with the broad readership of the journal itself. More broadly, the Cairo Review also serves as an important promotional tool for AUC among practitioners and policy makers.

Writers for the Cairo Review have included among others former President Jimmy Carter, President of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas, former United Nations Under Secretary-General Lakhdar Brahimi, former UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Koning Abu Zayd, Nobel Laureate Ahmed Zewail, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, former WHO Director General Gro Brundtland, writer and novelist Pico Iyer, French sociologist Michel Wieviorka, former Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim, authors Ahdaf Soueif, Pietra Rivoli and Farha Ghanam, former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami, former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel and MESC member Daniel C. Kurtzer, Middle East scholars Marina Ottaway, Shireen T. Hunter, and Rashid Khalidi. See


If interested to contribute, please write directly to:

Professor Karim Haggag


Three-Day Battle between Israel and Islamaic Jehad in Gaza

The conflict was apparently set off by the presence of Ziyad al-Nakhalah, secretary-general of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, in Gaza.  He is usually based in Damascus and receives instructions from Tehran, which also supplies funding for Islamic Jehad operations.  An attack was being planned against Israel who had arrested (and publicly humiliated) an Islamic Jehad leader in Jenin.  Israel launched air attacks on Gaza beginning on 5 August; Islamic Jehad responded by launching more than 500 rockets against targets in Israel.  Most of these were shot down by Israeli defences, and several misfires killed individuals in Gaza.  Israel claims to have wiped out a good portion of the Islamic Jehadic leadership in Gaza, though the deaths reportedly included six children.

An interesting point is that Hamas, who has supported Islamic Jehad in the past, but this time they did not.  Indeed, they helped Egypt to broker a cease fire on 7 August.  The view is that they did not want to jeopardize important economic considerations, which includes Israeli aid for infrastructure projects and also 14,000 Israeli work permits for Gazan workers.  Some have wondered if Hamas might be shifting to a new position on peace with Israel, which it has strongly opposed up to now.

Shortly after the cease fire, Israeli troops came under fire in a raid on terrorists in Nablus.  Three terrorists were killed, including Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, head of the local Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade.

A fortnight later four Israeli soldiers were dismissed from the military for attacking Palestinians without good cause.  A video captured their beating two individuals from a vehicle they had stopped near Ramallah.  It turned out that the soldiers were members of Netzah Yehuda (Judah Forever), a contingent of Ultra-Orthodox solders.


Liz Truss on Israel

In mid-August Liz Truss was criticized for comments she made that Labour had become a talking shop for anti-Semitism under Keir Starmer, a surprising claim considering the efforts made by Starmer to root out anti-Semitism from Labour.  She also asserted that the civil service sometimes “strays into anti-Semitism” and vowed to oppose it.  She has made some wide-ranging criticisms of the civil service, but the FDA union (which represents civil servants) claimed there was no evidence for her comments.

A group of prominent individuals, including Sir Richard Dalton, former ambassador to Iran and MESC member, and Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former ambassador to the UN, signed a letter to the (London) Times on 12 August.  They pointed out that the only scheme that would work was the two-state solution (the one-state solution that some propose will not solve the difficulties between the Palestinians and Israel).  Anything that hinders the two-state solution should be abandoned or at least postponed.  This includes the proposal to move the British embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a proposal which Liz Truss promised to the Conservative Friends of Israel to review.


The USA Makes Airstrikes on an Iran Base in Syria

Syrian para-military groups backed by Iran made a drone attack on an American base in the country.  On 15 August two drones flew over an American base near the Jordanian border, one shot being down and the other crashing.  They caused no damage, but in retaliation for the attack the President ordered air assaults on fuel storage sites in Deir Ezzor province associated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran.  Part of the strikes were cancelled to avoid potential civilian casualties.

A couple of weeks later Israel launched an air strike on a military site near the town of Tartus that had missiles to be used by fighters backed by Iran.  Satellite photos indicated that the attacks had caused considerable damage.


Education of Girls in Afghanistan

“Dear world, we are the only country on earth where girls can’t go to high school, just think about that.”  This is how girls from a secret school in Afghanistan began an open letter to “the world”, i.e., the West.  They say that theirs is the only country on earth where girls cannot go to high school.  Many of them have great ambitions but require an education as a minimum qualification to achieve them.  The only place they can get an education is at secret schools, which has led a contingent of girls at one of the schools to write the open letter just referred to. The first anniversary of the Taliban takeover was 15 August: the letter was written as that anniversary approached, reminding everyone that the Taliban had promised to implement education for girls—a promise so far not kept.

See the special report by Christine Lamb, Sunday Times, 7 August 2022.


France Plans to Change the Law to Expel an Imam

The Muslim imam Hassan Iquioussen had lived all his life in France, though of Moroccan nationality.  He is accused of anti-Semitic language and also of opposing the equality between the sexes.  He denied calling for genocide of non-Muslims but was declared an enemy of the French by the interior minister who called for him to be expelled from France.  He stated that if necessary he would have the law changed in order to send away Iquioussen.

When the French Council of State approved his expulsion, Iquioussen took this declaration as a reason to go on the run.  The result is that a European arrest warrant has been issued, though as of the finalizing of this Newsletter he has not been found.

Lester L. Grabbe

5 Sept. 2022


MESC Newsletter-August 2022

By   Lester L. Grabbe

Joe Biden in the Middle East

President Biden engaged in a four-day trip to the Middle East, 13-17 July, at a time when Israel is in the midst of an election campaign.  He was hosted by the caretaker prime minister Yair Lapid.  This was Biden’s tenth trip to the Israel-Palestinian region, and he has met every prime minister of Israel, beginning with Golda Meir.

He is reported as declaring at the airport: “The connection between the Israeli people and the American people is bone deep.  Generation after generation that connection grows. We invest in each other. We dream together. We’re part of what has always been the objective we both had. I’ve been part of that as a senator, as a vice president, and quite frankly, before that, having been raised by a righteous Christian.”

Among his assurances to Israel, were

—A nuclear deal with Iran would make the world safer,

—America would stop Iran developing a bomb, by force if


—The Iranian Revolutionary Guard would remain on the

terrorist list.

The President also met with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.  He affirmed that the US commitment to a two-state solution “has not changed”, yet he also commented that the “ground is not ripe” to restart talks between Israel and Palestine.

From Israel Biden flew on to Saudi Arabia, where he met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  This was awkward because Biden had made a campaign promise to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” over the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.  The President claimed that he brought up Khashoggi’s murder privately with the Crown Prince.

The US wants Saudi Arabia to increase oil production.  There is also a desire to avoid China and Russia exerting influence in the region, and a hope of closer relations with Israel.  Rather than shaking hands with the Crown Prince, Biden instead gave a fist bump.  But from bin Salman’s point of view, this was a part of the “rehabilitation” of Saudi Arabia on the international scene.

At the end of July, President Macron hosted Mohammed bin Salman in the Elysée Palace (after visiting him at the end of 2021 in Jeddah).  Like Biden, Macron has apparently been encouraging the Saudis to increase oil production.


Putin Courts Iran and Egypt

In mid-July Vladimir Putin paid a rare international visit to Iran who had supported Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.  He was welcomed with considerable ceremony and later met with both Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi.  He also had discussions with them and President Erdogen of Turkey.  (Some have suggested that Putin might try to take asylum in Iran if he was forced from power.)

In a parallel development Putin’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, met Egyptian President Sisi and his Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry.  He assured them that the deal to export grain from the Ukraine would go ahead.  He also met the secretary general of the Arab League and addressed the representatives of the member countries.  This was the first stop that Lavrov was making to African countries, including Ethiopia, Uganda, and the Congo

In a related story, Russian female influencers have come in numbers to Tehran.  Instead of appearing in designer clothes as normal, however, they have usually adopted the local hijab (though Iranian woman who have not adopted the hijab have been persecuted and beaten).  Since they are being kept by circumstances from travelling in Europe, as they normally would, this was seen as an opportunity.


Mass Graves of Poles Killed by Nazis Found

The Institute of National Remembrance of Poland announced the discovery of two mass graves, containing the ashes of approximately 8000 Polish victims.  They were apparently victims from a Nazi prison camp, disposed of in Bialuty Forest some 100 miles north of Warsaw.  After cremation and burial of the ashes, the perpetrators seem to have planted trees on top of the site to help hide it.


Jewish Graduate Sues Leeds University

Sociology graduate Danielle Greyman’s suit claims that she submitted an essay about the crimes of the Hamas regime against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.  Her tutor apparently failed the essay because it did not criticize Israel, though an external examiner argued that the essay should be given a passing mark.  The result was that she had to resit the course, which delayed receiving her degree and taking up her offer of an MA course at Glasgow.



Paul Willer (1928-2022)

His mother was a Jewish doctor but his father became an ardent Nazi supporter and divorced her in 1933.  It was thought that he and his brother would not be eligible for the Kindertransport because he was only “half Jewish”.  But his uncle lived in London, and British sympathizers provided aid for the family to immigrate.  The family made the journey to the UK in April 1939, though a German official confiscated Paul’s watch as they crossed the border into the Netherlands.  Arrangements were made for him to stay temporarily with Clement Attlee.  Speaking no English, he initially communicated with the Attlee family via Latin.  The Attlees’ generosity was not advertized and only became known in recent years.


Margot Heuman (1928-2022)

She and her family were sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto in 1942 (even though her father had won the Iron Cross in World War I).  They were transported to Auschwitz in 1944, but Margot had fallen in love with a girl of her own age and was allowed to accompany her to a concentration camp near Hamburg.  The rest of her family later perished in Auschwitz.  The two girls had to march to Bergen-Belsen in 1945 but survived and were liberated by the British in April.  She later joined relatives in New York.  Although having further affairs with women, she later married a man and had children.  In recent decades her experiences were partially depicted in a ballet, Spirit Unbroken, and more fully in the theatre in The Amazing Life of Margot Heuman.


Jozef Walaszczyk (1919-2022)

A member of the Polish resistance, he married his girl-friend after she admitted to him that she was Jewish.  He had a number of narrow escapes, but his position as a foreman in a potato flour factory provided the opportunity to employ Jews and provide a certain amount of protection for them.  He was credited with saving the lives of 53 Jews and was declared “Righteous among the Nations” by the Holocaust centre Yad va-Shem in 2002.  As a result of his work, he has been referred to as “the Polish Schindler”.


A.B. Yehoshua (1936-2022)

He was an acclaimed Israeli novelist and playwright who wrote on Jewish identity, relations between Jews and Arabs, and religious orthodox and secular Jews.  Although a firm Zionist, he had many Palestinian friends and was a strong supporter of the two-state solution, as co-founder of the Peace Now movement; however, in recent years the lack of progress apparently made him despair of his hope in the two-state solution.  He held a post at the University of Haifa but also taught at Paris, Oxford, Harvard, Chicago, and Princeton.  Many of his novels have been translated into English, including his final novel The Tunnel.


July 2022
Please note that while Professor Cohen-Almagor is on study leave, I
am temporarily responsible for the monthly Politics blog. We shall all miss Raphael’s wit, wisdom, and knowledge—none more than me.
But I hope at least to pass on some current information on the Middle East, including some historical data which is my own special interest.
Lester L. Grabbe

Israeli Politics Once More at the Top of the News
The coalition of Naftali Bennett has finally fallen, much later than
some had predicted—or even hoped—but it brings forward a new
crisis, necessitating a fifth general election in less than four years.
Bennet, head of the Yamina party, has struggled to keep his coalition
together but had lost a majority and was thus prevented from passing any legislation.
Yair Lapid, coalition partner, foreign minister, alternative prime
minister, and leader of Yesh Atid, will be the caretaker until a new
election takes place. The expectation is that Binyamin Netanyahu
will seek to become prime minister once again. There has been
considerable speculation about how Netanyahu will conduct his
campaign, in which he is expected to push a very right-wing agenda.
Some are predicting that he will accuse the Yesh Atid party of
encouraging terrorism because they included several Israeli Arab
parties in the coalition. Some think he will try to change the law to
negate corruption charges that have been brought against him.
Elections will probably be held on 1 November. It will be interesting
to see what the election campaign throws up. In the meantime, the
trial Netanyahu for corruption continues, with one accusation being
that he required “gifts” of boxes of cigars, one cigar of which was
worth several hundred pounds.

The Origin of the “Black Death”
The journal Nature (of 15 and 16 June 2022) reports on the DNA
analysis of a cemetery in Kyrgyzstan, in Central Asia. Many of the
tombstones dating to the years 1338 and 1339 have the Syriac word
for “pestilence”. DNA analysis of the teeth from skeletons in the
cemetery has found evidence of the plague bacterium, yersinia pestis.

Their conclusion is that this marks the origin of the plague popularly
known as “the black death”. It was not long after this year that the
plague flared up in the Black Sea region and from there spread west
into Europe.

Olympic Founder Praised Hitler
According to a report of 14 June, Baron Pierre de Coubertin (the
modern founder of the Olympic Games) had proclaimed Germany’s
hosting of the games in Berlin in 1936 as the “guardian of the
Olympic spirit”. The German magazine Der Spiegel reported on the
work of a researcher at the Centre for German Sports History in
Potsdam, Emeritus Professor Hans Joachim Teichler. Professor
Teichler, examining the diaries and correspondence of Carl Diem who organized the Berlin Olympics, found that Baron de Coubertin had expressed approval of Hitler’s government and the “revolution” the German Chancellor had initiated; he apparently even asked for
Hitler’s autograph! Hitler in turn donated 10,000 reichsmarks to the
International Olympic Committee and put de Coubertin’s name
forward to the Nobel committee for the peace prize. There were
attempts made to boycott or move the Olympic games from Berlin,
but they were not successful.

Jesse Owens saluting the crowd at Berlin Olympics 1936
Ukrainian Jews Being Forced Out by War
The chief rabbi of Moscow Pinchas Goldschmidt claims more than
half of Ukraine’s Jews have fled the country because of the fighting.
A great deal of work had been done to build up the Jewish community in Ukraine since the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. The number of Jews in Ukraine before the war is uncertain, estimated to be anywhere from 40,000 to 400,000. Goldschmidt became rabbi of Moscow in 1993, but he has now gone into exile because he refused to support the war against Ukraine. Many synagogues and Jewish centres have been destroyed by Russian shelling.

The Vatican and the Jews in World War II
The question of the Vatican response to Nazi persecution of the Jews has been around for decades. Many have accused Pius XII of
callousness or even anti-Semitism for not speaking out when the
Nazis rounded up Jews in Rome; others have claimed that he worked hard for Jews but that it was behind the scenes and thus not evident.
As of 2020 the Vatican has now opened up and put online many of
the archival documents relevant for the question. These and many
other documents were sourced in a new book, The Pope at War, by
David Kertzer, a professor at Brown University. He argues, on the
one hand, that the Vatican did reach out to provide help to many
Jewish people; on the other hand, these were Jews who had converted to Catholicism. (Keep in mind that the Nazi regime did not consider Jewishness a religious category but a racial one, so that even Jews who had converted to Christianity were still considered and treated as Jewish.) The book was dismissed by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.

Plaque Honouring Judges under Nazi Rule
In Karlsruhe, in the German Federal Court of Justice, is a panel with
the names of 34 justice figures who were arrested by the Russian
secret police after the 1945 victory; most subsequently died in
captivity. The plaque was set up in 1957, but a later investigation by
the German magazine Stern found that 23 had been loyal Nazis.
Questions have recently been raised as to whether it is appropriate to maintain the plaque. The parallel to recent questions in the UK about monuments to individuals connected to the slave trade is obvious.

Recent Books
Following are several books that have appeared recently.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to read any of those here; thus, the information on them comes mainly from reviews in the Times and Sunday Times, except for the first one.
Jonathan Freedland: The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of
Auschwitz to Warn the World.
Reading the review of this book brought back many memories. The
book tells the tale of a Slovak Jew named Walter Rosenberg sent to
Auschwitz, who eventually managed to escape and tried to warn the
Hungarian Jewish community of Nazi plans to exterminate it (he was
only partially successful because of disbelief and foot-dragging). It
was about 1967 that I read the book, I Cannot Forgive by Rudolf
Vrba. I was very moved by his story. Later I heard him lecture in the
UK. He apparently migrated to Canada after the war where he
became an academic chemist at the University of British Columbia. I
was sorry to see his obituary in 2006. Apparently Rosenberg changed his name to Vrba after the war, and it is always as Rudi Vrba that I think of him. The review of this book indicates it is good, but I can’t imagine it being better or more moving than Vrba’s own book which I can recommend wholeheartedly.
(See also the review by Dominic Sandbrook in the Sunday
Times Magazine of 5 June 2022)
Rudolf Vrba
Karina Urbach: Alice’s Book: How the Nazis Sole my Grandmother’s
Alice Urbach’s cookbook appeared in 1935 with the title, So kocht
man in Wien! It was, as the title suggests, a Viennese cookbook. But
the author was Jewish, and with the Anschlu she was told by her
publisher that she had to turn over the copyright to the publishing
copy. They made some edits to the text to “Aryanize” it, then issued
it in the name of a certain Rudolf Rösch who immediately became a
best-selling author without having written a word of it! Urbach
emigrated to the UK, then the USA. After the war she tried to reclaim her rights in the book, but the publisher placed various obstacles in her path, republishing the book under Rösch’s name in 1966.
Eventually (though after Alice Urbach’s death in 1983), the “pre-Nazi” version of the cookbook was reissued by the original Austrian publisher. This story is told by her granddaughter Karina.
Review by Ysenda Maxtone Graham in the Times
Saturday Review of 14 May 2022.
Deborah Cadbury: The School that Escaped the Nazis
Bunce Court was an old house near Oterden in Kent that had been
turned into a school for Jewish refugee children from Nazi Germany.
It was set up by Anna Essinger. She had a Jewish school in Ulm in
southern Germany, but unlike some she realized the threat posed
when the Nazis came to power in 1933. She travelled to Kent and
arranged for a new site there, then moved her pupils from Germany.
With the escalating persecution in Germany and the Kindertransport programme, Bunce Court was unable to meet the vastly increased demand. Money was a constant problem, but Essinger managed to keep it open until the building was confiscated for the Royal Tank Regiment. Essinger then managed to move her school to Shropshire.
The school finally closed in 1948, though Anna Essinger lived until
1960. The book has chapters concentrating on the personal stories of three of the pupils and their families.
Review by Ysenda Maxtone Graham in the Times
Saturday Review of 14 May 2022.


MESC Newsletter-May 2022

 Dear all

The war in Ukraine continues. World peace is facing a grave challenge. The international community must respond. The issue is not only Ukraine. It concerns all Russia’s and China’s neighbours. The war might have grave implications on the Middle East, destabilising peace and risking the positive achievements that were made recently.


First they came for Crimea, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Crimean.

Then they came for Ukraine, and I did not speak out— because I was not an Ukrainian.

Then they came for Georgia, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Georgian.

Then they came for Moldova, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Moldovian.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.


Inspired by Martin Niemöller




MESC Steering Committee 2022-2023


The MESC Steering Committee during the year 2022-2023 is composed of the following people:


Sir Tom Phillips


Prof. Lester Grabbe


Prof. Glenn Burgess


Dr Marianne Afanassieva


Mr Ahmed Zaky




MESC Books’ Celebration


The MESC concluded its events’ programme for the year with a most interesting book celebration. Seven of our members presented their fascinating, new books. The book celebration exhibited the strength and diversity of our group of international researchers.



MESC Books’ Celebration 2023 for books published in 2022-2023


The MESC intends to hold an online book celebration on 17 May 2023, 5:00-7:00pm. If you have published a book during 2022, or intend to publish before May 2023, we’d like to invite you to present your new book.


Please send us:

  • Your name
  • title of the new book
  • abstract/short description/endorsements
  • place of publication
  • publisher
  • year
  • link to the book, and
  • a cover image.

Please join and showcase your book!



Funding Appeal


The MESC opens a funding appeal, writing to charities and foundations for funding. Our work to promote human rights, peace and security in the Middle East, specifically between Israel and its neighbours has never been more vital. The election of President Biden creates an opportunity for creative thinking not only about how to revitalise the Israeli-Palestinian peace process but also about how to promote peace, accountability and human rights in the Middle East more generally, building in particular on the Abraham Accords and the possibility of reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran and expanding the international and regional dialogue with that country so as to address a key cause of instability in the Middle East.


Among the threats and challenges, terrorism remains a recurrent phenomenon, while the Russian attack on Ukraine might have serious implications also for the Middle East. Russia’s proxies will be assisted if Russia will have it its way in Ukraine. The global COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an increased pressure on political and financial priorities. This pressure raises the risk that unique opportunities may be lost.


In this complex situation, Think Tanks and university bodies such as Hull’s Middle East Study Centre can and should play a key role in injecting fresh thinking and ensuring that policy-makers remain conscious of the core issues in the region and exposed to fresh thinking. But, of course, such organisations are themselves challenged by limited resources. We are therefore seeking the support of individuals and foundations to ensure that our shared goals remain high on the agenda, and that we continue to work to build understanding and a shared commitment to peace and justice through an expanded programme of communication and collaborative research.


The funding would allow us to promote a greater exchange of ideas through bringing more guest lecturers, scholars, diplomats and politicians to events and expand our support for students working in the field of Middle East Studies. In particular:


  • £4,000 would sponsor the Annual Lecture on peace and security in the Middle East
  • £5,000 would cover the costs of three international guest speakers to attend events and present papers
  • £10,000 would fund two MA Scholarships for Middle East Studies, allowing students from Israel, Palestine and Arab countries to study at Hull.
  • £15,000 would allow visiting scholars from the Middle East to attend Hull for one year, or fund post-doctoral research
  • £60,000 would fund a Doctoral Scholarship in Middle Eastern Studies from Israel, Palestine and Arab countries to study at Hull.


We appreciate any donation, large or small, as well as ideas for funding in order to increase the volume of our activities.



Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor received the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship


I received the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Public Policy Fellowship to carry out full‑time independent research on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in Washington, D.C. While at the Center during June-August 2022, I will be affiliated with the Middle East Program.

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars was chartered by the American Congress in 1968 as the official memorial to President Woodrow Wilson. It is the American key non-partisan policy forum for tackling global issues through independent research and open dialogue to inform actionable ideas for the policy community. As an organ of the Congress, the Wilson Center has special relationships with the Library of Congress, the greatest library in the world. In 2019, the Wilson Center was named the #1 regional studies think tank in the world.

It is the second time that I am invited to this prestigious center. I am delighted to return to the best research center I know that provides superb environment to carry out research. The Wilson Center is a place that attracts academics, politicians and policy makers. Together they bring creative thinking and exceptional expertise to tackle the most pressing policy challenges we face today. The Center had provided me invaluable support as I was writing my book Confronting the Internet’s Dark Side (CUP, 2015). I am sure it will do the same as I will be writing my book on the failed peace process between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation.



Carnegie Connects: The U.S.-Israeli Relationship With Ambassador Thomas R. Nides


MESC member Aaron David Miller recently hosted Ambassador Nides for conversation about US-Israel relationships. See



Initiative to Bring Jews and Muslims Together


Jewish and Muslim community leaders from across the globe started a new initiative to strengthen Jewish-Muslim relations. The Mukhayriq Initiative, named after the Medina-born rabbi who fought alongside Islamic prophet Muhammad in the Battle of Uhud in 625 CE, aims to promote Jewish-Muslim cooperation. The initiative’s opening event was held on the eve of Ramadan. Muslim and Jewish leaders spoke on the importance of strengthening relations between Jewish and Muslim communities all over the world. Among those who spoke at the event were former Albanian labour and social affairs minister Valentina Leskaj and Prof. Ephraim Isaac, the director of Princeton University’s Institute for Semitic Studies. The initiative was founded by former US deputy special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism Ellie Cohanim, co-founder of the American Muslim and Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council (AMMWEC) Anila Ali, executive-producer of the American Sephardi Federation Jason Guberman, Mimouna Association president El Mehdi Boudra, Jewish Council of the Emirates senior rabbi Elie Abadi and other Muslim and Jewish figures.


Source: The Jerusalem Post



Egypt-Saudi Arabia Relationships


The Biden administration has been mediating among Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt on negotiations that, if successful, could be a first step on the road to the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. It involves finalizing the transfer of two strategic islands in the Red Sea from Egyptian to Saudi sovereignty. If an arrangement is reached, it would be a significant foreign policy achievement for the Biden administration in the Middle East. Sources said the agreement is not complete and the sensitive negotiations are ongoing.


The Tiran and Sanafir islands control the Straits of Tiran — a strategic sea passage to the ports of Aqaba in Jordan and Eilat in Israel. Saudi and Egyptian officials say Saudi Arabia gave Egypt control of the islands in 1950. They were later demilitarized as part of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. The Biden administration believes finalizing an arrangement could build trust between the parties and create an opening to warm relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which do not have official diplomatic relations. 


Source: Axios



MESC LinkedIn page


Our Centre has a webpage on LinkedIn:


You are more than welcome to contribute to it.


Gratitude is expressed to Ahmed Zaky for making this happen.



MESC Goodreads page


Our Centre has a webpage on Goodreads:—university-of-hull?invite_token=MjRkMWY0OTktYTA1MC00ZGQwLWExZDYtMWFlZDIxNWZkN2Fm&utm_medium=email&utm_source=copypastegroup


Please join the page and add your books.


Gratitude is expressed to Ahmed Zaky for making this happen.



Volunteers needed


In the past few months, Ahmed and I arranged the MESC events programme and the book celebration; launched funding appeal; collected information for the upgrade to centre; updated the MESC website; compiled information for the MESC Annual Activities Report; engage in establishing international relationships between the MESC and other organisations, and more.


As our volume of activities increases, we are looking for volunteers who will assist us with MESC work. If you have time to do important work with us, please get in touch. You will gain invaluable experience in networking, organising events, fund raising, contacting important people and organisations throughout the world, participate in research and initiate and pursue your own ideas.


With my very best wishes for a joyful summer




MESC Newsletter-April 2022

 Dear all

The war in Ukraine continues. War is, often, the failure of reason, and this is the case now. When leaders send soldiers to war, they should see each and every one of these soldiers as their own sons. Then they should re-reflect and ask themselves: Is this absolutely necessary? Do I have clear aims? Are they justified?

I did not think I will witness another war in Europe. As was the case before, it was waged for the wrong, unjustified reasons. The war might have serious implications also for the Middle East. Russia’s proxies will be assisted if Russia will have it its way in Ukraine.

In 2014, the free world allowed Russia to annex Crimea. Crimea was part of the Soviet Union until 1954. Then, the Soviets transferred control of the peninsula to Ukraine. Putin sees himself as the follower of Peter the Great, Tsar Alexander III and Stalin. Those three leaders expanded Russia and made it great. Putin wishes to return to the days of the Russian Empire, viewing himself as a leader of the same character and calibre.

When political and economic constraints are relatively low and the benefits resulting from aggression are high, leaders like Putin are more likely to choose violence. When the constraints are substantial, leaders like Putin would be more willing to turn to peaceful resolution.

World peace is facing a grave challenge. The international community must respond. The issue is not only Ukraine. It concerns all Russia’s and China’s neighbours.

New Book

Just published: Raphael Cohen-Almagor, The Republic, Secularism and Security: France versus the Burqa and the Niqab (Cham: Springer, 2022). In memory of Jack Hayward (1931-2017) who provided sharp insights on French politics and culture prior to his death.

Jack was a founding member of the MESG, now MESC.


ISBN 978-3030946685


In France, secularism is celebrated in the public sphere. The manuscript makes general arguments about France’s changing identity and specific arguments about the burqa and niqab ban. It explains how French history shaped the ideology of secularism and of public civil religion, and how colonial legacy, immigration, fear of terrorism and security needs have led France to adopt the trinity of indivisibilité, sécurité, laïcité while paying homage to the traditional trinity of liberté, égalité, fraternité. While the motto of the French Revolution is still symbolically and politically important, its practical significance as it has been translated to policy implementation has been eroded. The emergence of the new trinity at the expense of the old one is evident when analyzing the debates concerning cultural policies in France in the face of the Islamic garb, the burqa and the niqab, which are perceived as a challenge to France’s national secular raison d’être. The French Republic has attempted to keep public space secular. Is the burqa and niqab ban socially just? Does it reasonably balance the preservation of societal values and freedom of conscience? What are the true motives behind the ban? Has the discourse changed in the age of COVID-19, when all people are required to wear a mask in the public space?

It is argued that the burqa and niqab ban is neither just nor reasonable in the eyes of the women and girls who wish to wear the Muslim garb, their families and community, and that paternalism that holds that the ban is for the women’s own good is a poor, coercive excuse. Claims for paternalistic coercion to protect adult women from their own culture when they do not ask for protection are not sufficiently reasonable to receive vindication.


MESC events

We were very fortunate to host during the past month three extraordinary speakers: Justice Professor Elyakim Rubinstein, Mr Joel Singer and Dr Francesco Motta. The three speakers delivered fascinating lectures that received praise and appreciation by many listeners.

All events are recorded and available on our website:


Dr Francesco Motta

I am delighted to welcome Dr Francesco Motta as an affiliate member of the MESC. Francesco: Welcome on Board!!



MESC Books’ Celebration

27 April 2022, 5:00-7:00pm


 The books include the writings of:


Professor Lester Grabbe

Dr Alan Brener

Professor Jack Goldstone

Professor Simon C. Smith

Professor David Tal

Professor Alan Dowty

Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor


Professor Lester Grabbe

A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period 4: The Jews under the Roman Shadow (4 BCE–150 CE)

This is the fourth and final volume of my history of the Jews in the Second Temple period, i.e., the period beginning about 550 BC and covering the Jews under Persian, Greek, and Roman rule to about 150 of the Common Era.  This volume gives the history from the death of King Herod the Great to the last Jewish revolt under Bar-Kokhva (about 132-35).  It takes in the period of the Roman governors of Judaea including Pontius Pilate, the beginnings of Christianity, the conquest of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple 66-70, and the foundations of Rabbinic Judaism.  It collects all that is known about the Jews during the period in which they were ruled by the Roman Empire. Based directly on primary sources such as archaeology, inscriptions, Jewish literary sources and Greek, Roman and Christian sources, this study includes analysis of the Jewish diaspora, mystical and Gnosticism trends, and the developments in the Temple, the law, and contemporary attitudes towards Judaism. The volume concludes with a holistic perspective on the Jews and Judaism for the entire 700 years of the Second Temple Period.


Dr Alan Brener

Housing and Financial Stability: Mortgage Lending and Macroprudential Policy in the UK and US, (Routledge, 2020)

The book addresses the relationship between housing policy, credit and financial instability in the light of the recent global financial crisis, and proposes both short and long-term solutions. Although it is not known where the next crisis will come from, history suggests that it will have credit and property at its source. This book is focused on the UK and US but it also considers a number of other countries including Israel.

It is important that the UK and other countries look more broadly at what should be done in terms of policies, institutions and tools to make the housing market and mortgage lenders more resilient against a future crisis. This book sets out a number of workable proposals. Central to this work are questions relating to the quantitative macroprudential measures, such as loan-to-value and debt-to-income restrictions. In particular, the book questions the political legitimacy of their use and the potential consequences for the institutions, such as central banks, promulgating such policies. Preserving financial stability in very uncertain market conditions is of key importance to central bankers and other regulators, and macroprudential policy is a rapidly growing subject for both legal and economics study.



Professor Jack Goldstone

The Post ISIS-era: Regional and Global Implications

  • This edited volume is the result of a NATO workshop that was held in Washington DC in September 2019. It discusses the future of ISIS, maintaining security and stability, ISIS recruitment, propaganda and activities, plight of refugees, radicalization, and public fear of terrorism.
  • The Netherlands
  • IOS Press
  • 2021


Professor Simon C. Smith

 Britain and the Arab Gulf after Empire, 1971-1981: Kuwait Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

  • Although Britain’s formal imperial role in the smaller, oil-rich Sheikhdoms of the Arab Gulf – Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates – ended in 1971, Britain continued to have a strong interest and continuing presence in the region. This book explores the nature of Britain’s role after the formal end of empire. It traces the historical events of the post-imperial years, including the 1973 oil shock, the fall of the Shah in Iran, and the beginnings of the Iran–Iraq War; considers the changing positions towards the region of other major world powers, including the United States; and engages with debates on the nature of empire and the end of empire. The book is a sequel to the author’s highly acclaimed previous books Britain’s Revival and Fall in the Gulf: Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the Trucial States, 1950–71 (Routledge 2004) and Ending Empire in the Middle East: Britain, the United States and Post-war Decolonization, 1945–1973 (Routledge 2012).
  • Routledge
  • 2020

Professor David Tal

The Making of an Alliance: the Origins and Development of the US-Israel Relationship

Laying the foundation for an understanding of US-Israeli relations, this lively and accessible book provides critical background on the origins and development of the ‘special’ relations between Israel and the United States. Questioning the usual neo-realist approach to understanding this relationship, David Tal instead suggests that the relations between the two nations were constructed on idealism, political culture, and strategic ties. Based on a diverse range of primary sources collected in archives in both Israel and the United States, The Making of an Alliance discusses the development of relations built through constant contact between people and ideas, showing how presidents and Prime Ministers, state officials, and ordinary people from both countries, impacted one another. It was this constancy of religion, values, and history, serving the bedrock of the relations between the two countries and peoples, over which the ephemeral was negotiated.



Professor Alan Dowty

  • Israel
  • How did a community of a few thousand Jewish refugees become, in little over a century, a modern nation-state and homeland of half the world’s Jews? Alan Dowty distils over half a century of study as an inside/outside analyst of Israel in tracing this remarkable story.
  • Cambridge
  • Polity
  • 2021



Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor

 Just, Reasonable Multiculturalism: Liberalism, Culture and Coercion

The book explores the main challenges against multiculturalism. Its primary objectives are twofold: to examine whether liberalism and multiculturalism are reconcilable, and what are the limits of liberal democratic interventions in illiberal affairs of minority cultures within democracy when minorities engage in practices that inflict physical harm on group members (e.g. Female Genital Mutilation) or non-physical harm (e.g. denying members property or education). In the process, the book addresses three questions: whether multiculturalism is bad for democracy; whether multiculturalism is bad for women, and whether multiculturalism contributes to terrorism.

The main thesis is that liberalism and multiculturalism are reconcilable provided that a fair balance is struck between individual rights and group rights. It is argued that reasonable multiculturalism can be achieved via mechanisms of deliberate democracy, compromise and, when necessary, coercion. Placing necessary checks on groups that discriminate against vulnerable third parties, commonly women and children, the approach insists on the protection of basic human rights as well as on exit rights for individuals if and when they wish to leave their cultural groups.

  • place of publication: Cambridge
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Year: 2021
  • Information:


Link to register:

All welcome


MESC LinkedIn page

Our Centre has a webpage on LinkedIn:


You are more than welcome to contribute to it.


Gratitude is expressed to Ahmed Zaky for making this happen.


MESC Goodreads page

Our Centre has a webpage on Goodreads:—university-of-hull?invite_token=MjRkMWY0OTktYTA1MC00ZGQwLWExZDYtMWFlZDIxNWZkN2Fm&utm_medium=email&utm_source=copypastegroup


Please join the page and add your books.

Gratitude is expressed to Ahmed Zaky for making this happen.


Volunteers needed

In the past few months, Ahmed and I arranged the MESG events programme and the book celebration; launched funding appeal; collected information for the upgrade to centre; updated the MESG website; compiled information for the MESG Annual Activities Report; engage in establishing international relationships between the MESG and other organisations, and more.

 As our volume of activities increases, we are looking for volunteers who will assist us with MESC work. If you have time to do important work with us, please get in touch. You will gain invaluable experience in networking, organising events, fund raising, contacting important people and organisations throughout the world, participate in research and initiate and pursue your own ideas.

 With my very best wishes for a very festive season, Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Ramadan Kareem





MESC Newsletter-March 2022

 Dear all


We express deep solidarity with Ukraine and convey a message of peace and support to all our friends.


First they came for Crimea, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Crimean.

Then they came for Ukraine, and I did not speak out— because I was not an Ukrainian.

Then they came for Georgia, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Georgian.

Then they came for Moldova, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Moldovian.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Inspired by Martin Niemöller


New Book

Just published: Raphael Cohen-Almagor, The Republic, Secularism and Security: France versus the Burqa and the Niqab (Cham: Springer, 2022). In memory of Jack Hayward (1931-2017) who provided sharp insights on French politics and culture prior to his death.

Jack was a founding member of the MESG, now MESC.



ISBN 978-3030946685



In France, secularism is celebrated in the public sphere. The manuscript makes general arguments about France’s changing identity and specific arguments about the burqa and niqab ban. It explains how French history shaped the ideology of secularism and of public civil religion, and how colonial legacy, immigration, fear of terrorism and security needs have led France to adopt the trinity of indivisibilité, sécurité, laïcité while paying homage to the traditional trinity of liberté, égalité, fraternité. While the motto of the French Revolution is still symbolically and politically important, its practical significance as it has been translated to policy implementation has been eroded. The emergence of the new trinity at the expense of the old one is evident when analyzing the debates concerning cultural policies in France in the face of the Islamic garb, the burqa and the niqab, which are perceived as a challenge to France’s national secular raison d’être. The French Republic has attempted to keep public space secular. Is the burqa and niqab ban socially just? Does it reasonably balance the preservation of societal values and freedom of conscience? What are the true motives behind the ban? Has the discourse changed in the age of COVID-19, when all people are required to wear a mask in the public space?

It is argued that the burqa and niqab ban is neither just nor reasonable in the eyes of the women and girls who wish to wear the Muslim garb, their families and community, and that paternalism that holds that the ban is for the women’s own good is a poor, coercive excuse. Claims for paternalistic coercion to protect adult women from their own culture when they do not ask for protection are not sufficiently reasonable to receive vindication.


MESC events


We were very fortunate to host during the past month two extraordinary speakers: Justice Professor Elyakim Rubinstein and Mr Joel Singer. Both delivered fascinating lectures that received praise and appreciation by many listeners.


All events are recorded and available on our website:



I invite you to our MESC next event in which Dr. Francesco Motta will discuss the work of the UN in promoting human rights in the Middle East. Francesco agreed to reflect also on the current situation in Ukraine.


Middle East Study Centre (MESC)

Wednesday 9 March 2022, 5:00-7:00pm LONDON TIME


Dr. Francesco Motta

Chief of the Asia Pacific, Middle East and North Africa Branch of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

Between a Rock and a Hard Place – the work of the UN promoting human rights in the Middle East



Link to register:



Opening words: Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor, Director, MESC


Chair and Discussant: Professor Glenn Burgess (MESC)


“Human Rights” is a core pillar of the UN Charter and the respect and protection of human rights is considered fundamental to achieving the UN’s primary objective of maintaining international peace and security. This lecture shall outline the evolution of human rights promotion by the United Nations in the context of the Middle East, the tensions that exist within the UN in relation to the promotion and protection of human rights, and the significant challenges that face the UN in promoting human rights throughout the Middle East region.



Francesco Motta is the Chief of the Asia Pacific, Middle East and North Africa Branch of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva. He has two doctoral degrees, one in Law (Aust. National U.) specializing in IHL and the other in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology (U. Sydney).

Dr Motta has almost 30 years professional experience as a lawyer, Member/Judge of the Refugee Review Tribunal (Australia), legal/policy adviser to the Minister for Immigration (Australia), project manager for UNHCR (Sudan, Egypt and Nepal), legal officer for UNRWA (Palestine), diplomat for the Australian Government (WTO), and as Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (Palestine), senior human rights officer and head of regional office (UNAMA) and Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Director of Human Rights Office of UNAMI (Iraq). He has worked for the United Nations in the field of human rights in the Middle East for the past 20 years.

Dr Motta specializes in IHL/Laws of Armed Conflict and refugee law, particularly the protection of civilians and human rights in armed conflict, new asymmetric conflicts, prevention and early warning, terrorism, and States in transition. He has several publications on IHL, IHRL, and Refugee law.


Chair and Discussant:   Professor Glenn Burgess (MESC)

Glenn Burgess is Professor of History at the University of Hull, where he has also served as Deputy Vice-Chancellor 2014-2019. He was educated at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and the University of Cambridge. Professor Burgess has written extensively on the history of 16th and 17th century political thought and has just finished a book on George Orwell and intellectual freedom.


Date:               Wednesday 9 March 2022, 5:00-7:00pm LONDON TIME


Please register directly with the online platform:



All are welcome to attend



MESC LinkedIn page


Our Centre has a webpage on LinkedIn:


You are more than welcome to contribute to it.


Gratitude is expressed to Ahmed Zaky for making this happen.



MESC Goodreads page


Our Centre has a webpage on Goodreads:—university-of-hull?invite_token=MjRkMWY0OTktYTA1MC00ZGQwLWExZDYtMWFlZDIxNWZkN2Fm&utm_medium=email&utm_source=copypastegroup


Please join the page and add your books.


Gratitude is expressed to Ahmed Zaky for making this happen.



Volunteers needed

In the past few months, Ahmed and I arranged the MESG events programme and the book celebration; launched funding appeal; collected information for the upgrade to centre; updated the MESG website; compiled information for the MESG Annual Activities Report; engage in establishing international relationships between the MESG and other organisations, and more.


As our volume of activities increases, we are looking for volunteers who will assist us with MESC work. If you have time to do important work with us, please get in touch. You will gain invaluable experience in networking, organising events, fund raising, contacting important people and organisations throughout the world, participate in research and initiate and pursue your own ideas.


With my very best wishes




MESC Newsletter-February 2022


Dear all

We follow with great trepidation the war that Russia waged on Ukraine. Some leaders find it easier to make war than to make peace. War is, often, the failure of reason. It is a terrible thing. It should be ALWAYS the last resort, after exhausting ALL other alternatives, and it must be waged for JUST reasons via JUST means. I hope common sense will prevail, soon, and Russia will put an end to the unsettling hostilities.



MESC events


Tonight at 6pm I will speak at the UoH Politics Society on the Roots of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Please contact the Politics Society if interested to attend.


We were very fortunate to host during the past month two extraordinary speakers: Justice Professor Elyakim Rubinstein and Mr Joel Singer. Both delivered fascinating lectures that received praise and appreciation by many listeners.


All events are recorded and available on our website:




Professor Trevor G. Burnard

I am very pleased to convey that Trevor has joined the MESC.


Trevor Burnard is Wilberforce Professor of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull and Director of the Wilberforce Institute. He is a specialist in the Atlantic World and slavery in plantation societies. He is the author of Only Connect: A Field Report on Early American History (Virginia, forthcoming); Jamaica in the Age of Revolution (2020) and The Atlantic World, 1492-1830 (2020). He recently curated a special forum in the journal, Slavery and Abolition on Black Lives Matter and Slavery. He is a member of the senior management board of the Modern Slavery Policy and Evidence Centre.


Welcome on Board!!





Middle East Study Centre (MESC)

Wednesday 9 March 2022, 5:00-7:00pm LONDON TIME


Dr. Francesco Motta

Chief of the Asia Pacific, Middle East and North Africa Branch of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

Between a Rock and a Hard Place – the work of the UN promoting human rights in the Middle East



Link to register:



Volunteers needed

In the past few months, Ahmed and I arranged the MESG events programme and the book celebration; launched funding appeal; collected information for the upgrade to centre; updated the MESG website; compiled information for the MESG Annual Activities Report; engage in establishing international relationships between the MESG and other organisations, and more.


As our volume of activities increases, we are looking for volunteers who will assist us with MESC work. If you have time to do important work with us, please get in touch. You will gain invaluable experience in networking, organising events, fund raising, contacting important people and organisations throughout the world, participate in research and initiate and pursue your own ideas.


With my very best wishes




 MESC Newsletter-January 2022

 Dear all

Funding opportunities

The Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Mission to the United Kingdom is pleased to announce the opening of the FY2022 Grants Program.  Their notification says:


Funds awarded through our grants program support U.S. foreign policy priorities and strengthen ties between the United States and the United Kingdom.   We will be accepting applications on a rolling basis, with decisions to be made in March 2022 and July 2022 through a competitive competition.  You can find the full details about the program in our annual program statement, founds on the Embassy website


Please let me know if you wish to prepare an application in support of your own research and the MESC. Please indicate under which Program you may wish to submit. I will connect between people who wish to submit under the same Program.


MESC Ambassador Forum

Professor Daniel Kurtzer’s lecture, Biden’s Agenda in the Middle East: How Relevant will the United States Be? with Sir Richard Dalton was insightful and interesting. You are able to listen to it at

All events are recorded and available on our website:




Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman

I am very pleased to convey that Lawrence has joined the MESC. Welcome on Board!!



9 February 2022, 5:00-7:00pm

MESC Research Seminar

Former Deputy President of The Israel Supreme Court, Justice Professor Elyakim Rubinstein (MESC)

Moshe Dayan – A Personal Memoir

Chair: Dr Alan Brener, UCL Faculty of Laws and MESC

Link to register:


More information about both at

Moshe Dayan is one of the most fascinating leaders of modern Israel. Dayan left his mark on many spheres, including the army, politics, diplomacy, war and peace. Here you will have an opportunity to hear about him from Ely Rubinstein who knew him closely.


We are greatly honoured to host Justice Rubinstein. Ely was the Legal Advisor to the Israeli Government and Deputy President of the Israeli Supreme Court. He is a person of great wisdom, experience and wit. I am sure it will be fascinating.



16 February 2022, 5:00-7:00pm

MESC Research Seminar

Mr Joel Singer (MESC), the architect of the Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and the PLO

From Oslo to Gaza

Chair: Dr Jacob Eriksson, York University and MESC

Link to register:

Singer was a member of Israeli delegations negotiating peace treaties and other agreements with all of Israel’s Arab neighbors, including Egypt (the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty), Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinians (the Oslo Accords). His insights of the Oslo Peace Accords are truly fascinating.



EIU Report Key trends and forecasts for North America in 2022 

The Economist Intelligence Report outlines the major themes that will shape the economic, political and policy landscapes in the US and Canada over the next 12 months. It emphasises the importance of the mid-term elections. Its Key forecasts:

  • The US economy will register another year of impressive growth in 2022, following its quick rebound from the coronavirus crisis in 2021. Large-scale government spending will again play a role, unless derailed by legislative gridlock (a growing risk).
  • Concerns about high inflation will prompt the Federal Reserve (Fed, the central bank) to start raising interest rates by March. We expect nine rate increases in total by early 2024, with the federal funds target rate rising to 2.4%.
  • China will remain the focal point of US foreign policy as tensions between the two countries remain high. Russia and Iran will be (lesser) priorities. Otherwise, a continuing trend of global disengagement is on the cards for the US.
  • We expect the Republicans to retake the House of Representatives (the lower house) in the November mid-term elections. The race for the Senate (the upper house) is too close to call. Losing both houses would put the Democrats on extremely weak footing for the next elections in 2024


 U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken Q&A with Stu Eizenstat

 Blinken spoke at the 33rd annual Fran Eizenstat and Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture. He had Q&A session with Stu Eizenstat. The session starts at 11:40 minute of the recording.


 Volunteers needed

In the past few months, Ahmed and I arranged the MESG events programme and the book celebration; launched funding appeal; collected information for the upgrade to centre; updated the MESG website; compiled information for the MESG Annual Activities Report; engage in establishing international relationships between the MESG and other organisations, and more.


As our volume of activities increases, we are looking for volunteers who will assist us with MESC work. If you have time to do important work with us, please get in touch. You will gain invaluable experience in networking, organising events, fund raising, contacting important people and organisations throughout the world, participate in research and initiate and pursue your own ideas.


With my very best wishes





MESG Newsletter-December 2021

 Dear all



Annual Report


Thank you to all the researchers who provided information about their activities during the past year. If you wish to add information, please send it to me no later than 10 December 2021.


I just published a fascinating interview with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: “Lessons from Peace Negotiations: Interview with Ehud Olmert”, Israel Affairs (online first 1 November 2021). DOI: 10.1080/13537121.2021.1993000. Available at:



MESG Programme 2021-2022


The last MESG Research Seminar with Rt Hon. Alistair Burt, former Minister for the ME and North America, Sir Richard Dalton (MESG), Sir Vincent Fean (MESG) and Sir Tom Phillips (MESG) on Britain in the Middle East: Does it still have a role? was superb. Those of you who saw it surely enjoyed it. If you did not see it for some reason, this unmissable event is available at


You can read Sir Richard’s paper at


Reiterated gratitude is expressed to Richard, Vincent, Tom, Dean Hardy, Ahmed Zaky and the FBLP events team for organizing this event.


Coming next two events on the same day:


8 December 2021, 2:00-3:00pm

FBLP Research Seminar

Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Just, Reasonable Multiculturalism

Discussant: Professor Naomi Chazan (MESG)

Chair: Professor Massimo La Torre (MESG)

Link to register:


Naomi Chazan is professor emerita of political science and African studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Prof. Chazan served as a Member of the Knesset for three terms (1992-2003) on behalf of the Meretz party. She was Deputy Speaker of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, and a member of numerous committees:  Foreign Affairs and Defense, Education, Economics, Immigration and Absorption, and the Advancement of the Status of Women.


Massimo La Torre is Professor of Philosophy of law at the University of Catanzaro, Italy, and a visiting professor of European law at the University of Tallinn, Estonia. For many years, Massimo was a Visiting Professor at hull School of Law.


More information about both at



8 December 2021, 6:00-8:00pm

MESG Annual Lecture

Sir Professor Lawrence Freedman

Great Powers and the Middle East: The Twenty Years Shift

Chair: Professor Stephen Hardy

Link to register:


Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman is Emeritus Professor of War Studies, King’s College London. He was Professor of War Studies from 1982 to 2014 and Vice-Principal from 2003 to 2013. In June 2009 he was appointed to serve as a member of the official inquiry into Britain and the 2003 Iraq War.

More information at




As some of you know, I am seeking to transform MESG into The Middle East Study Centre (MESC). The main reason for this application is to compete for funding. Building on the strengths of the MESG, we could do better in attracting students, increasing the volume of activities, attracting funding and growing in importance in the field of Middle Eastern studies as a centre of excellence.



MESG Partnerships

Together with Sir Tom Phillips I am working to create partnerships with similar centres in the Middle East. The University is interested to support this initiative, and this is very important.



Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III on Middle East Security at the Manama Dialogue (As Delivered)

NOV. 20, 2021

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III




Volunteers needed


In the past few months, Ahmed and I arranged the MESG events programme and the book celebration; launched funding appeal; collected information for the upgrade to centre; updated the MESG website; compiled information for the MESG Annual Activities Report; engage in establishing international relationships between the MESG and other organisations, and more.


As our volume of activities increases, we are looking for volunteers who will assist us with MESG work. If you have time to do important work with us, please get in touch. You will gain invaluable experience in networking, organising events, fund raising, contacting important people and organisations throughout the world, participate in research and initiate and pursue your own ideas.



Wishing you good health and peace, with my very best wishes




MESG Newsletter-November 2021


Dear all


Visiting Professorship

Many thanks to all of you who congratulated me after reading the VC announcement that the Swedish Research Council granted me the 2023 Olof Palme Guest Professorship.


The Professorship was established by the Swedish Riksdag in 1987 in memory of Sweden’s former prime minister, Olof Palme. Every year, the Swedish Research Council issues a call and Swedish universities compete by nominating internationally prominent researchers in areas of importance for the understanding of peace in a broad context – areas to which Olof Palme had a life-long commitment. The research may cover areas such as international politics, peace and conflict research and the comparison of social institutions.


The Palme Professorship is from 1 January until 31 December 2023. The purpose of the Olof Palme Visiting Professorship is to give universities the opportunity to develop a subject area by inviting an internationally prominent researcher as a visiting professor for one year. The position comes with many responsibilities throughout the year, including research collaboration, delivering lectures and seminars, supporting PhD students, advising Lund University and its partners in facilitating this professorship, communicating with politicians, decision-makers and the media.


In making this application for the Palme Professorship, Lund University partnered with five other reputable institutions: Gothenburg University, The Swedish Institute of Foreign Affairs, Stockholm University, The Folke Benadotte Academy, and the University of Copenhagen. They all acknowledge the important work that the MESG is doing.



Annual Report


Thank you to all the researchers who provided information about their activities during the past year. If you wish to add information, please send it to me no later than 10 December 2021.


I just published a fascinating interview with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: “Lessons from Peace Negotiations: Interview with Ehud Olmert”, Israel Affairs (online first 1 November 2021). DOI: 10.1080/13537121.2021.1993000. Available at:



MESG Programme 2021-2022


The last MESG Research Seminar with Rt Hon. Alistair Burt, former Minister for the ME and North America, Sir Richard Dalton (MESG), Sir Vincent Fean (MESG) and Sir Tom Phillips (MESG) on Britain in the Middle East: Does it still have a role? was superb. Those of you who saw it surely enjoyed it. If you did not see it for some reason, this unmissable event is available at


You can read Sir Richard’s paper at


Reiterated gratitude is expressed to Richard, Vincent, Tom, Dean Hardy, Ahmed Zaky and the FBLP events team for organizing this event.


Coming next two events on the same day:


8 December 2021, 2:00-3:00pm

FBLP Research Seminar

Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Just, Reasonable Multiculturalism

Discussant: Professor Naomi Chazan (MESG)

Chair: Professor Massimo La Torre (MESG)

Link to register:


Naomi Chazan is professor emerita of political science and African studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Prof. Chazan served as a Member of the Knesset for three terms (1992-2003) on behalf of the Meretz party. She was Deputy Speaker of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, and a member of numerous committees:  Foreign Affairs and Defense, Education, Economics, Immigration and Absorption, and the Advancement of the Status of Women.


Massimo La Torre is Professor of Philosophy of law at the University of Catanzaro, Italy, and a visiting professor of European law at the University of Tallinn, Estonia. For many years, Massimo was a Visiting Professor at hull School of Law.


More information about both at



8 December 2021, 6:00-8:00pm

MESG Annual Lecture

Sir Professor Lawrence Freedman

Great Powers and the Middle East: The Twenty Years Shift

Chair: Professor Stephen Hardy

Link to register:


Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman is Emeritus Professor of War Studies, King’s College London. He was Professor of War Studies from 1982 to 2014 and Vice-Principal from 2003 to 2013. In June 2009 he was appointed to serve as a member of the official inquiry into Britain and the 2003 Iraq War.

More information at




As some of you know, I am seeking to transform MESG into The Middle East Study Centre (MESC). The main reason for this application is to compete for funding. Building on the strengths of the MESG, we could do better in attracting students, increasing the volume of activities, attracting funding and growing in importance in the field of Middle Eastern studies as a centre of excellence.



MESG Partnerships

Together with Sir Tom Phillips I am working to create partnerships with similar centres in the Middle East. The University is interested to support this initiative, and this is very important.


The Balfour Project

On Tue, 30 November 2021, 17:30 – 18:30 GMT, our member and friend Sir Vincent Fean will host Toufic Haddad to discuss “Will there ever be a Two-State Solution?”

Dr Toufic Haddad is a social scientist whose work focuses on the political economy of development and conflict in the Middle East, and Israel-Palestine in particular. Before joining the Council for British Research in the Levant as the Kenyon Institute’s Deputy Director in October 2018, Toufic had an eclectic professional and academic career working as a journalist, editor, researcher, consultant and a publisher, including for several UN bodies.


He has a BA in Philosophy and Middle East Studies from Trinity College; an MA in Near East Studies and Journalism from New York University; and, a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London (Development Studies). His PhD was transformed into Palestine Ltd: Neoliberalism and Nationalism in the Occupied Territory, published by I.B. Tauris in 2016, with paperback edition out in 2018. He is the co-author of two additional books and has extensively spoken and published on the Israel-Palestine conflict, featured in an assortment of books, print, television and online media, both academic and popular.



UCL Book Launch

Some of you asked for the link of the book launch I had at UCL with The Rt Hon. Lord David Neuberger,

Deputy President (ret.), Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, and Professor Avrom Sherr. It is available at



Volunteers needed


In the past few months, Ahmed and I arranged the MESG events programme and the book celebration; launched funding appeal; collected information for the upgrade to centre; updated the MESG website; compiled information for the MESG Annual Activities Report; engage in establishing international relationships between the MESG and other organisations, and more.


As our volume of activities increases, we are looking for volunteers who will assist us with MESG work. If you have time to do important work with us, please get in touch. You will gain invaluable experience in networking, organising events, fund raising, contacting important people and organisations throughout the world, participate in research and initiate and pursue your own ideas.



Wishing you good health and peace, with my very best wishes




MESG Newsletter-October 2021


Dear all


I am delighted to announce that one of our members, Professor Saul Friedlander, has received The Balzan Prize for scholarly and scientific achievements. The prize of 750,000 Swiss francs was granted for his work broadening the perspective on the history of the Holocaust.


The Balzan Foundation awards two prizes in the sciences and two in the humanities each year, rotating specialties to highlight new or emerging areas of research and sustain fields that might be overlooked elsewhere. Recipients receive 750,000 Swiss francs ($815,000), half of which must be used for research, preferably by young scholars or scientists.



MESG Programme 2021-2022


The programme is now complete. As already said, it promises to be interesting and stimulating as it was in previous years.


MESG Programme 2021-2022





6 October 2021, 5:00-7:00pm

MESG Ambassador Forum

Ambassador Jon Allen (MESG)

The Role of Canada in the Middle East

Chair: Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Lecture recording:


9 November 2021, 5:00-7:00pm

MESG Research Seminar

Opening words: PVC (International) Professor Philip Gilmartin

Rt Hon. Alistair Burt, former Minister for the ME and North America

Sir Richard Dalton (MESG)

Sir Vincent Fean (MESG)

Sir Tom Phillips (MESG)

Britain in the Middle East: Does it still have a role?

Link to register:


8 December 2021, 2:00-3:00pm

FBLP Research Seminar

Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Just, Reasonable Multiculturalism

Discussant: Professor Naomi Chazan (MESG)

Chair: Professor Massimo La Torre (MESG)

Link to register:


8 December 2021, 6:00-8:00pm

MESG Annual Lecture

Sir Professor Lawrence Freedman

Great Powers and the Middle East: The Twenty Years Shift

Chair: Professor Stephen Hardy

Link to register:


19 January 2022, 5:00-7:00pm

MESG Ambassador Forum

Professor Daniel Kurtzer (MESG)

Biden’s Agenda in the Middle East: How Relevant will the United States Be?

Chair: Sir Richard Dalton (MESG)

Link to register:


9 February 2022, 5:00-7:00pm

MESG Research Seminar

Former Deputy President, Justice Professor Elyakim Rubinstein (MESG)

Moshe Dayan – A Personal Memoir

Chair: Mr Uzi Dayan

Link to register:


16 February 2022, 5:00-7:00pm

MESG Research Seminar

Mr Joel Singer (MESG)

From Oslo to Gaza

Chair: Professor Isabell Schierenbeck (MESG)

Link to register:


9 March 2022, 5:00-7:00pm

MESG Research Seminar

Mr Francesco Motta
Chief, Asia Pacific and MENA Branch, The United Nations

Between a Rock and a Hard Place – the work of the UN promoting human rights in the Middle East

Chair: Professor Glenn Burgess

Link to register:


27 April 2022, 5:00-7:00pm

MESG Books’ Celebration



Dr Alan Brener

Professor Alan Dowty

Professor Jack Goldstone

Professor Daniel Kurtzer

Professor Lester Grabbe

Professor Simon Smith

Professor David Tal

Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Chair: Professor Stephen Hardy

Link to register:



Please pencil the dates in your diaries.



Invitation: Online Book Launches at Reading and UCL








On Microsoft Teams

Please contact for registration



Raphael Cohen-Almagor (Chair in Politics, Hull)

Chris Hilson (Professor of Law, Reading)

Gila Stopler (Dean and Associate Professor of Law, College of Law & Business)

Aleardo Zanghellini (Professor of Law and Social Theory, Reading)


Chair and moderator:

Ruvi Ziegler (Associate Professor in International Refugee Law, Reading) (MESG)


This book explores the main challenges against multiculturalism. It aims to examine whether liberalism and multiculturalism are reconcilable, and what are the limits of liberal democratic interventions in illiberal affairs of minority cultures within democracy. In the process, this book addresses three questions: whether multiculturalism is bad for democracy, whether multiculturalism is bad for women, and whether multiculturalism contributes to terrorism. Just, Reasonable Multiculturalism argues that liberalism and multiculturalism are reconcilable if a fair balance is struck between individual rights and group rights. Raphael Cohen-Almagor contends that reasonable multiculturalism can be achieved via mechanisms of deliberate democracy, compromise and, when necessary, coercion. Placing necessary checks on groups that discriminate against vulnerable third parties, the approach insists on the protection of basic human rights as well as on exit rights for individuals if and when they wish to leave their cultural groups.



4th November 2021, 5 – 6.30pm

Raphael Cohen-Almagor, Just, Reasonable Multiculturalism (Cambridge University Press, 2021)


Speakers include:


The Rt Hon. Lord David Neuberger of Abbotsbury, former President of the United Kingdom Supreme Court


Deputy President (ret.), Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, Israel Supreme Court, Jerusalem, Israel (MESG)


Professor Avrom Sherr, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Professor Emeritus, Director Emeritus (MESG)




Volunteers needed


In the past few months, Ahmed and I arranged the MESG events programme and the book celebration; launched funding appeal; collected information for the upgrade to centre; updated the MESG website; compiled information for the MESG Annual Activities Report; engage in establishing international relationships between the MESG and other organisations, and more.


As our volume of activities increases, we are looking for volunteers who will assist us with MESG work. If you have time to do important work with us, please get in touch. You will gain invaluable experience in networking, organising events, fund raising, contacting important people and organisations throughout the world, participate in research and initiate and pursue your own ideas.



Wishing you good health and peace, with my very best wishes




MESG Newsletter-September 2021


Dear all


The past few months were extremely busy. Ahmed and I, with the support of the MESG Advisory Board, have been exploring and establishing cooperation with international organisations; compiling information with the aim of elevating MESG to MESC, i.e., to a centre; launching fund raising campaign; compiling our MESG annual activities report; updating our website, and organising our international events for this academic year.



Cooperation between MESG and the Vienna Process


MESG has become an associated academic partner of the Vienna Process.



MESG Book Celebration

On 27 April 2022 we will hold our MESG Books’ Celebration. Several members will present their new books, published during the past year. These include:

Dr Alan Brener

Professor Jack Goldstone

Professor Daniel Kurtzer

Professor Lester Grabbe

Professor Simon Smith

Professor David Tal

Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor


The event will be chaired by FBLP Dean Professor Stephen Hardy.



MESG Programme 2021-2022


The programme is beginning to take nice shape. It promises to be interesting and stimulating as it was in previous years. Our first event for this academic year will be the Ambassador Forum:


6 October 2021, at 5:00pm

Ambassador Forum

Jon Allen (MESG)

Tentative title: “Canada and the Middle East”.

Please register directly with the online platform:


All, of course, welcome.


As our budget is strained (I am using my Oxonian understatement here), all our events will be online. This allows us to continue benefiting from the best brains in the world. The tentative programme is, in addition to Ambassador Allen:


9 November 2021, 5:00-7:00pm

Opening words: PVC (International) Professor Philip Gilmartin

Rt Hon. Alistair Burt, former Minister for the ME and North America

Sir Richard Dalton (MESG)

Sir Vincent Fean (MESG)

Sir Tom Phillips (MESG)

Britain in the Middle East: Does it still have a role?

Link to register:


8 December 2021, 6:00-8:00pm

MESG Annual Lecture

Sir Professor Lawrence Freedman

Great Powers and the Middle East: The Twenty Years Shift

Chair: Professor Stephen Hardy

Link to register:


19 January 2022, 5:00-7:00pm

Professor Daniel Kurtzer (MESG)

Biden’s Agenda in the Middle East: How Relevant will the United States Be?

Chair: Sir Richard Dalton (MESG)

Link to register:


9 February 2022, 5:00-7:00pm

Deputy President, Justice Professor Elyakim Rubinstein (MESG)

Moshe Dayan – A Personal Memoir


16 February 2022, 5:00-7:00pm

Mr Joel Singer (MESG)

From Oslo to Gaza

Chair: Professor Isabell Schierenbeck (MESG)

Link to register:


9 March 2022, 5:00-7:00pm

Mr Francesco Motta
Chief, Asia Pacific and MENA Branch

The United Nations


27 April 2022, 5:00-7:00pm

MESG Books’ Celebration

The books include the writings of:


Professor Lester Grabbe

Dr Alan Brener

Professor Jack Goldstone

Professor Simon C. Smith

Professor David Tal

Professor Daniel Kurtzer

Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor


Chair: Professor Stephen Hardy



Please pencil the dates in your diaries.




The Balfour Project is proud to open applications for the 3rd year of its peace advocacy fellowship programme. This paid fellowship is aimed primarily (but not exclusively) at post-graduate and final year undergraduate students who are committed to the Balfour Project ethos. The successful applicants will advocate for peace and equal rights on the basis of the Balfour Project approach, applying professional tools provided in the fellowship training.

Further details at;



Carnegie Connects: Aaron David Miller (MESG) in Conversation with The Honorable James A. Baker, III
September 29, 2021  11:00 to 11:45 a.m. EDT

Live Online

Aaron and many others consider Jim Baker to be one of the brightest and ablest Secretary of State.



Invitation: Online Book Launch at UCL


Raphael Cohen-Almagor, Just, Reasonable Multiculturalism (Cambridge University Press, 2021)


Speakers include:


The Rt Hon. Lord David Neuberger of Abbotsbury, former President of the United Kingdom Supreme Court


Deputy President (ret.), Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, Israel Supreme Court, Jerusalem, Israel


Professor Avrom Sherr, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Professor Emeritus, Director Emeritus


4th November 2021, 5 – 6.30pm



Postgraduate Scholarships and Fellowships for Cypriot nationals

The Jo Carby-Hall Cyprus Scholarship/Fellowship

Each of these scholarships are applicable to all disciplines offered at the University of Hull. They are only offered to EXCEPTIONAL applicants. (The scholarship is for Master and Doctoral degrees with a contribution of £350 per annum towards their university fees. Fellowships are by invitation only and paid for by the sponsor authority. Prospective applicants are welcome to write to Professor Jo Carby-Hall:


Interview about R. Cohen-Almagor’s new book, Just, Reasonable Multinationalism,

Vital Interests, Fordham University, New York:



US Afghanistan withdrawal: the impact on MENA geopolitical risk


The rapid US withdrawal from Afghanistan has provided the starkest example yet of the US’s long-standing desire to disentangle itself from the regional conflicts in the Middle East. However, a continued US presence in the Gulf remains a key underlying factor for political stability in the region.

This special report examines which countries in the Middle East could be next to be destabilised from a long-term US withdrawal. Our analysis also explores which global powers are poised to benefit from a declining US interest in the region.



The Alec Gill Hessle Road photo archive

A book celebrating the photographic study of one road in Hull and its community at the heart of the UK’s historic fishing culture.



Volunteers needed


In the past few months, Ahmed and I arranged the MESG events programme and the book celebration; launched funding appeal; collected information for the upgrade to centre; updated the MESG website; compiled information for the MESG Annual Activities Report; engage in establishing international relationships between the MESG and other organisations, and more.


As our volume of activities increases, we are looking for volunteers who will assist us with MESG work. If you have time to do important work with us, please get in touch. You will gain invaluable experience in networking, organising events, fund raising, contacting important people and organisations throughout the world, participate in research and initiate and pursue your own ideas.



Wishing you good health and peace, with my very best wishes




MESG Newsletter-August 2021


New books:


Professor Lester Grabbe (MESG) is about to publish a new book:


A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period, Volume 4: The Jews under the Roman Shadow (4 BCE–150 CE) (Library of Second Temple Studies 99; London/New York: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2021), 638 pp.


This is the fourth and final volume of my history of the Jews in the Second Temple period, i.e., the period beginning about 550 BC and covering the Jews under Persian, Greek, and Roman rule to about 150 of the Common Era.  This volume gives the history from the death of King Herod the Great to the last Jewish revolt under Bar-Kokhva (about 132-35).  It takes in the period of the Roman governors of Judaea including Pontius Pilate, the beginnings of Christianity, the conquest of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple 66-70, and the foundations of Rabbinic Judaism.  It collects all that is known about the Jews during the period in which they were ruled by the Roman Empire. Based directly on primary sources such as archaeology, inscriptions, Jewish literary sources and Greek, Roman and Christian sources, this study includes analysis of the Jewish diaspora, mystical and Gnosticism trends, and the developments in the Temple, the law, and contemporary attitudes towards Judaism. The volume concludes with a holistic perspective on the Jews and Judaism for the entire 700 years of the Second Temple Period.



My new book:


Just, Reasonable Multiculturalism

Raphael Cohen-Almagor


New book: Raphael Cohen-Almagor, Just, Reasonable Multiculturalism (New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021).


My book explores the main challenges against multiculturalism. Its primary objectives are twofold: to examine whether liberalism and multiculturalism are reconcilable, and what are the limits of liberal democratic interventions in illiberal affairs of minority cultures within democracy when minorities engage in practices that inflict physical harm on group members (e.g. Female Genital Mutilation) or non-physical harm (e.g. denying members property or education). In the process, the book addresses three questions: whether multiculturalism is bad for democracy; whether multiculturalism is bad for women, and whether multiculturalism contributes to terrorism.

The main thesis is that liberalism and multiculturalism are reconcilable provided that a fair balance is struck between individual rights and group rights. It is argued that reasonable multiculturalism can be achieved via mechanisms of deliberate democracy, compromise and, when necessary, coercion. Placing necessary checks on groups that discriminate against vulnerable third parties, commonly women and children, the approach insists on the protection of basic human rights as well as on exit rights for individuals if and when they wish to leave their cultural groups.



During 2022, the MESG will hold a book celebration, hosting authors who recently have published new books. Please drop me a line if you wish to take part.


MESG Programme 2021-2022:

The programme is beginning to take nice shape. It promises to be interesting and stimulating as it was in previous years. Our first speaker:

6 October 2021, at 5:00pm

Ambassador Forum

Jon Allen (MESG)

Tentative title: “Canada and the Middle East”.



Please pencil it in your diaries. I will publish the full programme once it is finalized.



Recommended Podcast:

Peace Process Now with Yossi Beilin and Daniel Kurtzer (MESG)



Recommended readings:

Joel Singer (MESG), The Israel-PLO Mutual Recognition Agreement,



Tariq Dana, Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority’s succession dilemma,


Wishing you peace, with my very best wishes




MESG Newsletter-July 2021


Dear all



June 2021: Faculty Research Newsletter


Middle East Study Group Seminar Programme
The Middle East Study Group (MESG) is a think-tank that brings togetherpeople from different disciplines, academic and non-academic,

to discuss Middle Eastern affairs. Believing that the University should be an integral part of the community, the

MESG is open to all people who are interested in and engaged with Middle Eastern politics. The group has

been meeting since 2008, to discuss pertinent topics. Meetings are usually designed for the discussion of

work-in-progress papers, so presenters can benefit from the deliberation prior to publication, and there is an

annual seminar programme featuring guest speakers.


The MESG Seminar programme for 2020-21, which has recently

concluded, has been a wonderful opportunity to hear from a diverse mix of high profile, expert speakers about a

range of different issues relevant in the Middle East today.


With 8 sessions in total, the programme attracted 1138 registrants and a total of 695 delegates attended from

around the world.  The most popular seminar with an audience of 248, was a talk on the 21st April from world

renowned intellectual Professor Noam Chomsky, who offered his unique insights into the challenges facing human

kind today. In the second most popular talk we heard from former Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Olmert, with an

audience of 109 delegates.


Thanks to Raphael Cohen Almagor, Founding Director of the MESG, and Ahmed Zaky for both securing

the speakers and their pivotal roles in the arrangements.


Recordings of all sessions are available on the FBLP Recording Channels and for more information about

the MESG please visit their website here.




 Dear all


MESG Affiliate Member Jon Allen agreed to share with you segments of a speech he delivered on May 14, 2021. Jon served as Canadian ambassador to Israel.


Let me begin by making it clear that what I have to say is not about justifying the almost 2000 rockets that have been launched against Israel over the past few days. I condemn Hamas’ rocket attacks as pure political opportunism as I will explain later. Nor does it justify Arab on Jewish violence in Israel’s mixed cities, the shocking new dimension to this conflict. Not only are these actions terrifying for all Israelis, men, women and especially children – and they must stop, but they also feed the belief that there is no, and never will be, a partner for peace on the Palestinian side, and that an independent Palestinian state would be a constant threat to Israel. I don’t agree with either of those suggestions but many Israelis and many Jews in the diaspora do and the violence this week further fuels the mistrust and in some cases hatred that are major obstacles to peace going forward.


In my view, the causes for the disturbances leading up to and including the rocket fire are multiple: they are secular and religious, they are long standing and immediate and they are political. But they are ultimately centered on the question of Palestinian rights and the lack thereof.


Let’s begin with the immediate causes. The first was the barricading of Damascus Gate during Ramadan. This is an area where young Palestinians traditionally gather while waiting for the evening meal and after. I don’t know why the decision was taken to do it. (There is some speculation that the commanders of the police were new and inexperienced.) At any rate, it was a provocation and it set off the first demonstrations and acts of real violence on both sides. It brought out radical Jewish extremists, and innocent Jews and Arabs were attacked during the protests and police actions that followed.


The second was the intervention by the Kahanist MP Itamar Gvir. According to the Times of Israel, Israeli Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai told Prime Minister Netanyahu that the extreme-right MK was responsible for ongoing riots in Jewish-Arab cities. He said that every time police appeared to be getting an area under control, Ben Gvir, the Kahanist member of the Religious Zionism party, showed up to fan the flames.


The third cause was the pending, now postponed, Supreme Court decision on whether a number of Palestinian families would be evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah – homes they have lived in since 1948. Derek will explain this issue in detail. Let me just say that scheduling the court decision and possible evictions during Ramadan was not well thought out. The evictions are perceived by Palestinians and others as part of a larger effort to surround the Old City with “Jewish only” settlements and thereby cut off East Jerusalem from the West Bank.


The proposed march to celebrate Jerusalem Day that was intended to finish at the Damascus Gate, but which was re-routed at the last minute, also did not help. The simultaneous expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and the celebration of Jerusalem Day, which for the marchers means all of Jerusalem, both East and West, are also perceived as an effort to unilaterally settle one of the most sensitive of the final status issues between Israel and Palestine – the status of Jerusalem. The Trump Peace Plan’s formal recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol and his encouragement of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem are controversial backdrops to Palestinians concerns.


The fifth and by far most provocative cause, especially given that tensions were already high and that violence on both sides had already erupted, was the use of force by the police on the grounds of the Temple Mount/Al Aqsa. No one in the Israeli government seemed to recall that it was a visit by Ariel Sharon to this same site that provoked the Second Intifada, or to realize that it’s violation, especially during Ramadan, was guaranteed to provoke a strong reaction, not only in Jerusalem but throughout Israel and the Muslim world. The media coverage of police firing rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse demonstrators further stoked the flames.


As a result, even secular Muslims and non-Muslims could easily identify with these issues.


So why did Hamas act when it did and why with such force. The easy answer is that Hamas gave Israel an ultimatum to leave Al Aqsa and Israel didn’t comply. A more likely reason is far more political and opportunist. Hamas sought to take advantage of the Palestinian’s anger and long-standing frustration and fill a vacuum at a time when Fatah and its leader Mahmoud Abbas were silent. Recall also that this was taking place shortly after Abbas had cancelled the Palestinian elections – the first in almost 15 years – elections that many predicted Hamas would win. Another possible reason for Hamas’ reaction is that Hamas (and some say Bibi Netanyahu) believed that a conflict of this nature and magnitude would disrupt the efforts of the anti-Bibi bloc to form a government in Israel. As we know, that bloc could have succeeded in forming a government only with the support of one of the Israeli-Arab parties. Hamas, you see, prefers a Netanyahu government just as Bibi prefers to quietly support Hamas. Both want to weaken Fatah, and neither are interested in a two-state solution.


Just how long did Israel think that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza would put up with military rule and military courts; with house demolitions and evictions; with settler expansion and daily settler violence ignored by the IDF; with severe restrictions on their movement, both within the Territories and between the Territories and the outside world? How long would the residents of Jerusalem – they are denied Israeli citizenship – accept their third-class status? Did Israeli government officials think that Palestinian Israelis in Lod, Akko and Ramle were either ignorant of or immune to the treatment of Palestinians in the territories or the provocations at Al Aqsa? For how long do Israelis and we Jews in the Diaspora think that this situation is sustainable? If nothing is done to fix this larger problem, I fear we will back here in a few years having a very similar conversation.




I published my own thoughts on my Blog, Israel: Democracy, Human Rights, Politics and Society,




Affiliate Member Joel Singer shares: My First Encounter With Yasser Arafat


Singer recalls his first encounter with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, back in 1974 – nearly twenty years before we met on the White House South Lawn during the signing ceremony of the Oslo Agreement. In the three years that followed that ceremony, Singer spent so many days and nights negotiating the details of the Oslo Accords with him that some came to consider Singer an expert on Arafat – one of the most controversial and enigmatic figures of the 20th century.




Call for Papers: Post-Pandemic Politics: Perspectives and Possibilities


The Editors of Public Governance, Administration and Finances Law Review are inviting contributions to their online conference Post-Pandemic Politics: Perspectives and Possibilities (30th June 2021) to approximate some post-Covid-related political dilemmas. The deadline for abstract submission is 31st May 2021. Be sure to check out the full call at:


Prominent scientists say the transformation of Israel from a COVID-19 hotspot to a vaccination success story underlines that any developed country can subdue the virus.


They estimate that a relatively small number of vaccinations are needed to take a country out of crisis mode. The moment that half of the population aged 60-plus is inoculated, authorities can expect a dramatic drop in cases and hospitals are safe from being overwhelmed, they conclude.



Dr Sina Hakiman, a retired psychiatrist who is living in Hull and is a member of the Baha’I community got in touch following Dr David Rutstien event. Sina wishes to explore whether if as a volunteer there is a possibility to collaborate on some community building activities in a neighbourhood in Hull as a project.


Those interested are welcome to contact Sina directly:

Dr Sina Hakiman

Mobile 07922333964


Invitation to my Talk: “Arafat, Barak and Clinton at Camp David: Clashes of Characters and Conduct”, Centre for Leadership, Ethics and Organisation in conjunction with the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice

Chair: Dr Joanne Murphy Date: Wednesday 2nd June @ 4.30 pm – Via Zoom

The Centre for Leadership, Ethics and Organisation in conjunction with the Mitchell Institute invite you to attend a seminar by Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor, DPhil, St. Catherine’s College, University of Oxford; Professor and Chair of Politics and Founding Director of the Middle East Study Group, University of Hull. The discussion will focus on all three parties: Israel, the PLO and the USA being responsible for the summit failure. This paper holds that convening the Camp David summit was ill-timed and ill-prepared. Israel and the PLO were not fully resolved to end the conflict and to sign a peace treaty. The parties – Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the USA – came to the summit unprepared, with impossibly wide gaps between the sides. The negotiators were not familiar with details of possible solutions to problems. In the focus of analysis are the three leaders: Ehud Barak, Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton. The paper focuses on their conduct they were the first among equals and much was dependent on them. It is argued that all three of them made crucial mistakes that undermined the talks and brought about the summit’s inevitable failure. The analysis exposes inherent problems in the search for peace in the Middle East: the bad design and timing of the Camp David summit, the asymmetric power relationship between the negotiating sides, the poor human relationships, the yearning for public consensus at the expense of reaching results, the unbalanced mediation role of the USA, perceived to be biased by all three sides (Israel, PA and the USA itself), and the lack of leadership.