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.