Tankers Attacked near the Straits of Hormuz

For years Iran has been threatening to attack tankers transiting the Straits of Hormuz, the choke point in the Persian Gulf, effectively closing it to international oil transport.  This would be a catastrophe since 20% of the world’s oil from the Gulf (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Kuwait) flows through that Strait.  Now, two tankers have been attacked and set on fire in the Gulf of Oman east of the straits, possibly due to limpet mines or missiles. But, Iran adamantly denies that they were responsible and pleads innocence.  Does it really sound feasible, that some other force, not known for ever threatening to attack tankers, would do so in order to get Iran into trouble?  Would anyone with any sense ever attempt that?  It is not believable.  We can only conclude that Iran is carrying out these attacks, as US Secty. of Defense Mike Pompeo stated, and that Iran is trying to avoid the consequences by pleading innocence.  

Once we accept that scenario, then the prospects look bleak.  That Iran would do this while Japanese PM Shinzo Abe is actually in Tehran on a State Visit, in order to mediate an agreement between Iran and the US to avoid a military clash between them, shows the degree of cynicism that Iran displays.  In addition, Supreme Leader Khomenei told Abe that it is beneath him to send a message to Trump.

On news of the attacks on the two tankers, the price of crude oil shot up by 4% and  remains steady awaiting future events.  Many oil companies are reviewing their supply chain and looking to see how they can manage without the flow of oil from the Gulf should the situation worsen.  If the US does strike back at Iranian facilities in response to these attacks, there could be a war, and Iran might well strike at Israel.  The consequences could be disastrous, for Iran and the world, considering the oil situation.


Nationalism and Nomenclature

I wrote a posting entitled “Nationalism” (May 19)before my trip to Europe with the MEF and Daniel Pipes and before the EU Elections on May 23-26  documenting a move towards more right-wing populist and nationalist parties in Europe.  The results of the EU elections showed that the center right and center left were defeated throughout Europe, with the more right-wing and environmentalist parties improving their status.  In France the National Rally of Marine Le Pen, in Germany the Greens becoming the largest party, in Hungary Victor Orban’s right wing party Fidusz increased its lead, and in Italy Matteo Salvini’s League also won.

Many people are worried by the move towards more right-wing nationalist parties in Europe.  There is no doubt that some of them in the past were both neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic.  But, it is now claimed that the old parties have changed and the new parties no longer look to the fascist past, but have a new outlook, that is basically against immigration, particularly of non-integratable Muslims.  They see the degradation of life in western European countries (like France and Germany) and very liberal countries (like Denmark and Sweden), as the model to avoid.  The question is what to actually call these new rightist parties.  To call them nationalist is not enough, because that evokes comparison with the ultra-nationalist parties of the past, namely the Fascists in Italy and the Nazis in Germany.   To call them populist is not enough because other parties, such as the Greens may also be populist.

Daniel Pipes has suggested calling these parties “civilizationist” in the sense that they seek to preserve European civilization against the mainly Muslim threat to overwhelm and overthrow it (see for example https://www.meforum.org/58546/who-are-europe-civilizationists).  But, I find this label too prejudicial, for three reasons: 1. It implies that there is or will be a “Clash of Civilizations” as outlined in Huntington’s iconic book of that name. 2. It implies that the opponents are uncivilized, which is certainly not the case, even Muslims have a civilization, albeit not one most Europeans want to adopt; 3.  It does not fit into the well known labels of left-right that has dominated European politics for centuries.

I find the nomenclature suggested by John O’Sullivan, former editor of The National Review, as more appropriate (see https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/orbans-switch-back-to-the-center-right/).  He argues that to distinguish these right-wing parties from previous historical nationalist parties that were also fascist, their name should be modulated with another term, and he chooses “National Conservative.”  I like this dual label because for example, no one could confuse the Conservative Party in the UK as being fascist, yet these new parties are certainly more nationalist than it generally is (although it may be on the point of splitting over Brexit).   There are many examples of such bifurcated party labels as precedent, “Social Democrat,” “Christian Democrat,” “Liberal Democrat,” and so on.  In fact there have been “national conservative” parties in the former British Dominions of Canada, South Africa and Australia and even in the USA.  So this may be a convenient descriptor to adopt to define this new phenomenon.

Freedom of Speech in Europe

Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, has been involved in a long-drawn out legal case of freedom of speech in Europe. She spoke to us during our visit with the MEF tour in Vienna.  In a course given at the Freedom Party on “Basic Knowledge of Islam,” she was recorded by a reporter as saying that Mohammed had pedophile tendencies because he liked little girls, for example, it is widely accepted that he married Aisha when she was 6 years old and he was 56 years old, and he consummated the marriage when she was only 9 years old.   

Elizabeth was taken to court and found guilty in 2011 of  “Publicly denigrating a person who is an object of veneration, namely Mohammed the Prophet of Islam.”  She appealed to the Supreme Court of Austria, and her conviction was upheld,  because they concluded that “she intended to denigrate and ridicule Muslims unnecessarily.”   She then appealed to the EU Court of Human Rights, that rejected her appeal in 2018 saying essentially that her statement was an example of “hate speech” against a “public figure” (see https://english.savefreespeech.org/)

Elisabeth points out that there has been no similar prosecution of individuals who have ridiculed Jesus Christ (such as the Monty Python: “Life of Brian“) or made anti-Semitic statements about Jews.  She not only questions why she was prosecuted and found guilty, but why does the UN Court of Human Rights uphold such an obvious case denying freedom of expression.  Can we no longer state the facts about any religion, or is it only Islam that is thus protected.

As a result of this case and her pursuing justice she lost her job as a teacher, and it has affected her whole life.  She has received death threats, and is now spending much time in the US, where she has received great support.  She points out that that there is no European equivalent to the First Amendment of the US Constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech.

Here is another example of a fact about Islam that is not generally known, it is strange that the paragraphs in the Koran are arranged in terms of length, the longest first.  This is because the exact chronological order of the verses or suras were not known when the Koran was compiled hundreds of years after Mohammed’s death.  Several European writers have rearranged the chapters according to their analysis of chronological order. But, although such books are available in English and German, do not suggest such a rearranged Koran to any Muslim authority, it could be dangerous.

Immigration: The Case of Austria

The first speaker to the MEF group in Vienna was Martin Engelberg, precisely one of those Jews who remained in Austria after the War, grew up there, and is now a member of Parliament for the People’s Party (PP).  He is active in the Jewish Community and has never found this to be a problem.  He noted that in Europe there is a move to the right with the upsurge of the Natl. Rally of Marine Le Pen in France, Victor Orban’s Fidusz Party in Hungary, and Matteo Salvini’s League in Italy.  Also in Germany the centrist parties lost in the EU elections and the Greens were the big winners.  Note that immigration is not a major issue for the Greens.

Austrians have never owned up to their responsibility for the Holocaust.  Their excuse is that they were integrated into the German Reich and had no choice, but this neglects the fact that the Austrians enthusiastically supported the Anschluss and were virulently anti-Semitic.  On the right is the Austrian Freedom Party (FP), that was formerly the party of Chancellor Kreisky, who had 4 former Nazis in his cabinet.  Then there was the  Waldheim scandal in 1986, but after that experience they took steps to change and now the FP is supposedly free of anti-Semitism.  For 1.5 years there has been a coalition agreement between the PP and the FP.  But right now that has collapsed due to the corruption case.

While we were in Austria, the Government collapsed due to the release of a video made two years before, of Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the FP, having a drunken dinner with several people posing as Russian contacts, and agreeing to do favors for them for money.  This caused the coalition to collapse and the Government to resign. The question is, why did the makers of the video hold it for 2 years?  The leader of the PP, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called for new elections.  Some, such as Christian Zeitz, who spoke to us at dinner,  speculate that he engineered the revelation of the video, so that in the next election the FP will receive many fewer votes and the PP will be able to form a Government without them.

Regarding the immigration issue, the Govt. of Kurz did allow a small number of Muslims to settle in Austria.  Out of a total population of ca. 8 million there are ca. 600,000 Muslims (mainly Turks). The Govt. did enact legislation to control the situation, and is a leader in that respect.  The Islam Law forbids foreign financing of Muslim activities and Imams (since Erdogan in Turkey was trying to control them) and requires all Muslim teaching to be carried out in German.   Because of their refusal of accept these conditions, some communities were closed.  They also forbid the use of burkas and radical literature.  Also, immigrants must work.  Recently, they have also banned the use of headscarves in elementary schools, because it is a clear sign of radicalism.  Since the closing of Austria’s borders there is no more immigration, the Balkan route is closed.  Germany is in fact paying off Erdogan to stop the flow of immigrants.   Also, Italy has cracked down on traffickers who were actively pumping immigrants into southern Italy.  They area now heading for Spain.

Chancellor Kurz of Austria is friendly towards the Jewish community and respects Israel.  He has gone on record as supporting the security needs of Israel and also maintains friendly relations with some Arab States.  Austria is more friendly towards Israel than the EU, but how this will work out in the future is uncertain.

We also heard presentations by: Eric Frey, a journalist educated in Princeton, who is Senior Editor of Der Standard, a centrist newspaper in Austria.  He is Jewish and was born in Austria. And Dr. Thomas Grischany, former aide to the Austrian Interior Minister and teacher at the Webster University in Vienna.  He described the situation of Muslim migration into Austria and the EU and suggested possible solutions that might avoid the Islamization of European society.



Immigration: The Case of Hungary II

John O’Sullivan, who is a former editor of the National Review and now makes his home in Budapest, gave a very spirited and articulate presentation to the MEF group.  He explained two main topics, why Hungary under Victor Orban is different from all other countries in the EU, and why he moved there.  In relation to Victor Orban he has written widely on the subject. and just to be very brief, he regards him as a new form of national conservative, in other words on the right, but no longer a protest or populist movement (such as the Brexit Party in the UK, or the United Rally in France), but both a moderate nationalist (not radical) and a free market supporter (see https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/orbans-switch-back-to-the-center-right/).  Some would say Victor Orban has gone too far in becoming less democratic and more authoritarian.  But, that is a matter for discussion.  Daniel Pipes summarized it nicely by saying that Orban doesn’t want to leave the EU (like the UK), but wants to take it over!

We discovered that some politically conservative people who are fed up with the leftist control of their countries, with the mass immigration of hostile elements and who seek greater security and quiet, are moving to Hungary,.  Many are now finding a haven in Hungary, and we met two Germans who have done this, escaping politically motivated hostility and seeking improved security.  The main problem is that you have to learn Hungarian!

Maria Schmidt is a historian and former adviser to PM Orban.  She initiated the Terror Museum in Budapest that documents the torture used by both the Nazi Gestapo and the Soviet KGB.  After WWI, Hungary lost 2/3 of its territory as well as groups of Hungarian-speaking peoples, especially to Romania.  But, it became a much more homogeneous and quieter country.  With the collapse of Communism there were the first partially free elections in 1980.  But, the liberals formed a coalition with the communists, for which they have never been forgiven.  Since 2008, Victor Orban has promoted a market economy and has increased his majority at each election since.  He wants to keep Hungary prosperous without mass immigration. Hungarians are determined that there be no repeat of living under Turkish rule! Also, Hungarians have never had colonies in Africa or the Middle East and do not see why they should have to accept migrants from there.  She pointed out that Jews in Hungary before WWII were part of the society, not separate as in Poland, and many more remained in Hungary than in any other country after the Holocaust.  Victor Orban is pro-Israel and philo-Semitic.  It is clear that he hopes Jews and Israel will support him in his campaign, and that is why he visited Israel and met with PM Netanyahu recently.  Daniel Pipes pointed out that Hungary and Israel are unique in having both conservative governments and increased population growth compared to all other Western countries.

When we met Rabbi Koves, I asked him about the controversy over the planned Hungarian Holocaust Museum that historian Maria Schmidt was supposed to be curating, but her interpretations were challenged by a group of eminent Holocaust scholars.  He would only comment that the matter was under review and would be resolved soon.  I did not raise this issue with Maria Schmidt, but today in the Jerusalem Post there is an article that reports that Maria Schmidt has been removed by agreement with the Hungarian Government as a curator of the “House of Fates” museum. 

Next we heard from Peter Kreko, Director of the Political Capital Institute, a centrist, who assured us that anti-Semitism is not a live issue in Hungary.  The Jews in Hungary are in no danger, there is no Muslim minority, no immigrants and no Islamic radicalism.  There is anti-Semitism in public opinion, like the Jews control the economy, but it is unfocused.  After the economic collapse of 2009 the Jobbik party was anti-Semitic, but it was replaced by Victor Orban and Fidusz, and the government now has good relations with the Jewish community and with Israel.  He refuted the claims that there is no free press or a lack of democracy in Hungary.  

We also heard from Boris Kalnocky, the correspondent for Die Welt German newspaper in Hungary, and Kent Ekeroth, a former member of the Swedish Parliament now living in Budapest.  Purely for reasons of space I will have to skip describing their interesting presentations.



Immigration: The Case of Hungary I

In our visit to Budapest, our group was granted an interview with Deputy Minister Balasz Orban (no relative of PM Victor Orban) in a very ornate meeting room inside the Hungarian Parliament building.  He spoke very persuasively about the need for Hungary to determine its own course and to protect itself against the mass immigration of foreign elements (see for example https://europeanconservative.com/2019/05/a-safe-space-in-hungary/).  The fact of the matter is that Hungary is a small homogeneous country in the middle of Europe and has no responsibility for events happening far away.  The feeling is that if they have problems they should solve them themselves, and the fact that Victor Orban’s Fidusz party was elected several times proves that the electorate supports him.  He erected barriers so that migrants could not enter Hungary illegally.  And this is now a legal case before the European Courts.

Seeing the problems in western Europe in countries that have allowed mass migration, such as France, Germany and Sweden, Hungarians are convinced that they did the right thing.  Also, to form a group of like-minded nations, the four countries Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have joined together in the Visegrad group.  They do not wish to leave or destroy the EU, rather they wish to persuade the EU of the rightness of their actions.  I mentioned that I had experienced anti-Semitism when I was in high school in England from a Hungarian emigre from the anti-Communist uprising  in Hungary in 1956.  He assured us that although Fidesz is a right-wing, nationalist party it is nevertheless not anti-Semitic, what would be the point, that is not in their interest, and furthermore they are pro-Israel, as Victor Orban’s recent visit to Israel shows.

We then met with the Chabad Rabbi Slomo Koves, who is effectively the Chief Rabbi of Hungary, at the Obuda Synagogue that survived the War.  He was a charming man, native of Budapest, but fluent in English having studied in Pittsburgh.   He stated that life for Jews is good in Hungary.  Many thousands of Jews had survived the Shoah and the communist era and were now accepted as native to Hungary.  He pointed out that there were no guards at the entrance to the Synagogue, because there was no need for them, since most of the anti-Semitic incidents throughout Europe were caused by Muslims, and there were very few in Hungary.

When challenged on the anti-George Soros media campaign carried out by Victor Orban, that many considered anti-Semitic (George Soros is a Hungarian Jew who survived the Shoah, amassed a fortune and is very leftist and anti-Israel), the Rabbi replied that they were concerned about this too and had conducted their own media survey, asking Hungarians randomly what they think of when they see the image of George Soros, and only 2% said “Jew”.  From experience he is sure there is no strong anti-Semitic feeling now in Hungary, and he has very good relations with Victor Orban and the Government.  This was an eye-opening meeting for us.  

We had a further series of lectures from several experts and personalities in Budapest, that I will describe in a later blog post.

Immigration: The Case of Poland

Surprisingly, in our visit to Poland, the first place we visited was the Muslim Mosque and Community Center in Warsaw. It is a very modern building, paid for by Saudi money. We were greeted by a delightful young woman who spoke perfect English.  She is Polish and went to London to study, where she had a Muslim boyfriend who introduced her to Islam.  Eventually she broke with him, but became fascinated by Islam, converted in London and went to Qatar to study Arabic.  Now she is the custodian of the Muslim Center.  She answered questions very openly and we had a pleasant visit there.   I told her she was a “poster girl” for Islam, in the sense that she is very moderate and integrated into Polish society, certainly not typical of immigrants.  There are in fact very few Muslim immigrants in Poland since the Government in 2015 agreed to take 1,000, and eventually reduced that number and ended up taking only 94 (most of the others went to Germany). Fortunately Poland was not on the main route of immigration from Greece and Italy towards Germany, Sweden and the UK.

The first speaker in our lecture series in Warsaw was Boguslaw Winid, from the Office of the President, responsible for foreign policy and security, including immigration.  He gave us a summary of the history of Poland, emphasizing that Poland lost its independence in 1795 for 123 years until the end of WWI.  It lost it again in 1939 when it was divided between Germany and Russia.  After WWII Poland was a communist satellite for 40 years until the collapse of communism.  Poland has generally been a country of emigration, not immigration, with 3 million Poles and Jews emigrating mainly to the US before the 1920’s. Now Poland is in the EU there is in principle free movement, and Poland has developed economically with a 4% GDP  and only 4% unemployment.  There are two main groups of immigrants into Poland, Ukrainians and Vietnamese!  The Civic Forum has exploited the massive immigration into western Europe to sow fear among Poles.  There was no discussion of Jewish restitution, which the Poles have deliberately avoided.

Greg Lewicki, a political analyst who studied at LSE, referred to Arnold Toynbee’s concept of an internal proletariat, that nowadays is identified with Muslim immigration.  He introduced the concept of State Power Index, and noted that the Islamic States are low on that index. He criticized “political correctness” and gave examples.  But, Eastern Europe as opposed to Western Europe has not been exposed to this kind of cultural trauma.  Poland is a more homogeneous and religious country that Western Europe.

Constantin Gebert is a Jewish Pole, a journalist, whose family survived the Holocaust and remained in Poland.  He grew up in Warsaw and considers it his home. He believes as a Jew it is his moral obligation to help immigrants.  If he saw a family in a boat he would have no hesitation in helping them to immigrate.  But, he accepts that there must be limits to immigration. Immigrants have rights, but they must also accept obligations.  Fortunately in Poland it is not relevant, since Poland is not a country of mass immigration.  But, the fear is being used politically by the right.

Dariusz Stola is Director of the Polin Museum.  He explained how the museum came about as a collaboration between the City of Warsaw, the Polish Ministry of Culture and the Inst. for Jewish Research (YIVO) in Poland and America.  Although American Jews provided a lot of the funding, the largest single donor was a Catholic Pole.  They also had significant contributions from Germany and Norway, that earmarked funds for education.  The Museum is located in an area that was the Jewish part of the city and the Ghetto during WWII.  Before WWII, Warsaw was the largest Jewish city in Europe and the Museum is intended to tell the history of the Jews in Poland, not exclusively focusing on the Holocaust, although there is a section that does.  Their biggest group of visitors are Polish children who go in school groups, over 450,000 have been, and there is a remarkable interest in things Jewish in Poland.  The second largest group of visitors are Israelis.  They started a yellow daffodil project proposed by Marek Edelman to remember the Ghetto uprising, and they distributed 200,000 of them.  They started a project for children to research the history of Jews in their town and each city must do something, that is on their web-site.  They were voted European Museum of the year in 2018.

In a previous blog (May 29) I wrote about the presentation of Gregorz Lindenberg, a sociologist who presented population data, including statistics on immigration and projections of future population growth.  His was the most fact-based and in a way the most frightening presentation.  If his predictions come true there could be a massive wave of up to 200 million immigrants mainly from Africa invading Europe in the next 50 years.  He predicts there will be conflicts between locals and immigrants.  I asked if he thought they might resolve the problem with concentration camps.

The last speaker in Warsaw was Adam Bodnar, the Government Ombudsman.  He is a human rights lawyer who once worked for the Polish organisation “Never Again!” In his office he was 300 lawyers and he prosecutes many cases of discrimination.  Before 2015 the majority of cases of hate speech were against Jews and gays, but after 2015 it is against Muslims.  He was prepared to discuss the issue of Jewish restitution.  He pointed out that beyond the Bug river in the east people get ca. 20% of the value of the property.  But, in the rest of Poland, if you can prove ownership with documentation and you have skillful lawyers you can regain property or get compensation, but it is difficult.