Israel and Brazil

Newly elected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro welcomed PM Netanyahu to Brazil in a  ceremony at Rio de Janeiro on Friday before his inauguration.  They exchanged greetings and spoke of the “brotherhood” between the two countries.  Bolsonaro is a right-wing candidate, who was elected following charges of corruption against the previous two Presidents, Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, and the fact that they have ruined Brazil’s economy.  Although Brazil is a much larger and richer country than Israel, nevertheless they could use some advice in how to recover their economy from Israel.

Not only is Bolsonaro friendly towards Israel, but he has said that he will follow the US lead and move Brazil’s Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognize it as Israel’s capital.  So far this was not addressed in the public speeches, but according to some sources, it has been discussed between the two leaders and will be in the works pretty soon.  Both leaders visited a synagogue together in Copacabana.

There is a very good reason why Brazil of all countries in the world should be friendly towards Israel.  Although it is in principle a Catholic country, a very large proportion of the immigrants from Brazil and Spain to Brazil were Crypto-Jews (or Anousim in Hebrew, meaning “coerced”) or their descendants (Bnei Anousim) trying to escape the Inquisition.  These were the people who were forcibly converted to Christianity in Spain mainly in 1492  and Portugal in 1497 and known as New Christians, but who never left the Jewish religious tradition, and carried it on secretly.  The Inquisition was mainly established to root out these heretics, and it was a capital offense to be found guilty of “Judaizing.”  Also, this was a very good way for the Church and the State to enrich themselves since, like the Nazis, they confiscated all the assets and property of the accused and divided it between themselves, even before they were condemned and burnt to death in an auto-da-fé (confession by fire).

In The Jerusalem Post last Friday there was also an article by Michael Freund, Chairman of Shavei Israel, that helps such quasi-Jewish groups to re-establish links with Judaism, the Jewish people and Israel.  The article entitled “The Bnei Anousim: uncovering Jewish history and destiny in Latin America,” quotes a recent article in Nature Communications that found from genetic testing of large numbers of Latin Americans and a proportionate control, that ca. 23% of all Latin Americans have retained Jewish genetic markers.  That’s almost one-quarter of the population of South America, a very large number of people!

Furthermore, the proportion of such people in Brazil is even greater.  It is not well-known that the people who founded Saõ Paulo were in fact Bnei Anousim and furthermore a large group of them moved into the jungle to escape the Church authorities and were known as “bandeirantes” (I will provide the source for this information at a later date). In the jungle they intermarried with native peoples and formed a distinct group that still exists throughout Brazil,  It is estimated that there are at least ca. 5 million people in and around the city of Recife in northeastern Brazil who identify as of Jewish origin.  Many of these people retain vestiges of Jewish traditions and there is a movement in which they are now coming out openly and identifying as Jews, although Orthodox Jewish organizations do not recognize them as such.  Many of these people are very pro-Israel.  So it is quite appropriate for Israel and Brazil to establish strong ties.

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Abandoning the Kurds

The US withdrawal from Syria has in effect abandoned the Kurds to their fate. Any liberal who is concerned about the Palestinians should be much more worried about the Kurds.  They are supposedly the largest minority in the world, 45 million people, without self-determination.   They are divided between Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran.  Turkey has the largest proportion of them, and because Pres. Erdogan is very worried about the Kurdish minority in Turkey, he is determined to prevent any Kurdish groups from obtaining independence.  Thus now the US Kurdish allies, the YPG (Young Protection Groups) that fought against and defeated the Islamic State, are on their own.

Not only is Turkey imminently poised to attack the Kurds from within Syria, since they already occupy the western portion of Kurdish territory of Rojava in Afrin, but the Iranians also want the Kurds out-of-the-way.  The Iranian Shia regime has for long wanted to have a clear crescent of control from the Iranian border to the Mediterranean Sea.  They have proxies in Lebanon, namely Hezbollah, in Syria, the Assad regime, and in Iraq, the Shia-dominated government.  But the Kurds, holding north-eastern Syria (about 30% of the country) are in their way.

So the stage is set for a two-pronged attack by Turkey (which is Sunni) and Iran (which is Shia) to carve up the Kurdish area in Syria.  The question is how much resistance can the Kurds be expected to put up, they can certainly not withstand attacks by the Turkish Army and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.  Although Pres. Trump was visiting US troops in Iraq over Christmas and stated that Syrian targets can easily be hit from there.  Nevertheless, the US is not going to face off against the Turkish Army, which is a member of NATO.  And what will happen if the Kurdish region is divided between Turkey and Iran, can they possibly maintain a friendly relationship?

The consequences of the US pullout are therefore threefold: 1. A Western ally, the Kurds will be defeated; 2. Turkey will re-establish control in an Arab area (the Turkish Empire controlled all of the Middle East); 3. Iran will have its direct land link between its homeland and the Shia proxies in Syria and Lebanon and so will be able to transport heavy military equipment (tanks and missiles) to be used against Israel.  The prospect does not look good.

That is why Israel is taking the opportunity now to strike Iranian targets in Syria.  It recently attacked targets near Damascus, apparently destroying an Iranian arms depot and killing a busload of Hezbollah senior officers who were on a bus en route to board a plane to take them to Iran for the funeral of a leading cleric.  Israel’s attacks in Syria not only embarrass the Syrian regime, but also Russia, that has provided Syria with its air defense system, that is apparently ineffective against Israeli attacks.  Russia issued a  warning to Israel to stop these attacks because “they endanger civilian aircraft.” But, the fact is that Putin knows very well that Israel will not and cannot allow Iran to build up its forces in Syria close to the Israel border, and that these strikes are surgical and accurate.  After US withdrawal four countries are now left, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Israel, to fight over Syria.  It’s future is very much a theater of war.

Believe this!

During WWII the following casualties (deaths) are estimated:

  • Total casualties: 75 million people, including ca. 25 million military and ca. 50 million civilians
  • Soviet Union (Russia): ca. 26 million, including ca. 11 million military and ca. 15 million civilians
  • China: ca. 19 million,  3.5 million military and ca. 15.5 million civilians
  • Germany and Austria: ca. 9 million, ca. 2 million military and ca. 7 million civilians
  • Poland: ca. 6 million,  250,000 military and ca. 5.75 million civilians
  • Japan: ca. 3 million, ca. 2.3 million military and ca. 0.7 million civilians
  • Yugoslavia: ca. 1 million, ca. 400,000 military and ca. 600,000 civilians
  • France: ca. 600,000, 210,00 military and ca. 390,000 civilians
  • Italy: ca. 500,000, ca. 350,000 military and ca. 150,000 civilians
  • Philippines: ca. 460,000, ca. 60,000 military and ca. 400,000 civilians
  • Gt. Britain and colonies: ca. 450,000, ca. 384,000 military and ca. 66,000 civilians
  • United States: ca. 430,000, ca. 407,000 military and ca. 12,000 civilians
  • Many other counties lost up to 400,000 casualties

Note: that Jewish citizens of each country are included in these totals.

According to the same source, deaths of Jews in the Holocaust are estimated between a lower figure of 4.9 million and an upper figure of 5.9 million people.   It is usual to round the figure off to ca. 6 million.  Given the general level of casualties and the specific declared intention of Nazi Germany to exterminate all Jews, why is it so difficult for so many people to accept this figure.  Do they not believe the figures given above for other countries??  Or is it just that they remain anti-Semites?

It should be noted that Jews fought in most armies, including ca. 300,000 in the Army of the Soviet Union.  Also, as a percentage of the total, the loss to the Jewish people was staggering, ca. 55% of all Jews in Continental Europe and ca. 40% of all Jews worldwide.  No other single nation or people suffered such losses.

(The source is Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties, and original sources cited within; I have rounded all figures and estimated the average)

Early Israeli Election

PM Netanyahu has finally thrown in the towel and has declared that Israel will go to early elections on April 9.  When Defense Minster Lieberman resigned in October and took his party Israel Beiteinu out of the coalition government, that reduced Netanyahu’s majority to 1.  No government can continue governing with such a slim majority, and it was considered only a matter of time before Netanyahu decided to go for early elections.  But, he hung on for a few months.  One reason he said he delayed was that he wanted to initiate the military operation Northern Shield to detect and destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels infiltrating into Israel.  But, apart from this and his slim majority, another reason may have been the charges being considered against him by the Attorney General, in cases involving bribery and corruption.

The question has arisen, once he is no longer PM in the pre-election period, could that be a window during which the AG will in fact indict Netanyahu?  That remains to be seen.  But, obviously Netanyahu is confidant of his chances to win, as every poll shows Likud to be ahead.  Netanyahu has said he will try to re-establish the same coalition.  But, another reason he caved now is that the ultra-orthodox religious parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, in his coalition refused to vote for a bill authorizing compulsory mobilization into the IDF for the ultra-orthodox.  If they had not voted with the coalition, this bill would have been defeated and the Government would then have been forced to resign.  To avoid this inevitability, Netanyahu moved first.

Given the international situation, Trump’s retreat from Syria, Iran’s retrenchment in Syria, Turkey’s current anti-Israel policies, and the prospect of the Kurds being defeated by a Turkish-Iranian alliance, most Israelis would rather not change horses in mid=stream. Leaders on the Left are talking abut forming a Center-Left coalition to oppose Netanyahu.  But, they have little chance.  Polls give them only a minority of votes.  Also, Lieberman lost support for his premature resignation, and there is no obvious alternative to Netanyahu.  However, there are two small new parties in the mix, and as we well know polls sometimes are misleading.  So may the best man or woman win

Merry Christmas?

Unfortunately there is no merry Christmas for the Christians of the Middle East.  Although people tend to believe that there are very few terrorists and most Muslims are good people, nevertheless Christians throughout the Middle East are experiencing Muslim persecution, and their co-religionists in the West Don’t seem to care.  Here is a  statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England, Justin Welby (whose father was Jewish) “Middle East Christians are on the verge of extinction ….this is the worst situation since the Mongol invasions of the 13th Century.”

Coptic Christians in Egypt are under constant attack with many deaths in bombings of Churches by terrorists, and the Government is not able to willing to protect them,  consequently many are emigrating.  Christians in Lebanon are under constant pressure from the growing power of the terrorist Shia organisation Hezbollah, that openly attacks them.  In Iraq the historic Christian heartland of the Chaldean Christians has been nearly wiped out during the wars that have convulsed the region.

Christians in the Palestinian areas, notwithstanding the claim by Pres. Abbas that Jesus was a “Palestinian”, when everyone knows he was a Jew, have been hard hit by constant anti-Christian actions.  The Christian population of Bethlehem, where they are holding Christmas celebrations, has been greatly reduced from 86% in 1950 to 12% today.  Also, in Gaza where there were ca. 6,000 Christians when Hamas took over in 2012, there were estimated to be only 1,100 in 2016.  This reduction in Christian population is a feature of the whole Muslim Middle East, including Turkey and Pakistan,where attacks on Christians are rife.

By contrast, the Christian population in Israel has grown by about 5,000 in the past 20 years, although staying around 2% as the total population has grown, from natural increase and immigration.  All religions have freedom of worship in Israel, the only vibrant democracy in the Middle East.  Merry Christmas to our Christian friends!

 

Gen. Mattis Resigns

The resignation of Gen. James Mattis as Secty. of Defense one day after Pres. Trump announced his decision to withdraw US troops from Syria represents a turning point in the foreign policy of the USA.  Up to this point critics of Trump had felt relieved that Mattis was there to advise and hopefully guide him.  But, this decision represents a turn back to the policies of ex-Pres Obama, who also withdrew forces for short-term domestic political reasons, rather than a longer strategic perspective. For some time there have been reports of bad feeling between Trump and Mattis, and this was the final straw.

One way of looking at this decision is that it represents a turn back to a form of isolationism.  In other words, the US takes care of its own business and leaves the complex, dangerous and messy game of international conflicts to the locals to sort it out by themselves.  The trouble with this scenario is that the locals may have very bad intentions and may in fact do things that severely impact the interests of the US.  Thus, when the US withdrew from the Middle East under Obama, it gave the Russians the pretext of moving into Syria and gaining a warm water port on the Mediterranean, and allowed Iran to infiltrate Syria and support the Assad regime, which until then was being defeated by the insurgency. One cannot be certain that the outcome of this would have been better, if for example the Islamic State had defeated both Assad and the democratic opposition, but nevertheless it was a policy of “fight it out among yourselves,”  with no US entanglement.  Trump has returned to this policy, against the advice of all his advisers.  In fact two days after Mattis resigned, Trump’s special envoy for Syria, Brett McGurk, also resigned in protest, because in effect he no longer has a job.

For Israel the retraction of the US from the Middle east is a potentially severe problem, because it empowers the bad actors, Iran, Turkey and Russia, to seek to fill the vacuum created.  But, on the other hand, it proves once again to the Sunni States, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf States (Kuwait, the UAE and Oman) that the US is an unreliable ally, and in fact makes them more worried about Iranian encroachment and therefore more likely to want to make an alliance, even if informal, with Israel.

One of my friends argues that you cannot trust these Arab countries in any case, but the current talk of improved relations between Israel and the Sunni States is a definite development. It could be that by throwing these unlikely allies further together in face of the external threats (particularly of Iran), that this will hasten a mutual recognition of Israel and these Sunni States, and could lead eventually to a peace treaty with Israel.

One other possibility is that Trump may have done a deal with Erdogan, because he spoke to Erodogan just before he announced this pullout.  Erdogan probably told him that he intends to attack and defeat the Kurds in northeast Syria, and the US better get out-of-the-way.  Trump admires fellow strong men and is prone to take impulsive decisions.  International relations makes strange bedfellows and most countries will do what is in their best interests.  The outcome of such a step as the withdrawal from Syria can have unforeseen consequences.

Sexual Abuse in the Church

In Australia, Archbishop Wilson of Sydney has been found guilty in court of covering up cases of sexual abuse in the Church.  Specifically two cases by a priest named Fletcher were brought to his attention in the 1970’s, but he did nothing.  The Pope accepted his resignation, when at first he refused to resign.   The Archbishop is the highest Catholic forced to resign over sexual offenses, but in 2017 Catholic Cardinal Pell of Melbourne was found guilty of sexual offenses and resigned.   There have been severe cases in Australia involving the British children who were sent illegally there from the 1940s-70s, many of whom were used virtually as slave labor (and as sex slaves) in Catholic institutions.

In Chile, due to widespread sexual abuse in the Church, all Catholic Bishops have tendered their resignations to the Pope.  A terrible case was the mistreatment of children in Canada, orphans who were deliberately labelled mentally ill were put in a Catholic orphanage where they were treated to medieval torture and sexual abuse in the 1940’s-60s.  It was routine for them to be tied to metal springs and whipped.  The so-called Duplessis orphans sued the Church and received civil damages in the amount of millions of dollars.  It is believed the Church made ca. m$70 from the Quebec Government for “housing” these children.  It is believed many also died and were buried secretly.  Native American Children were also taken from their parents and subjected to abuse, mistreatment and even death.

In Ireland there is ,of course, the similar case of the Magdalene Order, who essentially imprisoned and exploited young women sent to them because they were “wayward” or “promiscuous.”  They were forced to work long hours without pay in laundries throughout Ireland and the Church made money off them.  Their plight was highlighted in a  book and a movie entitled ‘The Magdalene Sisters.”

In fact sexual and physical abuse of children and others is a notable feature of the Catholic Church, presumably because the requirement for male priests who are supposed to be celibate attracts homosexuals.  There is a list of such abuse country by country (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_sex_abuse_cases_by_country) including France, Belgium, England, Croatia, Italy, Poland, the USA and so on.  It defeats logic that believers in Catholicism continue to support this immensely rich organization that systematically abuses their children.

Of course, the Catholic Church is not the only religious institutions in which abuse occurs.  There are many cases of Anglican priests engaging in such activities and cover-ups by Bishops and so on.  Recently there was a case of a Jewish female teacher extradited from Israel to Australia where she was wanted on sexual abuse charges in an Orthodox Jewish school.  Religion is a powerful attractant for people who seek to abuse others through hierarchical power.