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Israel welcomes former extremist and America doesn't want to be great (again)

2-9-2022 |

Fresh - freshly squeezed news from the international press. We prepare it 3 times a week.

Politico: Algeria rejects common language with France

In the world of diplomacy, few details carry as much import as language. And few languages carry the diplomatic and cultural heft that French has long boasted.

So when the sign on Emmanuel Macron’s lectern at the Algerian presidential palace last week read “Presidency of the Republic” instead of “Présidence de la République” in French (after all, Algeria was part of the French colonial empire for well over a century), diplomats and casual observers in Paris took note.

“I wasn’t surprised but I was shocked [Algeria] would do such a thing during the visit of a French president,” said France’s former ambassador to Algeria, Xavier Driencourt.

“It’s very deliberate. It’s a message for France but also a way of telling the Algerian people that there’s nothing special about French, it’s a language like any other,” he added.

The choice of the host’s language during Macron’s trip is the latest signal the government wants to phase out French as one of the working languages of Algerian officialdom. In July, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced that English would be taught in primary schools starting this year in what has been presented as a gradual phasing out of French.

“French is a spoil of war, but English is an international language,” said Tebboune.

The use of French, particularly in public administration, businesses and universities, is part of a complicated legacy of the colonial era, which ended in 1962 after a brutal eight-year war of independence.

France is now in a soft power battle to maintain influence in Algeria as its former colony moves to replace French for English in schools. Arabic and Tamazight are the two official languages of Algeria, with most citizens speaking an Arabic dialect at home.

While French is not an official language of the former French colony, it is taught in Algerian elementary schools starting around age nine and is spoken by a third of Algerians. English is only studied in secondary schools beginning around age 14. If the Algerian government has its way, the status of the two languages will be reversed with English language instruction starting in elementary school swapping out French.

With close to 15 million French speakers according to the International Organization for the French language, Algeria is the third-largest French-speaking country in the world, after France and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

For France, the loss of Algeria would be a huge dent to its sphere of influence, which is a constant concern for French politicians.

“If France doesn’t get its act together, if it doesn’t stop the replacement of French by English, it will lose its influence, it will lose people able to spread its culture and defend its interests. If there is no change, the French sphere of influence will disappear,” said Dr. Ryadh Ghessil, French language lecturer at the University of Bourmèdes, east of Algiers.

But while the move away from using French is seen by some as a way of exorcising the Mediterranean nation’s colonial past, many Algerian French-speakers look askance at a decision they say is politically motivated.

“The government is trying to boost the use of Arabic, but also encourage English because it’s seen as more culturally neutral in Algeria,” he said.

“They are doing it because behind every language there is a culture, and the French language creates people who are critical, who have read Camus and who are a problem for the powers that be,” Ghessil said, with reference to the French writer and resistance fighter Albert Camus, who was born in Algeria.

Last year, the French president accused the Algerian government of being “a politico-military system” that encouraged “a hatred of France” and was “cashing in on the colonial past.” In response, Algeria recalled its ambassador for three months.

Macron's visit to Algeria last week was precisely aimed at resetting relations between the countries after this scandal.

During his visit, Macron paid particular attention to publicly supporting the Franco-Algerian community, the bedrock of the continued use of French in Algeria.

“We want to have a more flexible approach on who we allow into France, to the families of binational citizens, but also artists, athletes, business leaders and politicians who contribute to creating the bilateral relationship,” he said on Friday in Algiers, adding that a deal on visas for Algerians would be announced in the coming weeks.

Macron also met a group of young entrepreneurs at the French embassy in Algiers, some of whom anonymously expressed concern at the government’s desire to phase out French.

“It reminds one of the Arabization policies in 1970s, which were catastrophic for Algeria. To get rid of French, Arabic teachers from Syria and Egypt were brought in, but they were often not qualified, didn’t know how to write properly in Arabic,” said Brahim Oumansour, North Africa expert for the Paris think-tank IRIS.

The tide might not have fully turned yet against the French language. The gestures signaling a reconciliation between Macron and his counterpart Tebboune were numerous during the visit last week, with the leaders signing a statement of cooperation to open schools, translate French and Algerian works of literature and boost ties between universities on both sides of the Mediterranean.

“Now that there are signs of goodwill on both sides, maybe the language question will be revisited,” mused Oumansour.

The Guardian: Biden calls on America to fight for democracy

Joe Biden warned that American democracy was in grave peril by Republican forces loyal to Donald Trump who “fan the flames” of political violence in pursuit of power at any cost.

In a primetime address from Philadelphia, the city where American democracy was born, the US president said the United States was in a continued battle for the “soul of the nation.”

Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times

It was reprising a theme that animated his campaign for the White House in 2020 to frame the stakes of the November elections as an existential choice between his party’s agenda and Republicans’ “extreme Maga ideology”.

“Donald Trump and the Maga Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic,” Biden said in remarks delivered at Independence Hall.

Maga is short hand for “Make America great again” – a slogan from Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

Biden emphasized that not all, not even most, Republicans are “Maga extremists” but there was not a question, he said, that the party was “dominated, driven and intimidated” by his White House predecessor – and perhaps would-be successor.

These Trump Republicans, he said, “thrive on chaos” and “don’t respect the constitution” or the rule of law. They “promote authoritarian leaders and they fan the flames of political violence”, he continued, adding that they believe there are only two possible outcomes to an election: either they win or they were cheated.

“You can’t love your country when only you win,” Biden said to thundering applause.

The unsparing speech was part of a newly aggressive line of attack Biden has unleashed on Republicans ahead of the midterm elections, as his party enjoys a brightening political outlook helped by a string of significant legislative wins and building public backlash to the supreme court’s decision to end the constitutional right to abortion.

It also comes as Trump, once again at the center of a criminal investigation – this one involving classified documents – lays the the groundwork for a potential 2024 presidential run.

“Maga forces are determined to take this country backwards,” he said. “Backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love.”

Biden also lashed Republicans for amplifying violent political rhetoric, including language targeting federal agents after the FBI seized boxes of classified documents from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last month.

Polls suggest that a majority of Republicans do not believe Biden is the legitimately elected president. Election deniers are running for office, securing the nominations for key posts with power over how future elections will be conducted. State and local elections officials have become targets of harassment and threats.

“History tells us blind loyalty to a single leader and a willingness to engage in political violence is fatal to democracy,” Biden said, vowing to defend the nation’s system of government with “every fiber of my being”.

“For a long time, we’ve reassured ourselves that American democracy is guaranteed. But it is not,” Biden said. “We have to defend it. Protect it. Stand up for it. Each and every one of us.”

Critics say the president’s combative rhetoric shows that he has failed in his promise to bring the nation together. Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, called Biden the “divider-in-chief” who has “pitted neighbors against each other” with his divisive agenda.

White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said it was clear Biden had “hit a nerve” and was making Republicans uncomfortable with his urgent appeal for Americans to reject Trumpism.

As Biden spoke outside at Independence Hall, he was interrupted repeatedly by a heckler yelling profanities.

However, the president did not respond to the provocations and said it was his right to be "outraged" because "this is democracy".

AP: Right-wing extremists tears for power in Israel

Israeli lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir calls his Arab colleagues “terrorists.” He wants to deport his political opponents, and in his youth, his views were so extreme that the army banned him from compulsory military service.

Yet today, the populist lawmaker who was once relegated to the margins of Israeli politics is surging ahead in the polls ahead of November elections. He has received the blessing of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and is poised to emerge as a major force that could propel the onetime premier back to power.

Itamar Ben-Gvir
Photo: D.Cohen

Ben-Gvir’s stunning rise is the culmination of years of efforts by the media-savvy lawmaker to gain legitimacy. But it also reflects a rightward shift in the Israeli electorate that has brought his religious, ultranationalist ideology into the mainstream and all but extinguished hopes for Palestinian independence.

“Over the last year I’ve been on a mission to save Israel,” Ben-Gvir recently told reporters. “Millions of citizens are waiting for a real right-wing government. The time has come to give them one.”

Ben-Gvir, 46, has been a fixture of Israel’s extreme right for more than two decades, gaining notoriety in his youth as a disciple of the late radical rabbi, Meir Kahane. He first became a national figure when he famously broke a hood ornament off then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s car in 1995.

“We got to his car, and we’ll get to him too,” he said, just weeks before Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist opposed to his peace efforts with the Palestinians.

Kahane’s violent anti-Arab ideology -- which included calls to ban Jewish-Arab intermarriage and for the mass expulsion of Palestinians -- was considered so repugnant that Israel banned him from parliament and the U.S. listed his party as a terrorist group. Kahane himself was assassinated by an Arab assailant in New York in 1990.

But in recent years, his followers and some of his ideas have made their way to the Israeli mainstream — in large part thanks to Ben-Gvir.

He transitioned into politics last year after a career as a lawyer defending radical Jewish West Bank settlers. His intimate knowledge of the law has helped him test the boundaries of the country’s incitement laws and avoid sanctions that have prevented some of his closest associates from running in elections.

Ben-Gvir, for instance, calls Kahane “righteous and holy” but also says he doesn’t agree with everything his former mentor said. He’s careful to limit his own calls for expulsion to those who engage in violence and lawmakers — Jewish or Arab — who he says undermine the state.

Before entering politics, he removed a photo of Baruch Goldstein -- a Jewish militant who gunned down 29 Palestinians in a mosque in 1994 -- from his living room. He no longer allows his supporters to chant “Death to Arabs” at political rallies. Instead, they are told to say, “Death to terrorists!”

Supporters say Ben-Gvir has changed, been misunderstood, or wrongly painted an extremist.

“People mature. People develop,” said Nevo Cohen, Ben-Gvir’s campaign manager. “They stuck a label on Ben-Gvir that is totally wrong.”

Ben-Gvir’s office turned down an interview request. But he makes frequent appearances on Israeli TV and radio, displaying a cheerful demeanor, quit wit and knack for deflecting criticism as he banters with his hosts.

He also has tapped into a wave of anti-Arab and nationalist sentiment driven by years of violence, failed peace efforts and demographic changes. Ben-Gvir’s supporters are largely religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews, who tend to have large families, and also come from the influential West Bank settler movement. Ben-Gvir himself lives in a hard-line settlement next to the West Bank city of Hebron, home to more than 200,000 Palestinians.

“He is a populist demagogue. He plays on the sentiments of hate and fear of Arabs,” said Shuki Friedman, an expert on Israel’s far right at the Jewish People Policy Institute. “He interviews well, he is good on camera and he has had plenty of screen time that has given him legitimacy.”

“Yes, Ben-Gvir is someone very militant and yes, sometimes a little provocative, but he is someone who cares about Israel,” said Likud lawmaker and Netanyahu confidant Miki Zohar, who insisted Ben-Gvir would fall in line under a Netanyahu-led government.

One recent poll forecast Ben-Gvir’s alliance with 12 seats, which would make it parliament’s fourth-largest. That means Netanyahu almost certainly would make Ben-Gvir a Cabinet minister if he can form a government.

Ben-Gvir has said his first order of business would be to pass a law allowing deportations of those who allegedly subvert the country and its security forces. He has proposed imposing the death penalty for “terrorists” and granting immunity to soldiers accused of committing violent crimes against Palestinians.

Thabet Abu Rass, the Arab co-director of the Abraham Initiatives, which promotes Jewish-Arab coexistence, said the mainstreaming of figures like Ben-Gvir is not only a threat to Israel’s Arab citizens, but to the country as a whole.

By branding Arab members of parliament as traitors who should be expelled, Ben Gvir delegitimizes the political participation of Arab citizens — who make up around 20% of Israel’s population — and the possibility of Jewish-Arab partnerships, Abu Rass said.

“It’s very dangerous for the whole Israeli society,” he said. “It’s going to bring about the collapse of democracy.”

Reuters: IAEA mission managed to reach Zaporizhzhya NPP - but no conclusions followed

Ukraine and Russia traded accusations over each others' actions around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Friday as a team of inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog tried to check the safety of the facility and avert a potential disaster.

Ukraine's state nuclear company said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission had not been allowed to enter the plant's crisis centre, where Ukraine says Russian troops are stationed, and would struggle to make an impartial assessment.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Ukraine was continuing to shell the plant, raising the risk of a nuclear catastrophe.

The site, 10 km from Ukrainian positions across the Dnipro river, was captured by Russian forces soon after they invaded Ukraine in late February and has become the focus of concern.

It has come under repeated shelling over the past month, with Kyiv and Moscow trading blame for the firing. The plant is still run by Ukrainian staff and Russia has rejected calls for it to withdraw its troops.

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi and his team spent several hours at Europe's largest nuclear power plant on Thursday and intended to return on Friday across the frontlines to assess damage.

Speaking after the initial visit, Grossi said the physical integrity of the plant had been violated several times and he was worried by the situation there.

Ukraine's state nuclear company Energoatom said it would be would be difficult for the IAEA team to make an impartial assessment due to Russian interference.

"The Russians did not allow the mission to enter the crisis centre, where Russian military personnel are currently stationed, whom the IAEA representatives were not supposed to see," Energoatom said in a statement.

"The (Russian) occupiers lie, distort the facts and evidence that testify to their shelling of the power plant, as well as the consequences of damage to the infrastructure," it said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the mission could still have a role to play despite the difficulties met.

"Unfortunately we haven't heard the main thing from the IAEA, which is the call for Russia to demilitarise the station," Zelenskiy said in a video streamed to a forum in Italy.

In Moscow, Defence Minister Shoigu rejected assertions by Kyiv and the West that Russia had deployed heavy weapons at the plant. He accused Ukraine of "nuclear terrorism" by shelling.

Shoigu repeated Moscow's insistence that Kyiv would carry the responsibility for any escalation at the site.

He said Kyiv was "creating a real threat of nuclear catastrophe" and using Western-supplied weapons to attack the plant. He also accused the United States and European Union of "encouraging such reckless actions".

One of the plant's reactors was forced to shut down on Thursday due to shelling.

Several towns near the plant came under Russian shelling on Thursday, Zaporizhzhia regional council mayor Mykola Lukashuk said. Reuters was unable to independently confirm this.

Russia's ambassador to international institutions in Vienna said two IAEA inspectors would stay at the Zaporizhzhia plant on a permanent basis, the RIA Novosti news agency on Friday.

The IAEA's Grossi said on his return to Ukrainian-held territory on Thursday that his experts would stay at the facility.

He had been able to tour the entire site, seeing key areas such as the emergency systems and control rooms. His team would now need to finish its analysis of technical aspects.

"We are not going anywhere. The IAEA is now there, it is at the plant and it is not moving - it's going to stay there," Grossi told reporters once he had crossed back into Ukrainian-held territory.

Those experts, he said, would provide what he called an impartial, neutral, technically sound assessment of what was happening on the ground.

Picked and squeezed for you: Irina Iakovleva