Ed: 38: February/2013
Emerging from nearly two decades of military rule, Myanmar has been a largely closed country known mainly for its iconic figure of democratic resistance Aung San Su Kyyi. Recent visitors have been surprised to find that amidst the transition to democracy, one may encounter young men sporting large swastikas and other Nazi symbols on t-shirts and World War II-style motorcycle helmets on the streets of Yangon.
Anyone who was expecting to know the agenda of Israel's new government on the morning of January 23 was likely to be sorely disappointed, and not only because it will likely take weeks before we know the Knesset's exact composition. Few overarching debates on policy have materialised during this election campaign. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not seem to be seeking any new mandate for action, despite being widely expected to win in most surveys with his right-of-centre bloc retaining 65 of 120 seats, a slight drop from previous polls. It is curious that an incumbent, who understands the rough and tumble of policy fights, is not seeking a public mandate for specific policies.
In many ways, Naftali Bennett is a study in contrasts. He is an unapologetic supporter of Israel's right to settle the open spaces of Judea and Samaria, but he makes his home in Ra'anana, a leafy, upscale town just north of Tel Aviv. He believes Israel should annex Area C, the section of the territories that is home to nearly all Israelis who live over the Green Line, but he also says Israelis must take care not to settle on privately owned Palestinian land. Officially, he is the chairman of an Orthodox party, but his election list features an attractive secular woman. He is a hi-tech millionaire, but he believes fervently that the country must do more so that middle class Israelis can make ends meet at the end of the month.
Egypt is the country that counts [in the Middle East]. I lived for years in Egypt but I cannot tell you - and the same goes for my friends in Egypt and I have many - whether Mr. Morsi, the President, sees himself as the ‘Mr. Morsi elected to be President' or as the errand boy of the Muslim Brotherhood. My inclination so far is to suspect that he has been tamed by the Muslim Brotherhood movement. When you look at the room allocation in the Presidential Palace in northern Cairo you will see that next door to the President are the rooms allocated for the old party thugs of the Muslim Brotherhood. I'm not sure the President is calling the shots.
For the 12 month period ending September 30, 2012, 543 incidents of "racist violence" (using the definition adopted for more than 20 years by the Federal Government) against Jewish Australians were documented by Jewish organisations in Australia. These incidents included physical assaults, vandalism and harassment. This was a five percent increase over the previous 12 month period, and 42% above the average of the 22 years previously for which I have maintained a national database.
US President Barack Obama's nomination of controversial former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as his next Defence-Secretary excited many local America watchers - with pro-Hagel enthusiasts celebrating his views on Israel, Iran, and Iraq while failing to inform readers of his more problematic stances.
Paul McGeough of the Sydney Morning Herald penned a long article comparing pro-Israel voices concerned over Hagel's nomination to the US gun lobby defending its near absolutist pro-gun rights stance in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school massacre.
In an age of readily accessible documents and analyses, there is simply no excuse for anyone to not know about the Nazis' intentions, the attempted genocide of Jewry, and the bravery of those who opposed them.
The second subject of the tribute was Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat based in Budapest during the Nazi occupation, who at great risk to (and eventual cost of) his own liberty and life, acted as a human being in a time when inhumanity was seemingly all powerful.
For more than half a century, retired generals have checkered Israel's political scene, and at certain critical junctures even dominated it and shaped the country's course.
Fifty-five years after newly retired Chief-of-Staff Moshe Dayan was appointed as Minister for Agriculture, the trend may be finally drawing to a close.
The ballots have been counted for Israel's 19th Knesset, and Israelis have demonstrated once again why the Middle East's first genuine democracy is still the most mature and successful - a country where every citizen, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion or political persuasion has an equal opportunity to decide the nation's future.
One of the issues that has been raised in the US controversy over the nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel as US Defence Secretary is some comments he made in an interview in 2006 that "the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here [in Washington]."
Now in fact, the opposition to Hagel's appointment is related to many more issues than his stances on either Israel or the so-called "Jewish Lobby" - not that you'd know it from most of the coverage of the controversy in Australia. Other sources of opposition include the general disdain and dislike for Hagel among most of his former Republican colleagues, a preference of many Democrats for a Democrat to get the job, remarks about gays which have led to accusations of homophobia, complaints about his temperament, conservative views on abortion, and a generally idiosyncratic approach to most foreign policy issues, including his consistent past opposition to even sanctions on Iran.