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Middle East Press On Academic Freedom In France, US Support Of Israel And Houthi: New Age Islam's Selection, 19 November 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

19 November 2020

• Is Academic Freedom Under Threat In France?

By Emile Chabal And Timothy Peace

• Women Are Equal Partners In Peace And Security

By Ruqayya Alblooshi

•Trump's Burden To Biden: US Support Of Israel's Illegal Activities

By Najla M. Shahwan

• Biden Victory Breathes Life Back Into Israeli-Palestinian Cooperation

By Daoud Kuttab

• Aid Groups In Yemen Say Houthi Terror Designation Would Deepen Crisis

By Elizabeth Hagedorn


Is Academic Freedom Under Threat In France?

By Emile Chabal And Timothy Peace

17 Nov 2020


French President Emmanuel Macron looks on as he speaks to the media during the visit to the scene of a knife attack at Notre Dame church in Nice, France October 29, 2020. [Eric Gaillard/Reuters]


The month of October was a tumultuous one for France’s President Emmanuel Macron.

At the beginning of the month, as he unveiled his government’s strategy to combat radicalisation and religious separatism, he claimed that “Islam is a religion that is in crisis all over the world today”. These comments, coupled with his passionate defence of the publication of caricatures depicting Prophet Muhammad, have led to widespread anti-France protests in countries all over the Muslim world.

The twin tragedies of the murder of school teacher Samuel Paty, and the subsequent fatal stabbings in Nice, did nothing to dissipate the protests. In response to calls for a boycott of French-made products, Macron was forced to give an interview to Al Jazeera to explain his position.

Back home, driven by a desire to appear tough on terrorism and cast himself as the defender of the values of the French Republic, Macron and his government responded to Paty’s murder with a flurry of announcements targeting Muslim organisations. They promised to ban several Muslim NGOs deemed complicit in supporting extremism, including the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), an organisation that monitors anti-Muslim hate crimes and has long been the target of unsubstantiated political criticism

It is not just Muslim organisations that are in the firing line. On October 22, Macron’s education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, claimed that so-called “islamo-gauchisme” (“Islamo-leftism”) was doing immense damage inside France’s universities. The insinuation was that French academics and their students are tacitly promoting a dangerous, “separatist”, anti-republican ideology and justifying self-censorship in the name of political correctness. According to Blanquer, French universities, and in particular their social sciences departments, are “the breeding ground for a fragmentation of our society and a vision of the world that converges with interests of the Islamists”.

This unwelcome intervention in France’s intellectual life provoked a mixed response. One group of intellectuals and academics enthusiastically supported Blanquer’s comments by publishing an open letter that emphasised the pernicious spread of “Islamism” and other “anti-Western ideologies” in French universities. Many others, however, were shocked to be implicated in acts of terrorism through “ideological complicity” and in another open letter denounced such claims as a “witch hunt”  and an attack on academic freedom.

France’s culture wars

Blanquer’s condemnation of French universities did not come merely as a response to the recent terror attacks. His critique goes back to at least the mid-2000s when the country went through a polemical and multi-faceted debate about the legacies of French colonialism. It was in this period that some intellectuals and academics began to worry openly about the penetration of Anglo-American “postcolonial” and “multicultural” ideas into university departments, as well as expressing unease at the supposed denigration of white people and France’s colonial “achievements”.

In recent years, these criticisms have been amplified by transatlantic racial politics. Back in June, when anti-racism protests were at their peak in France in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in the US, President Macron had claimed French universities were responsible for the “ethnicisation of social issues” which would lead to “splitting the Republic in two”. Such accusations were levelled in the past at multicultural and post-colonial theories, both of which were seen to challenge France’s colour-blind approach to issues of race and diversity. Today, they are levelled at ideas that are said to be “decolonial” or “Islamist”.

But the structures of power have been shifting in French academia. Younger academics are generally more outward-facing and ready to embrace ideas such as post-colonialism, intersectionality and a critical approach to race and racism in society, including Islamophobia. The shift explains why the letter condemning Blanquer’s comments has garnered many more signatures than the one supporting his stance. Among other things, the letter points to the deep contradiction between the government’s claim to defend freedom of expression – most notably in the case of Charlie Hebdo – and its attempt to censure certain intellectual trends and approaches.

A battle for academic freedom

In the wake of Blanquer’s statement, the French Senate voted on October 28 to approve an amendment to a law on university research that would make academic freedom in France conditional on “respecting the values of the Republic”.

This has raised the stakes by moving the discussion from a specific set of ideas and theories to academic freedom more generally. Not surprisingly, this has alarmed many inside French academia, including several scholarly associations, who have since launched a “solemn appeal” to protect academic freedoms and the right to study. The outcry has now led to the amendment itself being modified, representing a victory of sorts for researchers, although the battle is far from over.

The irony of these recent debates is that the very same people who once railed against the influence of Anglo-American ideas are the same ones who look set on importing an Anglo-American culture war onto French campuses. The real lesson is that France is no longer an intellectual exception, but simply another site for an international battle of ideas that will have serious long-term consequences.


Emile Chabal is a Reader in history at the University of Edinburgh.

Timothy Peace is a Research Fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Glasgow.


Women Are Equal Partners In Peace And Security

By Ruqayya Alblooshi

November 18, 2020


Women’s roles are a crucial part of trust-building and starting dialogues necessary to connect and assist communities in need


When we think about armed conflicts, what comes to mind are military men, defence weapons, and destruction. Similarly, when we think of conflict and peacekeeping missions, we envision men shaking hands and men in blue helmets, ceasefire, and the protection of civilians.

Despite comprising half the world’s population, women, as well as their contributions, have historically been left out of the peace and security process. Looking at the period between 1992-2011, the World Economic Forum documents that women represented only 4% of signatories to peace agreements and only 9% of negotiators.

When peacekeeping missions take place in post-conflict-torn countries, women and girls suffer the most from displacement, a lack of medicine and food, and life-threatening situations. Therefore, the inclusion of women in peacekeeping missions is vital to establish communication with the local community of women and girls, especially in environments where women cannot speak to men due to conservatism or a fear of foreign troops.

Therefore, women’s roles are a crucial part of trust-building and starting the dialogues necessary to connect and assist communities in need. One of the men in a displaced area once said, “We speak to women as we know that they are here to make peace, not war.”

This year, the United Nations Security Council celebrates 20 years since the historic Resolution 1325 adaptation, which advocated for a cohesive approach toward the gender perspective in Peace and Security. Resolution 1325 is considered an “inspirational milestone” for the Security Council and the manifestation of the United Nations’ priorities.

The resolution is also considered one of the most celebrated achievements architectured by civil society, policymakers, and diplomats. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was one of the primary advocates for women’s inclusion in peace and security. He famously noted, “Resolution 1325 holds out a promise to women across the globe that their rights will be protected and that barriers to their equal participation and full involvement in the maintenance and promotion of sustainable peace will be removed. We must uphold this promise.”

Ensuring a lasting peace

Resolution 1325 urges the member states to increase women’s participation across the Security Council, focusing on three main pillars: prevention, protection, and participation of conflicts. It also urged parties in armed conflicts to protect women and girls from violence during war and also engage them in negotiations to ensure a lasting peace.

As per the United Nations, it is 20% more likely to achieve peace post-conflict for over two years when women participate in peace negotiations. Thus, engaging women in the process is strategic to the construction of long-lasting peace. This resolution resulted from high-level advocacy, driven by NGOs and civil society, and resulted in a two-day debate at the security council which was for the first time dedicated to women.

Since October 2000, when the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1325, countries have increasingly incorporated Women, Peace, and Security agendas. From 1998 to 2000, less than 5% of resolutions mentioned women, girls, or gender. However, from 2000 to 2010, over 45% of monitored resolutions referenced women and gender.

In light of Resolution 1325, in 2019, the United Arab Emirates government took the lead in supporting its progress by launching a training program sponsored by Khawla bint Al Azwar Military School in Abu Dhabi to build women’s capacity in the military and peacekeeping sectors.

Starting with 134 Arab women in 2019, the program expanded to include 223 women from Africa, Asia and Arab countries in January 2020. The efforts demonstrated strong commitment and support by the UAE government, which resulted in renaming the Women Peace and Security Training Programme the “Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Women Peace and Security Initiative”.

Countries and regional actors must reduce the gap between the ambitions of the resolution and on ground implementation. Women are vital actors and contributors in the decision-making process across all levels of conflict prevention, resolution, and peacebuilding. Further, they are instrumental to the completion of war and the attainment of lasting peace and security.


Ruqayya Alblooshi is an Emirati columnist and researcher in the field International Relations


Trump's Burden To Biden: US Support Of Israel's Illegal Activities

By Najla M. Shahwan

November 18, 2020

The United States' unlimited support for Israel has been viewed for decades as an obstacle in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Washington's acceptance of Tel Aviv's repression of occupied territories has also been a controversial issue among the international community for many years.

From shared strategic goals in the Middle East to the political influence of American Jews and evangelical Christians, there are many factors behind the strong U.S.-Israel friendship. For example, Americans believe that Israel is the only democratic country in the Middle East although Tel Aviv has strayed from those shared values, especially in its occupation of Palestine.

Israel is a leading recipient of U.S. foreign aid and a frequent purchaser of American weapons. By law, U.S. arms sales cannot adversely affect Israel's "qualitative military edge" over other countries in its region.

Israel receives on average about $3.1 billion in foreign aid from the U.S. each year and is the only recipient of U.S. economic aid that does not have to account for how it is spent.

In September 2016, the U.S. approved a record military aid package to Israel worth $38 billion over a 10-year period. According to the U.S. Congress' public policy research institute Congressional Research Service, "U.S. military aid has helped transform Israel's armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world."

After Tel Aviv occupied the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the U.S.' unwavering support for Israel grew while the latter's subsequent aggression toward Palestinians living in what came to be known as the occupied territories systematically became more violent.

Not behind the curtain

Washington has shown a bias toward Tel Aviv in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in its policies, in preferential arms sales and its voting record in the United Nations.

More specifically, the U.S. has not demonstrated significant support in the U.N. for Palestinians affected by Israel's human rights abuses.

America's support for Israel has added harm to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as it has encouraged Israel to take more aggressive measures against the Palestinians, including demolishing homes and annexing more lands.

The special relationship transcends any specific American administration or Israeli government and thus ensures continuity and stability. Yet, several U.S. presidents have adopted fundamentally different approaches to Tel Aviv. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump each had a sentimental connection to Israel and were considered very pro-Israel, while Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter did not possess such sentiments and were thought of as unfriendly.

During Trump's presidency, U.S.-Israel relations were arguably closer than at any point in history.

In terms of diplomatic support for Israel, the U.S. has vetoed 44 U.N. Security Council resolutions critical of Israel since 1972. Much of the international community's displeasure with Washington's support for Tel Aviv stems from the U.S. routinely backing Israel whenever the U.N. General Assembly passes one of the many resolutions condemning Israeli behavior or calling for action on behalf of the Palestinians.

According to the General Assembly, the Israelis have committed human rights abuses against Palestinians in the occupied territories following the Six-Day War in 1967.

On the other hand, Tel Aviv has built several illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since 1967. Currently, approximately 215,000 Israeli settlers are living in East Jerusalem, while their population in Area C of the occupied West Bank has some 413,000 more. This brings the Israeli settler population in the West Bank to approximately 630,000 in 143 settlement locations in the West Bank (132) including East Jerusalem (11) and another 113 outposts.

The Trump effect

As most of the international community considers both territories to be occupied and the settlements to be illegal, the Trump administration, in a break from its predecessors and much of the rest of the world, has taken a much friendlier approach and, in November 2019, Trump declared he does not consider the settlements illegal.

After a slowdown in settlement activity during the final years of the Obama administration, Israel has stepped up its plans for construction since Trump took office. Both settlers and their supporters call this the "Trump effect" and they have planned for a jump in construction as long as he is in office.

According to the watchdog group Peace Now, Israel in 2019 pushed forward plans to build 9,413 settlement homes, roughly the same levels as 2017 and 2018. The figures are more than triple the level of settlement planning during the final two years of the Obama administration.

While world leaders speak with one voice in condemning the expansion of Israeli settlements, illegal under international law, Tel Aviv continues to defy the international community, creating ever greater difficulties for the Palestinian population. It threatens a just and durable solution to the conflict and, on its behalf, the U.S. has failed to put meaningful pressure on Israel to stop its settlement expansion.

Trump also rejected Obama's claim that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal and he was upset by a Security Council resolution the former president initiated in December 2016, when Trump was already president-elect.

The U.N. resolution (2334) stated that Israel's settlement activity constituted a "flagrant violation" of international law and had "no legal validity."

On Nov. 18, 2019, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that "the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law."

The best friend ever

In August 2019, Trump declared himself "history's most pro-Israel U.S. president." In January 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Trump as "the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House."

Trump reversed long-standing U.S. policies on several critical security, diplomatic and political issues in Tel Aviv's favor, especially in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

In December 2017, before finishing his first year in office, Trump signed a proclamation saying the U.S. sees Jerusalem as Israel's capital, directing the U.S. State Department to start planning an embassy in the city.

Fast forward to March 2019, just two weeks before a critical Israeli election, Trump took a similar step by signing a proclamation that made the U.S. the first country to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the strategic plateau it captured from Syria in 1967 and annexed in 1981.

Trump has taken other actions that specifically deprived Palestinian programs and governmental institutions of funding and resources.

In 2017, the administration closed the Palestine Liberalization Organization (PLO) office in Washington and closed its own diplomatic mission to the Palestinians in Jerusalem in 2019, folding that office's functions into the new Jerusalem embassy.

In 2018, Trump reduced and eliminated a range of ways in which it gave financial assistance to the Palestinians. He stopped funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that handles Palestinian refugees and their descendants and cut an additional $200 million from foreign aid to Palestinians. His government also eliminated $10 million in funding for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence programs.

On Jan. 28, Trump released his administration's Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. Several presidents before Trump had attempted to achieve peace in the region, but his efforts differed from earlier plans in two ways: It did not endorse a fully independent Palestinian state and was released in coordination with Israel only, without any backing from the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).

Like previous Trump actions, the plan was seen as a boon for Tel Aviv's right-wing government as it did not require the dismantling of any Israeli settlements in the West Bank and envisioned full Israeli security control over the entire territory, meaning that the Israel Defense Forces would still have the freedom to move within all Palestinian areas as they pleased.

The Palestinian state it envisioned was a patchwork of areas comprising some 80% of the West Bank and it was vehemently rejected by the Palestinian leadership.

The announcement of the plan, at a news conference with Netanyahu, came a couple of months after the Trump administration said it would no longer view West Bank settlements as illegal.

In the wake of the plan's release, Netanyahu said he would continue to annex areas of the West Bank but would delay doing so, saying he would prefer to wait for a green light from Washington. Settlement construction in the West Bank, however, never stopped.

What about Biden?

Now that Democrat Joe Biden has won the U.S. presidential election, American diplomatic leadership is expected to take different steps.

In an interview with the bilingual, U.S.-based Arab American News three days before the election, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris signaled that their team will repair ties with Palestinians and back the two-state solution.

Harris said the Biden administration would take immediate steps to restore economic and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians and that, if elected, they would attempt to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and reopen the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem and the PLO mission in Washington.

"Joe and I also believe in the worth and value of every Palestinian and every Israeli, and we will work to ensure that Palestinians and Israelis enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity and democracy," Harris had highlighted.

All of Palestine is now watching Biden and his team. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and America's ties with the warring sides will be a great challenge for the next president but the Palestinians' sole demand of him is to support democracy and freedom, and not to back Israel's illegal behaviors in the region.


Najla M. Shahwan is a Palestinian author, researcher and freelance journalist; recipient of two prizes from the Palestinian Union of Writers


Biden Victory Breathes Life Back Into Israeli-Palestinian Cooperation

By Daoud Kuttab

Nov 18, 2020

The Palestinian-Israeli Declaration of Principles, commonly referred to as the Oslo Accords, is alive and well. That much was clear in a letter dated Nov. 17, Kamil Abu Rukun, the Israeli coordinator of government activities in the territories, to Hussein Sheikh, the Palestinian minister of civil affairs. Israel army officer Abu Rukun wrote, “The bilateral Israeli Palestinian agreements continue to form the applicable legal framework governing the conduct of the parties on financial and other matters.” The official also noted that Israel will continue to collect taxes on behalf of Palestinians, as stipulated in the Paris Economic Protocol of 1994.

The letter produced a surprise decision by the Palestinian leadership. Sheikh tweeted, “In light of the calls made by President [Mahmoud] Abbas regarding Israel's commitment to the bilateral signed agreements, & based on the official written and [verbal assurances] we received, confirming Israel's commitment to them … the relationship with #Israel will return to how it was.”

Hussein later said on Palestinian TV that Palestinians had been steadfast in their principles and as a result “defeated the deal of the century,” in a reference to US President Donald Trump’s vision for peace in the Middle East that includes the annexation of 30% of Palestinian territories.

The threat of annexation was stated as the main reason the Palestinian government had unilaterally ended security coordination last May and refusal to accept the portion of the revenues Israel is not withholding. Earlier, the Palestinian government had protested Israel's keeping of money equal to what the Palestinians spend to support the families of prisoners and those killed in resistance activities.

Already the decision has brought a sigh of relief from many Palestinians who depend on their government. Civil servants who have been receiving portions of their salaries for months were promised their full wages. With the occupied Palestinian territories suffering extra due to the coronavirus pandemic, the money will certainly be a boost not only to the nearly bankrupt Palestinian government but to the overall Palestinian economy.

The decision will resolve a potential humanitarian problem that has been brewing due to the break in coordination with Israel involving the registration of newborn Palestinian babies. Tens of thousands have not been registered since last May’s decision to suspend all coordination with Israel.

While the return to the status quo comes as a relief to many, some fear that it might blow up sensitive reconciliation talks ongoing in Cairo. Palestinian delegations from Fatah and Hamas had signaled they were nearing a resolution to their differences with the blessing and the guarantees of the Egyptian government. But the renewal of security coordination appears to have put a halt to these talks. Hamas has strongly denounced the return of cooperation with the “criminal Zionist occupiers.” Hamas said that the decision goes against all promises and agreements reached in the Sept. 3 summit of senior Palestinian leaders that took place in Ramallah and Beirut. The leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) also issued a strong statement against the move.

It is highly unlikely that either Hamas or the PFLP will quit the reconciliation talks entirely. Qatar recently stated that it will no longer provide cash to support Hamas in Gaza and the PFLP is dependent on Abbas for its stipends.

The sudden moves by the Palestinian leadership come at a moment when the US presidential elections have all but ended the most difficult four years of Palestinian political life during the Trump administration.

Although Palestinians are not naive enough to expect that President-elect Joe Biden will move quickly to pressure Israel, they are confident that the threat of annexation of Palestinian lands is no longer on the table and that when Biden takes office it will be difficult for Israel to continue its settlement expansion in direct violation of UNSC Resolution 2334, which was passed in the last days of the Barack Obama government.

If the return to the status quo does not interrupt the reconciliation talks and a general agreement that could lead to elections is reached, Abbas' defiance of the world’s only superpower will have paid off.


Aid Groups In Yemen Say Houthi Terror Designation Would Deepen Crisis

By Elizabeth Hagedorn

Nov 18, 2020

Should the Trump administration formally designate Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a terrorist organization, aid groups say it would greatly undermine their ability to deliver life-saving assistance to millions of civilians and worsen what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.

In an effort to financially squeeze the Houthi group and pressure its regional backer, Iran, the State Department is considering naming the entire Houthi movement a foreign terrorist organization, as reported by Foreign Policy earlier this week. Saudi Arabia has lobbied hard for the terrorism designation, which would criminalize material support for the Houthis, trigger an asset freeze and impose a travel ban to the United States. The Trump administration might instead designate individual Houthi leaders as specially designated global terrorists, said a source familiar with the matter, in a mostly symbolic action that carries similar financial sanctions.

The Iran-aligned group has waged a nearly six-year war in Yemen against a Saudi-led military coalition that intervened in early 2015 to restore the internationally recognized government. The fighting killed more than 100,000 people, devastated Yemen’s health infrastructure and pushed the impoverished country to the brink of famine.

Relief organizations operating in Yemen warn that slapping a terror label on the Houthis could hamper aid work in a country where an estimated 80% of the population — more than 24 million people — is reliant on humanitarian assistance to survive, a majority of whom live in Houthi-controlled areas in the country’s mountainous north.

“For millions of Yemenis living in areas under Ansar Allah [Houthi] control, aid is a matter of life or death. We don’t want to think about what will happen if that lifeline is cut,” Sultana Begum, the Norweigen Refugee Council’s advocacy manager in Yemen, told Al-Monitor.

A terror designation would further complicate Yemen’s humanitarian response, with aid workers forced to spend more time and resources ensuring they’re in compliance with a confusing web of financial sanctions. The Treasury Department could issue exemptions known as general licenses to authorize specific humanitarian activities, but the application process is time-consuming and could delay the delivery of aid. 

“Even if a humanitarian exemption is permitted, this designation will likely make reaching children and families more difficult and could also heighten security risks for our staff,” Janti Soeripto, president and CEO of Save the Children, told Al-Monitor.

Soeripto said lessons can be drawn from Somalia, where the Barack Obama administration’s foreign terrorist designation of Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab deterred risk-averse banks from transferring money into the country and slowed the work of relief agencies amid a deadly famine that killed an estimated 250,000 people in 2011. 

“We must learn from history and not condemn Yemeni children and their families to the same fate,” Soeripto said, adding that current evidence suggests a worsening malnutrition crisis for Yemeni children.

Relief groups say a Houthi designation could also put off international donors at a time when an existing funding shortage is crippling aid operations in the Arab world’s poorest country. This year, the United Nations has received less than half of the $3.4 billion it requested from donor countries, forcing many UN aid agencies to scale back or eliminate services entirely. 

The Donald Trump administration, which has accused the rebels of interfering with the food deliveries, suspended millions in humanitarian funding to Houthi-held areas in March. The US development agency USAID has set aside carve-outs for life-saving assistance, but aid workers say they are far too narrow to be effective.

Six of the largest humanitarian responders in Yemen wrote to acting USAID administrator John Barsa in August and urged him to restore US assistance, warning that civilians were increasingly paying the price for aid cuts. President-elect Joe Biden, who has pledged to end US support for Riyadh's campaign in Yemen, is expected to return funding to previous levels.

The fighting, meanwhile, has dragged on in Yemen's oil-rich Marib province as the Houthis try to wrest control of the Saudi-backed government’s last stronghold. Prospects for reaching a political settlement look dim and critics of designating the Houthis as a terror group say doing so could hinder the UN’s work to secure a lasting cease-fire.

“The reality is that the Houthis must be part of any final negotiated settlement to the conflict in Yemen, and designating them a foreign terrorist organization could be taken by the Houthis as a signal that they cannot achieve their goals at the negotiating table,” said Kate Kizer, the policy director for the advocacy group Win Without War.

“That's a recipe for more war and suffering for the Yemeni people, not peace,” she said.



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