REUTERS

Feeding A Shutdown World: How COVID-19 Squeezes Supply Chains

A farmer works at a greenhouse of a mushroom agricultural base in north China's Hebei Province.
A farmer works at a greenhouse of a mushroom agricultural base in north China's Hebei Province.

On the list of the most urgent COVID-19 priorities, right after saving the lives of those infected comes feeding the rest of us. A mix of logistics, impromptu trade barriers and economics make these efforts a major challenge. And the longer the crisis continues, and the farther it spreads, the stakes of the food supply chain go well beyond keeping your favorite brands stocked in supermarkets. In some places, it can also be a matter of life or death.

Blocking imports: In Goa, one of the richest states in India, famous among tourists for its picturesque beach resorts, finding food has become dangerously hard since a nationwide shutdown began two weeks ago. French daily Le Monde reports that the local governor has shut off any incoming food supply trucks, and stocks have been rapidly vanishing. Locals report that the population of northern Goa has almost nothing left to eat.

A farmer in Uttar Pradesh during India's nationwide lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic.Photo: Prabhat Kumar Verma

Blocking exports: The world's eighth-largest producer of wheat, Kazakhstan, has banned flour exports and imposed restrictions on selling vegetables and buckwheat abroad. Serbia has banned vegetable oil export. Vietnam, the world's third-largest rice exporter, has a ban on new rice export contracts. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization fears such protectionist measures could provoke global food market instability, raise prices and leave populations at risk of hunger.

Blocking labor: There is also the question of how the goods are actually produced, right down to the local farmers. Italian magazine Internazionale reports on as many as 370,000 seasonal workers — mainly from Romania, Bulgaria and Poland – who are blocked from entering Italy because of closed borders. "We're a sign of what's to come, because we're already harvesting," notes one farmer. "Today, workers are missing for asparagus harvest, but tomorrow they'll be missing in apple orchards, for planting season and for all the other crops. It's going to get really get bad."

All of this raises questions that will be posed even after the national quarantines are lifted. Since the beginning of the pandemic, politicians have been reassuring the public that any empty shelves in grocery stores were caused by bottlenecks in the supply chain and stores should be able to replenish quickly. But this short-term emptying is proof of a deeper fragility of our current "just-in-time" consumption system based solely on efficiency, writes The Atlantic. We can add "how we feed ourselves' to the growing list of questions about the ways that life will (or won't) change in the post-coronavirus world.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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