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Welcome to Tuesday, where all eyes turn to the U.S. as midterms kick off, UAE and Egypt pledge to team up for the world’s biggest wind farm, and sorry Hemsworth, Pine, and Pratt: Evans is the sexiest Chris around. Meanwhile, London-based, Persian-language daily Kayhan reports that Iranian officials have been quietly fleeing to Venezuela amid persistent anti-government protests.
Israel: a democracy in danger
French writer and political scientist Dominique Moisi was in Israel last week for the country’s latest elections, which saw the victory of a hard right coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu. Writing in Parisian daily Les Echos, Moisi warns that the "start-up nation" may not survive an emerging “illiberal democracy."
In his autobiography Things Seen, seminal French author Victor Hugo describes daily life in Paris during the revolution of the 1830s. He writes about the “limited reach of tragedy,” where one street is covered in barricades and the next is completely peaceful.
On Nov. 1, the day of the elections in Israel, I was walking around the streets of Tel Aviv with those images from Victor Hugo in mind. There was no indication that the future of the country might be at stake despite the huge election signs on buildings and buses. But for their fifth general election in four years, the people of the country's largest economic and cultural metropolis seemed jaded, if not indifferent.
This impression was quickly contradicted by a turnout of more than 70%, a significant increase over previous elections. But nothing seemed to suggest that Israel was on the brink of a tipping point.
An openly racist extreme right
Will the so-called "Republic of Tel Aviv'' — with its LGBTQ+ rainbow flags draped from balconies and real estate agencies offering penthouses with jacuzzis and sea views — be able to resist the return to power of Benyamin Netanyahu?
This time with a majority of 64 seats out of 120 at the Knesseth, the Israeli parliament, “Bibi” Netanyahu heads a coalition that includes a particularly vicious extreme right, which despite its acronyms is neither Zionist nor religious, but simply openly racist.
In the early 2000s, in the midst of the second Intifada, Israeli leaders such as Ariel Sharon had a message for Europe and especially for France — the country with the largest Jewish community in Western Europe:
"We Israelis are in the front line of the fight against Islamic terrorism. If you are not careful, your turn will come very quickly."
Sharon even invited the French Jewish community to make their Aliyah, and move to Israel. Today, the Jewish state constitutes in itself a warning of a different nature. It is not about what it’s fighting against, but what it has become: a country at the forefront of the most extreme religious nationalism, if not a democracy on the veritable edge of collapsing; a country where political forces now in power openly call for the expulsion of Palestinians and a reactionary fight against modernity.
Women’s status at risk
Israel used to boast about its status as a "startup nation," about its number of Nobel Prize recipients, the creativity of its artists, and so on. If we were to follow the Israeli far-right’s program to the letter, the teaching of mathematics and English would be relegated to a minor place — if not prohibited altogether. This fight against science, against openness to the world, goes hand-in-hand with a questioning of the role of women in Israeli society. Their function is, to put it plainly, to bear children. What tragic irony, and such a contradiction in terms! Is this retrograde example really what Israel wants to turn to, at a time when an extreme fringe of its society wants to expel the "Arabs" from its midst?
In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens compared the evolution of London and Paris in 1793. One could be tempted today to imagine a "Tale of Three Cities," where Tel Aviv’s dynamism and openness would contrast with a self-collapsing Beirut, and Tehran’s growing isolation and withdrawal.
Ben Gvir, an Israeli Zemmour?
We may think that the country’s far-right — even if it was to hold Israel’s reins — would not be able to shake the foundations of “The Republic of Tel Aviv. But it can still seriously harm democracy in Israel. For years, alongside French human rights defenders Robert Badinter and Simone Veil, I was a member of the International Board of the Israel Democracy Institute. One of its priorities was to maintain the independence of the country’s Supreme Court. Without judicial power wouldn't Israel — a country without a Constitution and a steadfast proportional electoral system — risk falling prey to absolute corruption, and enter an era of post-democratic chaos?
Capitalizing on the rift between Israel’s center and left, Netanyahu won his bet — just like Giorgia Meloni did in Italy. But to do so, he had to rely on the support of more extreme and better organized forces than Matteo Salvini's Liga or Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia. In fact, a more apt comparison may be found not in Italy, but just next door: Isn’t Itamar Ben Gvir, the new star of the Israeli far-right (who with 14 deputies is now the new “kingmaker”) a kind of Israeli Eric Zemmour? Infinitely less cultured, of course — but infinitely more skilled politically — than the extreme right French politician.
Israel, that illiberal democracy
It is also worthwhile to compare the situation with the United States. And to wonder whether what has just happened in Israel could prefigure what will go down this week with the midterm elections.
Democracy, in the U.S. and Israel alike, seems to have become a bit of a nuisance for the elites. A good thing, of course, but relegated to the background, as compared to other priorities such as physical or economic security.
We can find solace in the fact that Israel’s right-wing bloc probably won’t last long, that its internal contradictions are far too great, that Netanyahu won’t be able to control Ben Gvir and his radical ideas. But we can also shudder at the thought that after this election, Israel has become, at best, an illiberal democracy, like Viktor Orban's Hungary — and, at worst, a failed democracy. And the United States now stands before the very same risk.
— Dominique Moïsi / Les Echos
• Biden Administration tries to reassure Ukraine ahead of midterms: U.S Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield said support to Ukraine was “unwavering,” while White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre emphasized that no matter the outcome of today’s midterm elections, the U.S. would still continue to support Ukraine. Republicans are expected to win majority control in the House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate as well, in the midterms.
• COP27: UAE and Egypt to build one of world’s biggest wind farms: The United Arab Emirates and Egypt have signed a deal to develop one the world’s largest onshore wind projects in Egypt, as the country is currently hosting the COP27 climate summit. The UAE is set to host the COP28 conference next year.
• Border officer shot dead at Bulgaria-Turkey crossing: An unidentified gunman has shot a Bulgarian border police officer as well as a serviceman who were patrolling near Bulgaria’s Golyam Dervent village on the border with Turkey. The officer died immediately, and the attacker fled the scene. Bulgaria has deployed 350 troops to help police border deal with a growing influx of migrants.
• Qatari World Cup official calls homosexuality “damage in the mind”: While interviewed for a documentary by German broadcaster ZDF, Khalid Salman, an ambassador for the World Cup in Qatar, described homosexuality as a “damage in the mind” and “a spiritual harm,” leading the interviewer to cut off the exchange. The documentary airs today.
• Chinese residents clash with authorities over COVID restrictions: Seven people have been arrested in the northeastern Chinese city of Linyi following a clash between residents and authorities who enforce COVID quarantine rules. China, which continues its strict “Zero-COVID” policy, is reporting new cases nationwide, with a surge in and around the southern megacity Guangzhou.
• Christchurch mass killer appeals conviction: Brenton Tarrant, who murdered 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch in New Zealand in 2019, has filed an appeal against his case and sentence. The white supremacist had been jailed to life without parole in 2020.• Chris Evans named Sexiest Man Alive: U.S. actor Chris Evans, who has gained widespread fame as Captain America, has been named People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive, taking the baton from another Avenger, Paul Rudd.
Spanish daily La Vanguardia dedicates its front page to the new proposals of the COP27 in Egypt: taxing oil and gas profits and using the money to help companies who fight against climate change.
Nintendo recorded a 34% surge in its profit in the first half of the fiscal year 2022, mainly due to strong sales of products for its Switch console. These results prompted the Japanese video game maker to raise its profit forecast for the April-March fiscal year to $2.7 billion (400 billion yen), from an earlier projection of $2.3 billion (340 billion yen). It is still below the record profits from 2021, when the industry got a boost from pandemic lockdowns.
Report: As Iranian protests continue, regime officials are fleeing to Venezuela
Reports from Tehran suggest that some senior officials may be "quietly" taking exile in the South American nation led by Nicolas Maduro, a trusted ally of the Iranian regime, writes Persian-language media Kayhan-London.
🇮🇷🇻🇪 As the Iranian public persists with weeks of angry protests against the country's clerical regime, reports from Tehran's airport suggest some senior officials may have begun to pack their bags and leave the country. Ordinary Iranians will wonder where they could go to hide, given Tehran's relative lack of friends and allies around the world. They may travel to countries the regime has helped in past decades. One refuge may be socialist Venezuela, run by Iran's authoritarian ally President Nicolás Maduro.
🛫 An unnamed source at Tehran's Imam Khomeini Airport told Kayhan-London that currently, three flights a day were taking off with "a considerable amount of cargo" bound for Venezuela. The source said: "these people get their suitcases out in hours, with fewer passengers and flights. This began about two weeks ago, and we see these movements about two or three times a day."
🧳 If the cargo belongs to officials, presumably they will follow sooner or later. The Daily Express, a London paper, reported in late October on rumors of Iranian politicians looking for UK, Canadian and Swiss passports as they seek to flee Iran. Its report also described special flights leaving Tehran outside the standard airport schedule. In mid-October, the website Flightradar24 also observed an increase in "suspect" flights from Iran for places like Georgia and Belarus.
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📹 THIS HAPPENED VIDEO — TODAY IN HISTORY, IN ONE ICONIC PHOTO
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“We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”
— UN Secretary General António Guterres said in a speech at the COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh as world leaders seek to act faster to tackle climate change. The event, which opened Sunday in the Egyptian sea resort, will last two weeks.
📸PHOTO DU JOUR
Former President Donald Trump campaigned with J.D. Vance, the Republican candidate for Ohio's Senate race, at a rally in Vandalia, Ohio on Monday, as Americans are heading to the polls for the U.S. midterm elections. Trump used his final rally to say he would make a “big announcement” next week, suggesting he might confirm his run for president again in 2024. — Photo: Jintak Han/ZUMA
✍️ Newsletter by Laure Gautherin, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet
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