Signs That Iran Wants To Ease Tensions With Saudi Arabia

At a Jan.4 demonstration against Saudi Arabia in Tehran
At a Jan.4 demonstration against Saudi Arabia in Tehran
Alidad Vassigh

The news continues to be troubling for Tehran: Several more Arab states have followed Saudi Arabia to cut or curb ties with Iran in the wake of a showdown over Riyadh's execution of a Shia leader.

And yet, Iran's reformist leaders and most of the country's media are remaining notably calm.

In the immediate aftermath of the execution of the Saudi opposition figure and Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, Iran reacted with harsh words, and analysts continue to accuse the Saudis of cooking up this crisis to undermine Tehran's rapprochement with the international community.

But even as the execution appeared clearly designed to "provoke" Iranians â€" some of whom attacked Saudi diplomatic compoundsâ€" leaders in Tehran have flatly condemned the street violence.

Iran is playing the sensible card for now, and media gave top coverage to the current round of diplomatic visits to Tehran, including by the Danish foreign minister. One conservative daily Jomhuri-e Eslami, even accused violent Iranian hardliners of being "friends of al-Saud" for giving the Saudis an excuse to break with Iran.

The judiciary chief, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, considered a confidant of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was also widely cited as condemning the "mistaken" violence outside the Saudi embassy. Police have made arrests, though nobody in Iran expects these radicals to serve any real time. Still, reports of their arrests convey the idea that the regime did not and does not condone such explosions of righteous ire. This stands in contrast not just with the popular uprising of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but also with the more recent presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when hardliners had a much freer hand.

While the moderately conservative daily E'temaad carried a headline on "madness" taking over the Arabian peninsula, its editor wrote Tuesday that Iranian diplomacy would remain "focused" to avoid fanning tensions. He also recalled that Ayatollah Khamenei had, at an unspecified time, stated he is "not in favor" of storming embassies, and that hardliners should remember that.

An editorial in the reformist Shargh reviewed the history of "complex" Iran-Saudi relations, noting this was the third time ties were severed. The conservative Jomhuri-e Eslami took a timely slap at the Saudis, writing that the regime clearly did not understand "how little weight" it carried now, as the West reconsiders its ties with post-revolutionary Iran. Its headline warned that the crisis will harm the economies of Saudi Arabia and its allies.

Meanwhile, the more hardline Resalat wondered Tuesday whether the Saudis "had gone mad."

Several reformist dailies, including Aftab-e Yazd didn't let the potentially far-reaching diplomatic crisis interrupt the current vetting of aspiring candidates for coming elections to the Assembly of Experts, a key clerical body. The daily was concerned that the Guardian Council, the chief vetting body, was looking for excuses to disqualify, among others, one of the most prominent of reformist candidates: Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

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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


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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