MIDEAST MONITOR: WHAT’S NEXT FOR SISI’S EGYPT?

 

http://www.jpost.com/Jerusalem-Report/Mideast-Monitor-Whats-next-for-Sisis-Egypt-481767

 

EGYPT’S PRESIDENT Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has now been in power for three and a half years. In consolidating his rule, Sisi has based his claim to legitimacy on a formula familiar to authoritarian regimes: wrapping oneself in the flag of patriotism, along with promises for economic betterment and stability for the population in return for its acquiescence to a de-politicization of society. Also in use is harsh repression of political opposition, severe checks on independent civil society organizations, including the media, and restrictions on judicial independence.

Until recently, this formula appeared to be working. In addition, the need to cope with an ongoing violent jihadist insurgency in Sinai and accompanying terrorist attacks further confirmed public support for Sisi. His recent high-profile attendance at the Coptic Christmas celebrations, just two weeks after a horrific jihadist bombing in an adjacent church, was a strong statement of support for the beleaguered Copt minority.

 

However, times have become especially tough for ordinary Egyptians.

As my Tel Aviv University colleague Paul Rivlin wrote in July 2016, the optimism for Egypt’s economy generated by the $8 billion expansion of the Suez Canal and the discovery of large natural gas reserves off of Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, had dissipated. Revenue from tourism, one of the mainstays of the economy, declined 50% during 2015-16 from the previous year, thanks especially to the downing of a Russian passenger airliner in Sinai by jihadists. The decades-old trend of declining rates of population growth had been reversed between 2010-15. According to official statistics, Egypt’s population increased 17.3 million to 94 million over the past decade, with all the attendant burdens on social services, the educational system and labor market that that entails. Official unemployment stood at 14%; youth unemployment at more than 40%.

Facing large government and current account deficits and an acute shortage of foreign currency, the Sisi government negotiated a largescale, three-year loan package of $12 billion. It was contingent on major reforms, including the imposition of VAT on most economic transactions, lowering domestic energy subsidies, currency rate adjustment and trimming the bloated public sector. An earlier 14% devaluation of the Egyptian pound in March had had little effect apart from sparking inflation and a large black market in scarce foreign currency.

Egyptians confronted acute shortages in essential goods, ranging from sugar, poultry and rice to medications. Pharmacists incurred the wrath of the public which faced high prices or empty shelves. They, in turn, blamed the drug companies and government.

Meanwhile, the deal with the IMF proceeded apace. A civil service law aimed at cutting the number of public sector employees was enacted.

In September, the first payment, $2.75b., was transferred to Egyptian coffers.

The real quid pro quo came in November: the floating of the Egyptian pound, whose value vis-à-vis the dollar was immediately halved, to more than 18 pounds. Concurrently, domestic energy subsidies were slashed, leading to fuel price increases of 30-45%.

For importers and investors who had already incurred dollar debts, the new exchange rate step was potentially catastrophic and calls went out for immediate government relief. The pound’s 100%+ devaluation caused a spike in inflation, which reached 24% in December while the prices of some goods rose more than 80%.

International agencies and analysts looked favorably upon the government’s steps. In December, the World Bank approved a $1b. development policy finance operation in support of the government’s economic reform program. Investors in emerging markets reportedly viewed Egypt’s prospects favorably, as did Moody’s credit rating agency, which forecast 4-4.5% growth rates during the next two years.

Sisi himself has asked the public to be patient for the next six months as the positive effects of the reforms take effect. By then, he said, the exchange rate will have stabilized, while he himself will have inaugurated a new factory producing medicines. A “parallel exchange market” that would ensure the availability of goods at affordable prices was on the drawing board.

In addition, the army, “using its own budget without burdening the state’s general budget,” has launched such projects as a cement factory, fish farming and importing large quantities of cattle to provide meat at reasonable prices. The reference to the army was telling: It’s the only institution in the country Sisi really trusts.

Egypt has muddled through its economic woes before, and it would be rash to suggest that Sisi’s rule is in any imminent danger. But neither would it be wise to ignore the real difficulties confronting Egyptian society and assume that there will be no political fallout.

■ The author is a professor in the Department of Middle Eastern and African History, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University

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GERMAN PARTY (WHITE IDIOTS) CONDEMNS BDS, COMPARES MOVEMENT TO PRE-WWII ANTISEMITISM

 

http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/German-party-condemns-BDS-compares-movement-to-pre-WWII-antisemitism-481934

 

German politicians from the Christian Democratic Union Party (CDU) in Hamburg submitted a resolution in early February calling on the state senate to take decisive action against the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, deeming it as antisemitic.

The CDU is the opposition party in the government, while the Social Democrats and the Green Party make up the governing coalition in Hamburg.

The CDU politicians condemned “BDS initiatives and activities as antisemitic,” adding that the senate, as well as government agencies, should assess all activities as hostile to Israel and take actions against BDS.

The resolution appears to the be first state government legislative act seeking to blunt BDS. The CDU sponsors of the resolution are Carsten Ovens, Karin Prien, André Trepoll, Dennis Thering, Birgit Stöver, Dennis Gladiator, and Jörg Hamann.

The resolution urged Hamburg to support further initiatives to strengthen German-Israel bilateral relations. According to the resolution, “In previous months, many different countries have shown a clear resistance against the BDS movement. National and local parliaments and administrations – for example, in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Paris – decided to reject these boycott activities.”

The northern port city of Hamburg is both a city and a federal German state.

The resolution stated: “Who today under the flag of the BDS movement calls to boycott Israeli goods and services speaks the same language in which people were called to not buy from Jews. That is nothing other than coarse antisemitism.”

The CDU compared BDS to the National Socialists who boycotted Jews in the 1930s. BDS dresses up antisemitism in the “new clothes of the 21st century” as anti-Zionism, the party said.

The anti-BDS resolution was in response to the University of Hamburg’s appointment of Farid Esack, a pro-BDS Islamic theologian from South Africa. The advisory board of the Academy of World Religions at Hamburg University, where Esack served as a guest professor from October to mid-February, distanced itself from Esack.

In a statement to Die Welt reporter Jakob Koch, the academy said it is “totally unacceptable from the view of the advisory council when a comprehensive boycott of Israel is called for and thereby a break in every form of cooperation with Israeli universities, cultural institutions and other institutions.”

Die Welt further reported on Saturday that the academy said Esack has not demonstrated clear statements affirming Israel’s right to exist. The advisory panel said that “under consideration of the now known facts a decision to appoint Prof. Dr. Esack as guest professor would have certainly been decided differently.”

Esack is the chairman of BDS South Africa. In 2015, he welcomed his “comrade” plane hijacker Leila Khaled, of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, at a fund-raiser. The EU and US classify the PFLP as a terrorist organization.
Esack has argued that “the idea of an Islamic State in Germany must be allowed to be represented.”

The Israeli Embassy in Berlin told The Jerusalem Post in January: “This is a man [Esack] who expressed antisemitic statements, and who is sympathetic to Holocaust denial. A person with such views has no place as an educator in a university, in particular not in Germany; due to both professional as well as moral and probably also legal reasons.”

A statement from Esack published on a BDS website in Germany read: “Neither I nor anyone on the staff or board of BDS SA has ever made any statement that could be reasonably interpreted as antisemitism. These accusations are part of a hundreds of million of dollars, Israeli government-funded operation.” Esack has compared Israel’s government to that of Nazi Germany on his Facebook page, and called former president Shimon Peres a “terrorist.”

The anti-BDS motion in Hamburg is a further setback for BDS activists, after German financial institutions terminated three BDS bank accounts in 2016. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union Party passed an anti-BDS resolution at its party congress. The senate is slated to vote on the CDU resolution on March 1.

 

FORMER MOSSAD CHIEF: MAYBE FLYNN WAS THROWN UNDER THE BUS TO PROTECT TRUMP

 

As the heat stays on the Trump administration about possible illegal communications with Russia, the resignation of National Security Council chief Michael Flynn last week and the proximity of his meetings with the Russian ambassador to his meetings with Mossad Director Yossi Cohen once again raised the question of whether Israeli intelligence has or could be leaked to Moscow.

In December and January, stories started to circulate in the media that Israel, the UK, Australia and others might be reconsidering whether they could fully openly share intelligence with the Trump administration when incoming US President Donald Trump, Flynn and others seemed so close to Russia.

 

On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported that some US intelligence officials are withholding certain intelligence from Trump because of continued concerns it will be compromised or leaked.

Most US and Israeli officials interview by The Jerusalem Post in January and early February dismissed the concerns. But there have been developments since then. Flynn resigned on Tuesday – stepping down for having spoken to Russian officials about removing sanctions before Trump entered office as well as for lying to other members of the administration about what he discussed with the Russians.

But not only were the discussions’ content, the lies and the resignation new, but it turns out that Flynn met with the Russian ambassador on December 29, sandwiched just after and just before secret meetings with Cohen in which the sides presumably exchanged key intelligence.

The Post once again interviewed former Israeli intelligence officials on the issue, to see if their confidence in Trump and his team, or more specifically in Flynn, was shaken by the latest developments.

Former Mossad director Danny Yatom came out strongly, saying he knew Flynn personally and affirming that he would not have leaked Israeli intelligence information to Russia even if he may have violated certain US norms by discussing sanctions relief to Russia before Trump had taken office.

Asked about the possibility of a leak, Yatom said, “I don’t think so, from my personal evaluation. Flynn was very experienced. No one thinks he was a Russian spy. He was experienced and smart enough…

maybe he made a mistake even with no intention, but that can happen to anyone. I don’t think we need to worry that our intelligence will go to Russia.”

He speculated that Flynn may have even “been thrown under the bus,” echoing some theories that Flynn’s discussion of sanctions with Russian officials may have been under orders from Trump, but that at this point he may have “fallen on his sword” to protect the US president from fallout.

Yatom said that Flynn’s dismissal should not have a huge impact on Israeli-US intelligence cooperation, since Trump has just come into office and top officials tend to have more power and influence after serving with a new leader for at least a year. This allows time to gain his confidence and authorization for various policies.

Yatom broke down the process of relevant information exchanges in terms of protecting Israeli intelligence sources into two pieces.

The first he said, concerned information meant exclusively for the US, which goes directly to the CIA or the National Security Agency. “Only after it gets to the NSA does it get to the president. The CIA and NSA don’t need to tell the president and others at the White House who is the source of the intelligence they received – they don’t need to know,” he said.

He explained that if the US president does not know the source of the intelligence, then there is no danger to Israel’s sources and no danger to sharing the intelligence.

The second he described as “intelligence we intentionally want to give to Russia. We give them a paraphrase. We don’t give them the actual original material which would let them analyze potential sources of the material. We give intelligence to Russia, for example, to convince them that Iran is not standing by its obligations.”

“Some of the facts we present to Russia directly and some through the US, but we do it in a smart way so they can’t figure out the source,” of the intelligence, said Yatom.

Other former intelligence officials indicated that they could not be sure one way or another about the fate of any Israeli intelligence given to Flynn, with one official saying, “He was a US general, I hope he was not a traitor.”

One former official said that Israel has no choice in these situations about whether to share intelligence with the US, noting “We also receive. We can’t say yes and then no” about Israel asking for the US to share information and then refusing to share or refusing to share in an equal manner.

He indicated that the intelligence sharing between Cohen and Flynn was part of regular working intelligence relations and could have included some of the most important secrets that there are.

Overall, Yatom said he was most worried by reports that US intelligence officials did not trust Trump enough to give him the full picture.

Yatom did not necessarily buy into all of the various theories about Trump and Russia, but he said some of the allegations at the very least required investigation from an internal US perspective, as if some of the allegations were true it would be “a nightmare scenario.”
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TRUMP IN DENIAL OVER RISING AMERICAN ANTISEMITISM

In two press conferences last week, US President Donald Trump avoided answering reporters’ questions about the undeniable spike in antisemitic incidents in America during his campaign for the presidency, an alarming trend that continues to concern the world Jewish community.

On Wednesday, a reporter asked about the rise of antisemitic incidents amid growing concern that the new administration might in fact be encouraging xenophobia and racism. If Trump were a politician, the softball question presented a golden opportunity to hit a home run – while standing next to the leader of the Jewish state – by condemning what the Anti-Defamation League has called the highest level of antisemitism in the US since the 1930s.

 

Instead of commenting on the recent spate of bomb threats to Jewish community centers throughout the US, Trump ignored the issue and unfathomably responded by speaking about how many Electoral College votes he received.

“Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had – 316 Electoral College votes,” Mr. Trump said. “We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right? There was no way to 221, but then they said there’s no way to 270. And there’s tremendous enthusiasm out there.”

No comment as to how his campaign was perceived as a dog whistle for the so-called alt-right and its fellow traveling, dyed-in-the-wool antisemites. Neither did Trump take the opportunity to explain why his White House statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day made no mention of the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis.

Trump doubled down on this lapse the following day, when he ordered a Jewish haredi reporter to sit down, rather than answer his respectful question about the spike in antisemitic incidents – a question that was preceded by a polite reassurance from reporter Jake Turx that no one in his community feels that Trump himself is an antisemite.

Instead, the president cut him off and ordered him to sit down, apparently mistaking the question as a personal insult and responding with the well-worn mantra of his campaign: “Number one, I am the least antisemitic person you have ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism. I am the least racist person.”

He proceeded to call Trux’s question “repulsive” and told him to be quiet.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt was one of many who were appalled by the president’s response. He told the “Never Is Now” Summit on Anti-Semitism on Friday that “over the past few years, we have seen the growth of ugly campaigns on our college campuses, efforts that seek to delegitimize Israel and to reduce the Jewish state into some kind of taboo. This virus has spread and made some of greatest universities hostile to Jewish students and those who support them.”

Instead of giving a thoughtful response to some of the most serious concerns of word Jewry, the so-called leader of the free world belittled them by saying “bad things” have happened “over a long period of time.” He gave no hint of understanding how his xenophobic, ultra-nationalistic policies and fear-mongering have alarmed all Jews.

Adding insult to injury, he instead once again exploited the Jewish members of his family in his variation of the “some of my best friends are Jewish” appeal for credibility.

“As far as people, Jewish people, so many friends; a daughter who happens to be here right now; a son-in-law; and three beautiful grandchildren.” His promise sounded hollow: “You’re going to see a lot of love.”

It is time Trump understands the damage he is causing.

His failure and inability to publicly and unequivocally denounce antisemitism and to say something as simple as: I have ordered the Justice Department to crack down on hate crimes, is concerning. The failure to be clear on the issue will give antisemites the impression that the president actually supports them, and their attacks might even escalate as a result.

At a time when JCCs are regularly threatened, when swastikas are spray-painted on synagogues and hate speech is circulating in an unprecedented way on social media, the president is meant to serve as his country’s – and to some extent even the world’s – moral compass.

Trump’s continued failure to do so is a stain on his presidency.

ZARIF TAKES APPARENT SHOT AT ISRAELI ‘AUDACITY,’ SAYS IRAN WILL NEVER DEVELOP NUKES

http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Iran-News/Zarif-takes-apparent-shot-at-Israeli-audacity-says-Iran-will-never-develop-nukes-481970

 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said Sunday that Iran would never seek to build a nuclear weapon, taking an apparent shot at Israel for being the true nuclear-armed actor endangering the region.

Without naming Israel specifically, Zarif said at the Munich Security Council that there were certain non-members of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty who were spreading accusations about the Iranian nuclear threat.

“They have the audacity” to talk about the Iranian nuclear threat when they are “the destabilizing force in the region,” Zarif said.

“We will never produce nuclear weapons, period,” Zarif said. The Iranian foreign minister added that Iran had committed to this in the nuclear deal signed with world powers, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but has yet to receive the reciprocal fulfilling of the deal from the other side. “The international community still owes us,” Zarif stated.

In apparent response to US President Donald Trump’s comments that he was putting Iran “on notice” over ballistic missile tests last month, Zarif stated that, “We do not respond well to threats.”

Zarif said that under so-called “crippling sanctions,” intended to curb Iran’s construction of centrifuges for enriching uranium, Iran had gone from having 200 centrifuges to having some 20,000 centrifuges.

“We don’t respond to threats, we respond to mutual respect,” Zarif said.

Republican US Senator Lindsay Graham, speaking on a panel at the conference immediately after Zarif, said that not a word the Iranian foreign minister was saying should be believed.

“They’ve been trying to build a nuclear weapon,” Graham said. “If they say they haven’t they’re lying.”

“You don’t build a secret nuclear facility if you don’t want to build a nuclear weapon,” he added.

Graham said that Iran was “a bad actor in the greatest sense of the word when it comes to the region,” calling Tehran out specifically for supporting Hezbollah and writing “Death to Israel” on its missiles.

Alt-right website tries to weed out Jews from drug reform

http://www.timesofisrael.com/alt-right-website-tries-to-weed-out-jews-from-drug-reform/

 

NEW YORK — Back in 1971, the father of the American “War on Drugs” drew a connection between Jews and cannabis.

“You know it’s a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish,” president Richard Nixon said. “What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob, what is the matter with them? I suppose it’s because most of them are psychiatrists.”

Most Jews are not psychiatrists, of course, just as most marijuana law reform activists are not Jewish. Nixon, however, wasn’t alone in calling Jews out for their involvement in cannabis policy.

An anti-Semitic article published by alt-right website The Daily Stormer in late November entitled “Weed Kikes Attacking Jeff Sessions!” denigrates a number of Jewish activists by name for opposing President Donald Trump’s nomination of Jeff Sessions for US Attorney General, a position that directs federal drug law enforcement.

“The Jews come at you from every angle. Here they are coming at you from the weed lmao [sic] angle,” the article says. “The marijuana legalization agenda is entirely Jew.”

The Daily Stormer, recently ranked the US’s top hate site by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), took its name from Der Stürmer, a Nazi newspaper started by Julius Streicher, who was later hanged for war crimes at Nuremberg. SPLC calls the website a “malignant presence in the real world.”

Andrew Anglin, who runs the Neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, wearing a pro-Donald Trump hat after endorsing the Republican frontrunner. (Wikipedia/BFG101/CC BY SA-4.0)

Andrew Anglin, who runs the Neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, wearing a pro-Donald Trump hat after endorsing the Republican frontrunner. (Wikipedia/BFG101/CC BY SA-4.0)

The Daily Stormer article, one of many displays of anti-Semitism that seem to be gaining traction in America, doesn’t merely attack Jews for being Jewish: The pretense of this article is that association with Jews is inherently a smear against the drug reform movement.

It sets a dangerous precedent, though its argument itself isn’t very strong. The story names a prominent Jewish cannabis activist, Adam Eidinger from Washington, DC, who led protests against Sessions’ nomination, and later goes on to describe a cannabis-themed seder that took place in Portland, Oregon last year.

Perhaps the article’s strongest — or most accurate — point is acknowledging “a Jew group that considers legalizing drugs as part of the Jew agenda of ‘Tikkun olam’ (fixing the world).”

There are indeed many Jewish cannabis activists (and many Jewish psychiatrists). Including those interviewed for this article, many of these activists propose that drug policy reform really does align with Jewish values like tikkun olam and standing up against oppression.

The alt-right may be using anti-Semitism to discredit marijuana law reform and clearly the “marijuana legalization agenda” is not “entirely Jew,” as the article states, but Jewish morality does play a role for some of the Jewish activists who are motivated by social justice.

Sessions: KKK ok — until smoking pot

Sessions, who was recently confirmed as US attorney general, has been hostile toward cannabis and thinks marijuana law reform is a “tragic mistake.” He has said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” According to 1986 Senate committee testimony, the former Alabama senator once said he thought the Ku Klux Klan were okay until learning that they smoked pot.

Sessions has also criticized former president Barack Obama’s administration for not enforcing federal prohibition in the now 28 states that legalized medical or recreational marijuana.

Sen. Jeff Sessions arrives to testify at his confirmation hearing to be attorney general of the US before the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 10, 2017, in Washington, DC. (AFP/Molly Riley)

Sen. Jeff Sessions arrives to testify at his confirmation hearing to be attorney general of the US before the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 10, 2017, in Washington, DC. (AFP/Molly Riley)

With Sessions’ confirmation, drug policy reformers are worried he will undermine America’s fast-growing cannabis industry and progressive trend toward more lenient state policies.

‘Anti-Semitic slurs against Jewish people for being drug policy reformers is an attempt to delegitimize drug policy reform through anti-Semitism’

“To throw anti-Semitic slurs against Jewish people for being drug policy reformers is an attempt to delegitimize drug policy reform through anti-Semitism,” says Eidinger, founder of DCMJ.org, which helped legalize cannabis in the city of Washington, DC. The Daily Stormer article features a photo of Eidinger holding a bong.

“It gets scary when the most die-hard Trump partisans, who happen to be neo-Nazis, are coming after you,” Eidinger says.

Customers buy products at the Harvest Medical Marijuana Dispensary in San Francisco, California, April 20, 2016. (AP/Haven Daley)

Customers buy products at the Harvest Medical Marijuana Dispensary in San Francisco, California, April 20, 2016. (AP/Haven Daley)

Jewish Manhattan Assembly member Richard Gottfried, who originally proposed New York State’s medical marijuana program, says tikkun olam inspired him to advocate for reform. He now fears medical marijuana patients will suffer if Sessions attacks state policies.

‘I have definitely noticed in my unscientific sampling that Jews tend to enjoy their ganja’

“My views on marijuana and all public issues have been strongly influenced by my upbringing, which included Jewish values focusing on justice and personal responsibility for promoting a better world for all,” says Gottfried. “Of course, Judaism is not alone in upholding the value of healing the world.”

When, for example, African Americans are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for pot, despite comparable rates of use with the rest of the US, marijuana law reform often falls under the greater social justice umbrella.

Marijuana buds drying at a pot farm in Northern California. Recreational marijuana use is legal in eight states. (Madison Margolin/Times of Israel)

Marijuana buds drying at a pot farm in Northern California. Recreational marijuana use is legal in eight states. (Madison Margolin/Times of Israel)

“I think it’s interesting that many of us who work in drug policy reform are Jewish, and I have definitely noticed in my unscientific sampling that Jews tend to enjoy their ganja,” says Natalie Ginsberg, policy and advocacy manager at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).

Jews who are impacted by generations of trauma or who suffer from anxiety may gravitate towards cannabis as medicine, Ginsberg says.

“Also, personally, both cannabis and Judaism have empowered me to question things and see the greater context, so I can see why neo-Nazis would feel especially threatened by the combination,” says Ginsberg.

Jews as ultimate scapegoats

In a political atmosphere that marginalizes Muslims, Mexicans, and other minorities, “Jews are acutely sensitive to being scapegoated, and drugs are a scapegoat for all sorts of problems,” says Rick Doblin, executive director of MAPS.

“When you have a whole cultural system built on throwing people in jail for drug use that in many cases is not harmful, but beneficial, you have a massive scapegoating problem going on,” says Dobin.

The seder plate at Le’Or’s inaugural Cannabis Seder included a marijuana leaf. (photo credit: Alain Sylvestre Media)

The seder plate at Le’Or’s inaugural Cannabis Seder included a marijuana leaf. (photo credit: Alain Sylvestre Media)

Roy Kaufman, co-host of a cannabis seder in Portland, Oregon, and mentioned in the Daily Stormer article, finds common ground between Jewish tradition and drug policy. The Passover story is one of bondage to freedom, he says, just as ending prohibition takes people out of bondage and into personal freedom, to choose what’s best for their health.

Meanwhile, Ethan Nadelmann, founder of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), a nonprofit advocating for reform, draws a connection between prohibition and Nazi Germany, where his grandfather had perished.

“Any time the majority thinks that it needs to impose its particular morality on the minority, not just for our sake but their sake, that’s trouble,” Nadelmann says in an interview.

While many American Jews are not as directly impacted by the War on Drugs as people of color, many nonetheless feel a responsibility to act on behalf of those who are, says Amanda Reiman, DPA’s former marijuana law and policy manager.

“What we need is a proliferation of people who are willing to fight and defend the rights of people, even if they’re not directly affected by [the War on Drugs], and that’s what’s under attack in that article,” she says. “The reason we’re involved in drug policy is because of tikkun olam.”

US remains ‘your greatest ally,’ Pence tells Europe

MUNICH, Germany — US Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday pledged an “unwavering” commitment to transatlantic ties, aiming to reassure allies including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who pleaded with nations not to go it alone.

Capping a week of whirlwind diplomacy by American officials who have descended on Europe to calm nerves rattled by President Donald Trump, Pence underlined the United States’ loyalty to its old friends.

“The United States is and will always be your greatest ally. Be assured that President Trump and our people are truly devoted to our transatlantic union,” he told European leaders at the Munich Security Conference.

Pence said Trump would stand by the NATO transatlantic alliance and no one should doubt his commitment after sacrifices made to defend it.

“The president asked me to be here today to convey a message, a reassurance — the United States of America strongly supports NATO and we will be unwavering in our commitment to this transatlantic alliance,” Pence said.

“Let no one doubt our commitment,” he said.

The Munich conference, attended by top leaders, officials and analysts from around the world, was watching Pence closely to see if he would reaffirm the central US role in world affairs after Trump’s “America First” stance suggested Washington would strike out on its own.

Speaking just before Pence, Merkel had warned countries against precisely that, saying the only way to solve global problems was to stick together.

“In a year in which we see unimaginable challenges we can either work together or retreat to our individual roles. I hope that we will find a common position,” Merkel said.

In an apparent message to Trump and his efforts to enact a travel ban on several Muslim-majority nations, the German leader stressed that Islam was not the source of terrorism, according to Reuters. Muslim countries, she added, must be included in the war against jihadists.

Merkel conceded room for improvement in multilateral structures, saying that in many places they are not efficient enough.

“I am firmly convinced that it is worth fighting for our common international multilateral structures, but we must improve them in many places,” she said.

Merkel reiterated that Germany is committed to the official NATO goal of putting 2 percent of gross domestic product into defense spending — Germany currently contributes 1.3 percent.

“We will do everything we can in order to fulfill this commitment,” she said. “But let me add, however, that I believe while NATO is very much in the European interest, it’s also in the American interest — it’s a very strong alliance where we are united together.”

Pence also sought to calm nervous European allies who remain concerned about Russian aggression and have been alarmed by Trump’s positive statements about Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Pence vowed Saturday that the United States will “hold Russia accountable.” He said the US would demand that Russia honor a 2015 peace deal agreed upon in Minsk, Belarus, aimed at ending violence in eastern Ukraine.

US Vice President Mike Pence delivers a speech on the 2nd day of the 53rd Munich Security Conference (MCS) in Munich, southern Germany, on February 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Christof STACHE)

US Vice President Mike Pence delivers a speech on the 2nd day of the 53rd Munich Security Conference (MCS) in Munich, southern Germany, on February 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Christof STACHE)

“Know this: The United States will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground which as you know President Trump believes can be found,” Pence said.

Pence was meeting later Saturday with Merkel, as well as the leaders of the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko — countries dealing with the threat of Russian incursion — along with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.

The visit, which will include a stop in Brussels on Sunday and Monday, comes amid worries in Europe about Russian aggression, Trump’s relationship with Putin and whether the new president may promote isolationist tendencies through his “America First” mantra.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a government meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a government meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

“The vice president has sent reassuring messages through his own engagement but that hasn’t been enough to dispel the concerns that you see in many parts of Europe,” says Jeff Rathke, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “There are such grave challenges that the US and Europe faces that it only heightens the desire for additional clarity from Washington.”

Pence’s stature within the administration was also under scrutiny because of the recent dismissal of Trump’s national security adviser, retired Gen. Michael Flynn. Flynn was forced to resign Monday following reports he misled Pence about contacts with a Russian diplomat, which the vice president learned about through media accounts about two weeks after the president was informed.

US President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Pence is also expected to meet with the leaders of Iraq and Afghanistan, where the US is embroiled in two separate wars. Trump has made clear his intention to defeat the Islamic State group. But he also said the US may get a second chance to take Iraqi oil as compensation for its efforts in the war-torn country, a notion rebuffed by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who will be meeting with the vice president.

Trump’s immigration and refugee ban has ruffled feathers with a number of Muslim-majority countries affected by the order currently tied up in court, including Iraq — a close ally in the fight against IS.

In Munich, the American allies were searching for clues from Pence as to how the Trump administration plans to deal with Russia in the aftermath of Flynn’s departure, US inquiries into Russia’s involvement in the presidential election and Trump’s past praise for Putin.

European countries along Russia’s border were rattled about deeper US-Russian ties after Trump suggested sanctions imposed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea could be eased in exchange for a nuclear weapons deal and the president referred to NATO as “obsolete” in an interview before his inauguration. Trump has since tempered his language, telling foreign leaders in phone calls about the importance of the NATO alliance.

NATO, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is a military alliance of European and North American democracies created after World War II to strengthen international cooperation as a counter-balance to the rise of the Soviet Union. In 2014, the 28-member alliance created a rapid-reaction force to protect the most vulnerable NATO members against a confrontation with Russia.

Lebanon president issues warning to Israel in spat over Hezbollah

Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Saturday warned that his country would meet any perceived threats by Israel with an “appropriate response,” after the Israeli ambassador to the UN complained about his statements regarding the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group.

“Any attempt to hurt Lebanese sovereignty or expose the Lebanese to danger will find the appropriate response,” Aoun said in an official statement, according to Reuters.

Aoun was referring to a letter sent earlier this week to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres by Ambassador Danny Danon about the president’s remarks. Aoun said Sunday that the Iranian-backed Hezbollah plays “a complementary role to the Lebanese army” in countering Israel.

“As long as the Lebanese army is not strong enough to battle Israel … we feel the need for its existence,” Aoun told the Egyptian TV network CBC on Sunday.

On Saturday, Aoun called Danon’s letter a “masked attempt to threaten security and stability” in southern Lebanon — where Israel had maintained a security zone from 1982 until its sudden withdrawal in 2000, and which was the focus of fighting during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

Young men hold Lebanese national flags and yellow flags of the Lebanese Shiite terror group Hezbollah as they watch its leader Hassan Nasrallah deliver a speech on a screen in the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil on August 13, 2016 during a commemoration marking the tenth anniversary of the end of the Second Lebanon War. (AFP Photo/Mahmoud Zayyat)

Young men hold Lebanese national flags and yellow flags of the Lebanese Shiite terror group Hezbollah as they watch its leader Hassan Nasrallah deliver a speech on a screen in the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil on August 13, 2016 during a commemoration marking the tenth anniversary of the end of the Second Lebanon War. (AFP Photo/Mahmoud Zayyat)

Hezbollah, which was founded in the early 1980s to fight against Israel’s military presence in Lebanon, has long justified its large arsenal of weapons as needed to fight against alleged Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty, despite Israel withdrawing all its forces from southern Lebanon in 2000.

The UN said Monday in response to Aoun’s remarks on Egyptian TV that Resolution 1701, reached as part of a ceasefire agreement to end the 2006 war, prohibits the country from being allowed to field militias such as Hezbollah.

UN resolution 1701 is vital for Lebanon’s stability and security, UN Coordinator Sigrid Kaag said in a tweet, adding that the resolution calls for the disarmament of all armed groups, with no weapons that are outside the control of the state.

Recalling SCR 1701 vital 4 Lebanon’s stability-security. Resolution calls 4 disarmament all armed groups. No arms outside control of state

On Sunday, The Times of Israel reported that Israeli officials believe Hezbollah and Lebanese troops are cooperating near the border with Israel, in contravention of UNSCR 1701.

According to the Lebanese online news agency Naharnet, Aoun followed up his comments by saying Tuesday that any decisions about arms would comply with Lebanon’s National Defense Strategy.

“The matter is subject to the National Defense Strategy which we have been trying to set when the incidents got ahead of us,” Aoun told Egypt’s Nile News TV.

“Lebanon, relative to its surroundings in terms of both human and economic power, is incapable of building a military force capable of confronting the enemy. Therefore it has to use special ways for fighting, involving regular (army) and popular forces. This is the idea that can be translated into a realistic plan,” he added.

Indian UN peacekeepers with their armored personnel carrier, right, stand guard next to a giant poster that shows Hezbollah fighters and the Al Aqsa Mosque with Arabic and Hebrew words reading: "We are coming," near the barbed wire that separates Lebanon from the Shebaa Farms. April 16, 2014. AP/Hussein Malla)

Indian UN peacekeepers with their armored personnel carrier, right, stand guard next to a giant poster that shows Hezbollah fighters and the Al-Aqsa Mosque with Arabic and Hebrew words reading: ‘We are coming,’ near the barbed wire that separates Lebanon from the Shebaa Farms, on April 16, 2014. (AP/Hussein Malla)

The Lebanese president also accused Israel in his statement Saturday of occupying the Shebaa Farms — known in Hebrew as Mount Dov — a small patch of land captured by Israel from Syria in 1967, according to the Hebrew-language Ynet News site.

Lebanon maintains that the strip of land is a part of Lebanon, despite it having been under Syrian control from the 1950s until it was captured and later annexed as part of the Golan Heights by Israel in 1981.

Neither Israel, Syria or the United Nations recognize Mount Dov as Lebanese territory.

On Thursday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said that the terror group is in possession of rockets capable of striking Israel’s nuclear reactor in the southern city of Dimona and threatened that it would turn Israel’s reported nuclear arsenal against it.

Top Iranian general: World knows US can’t threaten Iran

A leading general in Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards lashed out at the US on Saturday, warning that it would be unable to make good on what he said were American threats against the Islamic republic.

“The US statesmen should be very wise and avoid threatening Iran, because the entire world has admitted this fact that the Americans cannot do such a thing,” said Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour, the chief of the IRGC’s ground forces, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

“Hence, they are unlikely to do such a move because it is unwise,” he added.

The IRGC’s deputy commander for political affairs, Rasul Sanayee Rad, made similar comments on Iranian state TV on Friday, declaring that, “today we are enjoying deterrence, meaning that we have dissuaded the enemy from attack.”

The comments are not unusual for Iranian military chiefs, who routinely deride the US’s military capabilities, but were made in this case in apparent response to a number of hawkish statements recently made by American officials towards Iran, including remarks by US President Donald Trump.

An Iranian military truck carries parts of the S300 missile system during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the start of Iran's 1980-1988 war with Iraq, on September 21, 2016, in the capital Tehran. (AFP/Chavosh Homavandi)

An Iranian military truck carries parts of the S300 missile system during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the start of Iran’s 1980-1988 war with Iraq, on September 21, 2016, in the capital Tehran. (AFP/Chavosh Homavandi)

Following an Iranian test of a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead in January, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on a number of entities involved in Iran’s missile program, with the president warning Iran that it had been “put on notice” and vowing that “nothing is off the table” in terms of a military response to perceived Iranian provocations.

Although the missile test did not violate the 2015 nuclear accord, the US government said such tests are forbidden under a separate UN resolution forbidding Iran from developing nuclear-capable missiles.

Pakpour also said Saturday that the Revolutionary Guards would conduct military drills next week, despite warnings from the US and the sanctions over the previous missile test.

“The maneuvers called ‘Grand Prophet 11’ will start Monday and last three days,” Pakpour told a news conference. He said rockets would be used without specifying which kind.

There has been an increase in tensions between Iran and the US since Trump’s inauguration in January, with the president repeating his criticism of the 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers under former president Barack Obama.

During the presidential campaign, Trump vowed to rip up what he termed the “disastrous” nuclear accord with Iran. Since becoming president, he has seemingly walked back his pledge to dismantle the agreement, although he has continued to call it “one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen.”

US Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday continued with the administration’s hard line against Iran, telling an international security conference in Munich that Tehran was “the leading state sponsor of terrorism.” He also accused the Iranian regime of working to destabilize the entire Middle East, in part due to the terms of the nuclear deal.

“Thanks to the end of nuclear-related sanctions under the [deal], Iran now has additional resources to devote to these efforts,” Pence said.

US Vice President Mike Pence delivers a speech on the 2nd day of the 53rd Munich Security Conference (MCS) in Munich, southern Germany, on February 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / THOMAS KIENZLE)

US Vice President Mike Pence delivers a speech on the 2nd day of the 53rd Munich Security Conference (MCS) in Munich, southern Germany, on February 18, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Kienzle)

“Let me be clear again: Under President Trump the United States will remain fully committed to ensuring that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon capable of threatening our countries, our allies in the region, especially Israel,” Pence said.

Earlier this week, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the US of seeking to ratchet up tensions with Iran over its nuclear program in order to distract from what he called the “war of economy” against the Islamic Republic.

“The US wants to divert the Iranian officials’ attention from the real battlefield, that is the war of economy, by repeating the trick of military threat and war; officials should keep vigilant,” Khamenei said Wednesday, according to Fars.

Veteran Israeli diplomat predicts premature end to Trump presidency

The veteran former head of Israel’s Foreign Ministry Shlomo Avineri said Saturday that he does not believe Donald Trump will serve out his four-year term, following a rocky start to his presidency that saw his national security advisor ousted, a cabinet nominee withdraw, a centerpiece immigration policy thwarted by the courts and a tidal wave of damaging leaks.

Speaking at a cultural event in Mevasseret Zion, Avineri, now a political science professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that Trump’s behavior and personality would make it unlikely that he would see out his term, Israel Radio reported.

This is not the first time that Avineri has called into question Trump’s fitness for the role of leader of the free world. Writing in the liberal Haaretz daily last month, the professor lashed out at the president as a racist and sexist authoritarian.

Trump is “not a president of the conservative Republican model akin to [Richard] Nixon or [Ronald] Reagan, but an unprecedented figure in American politics,” Avineri wrote. “It is clear to all that this is a person with aggressive characteristics, rude, racist and misogynistic, who made his fortune (if indeed he does have equity and not just debt) through means that one could call questionable at the very least. Sometimes it appears that he sees his success in reaching the White House as another step in the promotion of his family’s business affairs.”

He added: “There has never been a president like this, not in the United States or any democratic country: It is not his views, but his behavior that will determine the character of his presidency — and the fate of the world.”

US President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference on February 16, 2017, at the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP/Nicholas Kamm)

US President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference on February 16, 2017, at the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP/Nicholas Kamm)

Avineri — who during his career also headed the Israeli delegation to the UNESCO General Assembly and took part in Israeli negotiations with Egypt — also cast doubt on the ability of the American political system to contain what he said were Trump’s “authoritarian” tendencies.

“It is not certain that the checks and balances of the US Constitution are strong enough to restrain him,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, world leaders, diplomats and defense officials were getting their first opportunity to meet with members of the new administration this weekend, amid concerns over the new president’s commitment to NATO and posture toward Russia.

Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly were leading the US delegation to the Munich Security Conference, which began Friday. The annual weekend gathering is known for providing an open and informal platform for allies — and adversaries — to meet in close quarters.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, European Council President Donald Tusk and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg were among the group of more than 30 heads of state and government, 80 foreign and defense ministers and other officials in attendance.

Trump set off alarm bells last month by calling NATO “obsolete,” though has subsequently told European leaders he agrees on the “fundamental importance” of the military alliance. He has emphasized the need for all members to pay a fair share for defense, an issue that NATO leaders themselves have pushed for years.

US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Mattis told the alliance’s 27 other defense ministers in Brussels on Wednesday that Trump has “strong support for NATO” and assured Stoltenberg that “the alliance remains a fundamental bedrock for the United States.”

Other stances — Trump’s support for Britain’s decision to leave the EU, his perceived closeness to Russia and inaugural pledge to put “America first” — also have raised “an unbelievable number of question marks,” conference organizer Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to the US, said.