British warship docks in Israel amid rising tensions in Mediterranean

HAIFA (AP) — A British warship on Tuesday conducted a joint exercise with the Israeli navy before docking in the port of Haifa for a visit that comes at a time of heightened tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.

Both countries described the visit by the HMS Bulwark as routine and a reflection of deepening security ties between the two nations. It is the first British warship to dock in Haifa since 2009.

But its arrival comes weeks after Russia’s deployment of its aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov to the region, off the coast of Syria. Russia has backed the Syrian government in its civil war, and the Russian ship has been used as a base for airstrikes on rebel targets.

“The eastern Mediterranean is a pretty dangerous place right now, but that’s we are paid to do,” said Capt. James Parkin, the ship’s commander. “Of course we are in a very high level of preparedness.”

Crew members of the British Royal Navy amphibious assault ship HMS Bulwark holds weapons as the ship is anchored in Haifa port, Israel, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016. The Bulwark is on a mission in the Mediterranean sea. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

David Quarrey, Britain’s ambassador to Israel, said the ship has been deployed to the region for several months and was stopping in Haifa for a quick break before heading home.

“There are many shared challenges that the UK and Israel face, and unfortunately many of them come from the region,” he said.

An Israeli navy official, speaking anonymously under military guidelines, said Israel has seen an increase in visits by allies over the past two years.

“It gives us opportunities to cooperate and train with navies that we usually don’t have the opportunity to train with,” he said. “The area of the east Mediterranean has become very crowded in light of the vast presence of the Russians and the situation in Syria. And Israel presents a safe port for them.”

While Western countries have grown alarmed by Russia’s increased presence in the region, Israel has had a delicate relationship with Moscow. Israel is bitter enemies with both Syria and the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside Syrian forces. But Israel has maintained good communications with the Russians to avoid any clashes between the countries’ air forces in the skies over Syria. Israel is believed to have carried out a number of airstrikes on Hezbollah targets in Syria.

The crew of the British Royal Navy amphibious assault ship HMS Bulwark work as the ship is anchored in Haifa port, Israel, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

Charles Heyman, a former British military officer who edits “The Armed Forces of the United Kingdom” handbook, said the Bulwark’s visit was a “political signal” — reflecting close military and diplomatic ties with Israel.

But he said he did not think the message was aimed at the Russians. “The Russians have known about this deployment for a long time,” he said.

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Leprosy Surprise: Medieval Scourge Is Lurking In British Squirrels

This red squirrel has the disfiguring sores of leprosy on its ear.

Dorset Wildlife Trust

People and leprosy go way back. Way, way back.

“It’s been around for at least 5,000 years and probably longer,” says Stewart Cole, who directs the Global Health Institute at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

The disease, which causes nerve damage and skin ulcers, likely originated in Africa — tens of thousands of years ago. Migrated to Asia and Europe as people did. Then moved to the Americas and back to Africa with colonists and the slave trade.

But it was during the Middle Ages that leprosy really took off in Europe. Famous people got it. Rich people got it. By 1225 A.D. there were 19,000 leprosy hospitals on the continent.

Then around the 16th century, leprosy virtually disappeared from Europe. Great Britain hasn’t had a case in centuries; people thought it was gone there. Eradicated.

But in fact, leprosy never left the island. Instead, the bacteria have been lurking in trees. Scurrying along the ground. And storing up nuts for the winter — all undetected — for hundreds of years.

Red squirrels across England, Ireland and Scotland harbor leprosy bacteria, Cole and his colleagues report today in the journal Science. Some of the critters even have signs of the disease, including damage to nerve endings and swelling in eyes, ears, feet and snouts.

But here’s the real clincher: One version of the pathogen detected in the squirrels closely matches the leprosy bacteria found in the skeletal remains buried 730 years in Winchester, England, the study reports.

In other words, leprosy has circulated in British squirrels for centuries.

“That for me was a real gobsmacker,” Cole says. “The very same strain that would cause disease in humans back in the Middle Ages was still present in the squirrels. That’s awesome.” He was inspired to begin his research after reading an obscure study that described what looked like leprosy in squirrels.

The team analyzed about 110 squirrels — some with leprosy symptoms, some without. Of the latter group, about 20 percent harbored bacteria that can cause leprosy in people. All the squirrels with symptoms carried the pathogen.

Right now, Cole says, there’s no evidence the squirrels are infecting people. But the findings upend a long-standing belief about the ancient disease: People are the only source, the only ones that carry it. And they catch it only from close contact with other sick people.

“The new study is a paradigm shift,” says microbiologist Richard Truman, who has studied leprosy for more than 30 years at the National Hansen’s Disease Program in Baton Rouge, La.

For decades, doctors thought people caught leprosy only from other people. But in 2011, Truman and his team put a crack in that hypothesis. They showed that armadillos — yes, armadillos — in the southern U.S. were likely infecting Americans.

“We have only about 200 cases of leprosy in the Southern U.S. each year,” Truman says. “A fairly large percentage of those are associated with leprosy strains we find in the armadillos. And therefore, they’re thought to be the result of transmission from armadillos to people.” They think people get leprosy when they butcher and eat armadillos. There’s no evidence that squirrels infect people but they haven’t really looked.

But still, Truman says, doctors wondered if leprosy in armadillos was some kind of fluke, something peculiar to the unique animals.

The new study says that is definitely not the case.

Finding leprosy in squirrels, Truman says, suggests it could be hiding out in other rodents around the world. And these infected animals could be the reason why the disease has persisted at relatively high levels in some countries despite huge efforts to eliminate it.

Each year the world reports about 200,000 new leprosy cases. Most of them are India and Brazil.

“Being able to find leprosy in another animal, on another continent, really stimulates the idea that animal hosts are involved in spreading the disease,” Truman says.

But the leper squirrels in Britain also teach us a tough lesson about disease eradication, Cole says: “Even after a disease disappears from people, and we think it’s gone, it could still be out there in the environment,” he says. It could be sitting on a tree, right outside your window.

In historic first, senior British royal said to be planning official trip to Israel

In what would be an historic first formal visit, a senior member of the British royal family is planning an official trip to Israel in 2017, a tour that would coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, according to a UK Jewish community leader.

While royals have visited Israel in the past, no representative of the British monarchy has ever come to country on an official “royal tour.” An official royal visit to Jewish state would be the first in the Jewish state’s 68-year existence, during which nearly every other country on earth has been visited by a representative of the Crown.

The community leader said the details of the visit were not yet finalized but that the trip would be led by a senior member of the royal family.

While the visit would coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, issued by foreign secretary Lord Arthur Balfour in 1917, it is unclear whether the trip would officially mark the document’s centenary. Instead, the visit may be formally billed as a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jerusalem in which General Allenby lead the British Army to a victory over the Ottomon Empire.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (R) greets first lady of Colombia Maria Clemencia de Santos as Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos looks on during a ceremonial welcome at Horse Guards Parade in central London on November 1, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / STEFAN WERMUTH)

The British Embassy in Israel could neither confirm or deny that a trip was being considered, saying, “Any planned tours will be announced in due course in the usual way.” The Israeli Foreign Ministry said it had not received a request or correspondence regarding a royal visit, but a spokesman told The Times of Israel that 2017 trips had not yet been finalized and it was possible that a visit is being planned.

The president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jonathan Arkush, said he warmly welcomed the news but was not surprised by the move. “The board has been making discreet but firm representations for some time and it seems they have borne fruit,” he said.

Speaking to The Times of Israel last month after he accompanied Prince Charles to the September funeral of former Israeli president Shimon Peres, Arkush said it was an “open secret” that the UK Jewish community was actively working to encourage a royal visit. “We are pushing hard for a royal visit. It’s not about time. It’s past time for a royal visit,” he said.

‘Best to avoid those complications’

Prince Charles’s attendance at Peres’s funeral and the funeral of slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994 were not considered official royal visits and did not include diplomatic meetings. Nor was a brief 1994 visit by his father, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, to attend a ceremony commemorating his mother, Alice of Battenberg, who is buried on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives.

Britain's Prince Harry arrives to attend a Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in central London on March 14, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL)

Official visits by royals to foreign countries are sanctioned by the British government. Despite numerous invitations over the years, no government has approved such a visit to Israel since the end of the British mandate and the establishment of the state in 1948.

Jonathan Arkush, president of Board of Deputies. (courtesy)

“As I said to Prince Charles [at Peres’s funeral], it’s lovely that you came for two funerals — Rabin’s funeral and this funeral. Perhaps now, could you come for a happy occasion?” Arkush said last month. “Prince Charles is not the decider. He smiled. He nodded. He’s a professional up to his fingertips. It’s not his decision.”

On the sidelines of a climate change conference in Paris last December, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly invited Prince Charles to make an official visit to Israel, UK daily The Telegraph reported at the time, but this was reportedly swiftly rejected.

“Until there is a settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the royal family can’t really go there,” a British government source told the newspaper. “In Israel so much politics is caught up in the land itself that it’s best to avoid those complications altogether by not going there.”

Israeli officials have bristled at royals’ unwillingness to come to the Jewish state, while they appear to have no qualms about visiting authoritarian states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Britain's Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

In 2007 an aide to Prince Charles warned in an internal email leaked to the press that a visit by the prince would likely be used by Israel to try to boost its global standing.

“Safe to assume there is no chance of this visit ever actually happening?” deputy private secretary Clive Alderton wrote to private secretary Sir Michael Peat. “Acceptance would make it hard to avoid the many ways in which Israel would want [Prince Charles] to help burnish its international image.”

‘The beginning of diplomatic relations’

InJuly 2015, at a ceremony welcoming new UK ambassador David Quarrey to Israel, President Reuven Rivlin issued an informal invite for the British monarch to come to Israel while making direct reference to the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration’s signing.

“During your term here, we will celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, which perhaps marks the beginning of the diplomatic relations between Israel and Britain,” Rivlin told Quarrey referring to the November 1917 document that set out the UK government’s support for establishing a national homeland for Jews in Palestine.

“I also want to also convey my warmest regards to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and extend to her an invitation to visit our region,” Rivlin said.

President Reuven Rivlin welcomes Britain's new ambassador to Israel, David Quarrey, at the President's House, Jerusalem, August 06, 2015. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

While an official royal trip would coincide with the anniversary, it is a connection that the UK may want to avoid. Ahead of the centenary, Israelis and Palestinians have already launched rival campaigns over the legacy of the Declaration, each interpreting the document’s historical importance according to their respective narrative.

Top officials in Ramallah have vowed to sue the British government over what they call the “notorious” document in which Britain gave “without any right, authority or consent from anyone, the land of Palestine to another people,” as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said at the United Nations in September.

The Balfour Declaration (Wikipedia)

In Jerusalem, the Balfour Declaration is being celebrated as “one of the earliest statements by a major international actor to recognize the Jewish people’s rights to self-determination in their historic homeland,” as the Israeli embassy declared in a statement last week.

In September, UK Prime Minister Theresa May highlighted the fact that the UK and Israel will soon mark the 100-year anniversary of the “UK’s support for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people,” in the signing of the Declaration.

Texas Woman Returns Home From Jaw Surgery With British Accent: What Causes ‘Foreign Accent Syndrome’?

Lisa Alamia was born and raised in Texas but those who do not know her and meet her for the first time may suspect she’s from somewhere else based on how she speaks.

Not that she is used talking in foreign language or accent. She has actually only started speaking with British accent after a surgery.

Six months ago, Alamia underwent a jaw surgery to correct an overbite but she went home with a condition known as foreign accent syndrome.

Her surgeon initially thought the way she talked was just a physical result of her surgery and that it would eventually disappear as she healed but she has been speaking with a British accent since.

“My husband told me I was talking funny,” said Alamia. “My surgeon thought it was just a physical result of the surgery and that it would go away as I healed.”

Foreign accent syndrome affected less than 100 people worldwide over the past century. It is such a rare condition that many neurologists do not think it is a real condition, said Toby Yaltho, a neurologist from the Houston Methodist Sugar Land Neurology Associates.

The condition is often caused by brain damage from traumatic brain injury or stroke, which alters a person’s speech patterns and give him or her a different accent.

The condition is also linked with multiple sclerosis and other health issues albeit in some cases, just as with Alamia, there is no clear cause.

Yaltho gave Alamia a neurological exam and found she did not suffer from stroke or brain injury. She did not also appear to have suffered from any complications from her surgery.

Foreign accent syndrome expert Karen Croot said that the condition is not a communication impairment because affected individuals can make themselves understood by other perfectly well but it can have psychological impact to those affected, which is just what happened with Alamia.

Alamia feared that people would not believe her and even started a speech therapy to get her old voice back. She had concerns that people might think she is lying.

Fortunately, she eventually realized that her new accent does not define her. While her speech therapy has helped a little, she said she is fine now even if her old Texas accent no longer returns.

“I’ve worked very hard these six months to get it where it is now, so I’m thinking, hopefully, in another six months maybe I’ll have it back,” Alamia said. “If not, then I’m completely comfortable staying how I am.”

– See more at: http://www.techtimes.com/articles/166768/20160624/texas-woman-returns-home-from-jaw-surgery-with-british-accent-what-causes-foreign-accent-syndrome.htm#sthash.ucw1uLaT.dpuf

Cameron resigns as British PM after shock Brexit triumph

http://www.timesofisrael.com/cameron-to-remain-pm-after-shock-brexit-triumph-minister-says/

 

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday announced he would resign in the coming months, following the UK’s dramatic vote to leave the European Union.

Cameron said he is not the “captain” that will steer the country through negotiations to leave the 28-nation bloc, which he opposed, and said he would tender his resignation by the time of the Conservative party conference in the fall.

He promised to try to “steady the ship” over the next months, but said a new leader should be installed by early October.

“I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination,” the British leader said outside his official Downing Street residence in London.

The UK requires “fresh leadership,” he said, adding that the will of the British people must be respected.

Cameron said that he would leave it to his successor to trigger the formal process for Britain to leave the European Union.

“I think it’s right that this new prime minister takes the decision about when to trigger Article 50,” Cameron said.

Britain has voted to leave the European Union by 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent, final results from all 382 of Britain’s local counting centers showed on Friday.

The final result showed 17.4 million people had voted “Leave” and 16.1 million people had voted “Remain” in the EU membership referendum.

World financial markets were rocked Friday by Britain’s unprecedented vote, with stock markets and oil prices crashing and the pound hitting its lowest level in three decades.

Earlier, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Cameron will stay on as prime minister even though Britain has voted to leave the European Union, as European leaders lamented the “sad” result of the UK referendum. “He will remain prime minister, he will carry out the instructions of the British people,” Hammond told Sky News television.

Leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage reacts outside the Leave.EU referendum party at Millbank Tower in central London on June 24, 2016, as results indicate that it looks likely the UK will leave the European Union (EU). (AFP PHOTO / GEOFF CADDICK)

‘A sad day for Europe’

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Friday he regretted Britain’s decision to leave the EU, calling it a “sad day for Europe.

“The early morning news from #GreatBritain are truly sobering. It looks like a sad day for #Europe +the #UnitedKingdom,” Steinmeier wrote on Twitter.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Friday also bemoaned Britain’s “sad” decision to leave the EU, saying Europe must win back the trust of its people.

“Sad for the United Kingdom. Europe carries on but it must react and win back the trust of its people. It is urgent,” he tweeted.

EU Parliament President Martin Schulz said he would speak with German Chancellor Angela Merkel “on how we can avoid a chain reaction” of other EU states following.

“The chain reaction that is being celebrated everywhere now by euroskeptics won’t happen,” he said.

The EU was the biggest single market in the world and “Great Britain has just cut its ties with that market,” Schulz said. “That’ll have consequences and I don’t believe other countries will be encouraged to follow that dangerous path.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker wipes his brow before speaking during a media conference at EU headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, June 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

“I am not shocked,” he said of the results of the British referendum, adding: “We were prepared.”

Top European Union officials were hunkering down in Brussels trying to work out how to navigate uncharted waters after the shocking decision by British voters to leave the 28-nation bloc.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was hosting talks Friday with the leaders of the European Council and Parliament, along with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

The four will try to agree to a European position on the vote, which could see a member country leave the bloc for the first time ever, ahead of a summit of EU leaders in Brussels starting on Tuesday.

Parliamentary leaders were meeting separately, and European commissioners — the EU’s executive body — could hold separate talks later.

Supporters of the 'Stronger In' Campaign watch the results of the EU referendum being announced at a results party at the Royal Festival Hall in London on June 24, 2016.(AFP PHOTO / POOL / ROB STOTHARD)

The United States was reacting cautiously to the decision by Britain’s voters to bolt the European Union, with a White House official saying only that President Barack Obama is being kept up to date on developments.

The official, who insisted on speaking anonymously because of the ongoing events overseas, said Obama was expected to speak with Prime Minister David Cameron “over the course of the next day.”

“We will release further comment as soon as possible,” the official’s statement said.

Obama has encouraged Britain to remain in the EU, but has said the decision ultimately was up to the voters.

British pedophile Richard Huckle gets 22 life sentences

London (CNN)A London court handed 22 life sentences to a man Monday after he pleaded guilty to 71 child abuse offenses while in Southeast Asia.

Richard Huckle, 30, was arrested at Gatwick Airport near London in 2014 as he returned home from Malaysia, where he committed most of his crimes, Britain’s National Crime Agency said.
Richard Huckle

He confessed to abusing almost 200 children on a blog he published on the dark web, an area of the Internet not easily accessible to the general user.
According to Court News UK, Huckle posed as a Christian English teacher to groom and abuse children, including one as young a 6 months, in a poor Malaysian community over nine years.
He also committed child abuse in Cambodia, the National Crime Agency said. British law allows nationals to be prosecuted in their home country for offenses committed abroad.
The court heard the amateur photographer took pictures and videos of himself raping children that he groomed from schools and orphanages, and shared the images with other pedophiles on the dark web, according to Court News UK.
In his blog, Huckle awarded himself “Pedopoints” on a type of scorecard, claiming to have abused 191 children, according to Court News.
Huckle then tried to monetize his behavior, accepting bitcoin, the online currency, to continue the abuse and publish it online, Court News said.
He forced victims to pose with signs to advertise his business and wrote a 60-page guide entitled “Pedophiles & Poverty: Child Lover Guide” that the judge called a “truly evil document,” Court News said.
Huckle was caught when Australian police tipped off authorities in an investigation into a pedophile website that officials said had 9,000 members before it was shut down.
The NCA said officials had recovered more than 20,000 indecent images of children from Huckle’s computers and cameras, including more than 1,000 of which showed him raping and abusing children in his care.
“Richard Huckle spent several years integrating himself into the community in which he lived, making himself a trusted figure. But he abused that trust in the worst possible way,” said James Traynor from the NCA’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center.
“He deliberately traveled to a part of the world where he thought he could abuse vulnerable children without being caught,” he said.
“Borders are no barrier — we are determined that those who go abroad to abuse children will be held to account.”
Huckle, who is from Ashford, Kent, has been ordered to serve at least 25 years of his sentence.
The court heard about several horrific cases of Huckle’s abuse, including that of a 5-year-old girl on her birthday at his home, the NCA said, adding that Huckle offered private English language tuition to earn the trust of children and their families.
Huckle traveled in and out of Asia over many years, in 2006 spending two weeks in Cambodia, staying with a local family, whose 3-year-old child was one of his victims, the NCA said.
In 2007, he returned to Malaysia and stayed with the family of two young girls, taking up a voluntary teaching post at a small tuition center in the village, the NCA said. It said he abused the girls over eight years.

Analysis: The upside of the British Labor Party’s anti-Semitism furor

Another day, another revelation of anti-Semitism inside Britain’s Labor Party.

Not one, but two, party functionaries were suspended Monday for anti-Semitic rants.

One, Ilyas Aziz, a Labor councilor in Nottingham, was suspended for 2014 Facebook posts saying, similar to a suspended MP, that Israel should be relocated to the US. He added an illustration implying that Israel drank the blood of Gazans.

The other, Salim Mulla, a former mayor of Blackburn, was also suspended for calling to relocate Israel to the US, as well as for saying that Israel was behind Islamic State. His brilliant proof: Both France and Japan were targeted by the organization after showing support for the Palestinians.

What the brouhaha over anti-Semitism in the Labor Party has effectively done is thrust Israel, Zionism and the Jews into the center of London’s upcoming municipal elections, where Labor’s candidate, Sadiq Khan, has said these revelations could very well cost him the vote. And the questions must be raised: Is all the attention over the issue good for Israel? Is it good for Israel that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism have turned into a central election issue in Britain? On the one hand, the glass here is half empty. If these anti-Semitic comments, tweetsand Facebook posts were just the sentiments of a  maverick Labor party functionary, one could perhaps turn a blind eye and say it is all sound and fury signifying nothing.

But the revelations over the past few weeks of one incident after the other demonstrate a real problem.

From Israel’s point of view, the problem is not just that Labor’s ranks are apparently infused with folks who are not only critical of Israeli policies, but opposed to the idea of a Jewish state at all. The problem is that these politicians are publicly reflecting what they apparently feel their constituents want to hear.

Politicians of all stripes do not generally say something if they do not believe there is a receptive audience for their words.

The sheer number of British politicians using anti-Semitic imagery, therefore, must concern Israel, because it indicates there are many, many constituents out there receptive to such rhetoric.

But, even more so, Britain itself should be deeply concerned.

This anti-Semitism is more of a danger to British society than to Israel. Israel will survive it, but what this hate represents and says about Britain should concern all those who care about that country.

This is an internal British debate, and it is wise, therefore, that the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry have stayed out of it. Israel need not insert itself, even if it is the source of the debate, because to do so would be to invite accusations of intervening in an internal British issue.

The obvious exception is Israel’s embassy and  ambassador in London, who should comment – when asked – on the issue. But this needs to be done, obviously, without being seen as taking sides.

And now the good news.

It is positive that, finally, the issues of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are being debated in full daylight, and that people of influence and repute are coming out and saying that, yes, while not all criticism against the Israeli government is anti-Semitism, some of it most definitely is. It is positive that influential voices are saying that there is a line between legitimate criticism and hate speech, a line that one Labor Party functionary after the other seems to be crossing.

It is good when the issue is being discussed in the Sunday Times, the Daily Telegraph and even in the op-ed pages of The Guardian, a newspaper harshly critical of Israel. It is positive when the BBC runs on its website a lengthy background piece under the headline “What’s the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism?” It is important that Labor’s London mayoral candidate publicly and completely repudiates these sentiments.

And it is constructive when noted British World War II historian Roger Moorhouse uses former London mayor Ken Livingstone’s implication that Hitler was a Zionist as an opportunity to school his countrymen on Hitler’s true nature and what indeed was involved in the 1933 plan to rescue German Jews and bring them to Palestine. To conclude that Hitler supported Zionism, Moorhouse wrote on his blog last week, “is not only historically inaccurate, it is historically illiterate.”

The demonization of Israel and Zionism is something that generally bothers just Israel and its supporters. It is positive to see this finally concerning others as well, especially in Britain, where, among certain circles, this demonization has, for quite some time, been not only fashionable, but also – oddly – a sign of enlightenment.

Why a British militant atheist (Freemason) decided to become a Jew

LONDON — Despite not being Jewish, atheist Nick Cohen, one of Britain’s best-known journalists, had never had a problem with his surname. It was, he thought, part of the furniture.

On his paternal side, the family had “abandoned their religion, so he wasn’t Jewish, and more to the point, my mother and my grandmother weren’t Jewish either, so according to Orthodox Judaism’s principles of matrilineal descent, it was impossible for me to be a Jew,” says Cohen.

But then in 2007 Cohen wrote a book, “What’s Left?”, a provocative and witty account of his belief that British liberals had lost their way. According to Cohen, “all hell broke loose” in the wake of that book’s publication.

“The book was an attempt to answer a question which is not asked often enough,” he says. “If I were to show you a newspaper article defending a movement that was misogynist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, or decided to kill any Muslim who had decided of their own free will to change their faith or have no faith, and ask what kind of newspaper it was, you’d say, obviously it is a left-wing newspaper.

‘The book was an attempt to ask why the Left was going along with ultra-obscurantist, fascistic and extreme right-wing movements’
“The book was an attempt to ask why the Left was going along with ultra-obscurantist, fascistic and extreme right-wing movements,” says Cohen.

Amid the howls of outrage from the Left which greeted his book, Cohen began to detect a growing number of those who said, “Oh, he’s only saying that because he’s a Zionist.” Cohen was denounced as having shifted to the “warmongering, liberal-imperialist, neocon right.” But Cohen will have none of it.

He has, it is true, pretty much given up on the Left — out of despair, he says, that it has endorsed movements it would once have denounced as racist, imperialist and fascistic. But Cohen, a lean and rangy 55 year old, has now invited even more controversy with his latest column for The Observer news paper, Britain’s left-leaning Sunday publication, which is owned by Guardian Newspapers.

In “Why I’m Becoming A Jew And Why You Should, Too,” Cohen suggests that it is hopeless to continue telling people that he is not Jewish when he is challenged over his views, particularly in regard to “the anti-Semitism that has spread so far from the extreme left into the mainstream that it now threatens to poison the Labour Party.”

His initial attempts to insist that he was not Jewish were “dishonorable,” Cohen says.

‘I sounded like a black man trying to pass as white or a German arguing with the Gestapo that there was a mistake in the paperwork’
“I sounded like a black man trying to pass as white or a German arguing with the Gestapo that there was a mistake in the paperwork,” says Cohen.

Instead, he says, he decided to embrace the challenge.

“Racism changes your perception of the world and yourself. You become what your enemies say you are. And unless I wanted to shame myself, I had to become a Jew. A rather odd Jew, no doubt: a militant atheist who had to phone a friend to ask what on earth ‘mazel tov’ meant. But a Jew nonetheless,” says Cohen.

So, intellectually — and in no other way — Nick Cohen has begun to define himself as Jewish.

His Observer column has attracted hundreds of comments — many of which have been removed by the paper’s moderators, though given what has been published, one can only speculate at the vitriol in what we do not see.

A slightly weary Cohen, who says he never reads the comments below his pieces, acknowledges that the personal abuse directed at him coincides with the prevalence of the Internet.

“What the Internet has done is to provide a home for every type of fanatic, from child abusers to anti-Semites, to anti-black racists to Islamophobes. And because there’s so much material, you can live in a world which totally confirms your beliefs. You are rarely confronted with facts. Before the web, you would turn on the TV news, and there would be all kinds of things you didn’t like. Now, you can live in a bubble, and hear only things you want to hear, and see your prejudices confirmed and your enemies denounced,” says Cohen.

Jews, says Cohen, are not taken seriously when they speak about anti-Semitism, but are “just dismissed” in a way which would never happen if there were complaints of other sorts of racism. Instead, he says, “there is the formulation, ‘there is no anti-Semitism, and you’re only saying that to protect Israel.’”

Neither Right nor Left, Cohen thinks, takes racism seriously — and those who raise it “are always regarded as having an ulterior motive.”

‘Anti-Semitism is part of a wider betrayal, an abandonment of anti-fascist values’
I ask him about the essential disenfranchisement of Jews on the Left, but Cohen says things are worse than that.

“It’s not just anti-Semitism. When [the far Left] goes along with and defends extreme right-wing Islam, as the leader of the Labour Party does, it is not just abandoning Jews, it is abandoning liberal Muslims, left-wing Muslims, ex-Muslims, who want to be able to look to the British Left for support in their struggle, but then find that they are ‘the oppressors,’ or make excuses for the oppressors, or are treated as if they don’t exist. Anti-Semitism is part of a wider betrayal, an abandonment of anti-fascist values.”

To the Left, says Cohen, anyone who argues that there is anti-Semitism “will pretty soon be called a Zionist” — slower if your name is John Smith than if it is Nick Cohen, but the charge will be made, nonetheless.

Israel, he says, “has become a giant supernatural demon to the Left. Anyone who disagrees with the Left orthodoxy has somehow become spawn of the devil. Just like the Jew in medieval Europe, Israel has supernatural powers, and is held responsible for every conflict in the Middle East. If bombers blow up Brussels and Paris, it’s because of the Israeli occupation. And it is criticism which is wholly irrational — and it has become respectable.”

‘Just like the Jew in medieval Europe, Israel has supernatural powers, and is held responsible for every conflict in the Middle East’
In European left-wing circles, Cohen says, it has become entirely “normal” to say that Islamic State would not be attacking European cities if Israel were not occupying the West Bank.

“But that is missing [what is said by] a psychopathic global movement. They don’t say, we are engaged in a reasonable, if regrettably bloody, protest against Israeli settlements in Hebron. They don’t say that. They say, we want to create a global caliphate, we want everyone to convert to Islam, and then a paradise on earth will follow. That’s what they say, but nobody listens to that,” says Cohen.

Cohen denies he is a lone voice, but reminds me, thoughtfully, of the aphorism that “the Right looks for converts, the Left looks for traitors.” After he published “What’s Left?” in the ensuing furor he was pushed out of writing for the left-wing magazine, the New Statesman, and the National Union of Journalists sued it on Cohen’s behalf. The right-wing opposite number, The Spectator, took him on as a columnist and lets him write, he says, whatever he wants.

He was not the first person to be “purged” by the New Statesman: by the end of his tenure there, Cohen was carefully examining every word he wrote and wondering if he could get away with it. “Fraser Nelson [The Spectator editor] doesn’t give a damn what I write” — but, though Cohen doesn’t say so, the fact that he is expressing his trenchant views in a right-wing journal confirms every prejudice that the far Left has about him.

Cohen deplores the tribal instinct of the Left to reject anyone outside their belief system.

“I think it’s just being mature, to reassess your views; I don’t regret that.” The far Left, he says, “is like a distorting mirror of the liberal mainstream,” and his assessment of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is that he is a product of just that distortion, a man who has not examined or challenged his views in 40 years of politics. Corbyn, says Cohen, witheringly, has neither the ability nor the intelligence to stamp out anti-Semitism in today’s Labour Party.

“It’s like asking Nick Griffin to rid the British National Party of racism. He [Corbyn] just can’t do it,” he says.

For a while, Cohen says, he would tell people he wasn’t Jewish when asked about his views on anti-Semitism and Israel (where he has been, just once, as a teenager, though he doesn’t rule out a second visit).

“Then I thought, hang on, first of all, your questioner is in a lot of trouble if they want to check whether you are Jewish. Checking whether people are Jewish does not have a good history. And you’re in even worse trouble by denying you’re Jewish, because you’re pandering to racism or trying to get yourself a get-out-of-jail-free card,” he says.

We are unlikely to see Nick Cohen in a synagogue any time soon. But his sober good sense makes a cheering contrast, for British Jews, to the seemingly endless stories of anti-Semites in public life, a worryingly “usual” background to daily conversation.

Islamic State releases new video featuring British captive

BEIRUT, Lebanon — British journalist John Cantlie, who is being held prisoner by the Islamic State group, appeared in a new video released Saturday supposedly filmed in the jihadists’ Iraqi stronghold of Mosul.

In the latest installment in a series of propaganda videos released by IS, Cantlie speaks to the camera in the style of a news report.

It is unclear when it was shot, but Cantlie last appeared in an IS video in early 2015.

In Saturday’s video, a gaunt-looking Cantlie says he is in Mosul, IS’s main city in northern Iraq.

Dressed in black and squinting in the sunshine, he is seen standing in front of a metal shack he describes as a media kiosk that distributes IS pamphlets, which was destroyed in an air strike by a US-led coalition.

Illustrative photo of demonstrators chanting pro-Islamic State slogans as they carry the group's flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, Iraq, June 16, 2014. (AP, File)

Speaking in English with Arabic subtitles, as in previous clips of the same style, Cantlie criticizes and derides the US-led campaign launched in 2014 against IS.

He was kidnapped along with journalist James Foley in November 2012 in Syria while covering the war there.

Foley then became the first of several hostages to be slain by the jihadists.

Media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders has condemned IS for its “cowardly” use of a hostage in a forced role to push the jihadists’ propaganda.

British Jewish leader: Jews can’t trust Labour Party

(JTA) – Citing recent allegations of anti-Semitism and Israel hatred against several members of the Labour Party in Britain, the head of a major group representing British Jews said Jews can no longer trust the party.

Jonathan Arkush, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, made the statement in an interview published Thursday in the online edition of the Evening Standard.

“Frankly, most people in the Jewish community can’t trust Labour,” Arkush said.

Relations between the political, mainstream establishment of the British Jewish community and Labour deteriorated following the election of Jeremy Corbyn in September to head the opposition party.

A hardcore socialist deemed by many as too radical to lead Labour back to power, he has alienated many Jews – which as a community used to be traditionally supportive of Labour – with his endorsement of anti-Semitic enemies of the Jewish state, including the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah.

Labour has seen a string of scandals involving alleged anti-Semitism, including at its Oxford University chapter, which is now the subject of a party probe.

Separately, a Labour lawmaker in Parliament, Vicki Kirby, was suspended this week after it was revealed she suggested in a series of social media posts saying that Adolf Hitler might be a “Zionist god” and Jews have “big noses,” and asking why Islamic State was not attacking Israel.

Corbyn has rejected accusations that he endorses anti-Semites as “ludicrous and wrong,” and reiterated statements on his determination to fight racism in all its forms. But many British Jews remained suspicious in view of his public endorsements, including in 2009, of activists from Hezbollah and Hamas as “friends.”

Reacting to the incidents of alleged anti-Semitism by Labour representatives, Arkush said: “It confirms the belief we have had for a long time that there is a real problem of anti-Semitism on the far left, which now eclipses the anti-Semitism that we have always seen coming from the far right.”