“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
BAZ RATNER / REUTERS Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at their summit in Jerusalem, January 2015.
Why Tokyo and Tel Aviv Are Finally Cozying Up
After nearly 70 years of cautious, arm’s-length relations, Israel and Japan have recently moved to significantly upgrade diplomatic and business ties. Over the past several years, the two countries have entered into a number of important political and economic agreements, transforming their once limited bilateral relationship into one more characteristic of allied partners. From a series of high-level dialogues on national security and cybersecurity to their first bilateral investment agreement, Israeli-Japanese relations are flourishing.
Despite Israel’s and Japan’s shared democratic values, open trade policies, complementary business and industrial environments, and close alliance with the United States, relations between the two countries have long remained strikingly underdeveloped. But today, three forces are driving their rapid improvement: fundamental changes in the global energy market, developments in Japan’s domestic political and economic landscape, and shifts in the distribution of geopolitical power. Together, these have led policymakers in both countries to push for closer cooperation. Although complex historical anxieties will continue to temper this change in foreign policy direction, Tokyo and Tel Aviv’s new “rising sun relations” mark a turn away from the isolationism that had come to define their bilateral ties since the end of World War II.
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The origins of Israel and Japan’s rocky relations can be traced to the oil crisis of 1973–74, when the Arab nations of OPEC declared an oil embargo against the United States and a number of its allies, including Japan, in response to U.S. support for Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Japan, a resource-poor nation heavily reliant on oil imports, chose economic pragmatism over ideals and alliance interests, dissociating itself from U.S. policy in the Middle East and condemning Israel’s role in the war. Japan’s powerful industrial organization Keidanren even lobbied for an economic and political boycott of Israel. Although the government did not officially implement a boycott, many Japanese companies nonetheless refrained from doing business with their Israeli counterparts. The legacy of this de facto boycott has haunted diplomatic and trade ties ever since.
AMIR COHEN / REUTERS Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, Israel, July 2017.
When Narendra Modi visited Israel last week, he became the first Indian prime minister to set foot on Israeli soil. Modi’s visit and the ecstatic reception he received in Israel reflected a little-discussed fact: the relationship between India and Israel is among the world’s most unusual major-country partnerships.
India recognized the newly established state of Israel in 1950. But for the next four decades, despite Israel’s many overtures, Delhi refused to establish formal diplomatic relations with the country. After the two governments established formal ties in 1992, their bilateral trade and military ties took off: by 2016, annual trade between the two countries had risen from $200 million in 1992 to $4 billion, and Israel had become India’s second-largest defense partner. Yet those changes did not translate into a close, friendly partnership. India often opposed Israel in the United Nations, and it avoided referring to Israel as a strategic partner—a term that is often used to publicly signal the deepening of ties. Only one Israeli prime minister has officially visited India: Ariel Sharon, whose 2003 tour became a public-relations disaster after large crowds protested his visit and an Indian opposition politician described the Israeli official as “the leader of one of the most racist, colonial regimes in existence today.”
What explains Delhi’s reluctance to embrace a country that, like India, is a democracy, has struggled with terrorism, and faces hostility from Muslim-majority states? The answer can be traced to identity issues, which along with material and strategic interests have helped shape the relationship between the two states. India’s and Israel’s historic perceptions of colonial ideology and religious nationalism are at the root of their longstanding divergence. Despite Modi’s visit and his reputation as an anti-Muslim Hindu nationalist, these differences explain why an immediate transformation in bilateral ties is probably not forthcoming.
One of the most urgent questions for America’s Israel policy is Israel’s plan to build more new settlements in the West Bank, further encroaching upon Palestinian territory. During his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu last week, U.S. President Donald Trump indicated he wants settlement-building to slow down, but that doesn’t seem to be part of Netanyahu’s plan. Since Trump’s inauguration a month ago, Israel has announced the creation of 6,000 new settler units and legalized thousands of outposts.
VICE News went to the West Bank to find out what it takes for a settlement to be authorized and what this rapid expansion will mean for the prospects of the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
During his recent campaign, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump revealed little fondness for free trade agreements. But in the Middle East, there is at least one that deserves a second look: the Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZs) protocol between Egypt and Israel, which, guided by U.S. commercial diplomacy, enhanced cooperation between the two countries beyond traditional security matters and into economic ties. It also helped save the Egyptian textile industry, benefited thousands of companies, and created hundreds of thousands of jobs.
The QIZs were meant as extension of the U.S.-Israeli free trade agreement of 1985. The first round of talks began in July 2003, and the negotiations aimed to extend preferential treatment in U.S. markets to exports from designated areas in Egypt. For their part, the Egyptians wanted to avoid future setbacks from the changes in the WTO textile quota regimes. The y were also trying to mimic Jordan’s own QIZs and to secure a free trade agreement with the United States. As for the Israelis, they were keen on giving legitimacy to the business relations that had existed between the two partners for years without public recognition.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the Obama administration secretly “colluded” with Jerusalem’s adversaries on a United Nations Security Council resolution criticizing Israeli settlements. For good measure, Netanyahu has also likened Obama to former US President Jimmy Carter, whom he pointedly derided as “hostile” to Israel.
With the two governments continuing to trade blows, the fight over the resolution has gotten ugly fast. Understanding why requires first understanding what the measure does — and, just as importantly, what it doesn’t do.
The resolution, one of the harshest the UN has ever passed during the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, demands that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem,” and declares that the establishment of settlements by Israel has “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.”
That’s stronger language than the United States has ever officially used to describe Israeli settlement activity before. Although the standard US position has for three decades been that such settlements are “obstacles to peace,” the United States has always stopped short of describing them as “illegal” under international law.
Palestinian leaders are already saying that they’ll use the resolution to seek International Criminal Court indictments of Israeli leaders, push for a formal probe into whether Israel is violating the Geneva Conventions, and get foreign governments to ban the import of any products made in Israeli settlements.
It’s important to pause here for a second and note that the resolution itself doesn’t do any of those things.
On Tuesday, three machine gun-wielding suicide bombers attacked Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport, killing 41 and injuring hundreds. News of the attack quickly overshadowed the week’s other major development in the country: a deal to normalize relations between Turkey and Israel after a six-year falling out. Although the two events might seem unrelated, they are connected in that one of the major factors driving reconciliation was cooperation on intelligence and counter-terrorism. Whether the deal will survive long enough for such benefits to be realized is a question that only becomes more urgent after the horrific terrorist attack.
Israel and Turkey’s announcement that they had agreed on the terms of their reconciliation came after years of false starts. Under the deal, Israel will pay Turkey $20 million in compensation for the nine Turkish citizens killed during the raid on the Mavi Marmara flotilla in 2010, allow Turkey to send humanitarian supplies to Gaza via the Israeli port city of Ashdod, and permit Turkey to support building projects in Gaza, including a hospital, power plant, and desalination plant. In return, Turkey has promised to end the lawsuits still pending in its courts against four high-ranking Israeli military officials involved in the flotilla raid, stop Hamas from launching or financing terrorist operations against Israel from Turkish territory, and intercede with Hamas on Israel’s behalf to secure the return to Israel of two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers being held in Gaza. Both sides have also agreed to return their ambassadors to the other country and to drop any remaining sanctions against each other.
The House Armed Services Committee narrowly passed an amendment to the 2017 defense spending bill on Wednesday that would require women to register with the Selective Service System, the federal agency that administers military drafts. A draft hasn’t been held since the Vietnam war, but all American men between the ages of 18 and 25 are still required to register. Some members of Congress now want women to share the burden.
“If we want equality in this country, if we want women to be treated precisely like men are treated and that they should not be discriminated against, then we should support a universal conscription,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), according to The Hill. The Army and Marine Corps’ top generals have already endorsed making women register. Most countries that draft soldiers only do so for men, but a handful, including Norway and Israel, also conscript women.