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Morocco second Arab country to get elite’s support for Zionism

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A Moroccan institution has with official government backing signed an agreement with the United States (US) state department to combat antisemitism and anti-Zionism, the second such agreement in the Arab Middle East.

The agreement, signed on 15 January by El Mehdi Boudra, the president of Association Mimouna, and Elan Carr, the US state department’s envoy to combat antisemitism, signals the far-reaching ambition of the Trump administration’s Abraham Accords to normalise the acceptance not just of Israel, but Zionism.

The memorandum of understanding says the sides “intend to work together to promote best practices for combating all forms of antisemitism, including anti-Zionism and the delegitimisation of the state of Israel” and “for combating other kinds of intolerance and hatred, including Islamophobia”.

The agreement is similar to one signed in October between Carr and a Bahrain institution. In both cases, the signing organisations aren’t government bodies but have the blessing of the royal family. Association Mimouna was founded in 2007 by Muslims who sought to preserve the country’s Jewish heritage.

The Abraham Accords, brokered by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his top Middle East envoy, Avi Berkowitz, have encompassed four countries. In addition to Bahrain and Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan have agreed to normalisation with Israel.

Each of the countries has in recent years, to varying degrees, had good relations with Jewish organisations and quiet but friendly relations with Israel. By nudging the relations into the open and by effectively getting ruling elites to bless Zionism, the architects of the Abraham Accords hope to set an example that will erode Israel’s isolation in the region.

The agreement “reinforces the partnership between our two countries in the fight against all forms of intolerance and the promotion of peace and mutual coexistence”, said Morocco’s ambassador to the US, Princess Lalla Joumala Alaoui.

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Green light for ICC war-crimes probe into Israel ‘not antisemitic’

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Confirmation by judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC’s) of the court’s jurisdiction over the situation in Israel and Palestine cannot be considered antisemitic, according to legal scholar and author Phillipe Sands.

On Sunday, 28 February, Sands addressed the heated debate over the possibility of the Jewish state facing war-crime suits for actions carried out by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

He explained that while the green light had been given for an investigation to ahead, it wasn’t yet guaranteed that an indictment of either side would be forthcoming.

Early last month, the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber ruled 2-1 that the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, had the jurisdiction to launch an investigation into potential Israeli and Palestinian war crimes on territory over the pre-1967 lines in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Although the investigation has yet to be undertaken, tempers are flaring, with Israel supporters calling the move politically motivated and antisemitic.

It spurred social-justice organisation Jewish Democratic Initiative and Yachad United Kingdom to co-host Sunday’s event, outlining exactly what the ICC’s decision means.

“The ICC was established in 1998 as the culmination of 50 years of negotiation,” said Sands. “It followed the trials at Nuremburg and Tokyo held after World War II.

“It was established to have jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and aggression, the last only recently agreed on,” he said. “It operates on the principle of complementarity, used only if national courts didn’t investigate. Its jurisdiction is limited in terms of territory and nationality to states that are party to its statute.”

Israel hasn’t ratified the statute, meaning that it doesn’t attach to Israeli territory. Palestine, however, ratified it in 2015.

Cases can be brought only against living individuals, said Sands, not against governments, states, or corporations.

“To date, the ICC has indicted 30 individuals and addressed 30 cases,” he said. “Every individual has been black and African. On this basis, it has been said that the court is anti-black, and while this isn’t the case, it’s a problem that only one continent has really been brought into the ICC’s scope.”

According to Sands, there are currently nine preliminary inquiries into violations by countries including Colombia, Nigeria, Ukraine, Venezuela, and Bolivia. Thirteen investigations are taking place following preliminary stages in Sudan, Libya, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and others.

Regarding Israel, the issues on which the ICC must decide at this stage relate to preliminary examination only, Sands said. “After Palestine became a party to the statute in 2015, it referred to the prosecutor the matters taking place in its territory for which it held Israel responsible, primarily in Gaza.”

Bensouda began a preliminary examination to see if anything could be done. In December 2019, the prosecutor concluded that there was reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation.

“She did so in relation to a single question: the scope of territorial jurisdiction of the ICC,” said Sands. “This precondition of exercise of jurisdiction is that the crime occurred in a territory subject to the treaty. She sought conformation that the territory in question comprised the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.”

“At this stage, Bensouda is of the belief that there are reasonable grounds to say that war crimes were committed in 2014 in Gaza. This includes the actions of both the IDF and Hamas.”

Regarding the IDF, crimes include intentionally launching disproportionate attacks, wilful killing and causing serious injury, and intentionally directing attacks against objects or persons using emblems of the Geneva Convention. When Hamas and “Palestinian armed groups” are concerned, the crimes include intentional targeting of civilians, using people as shields, wilfully depriving people of their right to trial, and torture or inhuman treatment.

Sands said that within the context of the West Bank, Bensouda also felt there was reason to believe Israel had committed war crimes by transferring Israeli citizens into the West Bank since 2014 and in attacks by the IDF against protestors on the border in 2018.

The request was sent to the ICC and brought before a panel of three judges to decide in the pre-trial chamber. They issued their decision on 6 February.

“It was limited to the question of whether Palestine is a state under article 12 of the ICC statute. The court concluded by majority that Palestine was a state within the meaning of the article, but made clear it had no view on whether it’s a state for other purposes under general international law.”

The court also concluded that the scope of jurisdiction applied through the entirety of the territory, including those areas occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.

Said Sands, “It was decided 2-1 that the prosecutor may proceed to investigate any acts before her that occurred in the territory of Palestine. That’s the extent of the decision that has been taken.”

Branding this move antisemitic or anti-Israel is an unfortunate charge to make, Sands said.

“A court isn’t antisemitic or anti-African but is made up of the individuals who are part of it. The court had a job to do, and I’m quite certain that the three judges went about their decision without any prejudice on either side in relation to the crimes which may or may not have been committed.

“All that has been decided is the scope of possible future investigation. It doesn’t mean there will be any indictments, but an investigation. After an investigation, it will need to go before another panel of judges to get any authority to issue an indictment, and only then will the issue proceed.”

Even then, the ICC won’t have the power to arrest anyone – it depends on the co-operation of the state or entity concerned.

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Dutch confectioner engages in some Jewish ‘cookie washing’

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(JTA) In Dutch supermarkets, no cookie aisle is fully stocked without a national treat called jodenkoeken – shortbread discs whose Dutch name means “Jew cookies”.

Exactly how jodenkoeken (also spelled jodekoeken) got their name is unclear, but they have been a feature of Dutch teatime since at least the 19th century.

Whatever the etymology, Dutch Jews don’t seem to mind having a cookie named after them.

“I know it sounds strange to Americans, but there’s never been an issue around jodenkoeken,” said Ronny Naftaniel, who led Dutch Jewry’s watchdog group on antisemitism for 37 years before becoming vice-chairperson of the Central Jewish Board of the Netherlands a decade ago.

Things changed on Friday, 19 February, when the company behind the Netherlands’ oldest and best-known jodenkoeken brands announced that it was changing the cookie’s name in a bid to “help create a more inclusive society”.

Patisserie Pater wrote on its website that the Davelaar-brand jodenkoeken will be called odekoeken – Dutch for “ode cookies”.

Meanwhile, several other companies also manufacture jodenkoeken, and one, Lotus Bakeries, said on Saturday that it was considering changing the name too.

The name change comes at a time when companies the world over are assessing their product lines to ensure that they are culturally appropriate, a reckoning that is hitting the food world hard. And the Netherlands, where the Dutch Christmastime tradition of wearing blackface is a matter of open debate, does feature a few desserts with names that have drawn criticism for being insensitive.

But Dutch Jews say they didn’t see any reason for jodenkoeken to get a new name.

“Davelaar can of course name their products as they please, but jodenkoeken really isn’t something I’m offended by, and I don’t know of anyone who is,” said Ronit Palache, a 36-year-old Dutch-Jewish journalist and author who said she detected “woke overzealousness” in Patisserie Pater’s decision.

“When you start making corrections no one needs or asks for, you’re just creating resistance and friction over nothing,” she said.

How the cookies got their name isn’t known, but there are several theories, according to Jonah Freud, who published a book in 2012 about Dutch-Jewish cuisine.

Under one theory, the jodenkoeken’s simple recipe – they require only butter, flour and sugar – was created by a non-Jewish baker whose last name was “De Jode”. But that man, if he existed, has never been identified.

Another theory, Freud said, holds that an unnamed Amsterdam Jew sold the original recipe to Lotus Bakeries, which made it famous.

According to a third theory, the biscuits were named jodenkoeken because of their simplicity at a time when many Amsterdam Jews were poor.

“But then they have lots and lots of sugar, more than other cookies, which would have been a luxury product in the 19th century, so they weren’t your typical poor people’s food at all,” Freud said.

A fourth hypothesis is that the cookies were introduced by Sephardic Jews who travelled on shipping lines that connected Northern Europe with the Iberian Peninsula’s Bay of Biscay. Advocates for this theory point to the fact that some parts of Norway and Denmark also have a very similar pastry called jodekaker in Norwegian and Danish, while Iceland has a sugarless variant called gyðingakökur, all of which are far less popular and well known than jodenkoeken are in the Netherlands.

Whatever their origin, Freud said, “Everybody likes jodenkoek in the Netherlands and beyond. So why would we Jews want to distance ourselves from such a tasty treat?”

Many Dutch Jews have jodenkoeken stories. Palache recalled laughing when a former boyfriend, who wasn’t Jewish, brought home jodenkoeken. It was the first time she had them in her home.

Barry Mehler, a New York-born Jewish Amsterdammer and organiser of the city’s main annual Chanukah concert, also bought jodenkoeken for laughs once to give as a gift to a Jewish colleague from abroad. Asked to explain the joke, Mehler said, “What’s to analyse? It’s just comical. A Jew giving Jew cookies to another Jew.”

“They’re cookie-washing the jodenkoeken is what they’re doing,” Mehler said.

Dutch Jews haven’t always been so nonchalant about desserts named for them.

Naftaniel said he received dozens of complaints in 2005 when he was heading the antisemitism watchdog group from Jews about the reintroduction of a discontinued candy called jodenvet (Jew fat). The name is offensive because it “makes people think about grilling Jews”, Naftaniel said at the time. He said then that jodenkoeken did not carry any problematic connotations. The candy was renamed “chest honey” following the protest.

More recently, Dutch confectioners changed other desserts’ names. One product, a marshmallow-cream cake coated with chocolate, was called negerzoen (Negro kiss). It now goes by just Kisses. (The cookie is a lot like an Israeli Krembo.) And the chain store HEMA, something of a Dutch Target, last year renamed moorkope (moors’ heads) as chocolate balls.

Black Dutch advocates pressed for changing the negerzoen name. Many Dutch Jews, including Palache and Mehler, also found that name inappropriate.

Patisserie Pater, which makes Davelaar, said it wasn’t responding to any outside pressure around jodenkoeken when it changed the name.

Max Moszkowicz, a Dutch-Jewish filmmaker and radio presenter, said he appreciated Patisserie Pater’s attempt to support Jews.

“But it’s unnecessary and unfortunate,” Moszkowicz, 39, said. “Because finally there’s something named for the Jews that’s nice and that everyone likes, and they take it away from us to be politically correct.”

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Biden administration draws Palestinians close, Israel closer

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(JTA) Statements and appearances by United States (US) officials suggest the Biden administration’s emerging Middle East strategy, namely reassuring Israel while resuming ties with the Palestinians ruptured by President Joe Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.

On Tuesday, 26 January, the acting ambassador to the United Nations (UN) outlined plans to reverse the Trump administration’s policies concerning the Palestinians.

“The Biden administration will restore credible US engagement with Palestinians as well as Israelis,” Richard Mills said at a meeting of the UN Security Council, the first such appearance since Biden’s 20 January inauguration.

Mills, a career diplomat, is acting as UN envoy until the Senate confirms Biden’s nominee.

“This will involve renewing US relations with the Palestinian leadership and Palestinian people, relations which have atrophied over the past four years,” Mills said. “President Biden has been clear in his intent to restore US assistance programmes that support economic development and humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people, and to take steps to reopen diplomatic missions that were closed by the last US administration.”

Reassurance came on Wednesday, when Biden’s nominee for UN ambassador told senators that she would maintain some of the pro-Israel policies advanced by Trump.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield said at her confirmation hearing that America would robustly push back against anti-Israel bias at the UN.

“I look forward to standing with Israel, standing against the unfair targeting of Israel, the relentless resolutions that are proposed against Israel unfairly,” she said.

Her remarks recalled one of the final acts of the Obama administration, when it allowed a Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policies. The Senate roundly condemned President Barack Obama’s failure to veto the resolution. Trump’s UN ambassadors went on to use US influence to nix pro-Palestinian moves at the body.

Biden has indicated that he wants to repair ties between Israel and Democrats strained by tensions between the administrations of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama. Notably, some of the most pointed pro-Israel questions at Thomas-Greenfield’s hearing came from Democrats who are close to Biden like Chris Coons of Delaware, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Ben Cardin of Maryland.

There remain more differences between the Biden and Netanyahu administrations than there were under Trump, but Biden is striving to tamp down Israeli anxieties about his revival of some Obama-era policies when he served as vice-president. For instance, Biden wants to return to the Iran nuclear deal, which Netanyahu reviles, but says he will do so in consultation with Israel. Obama cut out Israel until the last phase of the negotiations.

Biden campaigned on restoring ties with the Palestinians, but it won’t be easy to reverse Trump’s policies, which included shutting down diplomatic relations and severing assistance to the Palestinian Authority. Biden must deal with a law passed by Congress that denies funding for the Palestinians as long as the Palestinian Authority pays families of Palestinians who killed Israeli and American civilians. Another law makes it hard for a president to allow the Palestinians to reopen an office in Washington unless the Palestinian Authority agrees not to seek charges against Israel in the International Criminal Court.

Trump also shut down a dedicated consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem. Reopening that office could face resistance from the Israeli government and the municipality.

At the same time, Biden officials are seeking to reassure Israel that they will sustain some of the tone and substance of changes carried out under Trump.

In one of his first statements Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, described his first conversation with his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben Shabbat. They “discussed opportunities to enhance the partnership over the coming months, including by building on the success of Israel’s normalisation arrangements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco,” Sullivan said.

Thomas-Greenfield said she would build on the normalisation agreements – called the Abraham Accords – to encourage those countries to change their approach at the UN and take an active role in countering anti-Israel actions there.

“If they’re going to recognise Israel in the Abraham Accords, they need to recognise Israel at the UN,” she said.

Thomas-Greenfield also denounced the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel.

“The actions and the approach that BDS has taken toward Israel is unacceptable,” she said. “It verges on antisemitism, and it’s important that it not be allowed to have a voice at the UN.”

The Obama administration also opposed BDS, but unlike the Trump administration, didn’t make it a front-and-centre issue, nor did it compare the movement to antisemitism.

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