As the Israel-Hamas war rages in Gaza, the Israeli government and the UN are locked in an escalating feud of their own. Israel has accused the UN of anti-Israel bias in the past, but the tensions have reached new heights in recent days. Here’s what’s going on:
Sexual violence on Oct. 7. Israel says the UN didn’t speak up quickly enough in response to harrowing accounts of sexual violence committed by Hamas against Israeli women and girls during the Oct. 7 attack. Hamas denies the allegations of rape and gender-based violence, but there’s a mounting body of evidence to back up the accusations – including photos and gruesome testimony from witnesses and first responders that points to widespread acts of sexual assault and genital mutilation.
UN chief António Guterres, along with the UN bodies responsible for women’s issues, human rights, and UNICEF, have all issued statements in recent days expressing alarm at the accounts of sexual violence and calling for investigations into the allegations. Israel’s view? Too little, too late.
“Sadly, the very international bodies that are supposedly the defenders of all women showed that when it comes to Israelis, indifference is acceptable,” Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, said Monday on a UN panel. “Their silence has been deafening,” Erdan said.
Prominent women in the US – including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, ex-Meta executive Sheryl Sandberg, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) – attended the panel and echoed this criticism. President Joe Biden also called on international organizations to “forcefully condemn the sexual violence of Hamas terrorists without equivocation.”
A UN commission investigating war crimes committed in the Israel-Hamas conflict has said it will also focus on the sexual violence allegations, but the Israeli government has refused to cooperate with the probe – accusing the commission of prejudice against Israel.
Article 99. Meanwhile, with concerns rising over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Guterres on Wednesday for the first time took the rare step of invoking Article 99 of the UN charter, which says the UN chief “may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”
Citing extreme concerns over the situation in Gaza, the UN chief urged the UN Security Council to avert a “catastrophe” by implementing a humanitarian cease-fire.
Israel, which has called on Guterres to resign in recent weeks over allegations he isn’t critical enough of Hamas, hasn’t taken kindly to this move. Its UN ambassador said the action was further evidence of the UN’s bias against Israel, adding that Guterres hit a “new moral low.”
What’s next? The UNSC is set to meet on Friday to be briefed by Guterres on the Gaza war. The UAE, one of 15 members of the UNSC, has asked for a vote on a draft resolution endorsing an immediate humanitarian cease-fire. That said, the US, which has veto power as a permanent member of the UNSC, is likely to spike the resolution. Deputy US Ambassador to the UN Robert Wood has signaled the US doesn’t back any actions by the UNSC at the moment.
The Australian government on Thursday signed a security pact with its nearest neighbor, Papua New Guinea (aka PNG) that strengthens its – and America’s – position as a primary security partner in a region where China’s influence is rising.
The agreement was finalized six months later than initially scheduled, primarily because PNG harbored reservations about being perceived as favoring one side over another. During this delay, China actively sought PNG's participation in a comprehensive security pact involving nine other Pacific Island nations, though the initiative eventually collapsed. Despite having entered into a defense agreement with the United States in May, PNG asserts that it remains impartial and has not aligned itself with any particular side.
PNG is a diverse developing nation in a strategically important part of the South Pacific. Australia’s push for the agreement came after the neighboring Solomon Islands struck a security pact with China last year, sending shockwaves through the Pacific and raising fears of a Chinese naval base being established there.
While specifics about the Australia-Papua New Guinea deal have not yet been published, both nations said they achieved their goals. Amid rising US-China tensions, Pacific Island nations are a geostrategic chessboard. The security pact is a win for the US, and also a signal that PNG and its neighbors will be increasingly pressured to take sides.
After running a scorching campaign that promised to turn Argentina into a Utopia of free-market capitalism by any means necessary, President-elect Javier Milei is cooling things down a bit ahead of his inauguration on Sunday.
Milei won last month’s election in a landslide by blasting the economic policies of the outgoing Peronist government, promising to slash government spending, cut taxes, eliminate most ministries, close the central bank, and dollarize Argentina’s economy.
But now he is aligning himself closer to the Peronist party he derided and hiring mainstream figures to help him shape his economic agenda, conceding that he can’t topple the central bank overnight. He is also moderating his promises to cut social spending, as powerful labor unions and working class movements line up against him.
Milei comes to power during the worst economic crisis in decades, with two out of five Argentines living in poverty and inflation up 147% since last year. But he’ll also be governing without a majority in Congress. His last-minute moves to moderate are at least partly due to the realization that he’ll have to win friends and influence people if he wants to make progress on his domestic policy promises.
Sorry to be a spoiler here, but: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is going to win this weekend’s election, and it won’t be close.
During his decade in power, the ex-general has unleashed a ferocious crackdown on civil society, crushed the political opposition, and empowered his military pals to keep control over the commanding heights of the economy.
He is now running against three regime-approved opponents whose names you will never need to know because they do not stand a chance. The slogan “Sisi ra’isi!” (“Sisi is my president!” in Arabic) will carry the day.
Still, there is one big question: What will turnout be? After all, elections in dictatorships aren’t about choice and accountability, but they are about gauging the regime’s ability to mobilize support for itself. After several years of grinding economic crisis — the Egyptian pound has shed half its value over the past 18 months, causing inflation to soar — disillusionment with Sisi is thought to be growing.
And that matters because after the election, Sisi faces big challenges. One, of course, is to manage any spillover from the situation next door in Gaza. On this score, he is well positioned — he is a military man, after all, who cuts a strong figure on national security.
But he also has to make deeply unpopular economic moves. The heavily indebted country secured an IMF bailout last year, but the fund has paused the program until Sisi accelerates privatizations (which will anger his military buddies), cuts spending, and lets the currency weaken further (which will stoke already-high inflation, angering everyone).
Before pulling those teeth, Sisi will want to at least have the appearance of being firmly in control of a narrative – and a bureaucracy – that can prod people to the polls. In fact, he moved the election date up by a year for precisely this reason, experts say.
The upshot: Ignore the other candidates, watch for turnout, and buckle up for what comes after.
Hard Numbers: Half of Hamas, Hunter Biden's new charges, SpaceX’s stratospheric valuation, George Santos talks for a price, China charges for “deception”
50: How effective has Israel been at killing Hamas fighters? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims that the IDF has eliminated around 50% of Hamas’s mid-level battalion commanders after two months of fighting. Israel has so far failed to assassinate senior leaders like Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas in Gaza, and Mohammed Deif, head of Hamas’ armed wing. According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, the overall death toll in Gaza has now surpassed 17,000.
9: Hunter Biden was charged on Thursday by a California grand jury with nine tax charges — three felonies and six misdemeanors that include failing to file and pay taxes, tax evasion, and filing false tax returns. This is in addition to the federal firearms charges the president’s son faces in Delaware, where he’s accused of breaking laws against drug users having guns.
400: George Santos may have been expelled from the US Congress, but a hustler’s gonna hustle. Blazing new trails post-politician life, he’s now offering pay-to-play personalized video messages to the world on the video-sharing website Cameo. For a mere $400, you too can have a personalized message from the disgraced ex-congressman. Sen. John Fetterman has already had Santos troll his scandal-plagued colleague from New Jersey. In just a few days, Santos’ earnings on the platform eclipsed his $174,000/year congressional salary. On the other hand, Cameo is a lot less risqué than that other pay-to-play video site Santos was accused of spending campaign donations on.
175,000,000,000: Elon Musk’s SpaceX is looking to sell shares at a price that values the company at a whopping $175 billion. That would rank the company above media juggernauts like Comcast and Disney, but still well behind the trillion-dollar club that includes Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon. Still, this is good news for Musk: The valuation of his other company, X (the artist formerly known as Twitter), has dropped to $19 billion, less than half the $44 billion he paid for it last year.
100,000: The popular Taiwanese rock band Mayday faces a 100,000 yuan (more than $14,000) fine for something that would cripple some of your favorite Western acts (be careful out there Ashlee Simpson). A viral video on Weibo accuses the band of lip-syncing at least five songs at a concert in China in November. A rarely enforced law in China actually bans artists from lip-syncing before paying audiences since it is “deceptive.”
Just days after the Swedish foreign minister said he was confident his country would join NATO “within weeks,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has thrown up another roadblock.
If you’re counting, the process has now dragged on for more than 18 months, as Turkey and Hungary are the two NATO member holdouts blocking Sweden’s formal accession to the alliance.
Erdoğan says that while he’s “done his duty” by asking lawmakers to greenlight Sweden’s entry, he now expects Washington to reward him by approving his long-coveted purchase of US-made F-16 fighter jets. The Turkish president’s idea is that both processes should occur “simultaneously.”
But the US Congress doesn’t share that idea. Lawmakers in Washington won’t sign off on the F-16 sale “until Sweden is let into NATO,” according to Eurasia Group US Director Clayton Allen. And Erdoğan’s recent statements in support of Hamas and sanctions-busting trade with Russia will “make that even thornier,” he says.
Still, Erdoğan’s game isn’t to block Sweden indefinitely, but rather to engage in “diplomatic grandstanding and bazaar bargaining”, says Emre Peker, Europe analyst at Eurasia Group.
The inflection point, says Peker, will be Turkish local elections scheduled for next March. If Erdoğan detects political advantage in chastising the US and wagging his finger at NATO allies still, he can have his lawmakers withhold approval for Sweden until after that vote, if he likes.
Either way, that timeline would – in theory – make it possible to see Swedish meatballs on the menu at the NATO summit in Washington in July, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the alliance.
This week Claudine Gay, Sally Kornbluth, and M. Elizabeth Magill, the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania, were brought before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to speak about the dangerous rise of antisemitism on campus, especially since the Oct. 7 attacks.
The Israel-Hamas war has triggered an alarming rise in antisemitic incidents on and off campus and also a rise in Islamophobic incidents. It was so bad that back on Nov. 14, President Joe Biden released an action plan to combat antisemitic and Islamophobic events on US campuses.
So the university presidents were steeped in this issue and knew tensions had been running high. They came to Washington prepared – well, prepared for something, at least.
Sadly, expectations for these kinds of hearings are low. Politics in Washington today is more like eye surgery done with a pickax, so no one predicted a nuanced, academic discussion with three illustrious leaders. Still, what happened under the big marble-top circus of politics was a genuine surprise.
Amid the usual grandstanding, ax-grinding, partisan preening, camera mugging, sound-bite fishing — and there was a lot of that on culture war issues like “wokeism” – something noteworthy happened.
At five hours and 23 minutes into the hearing — you can watch it here – New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, who graduated from Harvard in 2006, asked a basic question of the three presidents.
Here is part of the transcript, with Stefanik questioning the president of Penn, Dr. Magill.
Stefanik: … Does calling for the genocide of Jews constitute bullying or harassment?
Magill: If it is directed or severe and pervasive, it is harassment.
Stefanik: So, the answer is yes?
Magill: It is a context-dependent decision, Congresswoman.
Stefanik explodes in incredulity: This is the easiest question to answer yes, Ms. Magill.
Magill (smiles, oddly): If the speech becomes conduct. It can be harassment, yes.
Stefanik: Conduct meaning … committing the act of genocide? The speech is not harassment?
Stefanik gave Magill one more shot at the answer and got nowhere before asking Dr. Gay, president of Harvard, the same question.
Stefanik: Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard's rules of bullying and harassment, yes or no?
Gay: It can be, depending on the context.
You get the idea.
Apparently, on campuses, calling for genocide is bullying only in certain contexts (when is it not?) and only when it turns into action.
Remember, Stefanik was not asking here if the presidents would shut down such speeches on campus. Or take action. She asked a basic, theoretical question of whether calling for the genocide of Jews constituted bullying and harassment. Not a single president answered yes.
This was academentia at its worst. The term, of course, is not medical; it describes hyper-intelligent academics who appear to have lost touch with reality. So caught up in nuance and qualifiers that they can’t answer a simple question.
Imagine for a moment, someone asking, “Is calling for the genocide of all Muslims an act of bullying or harassment? Or the killing of all women? Or the killing of all African Americans, or LGBTQ people?"
Even if US academics uphold the First Amendment, which, in the US, protects hate speech — that was not the question. The question was simply whether calling for the genocide of a specific group hit the threshold of bullying on campus.
How hard is that? Harder than we thought.
Free speech in the US versus Canada is handled very differently. In Canada, there are reasonable limits to speech, and the Criminal Code section 319 is clear that hate speech and antisemitic speech are indictable offenses and are liable for imprisonment.
Context matters as well. Hate crimes against the Jewish, African-American, Muslim, and LGBTQ communities are all up, according to recent stats. The latest FBI hate crimes data shows a 25% rise in antisemitic hate crimes between 2021 and 2022 — which is more than half of all reported hate crimes — against a population that comprises less than 2.4% of the US population. Crimes against the LGBTQ, Black, and Muslim Americans are also overrepresented, but FBI Director Christopher Wray said this week that antisemitism is reaching “historic levels.”
The same is true in Canada, where most hate crimes still target the Jewish population, but the Muslim and Black populations are also targeted.
While the Israel-Hamas war is deeply polarizing, and confusing, there are not two sides to hate. University presidents should not have to duck behind talking points and prepared statements to answer a basic question about human decency. And university students should not have to learn in hate-filled environments. We need to trust our places of education now more than ever, not less.
Higher education should not mean lower common sense.