Algeria tries top figures for corruption as opposed election looms

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Algerian security forces guard the courtroom as former Algerian Prime Ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal face corruption charges, Wednesday, Dec.4, 2019 in Algiers. (AP)
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Algerian security forces guard the courtroom as former Algerian Prime Ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal face corruption charges, Wednesday, Dec.4, 2019 in Algiers. (AP)
Updated 04 December 2019

Algeria tries top figures for corruption as opposed election looms

  • Wednesday’s trial is the second of top figures since the start of the protest movement in February

ALGIERS: Algeria began the corruption trial of senior officials including two former prime ministers on Wednesday, a week before a presidential election opposed by a huge protest movement.
Fighting corruption in the entrenched ruling hierarchy is one of the main goals of the protesters, but they have not yet been mollified by the arrest of dozens of senior figures including officials, former officials and businessmen.
Wednesday’s trial is the second of top figures since the start of the protest movement in February, with long prison terms handed to a former spy chief and other once powerful figures in October.
It comes at a pivotal moment in the months-long struggle between the large but leaderless protest movement, known as the “Herak,” and the military-backed authorities.
Next week’s election has been pushed by the army as the only way to end the standoff with the opposition, but the protesters have rejected the vote, saying it cannot be free or fair while the ruling elite, including the military, stay in power.
The Herak had already been mobilizing tens of thousands of demonstrators every Friday for months, but since the start of the official campaign period, it has also begun protests on other days, ramping up pressure on the authorities.
Though the demonstrations have so far been mostly free from violence, there was some scuffling between protesters and riot police during a march in an eastern town last week and the government has started arresting more opposition figures.
On Tuesday, Interior Minister Salah Eddine Dahmoune attacked people opposing the election as “traitors, mercenaries and homosexuals.”
He later said his comments were aimed at people based overseas, rather than at the protest movement, but many supporters of the Herak were angered.
“The remarks will only complicate things,” said Ahmed Bachichi, who has been taking part in the weekly protests.
In the court on Wednesday, former prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal faced charges of “misappropriation of public funds, abuse of office and granting undue privileges.”
They and most of the other officials and businessmen on trial were closely linked to the former president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was forced from office in April.
Wednesday’s session included evidence of corruption in the car assembly business, a sector encouraged by the government after 2015 in an effort to improve the trade balance in response to lower energy revenue.
“You acted with favoritism when you granted authorizations to set up car assemblies,” the judge told Ouyahia, who denied the charge, saying all permits were granted in accordance with the law.
The prosecution accused Sellal, who was campaign manager for Bouteflika when he planned to stand for another term of office early in the year, of involvement in illegal funding of the campaign. He denied it.
No verdict is expected in the trial this week.


Seth Rogen’s Israel comments highlight fraught diaspora ties

Palestinian firefighters try to extinguish a fire after an Israeli airstrike, on a floor in a building that also houses international media offices in Gaza City. (Reuters/File)
Updated 08 August 2020

Seth Rogen’s Israel comments highlight fraught diaspora ties

  • Jewish comedians’ conversation on Israel spark an uproar

TEL AVIV: It began as a lighthearted conversation between two Jewish comedians, riffing on a podcast about the idiosyncrasies of their shared heritage. But after talk turned to Israel, it didn’t take long for Marc Maron and Seth Rogen to spark an uproar.

Their comments about Israel — especially Rogen saying the country “doesn’t make sense” — infuriated many Israel supporters and highlighted the country’s tenuous relationship with young, progressive Jewish critics in the diaspora.
Israel has long benefited from financial and political support from American Jews. But in recent years the country has faced a groundswell of opposition from young progressives, disillusioned by Israel’s aggressive West Bank settlement building, its perceived exclusion of liberal streams of Judaism and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cosy relationship with President Donald Trump.
“What Seth Rogen said is par for the course among our generation and the Israeli government has to wake up and see that their actions have consequences,” said Yonah Lieberman, spokesman for If Not Now, an American Jewish organization opposed to Israel’s entrenched occupation of the West Bank.
Rogen’s remarks follow a dramatic shift by an influential Jewish American commentator who recently endorsed the idea of a democratic entity of Jews and Palestinians living with equal rights on the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Peter Beinart’s argument that a two-state solution — Israel and Palestine — is no longer possible sent shock waves through the Jewish establishment and Washington policymaking circles.
For many Jews, Israel is an integral part of their identity, on religious grounds or as an insurance policy in the wake of the Holocaust and in a modern age of resurgent anti-Semitism. But polls have shown that while most American Jews identify with Israel and feel a connection to the country, that support has waned over recent years, especially among millennials.
Some have even embraced the Palestinian-led movement calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel to protest what it says is Israeli oppression of Palestinians. Israel accuses the movement of waging a campaign to delegitimize its very existence.

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Their comments about Israel — especially Rogen saying the country ‘doesn’t make sense’ — highlighted the country’s tenuous relationship with young, progressive Jewish critics in the diaspora.

In the podcast, Rogen, who appeared in such smash comedies as “Superbad” and “Knocked Up,” talked about attending Jewish schools and Jewish summer camp while growing up in Vancouver. He said his parents met on an Israeli kibbutz.
As they continued to chat, Rogen appeared to question why Israel was established.
“You don’t keep all your Jews in one basket. I don’t understand why they did that. It makes no sense whatsoever,” Rogen said. “You don’t keep something you’re trying to preserve all in one place especially when that place has proven to be pretty volatile. I’m trying to keep all these things safe. I’m going to put them in my blender and hope that that’s the best place to, that’ll do it.”
Rogen then said he was “fed a huge amount of lies” about Israel during his youth. “They never tell you that ‘oh, by the way, there were people there.’ They make it seem like, ‘the (expletive) door’s open.’”
Maron and Rogen both joked about how frightened they were about the responses they would receive from Israel’s defenders. Their concerns were justified.
Rogen’s comments immediately lit up “Jewish Twitter.” They unleashed a flurry of critical op-eds in Jewish and Israeli media. And they prompted Rogen to call Isaac Herzog, the head of the Jewish Agency, a major nonprofit that works to foster relations between Israel and the Jewish world.
In a Facebook post, Herzog said he and Rogen had a frank and open conversation. He said Rogen “was misunderstood and apologized” for his comments.
“I told him that many Israelis and Jews around the world were personally hurt by his statement, which implies the denial of Israel’s right to exist,” Herzog wrote.
In an interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz, Rogen said he called Herzog at the urging of his mother and he denied apologizing. He said the comments were made in jest and misconstrued.
“I don’t want Jews to think that I don’t think Israel should exist. And I understand how they could have been led to think that,” he said.
Rogen also said he is a “proud Jew.” He said his criticism was aimed at the education he received, and he believed he could have been given a deeper picture of a “complex” situation.
Ironically, Rogen was on the podcast to promote his new movie, “An American Pickle,” about a Jewish immigrant to the US at the start of the 20th century who falls into a vat of pickle brine and emerges 100 years later. He called the project a “very Jewish film.”
Lieberman, from If Not Now, said the uproar shows “how much the conversation has changed” about Israel among American Jews.
Shmuel Rosner, a senior fellow with the Jewish People Policy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank, said Israel should not be expected to change its “security and foreign policies” based on growing estrangement from Jews overseas.
But he said it can take realistic steps to close the gap, such as establishing a pluralistic prayer site at the Western Wall, long a sticking point between Israel’s Orthodox establishment and more liberal Jews in the US
“It’s a challenge for Israel. It’s inconvenient. We want everyone to love us, especially other Jews,” he said. “Israel can do certain things to make it somewhat better.”