Lebanon hit by Eid virus surge

Lebanese troops try to control irate villagers in the northern Wadi Khaled area on the border with Syria after clashes with them left one protester dead and several soldiers wounded. (AN photo)
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Updated 02 August 2020

Lebanon hit by Eid virus surge

  • Record number of daily COVID-19 cases reported
  • Army’s 75th anniversary celebrations canceled

BEIRUT: Lebanon is enduring an Eid holiday surge in COVID-19 infections, with a record 224 new coronavirus cases recorded on Saturday.

The new patients bring the total number of cases in Lebanon to 4,555, and the death toll rose by two to 59.

Among the casualties of the pandemic fallout were celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of Lebanon’s army. 

A general lockdown reimposed last Thursday in a renewed effort to contain the outbreak forced the military to curtail its plans.

The occasion was marked with little of the fanfare of previous years, and traditional celebrations including a parade and graduation ceremony were abandoned.

Instead President Michel Aoun delivered a televised speech and received a delegation led by army chief Gen. Joseph Aoun.

The president told the army that “surrender is not permitted.” He said: “During my military career, I learned how to walk in a minefield to save the wounded. And today the wounded is the country itself.”

Aoun used his address to criticize opponents of reform to address Lebanon’s worst economic crisis in decades.

“The reforms that are being implemented will not stop until we know the real situation of public finances, and lay our hand on suspicious files in order to find the right solutions and sue the corrupt,” he said.

The president said that an anti-corruption campaign would extend to all government sectors in an effort to win back the trust of the Lebanese people.

He criticized those “who are attacking all salvation attempts in order to score vocal triumphs, especially those who ran away from responsibility in the midst of the crisis.”

Aoun also called on the army “to preserve Lebanese sovereignty against Israeli aggression while abiding by UN Resolution 1701,” pointing out that “we have to defend ourselves, our territories, water and sovereignty, and there will be no complacency.”

The army chief told the president: “Since the start of protests last October, the subsequent economic crisis and the outbreak of the pandemic, the Lebanese army has made every effort to preserve security and stability.”

The military would “remain the guarantor and the core basis for the country’s safety and security,” he said.

On the eve of Army Day, clashes between Lebanese troops and villagers in the northern Wadi Khaled area on the border with Syria left one person dead and several soldiers wounded.

The clashes erupted after the army arrested townsmen for allegedly smuggling sheep from Syria into Lebanon. 

Soldiers clashed with protesters and fired rubber bullets at residents who blocked roads.


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.”