South Korea warns of risk North may abduct citizens abroad


South Korea said on Monday it was on guard for the possibility North Korea may try to snatch its citizens abroad or conduct “terrorist acts” after the North accused it of abducting North Korean workers from a restaurant in China.

“All measures of precaution” were in place for the safety of South Koreans abroad including an order to beef up security at diplomatic missions, said the South's Unification Ministry, which handles issues related to the North.

“We are on alert for the possibility that the North may try to abduct our citizens or conduct terrorist acts abroad,” ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee told a briefing.

The two Korea's have been fierce rivals since the 1950-53 Korean War and tension on the peninsula has been high since January when North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test. It followed that with a string of missile tests in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

South Korea said in April 13 North Korean workers at a restaurant run by the North in China had defected. North Korea accused the South of a “hideous abduction”.

North Korea proposed sending family members of the 13 to South Korea for face-to-face meetings but the South rejected the suggestion.

About 29,000 people have left North Korea and arrived in the South since the Korean war, including 1,276 last year, with numbers declining since a 2009 peak. In the first quarter of this year, 342 North Koreans arrived in the South.

Why Trump makes us all dizzy


There’s no better feeling in the world than being 100 percent right about something. In a slippery world where everything seems to be debatable — even climate change! — it’s so refreshing to find something that is not debatable, something truly black and white.

The fact that Donald Trump has made vile, racist, sexist, violent and bigoted statements is not debatable. It’s the cold truth, as if I told you that water is a liquid or the Lubavitcher Rebbe was Jewish.

This cold truth has united most of the Jews of America. Whether you’re on the right or the left, religious or secular, the vast majority of Jews (there are always exceptions) will not condone the vile statements made by Trump as he has climbed to the top of the Republican primaries. If you don’t believe me, try getting a Jew to publicly defend Trump’s racist comments. It’s one thing to harbor dark thoughts, it’s another to go public with them.

Trump goes public with them, and this has made us all dizzy.

Saying things like “Muslims won’t be allowed into America until we can figure out what the hell is going on” is not just racist, it’s incredibly stupid. We’re not used to hearing such raw bile from politicians who want to get elected. Talking points that come out of focus groups are littered with inoffensive clichés. If you want to be popular and attract as many voters as possible, the less offensive you are, the better.

So, when we hear such shocking and immoral bile from a presidential candidate, we go nuts. How could we not?

Our revulsion at Trump is making us so dizzy that it is trumping other values, like knowledge, curiosity and understanding. The rabbis and activists who plan to walk out in protest of Trump’s speech Monday night at the AIPAC Policy Conference have no interest in hearing what he has to say. I get it. Moral values are fundamental to one’s identity. If someone challenges these values as blatantly as Trump has, our instinct is to cut him out.

But I will be there Monday night, and I will definitely not walk out.

I hate Trump’s racist bile as much as anyone, but that’s not the point. The point is this: my feelings often bore me. They don’t encourage me to think, and thinking is what I love to do. The minute I internalize something like, “I hate you,” “You’re a racist,” or “Your statements are unacceptable and beyond the pale,” my feelings take over and I get in activist mode. I don’t mind the activist mode; I just prefer the thinking mode.

I prefer the mode of trying to make sense of this crazy Trump phenomenon, the likes of which I have never seen. Is he more of a huckster than a racist? Can attitude trump substance? Is he getting all those votes because or despite his vile comments? Is he just another politician who won’t deliver on his promises, including appalling ones like cutting out Muslims or building that 10-foot wall on the border of Mexico?

How much validity is there in his argument that we’re getting ripped off by China in our trade agreements? How much of his appeal is due to people’s economic worries and his shtick that because he knows how to negotiate good deals for himself, he’ll know how to negotiate good deals for America? How could so many voters overlook his horrible comments? Why are even educated people voting for him? How will he tailor his speech for the AIPAC crowd, and what will that say about him? And so on, and so on.

That Trump’s comments offend me to no end is a cold truth, but there’s another, equally vital truth swimming in my head: I like to figure out what the hell is going on.

It makes me less dizzy, and better equipped to counter what I hate.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com

U.S. officials tout China cooperation on new North Korea sanctions


U.S. State Department officials expressed optimism on Thursday that new sanctions imposed on North Korea may be more effective than earlier attempts to curtain Pyongyang's nuclear program, pointing to China's apparent willingness to support them.

Two weeks before a Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, Thomas Countryman, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, told a Senate hearing there were signs of a shift in China, North Korea's sole major ally, toward regarding its nuclear program as a threat.

“They have made clear they are ready to work with us on detailed implementation and consultation on a range of issues,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously agreed to harsh new sanctions on North Korea to starve it of money for its nuclear weapons programs this month. President Barack Obama imposed sweeping new U.S. sanctions on Wednesday.

The hearing was contentious. Senators accused Countryman and Rose Gottemoeller, Undersecretary for Arms Control, of glossing over the global nuclear security threat, particularly in Asia, and underplaying the significance of the U.S. rift with Russia.

Russia is not attending the March 31-April 1 summit.

Republican Senator Bob Corker, the committee's chairman, said their testimony lacked “urgency and openness.”

“People are not honoring treaties. Asia is in going in a very different direction than we had hoped, and yet, y'all are here telling us how, 'Gosh, we've done a wonderful job,'” Corker said.

Gottemoeller was nominated this month to be NATO deputy secretary-general, the number two post at the defense alliance. Although she does not face Senate confirmation, Corker said many lawmakers see her as too soft on Moscow, particularly over the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) treaty.

Washington has accused Russia of violating the treaty, which Russia denies.

“People are very concerned that you really have not been the kind of person who has pushed back heavily against Russia and has been more of an apologist,” Corker said.

Gottemoeller said the administration looked for progress this year.

“I see some progress in Russia's willingness at the highest level to recommit to the treaty now and we are looking forward to moving expeditiously in 2016 to try to make some progress on this difficult matter.”

She also defended her record, saying she had been pragmatic during years dealing with Moscow. “I do feel that pragmatic problem solving in the diplomatic realm is important,” she said.

Iranian nuclear official denies Arak nuclear reactor offline


An Iranian nuclear official denied a report that Iran has dismantled the core of its heavy water nuclear reactor as part of its deal reached with the world powers.

Iran’s deputy nuclear chief, Ali Asghar Zarean, told Iran’s state television on Tuesday that it will not change the core of the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor until it reaches a final agreement with China to modify the reactor, Reuters reported.

However, the reactor is expected to be decommissioned in the coming days, the official state news agency IRNA reported, citing the Atomic Energy Agency of Iran.

The statements were in response to a report by the state-sponsored Fars News Agency that Iran finished taking out the core of its heavy water nuclear reactor in Arak and filling it with cement on Monday, thus fulfilling its responsibility under the nuclear agreement reached over the summer with six countries, including the United States.

Under the agreement, Iran is required to redesign the Arak reactor so it cannot produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Iran claims it needs the heavy water reactor for production of medical isotopes.

The deal, vehemently opposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Republicans in the U.S. Congress and many American Jewish organizations, lifts economic sanctions in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program.

Republican donor Adelson says he met with ‘charming’ candidate Trump, discussed Israel


Billionaire and major Republican Party donor Sheldon Adelson said on Friday he met presidential candidate Donald Trump earlier this week, describing the front-runner in the race for the Republican nomination as “very charming.”

“It was very nice,” the gambling tycoon told Reuters when asked if he had met Trump, the front-runner in opinion polls of Republican voters, earlier in the week. “He was very charming,” Adelson said in an interview in Macau. Adelson said the pair had discussed Israel during their talk. 

The 82-year-old chief executive of Las Vegas Sands Corp, the world's biggest gambling company by market value, made his comments a few days after hosting the latest debate among Republican Party presidential candidates at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, where he is based. 

Courted by most of the Republican candidates and widely expected to be the party's top donor in the November 2016 presidential election, Adelson said earlier on Friday during a news conference that he may wait until February's primaries to decide who to back. He described the field of Republican candidates as “all very good”.

Some 14 candidates are still in the race for the Republican Party nomination. The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll showed Trump leading the field with support of 35 percent of Republican voters, Ben Carson second with 12 percent, followed by Ted Cruz and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush tied at 10 percent.

“We like a lot of the candidates, some more than the others,” Adelson said during the interview. “It's changing every day. I saw in the news today that Trump said his percentage approval was 41 percent. Out of 14 candidates, 41 percent is unheard of.” 

Asked what characteristics he would like the Republican party's nominee to embody, Adelson said, “They have got to be able to win.”

LAS VEGAS NEWSPAPER, ISRAEL

Speaking in an interview in Macau, the world's largest gambling hub, ahead of the formal opening of his new St Regis hotel in the former Portuguese colony, Adelson also made his first public comments confirming his family's acquisition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper. 

The $140 million deal to buy the largest paper in the state of Nevada, an important swing state, had been shrouded in secrecy.

Described by Forbes magazine as the 15th richest man in the United States, Adelson said his family had bought the paper as a financial investment, dismissing speculation the deal was aimed at controlling media in the United States. “The Review-Journal is already on my side of the political spectrum,” Adelson said.

“This newspaper has been making money… we left the (everyday) operation in the hands of the owner from who we bought it,” said Adelson, whose family has experience of Israeli newspaper ownership and is known for his ardent support of Israel. 

“We are not going to hire an editor, we left it up to them (current management), period. We may take some of the positive characteristics of our Israeli newspaper and add them to there but that's all just suggestions.” 

Adelson said he discussed Israel with presidential candidate Trump during their meeting.

“He (Trump) had talked about potentially dividing about Jerusalem and Israel, so I talked aboutIsrael because with our newspaper, my wife being Israeli, we are the few who know more aboutIsrael than people who don't,” Adelson said.

Speaking two weeks ago to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Washington, Trump wavered in answering a question about whether he would consider Jerusalem the undivided capital of Israel, drawing boos from the crowd.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, for their future state. Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its indivisible capital, a claim not recognized internationally.

MACAU TURNAROUND?

Adelson's Las Vegas Sands company derives the bulk of its revenue from casinos in the global gaming hub of Macau, an hour's ferry ride from the Asia financial center of Hong Kong.

Discussing business prospects there during the interview, Adelson said that a long-term slide in Macau's gaming market was either close to bottoming out or had already bottomed out, with a turnaround in sight in the first quarter of 2016 after 18 consecutive months of revenue declines. 

Revenue in Macau, the only place in China where casino gambling is legal, has long been squeezed by a combination of slowing economic growth and a broader crackdown on corruption targeting illicit money outflows.

“We are at the beginning of the shift in the cycle from a recession-type economy to a bottoming out, and I think the economy and Macau's fortunes will turn around,” he said. 

Adelson said he expected the opening in 2017-18 of a bridge that will link the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai to Macau and the Asia financial center of Hong Kong will further boost business in the gambling hub.

Technion opens first Israeli university in China


The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology has laid the cornerstone for a research center in Shantou, China.

Construction of the Guandong Technion Israel Institute of Technology began Wednesday. The institute is the product of a $130 million gift from investor Li Ka Shing and will be a joint venture between the Technion and Shantou University.

“[T]he establishment of a Technion campus in China is more proof that Israeli innovation is breaking down geographic borders,” former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres said at the groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday. “I hope that the economic cooperation between these two countries will continue to expand, as both countries have much to share with, and learn from, one another.”

The campus will offer Technion engineering degrees at all levels, from bachelor’s to doctorate. The school plans to enroll an initial class of 100 students for chemical engineering in 2016. It eventually plans to enroll 4,000 undergraduates and 1,000 graduate students.

The $130 million gift by Li, who with a net worth of nearly $30 billion is the richest man in China, is the largest ever given to the Technion.

The Technion also recently opened a joint campus in New York City with Cornell University. Cornell Tech currently offers graduate-level degrees in a temporary site in Manhattan, but it is slated to open three new buildings on Roosevelt Island in 2017.

The Technion is located in Haifa and is Israel’s most prestigious engineering and science university.

How the world learned its lesson and got a climate deal


It was an agreement born from a fear of failure, delivered by the smoothness of French diplomacy.

Six years earlier, countries had bitterly walked away from global climate talks in Copenhagen without a deal. The decision to reassemble in Paris to try again at getting almost 200 countries to sign a pact on cutting carbon emissions was a gamble: another collapse could the end world's ability to forge a common approach to dealing with climate change.

And no political leader wanted his reputation stained by a repeat of the debacle in Copenhagen.

So there was no detail of hospitality too small for the French hosts this time, no country negotiator who would go unflattered by Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister who presided over the conference. 

Fabius had been the youngest French prime minister in history in the 1980s; now he was an elder statesman looking to carve a bigger place in it. Over two weeks under the global spotlight, his sonorous voice and relentless optimism would come to define the public tone of the proceedings. 

But behind the scenes, the talks witnessed the confrontations and five-past-midnight compromises to be expected when sleep-deprived negotiators from almost every country in the world are supposed to come to a consensus.

They ultimately found it, remarkably only one day later than planned. But the path to the standing ovations at the end was strewn with disputes over money, the emergence of an effective new climate coalition of states, and hours of wrangling over what “should” or “shall” be done.

FRENCH WAYS

For the survivors of Copenhagen, the key to success in Paris would be preparation.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon complained that the political leaders had not been well-prepared for the Copenhagen meeting, and this time he and the French conducted extensive advance work to get other leaders personally engaged.

They also decided that, if leaders were to come to Paris, they would do so at the beginning to lend the talks some political oxygen, rather than arriving for a scramble at the end.

So on Nov. 30, the sprawling conference hall near the Le Bourget airfield on the outskirts of Paris hosted world leaders, who were supposed to deliver three minutes of encouragement. Fabius wandered the conference centre before they arrived, tapping microphones and checking the video monitors under a podium made of recycled wood. 

“Ah, we have Prince Charles,” he said to an aide, consulting the speakers' list.

The opening day speeches were seen as a success. UN officials were relieved at the relatively cooperative tone from Russian President Vladimir Putin who was among several leaders who assured Ban privately before the outset that Russia would not block a deal, UN officials said later. 

Fabius pulled together a team of officials and diplomats from across the French civil service to facilitate the talks. “He treated it less like a climate negotiation and more like a trade deal,” said one UN veteran of past climate talks.

He also constantly praised delegates for their hard work and insights, before telling them exactly what schedule of debate they had to follow to finish by their self-imposed deadline of Friday, Dec. 11.

He gave the job of writing the accord's preamble to Venezuela's minister Claudia Salerno, whose country had been perhaps the harshest critic of the Copenhagen process that was seen as a collusion of big powers dictating to small countries, making her personally vested in finding compromises.

Not all developing countries were easily won over, however. A central sticking point throughout the talks was the degree to which the agreement would be legally binding on countries, especially the rich ones who are expected to provide the hundreds of billions of dollars in funding to cover the transition to a low carbon future.

The differences were expressed in wrangles over wording. Hard, legally binding commitments were proceeded in the text as items that countries “shall” do.

Those items that were simply good intentions fell into the “should” do category. 

HALF A DEGREE CLOSER

Facing unbudging demands to put their financial commitments into legal language, U.S. negotiators knew they had to break the poor vs. rich country divide. Their tactic was to sign up to a loose coalition of countries called the High Ambition Coalition.

The European Union takes credit for starting the group as far back as 2011, when it was a loose alliance between the EU and small island states. 

As Paris approached, it expanded to include African, Caribbean and Pacific nations, developing an agenda that included the goal of keeping the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels by the end of the 21st century.

The number had almost been banished from serious discussion ahead of Paris. But the American decision to “join” the High Ambition Coalition brought the 1.5 goal back into play, sweetened with pledges of hundreds of millions of dollars to help island and developing states mitigate the ill-effects of climate change.

Although the promise is only aspirational, the re-emergence of references to 1.5 degrees in the Paris text brought several influential developing countries into the U.S. camp. Soon Canada joined, then Australia and Brazil, a collection of wealthy, heavy-polluting western countries marching into the plenary hall alongside the Marshall Islands.

China's negotiators dismissed the High Ambition Coalition as a stunt. “This is a kind of performance by some members,” said Liu Zhenmin, deputy head of the China delegation. But the solidarity of the developing nation bloc was broken.

LAST BRIDGES AND HICCUPS

Climate change summits have developed a particular theatre of their own. In one moment, it was possible to see actor Alec Baldwin expressing his fears for the planet to journalists, across from an Indonesian pavilion hosting a party to show off its pilot green energy hospitals.

But much of the real work was done by people not even at Le Bourget. After visiting at the start, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed roadblocks by telephone, and the two countries appeared to be mostly on the same page.

Other housekeeping of the text was taken care of. Negotiators insured that a specific reference toclimate effects on “occupied territories” was taken out to keep the politics focused on climate issues.

By Saturday, Fabius the pieces were falling into place. “I think we're done here,” said a happy Marshall Islands foreign minister Tony de Brum on Saturday morning.

There was to be one last hiccup. The final text had settled on 143 items prefaced by “shall,” 40 with “should.” But in one section, the words appeared to have been flipped.

Suddenly, there was a delay in the hall where delegates had convened amid smiles and air kisses to seal the deal. 

Fabius and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry left the room, replaced by rumours of trouble. But then the French minister was back. A technical glitch, he explained, brought on by the fatigue of a drafter. 

The organizers announced corrections to a few typographical errors, and tellingly switched one last “should” for a “shall” before Fabius swiftly brought the gavel down.

Mao’s Jews


On Oct. 1, 1967, China’s National Day, Sidney Rittenberg had reached the pinnacle of his revolutionary career. It was the 18th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and Rittenberg was seated on a reviewing stand less than fifty feet from Mao Zedong, overlooking a sea of thousands who had crowded into Tiananmen Square to mark the occasion.

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Rittenberg was one of the very few foreign nationals who had remained in China after the communists came to power in 1949 and one of an even smaller number who had managed to work their way into Mao’s inner circle, serving the communist leadership as valued advisers, trusted emissaries and even revolutionary leaders.

In addition to Rittenberg, there was Austrian, Jakob Rosenfeld, commanding officer of the Communist 4th Army’s medical unit; Israel Epstein from Poland, a journalist who served as the Chinese government’s head of international public relations; and London-born David Crook, dean of the Beijing Foreign Languages University.

Although their backgrounds were varied and their motivations for coming to China diverse, these doctors, writers and educators had one thing in common — all of them were Jewish.

The story of how thousands of Jews fled Europe, took refuge in Shanghai, and eventually built schools, synagogues and businesses there is one that is well known. This often-told story eventually ends with the departure of all the Jews from China when the communists take over in 1949, a clean and satisfying end to a moving chronicle that leaves no ends loose or questions unanswered.

But in fact, not all those Jews left. Many stayed, and of those who did, a handful lived out dramatic lives that provide a rare glimpse into the early years of Communist China

A backbreaking job treating skunk skins in a windowless building at the heart of Manhattan’s Garment District was certainly not the most obvious or auspicious first step on a path that would eventually lead David Crook to China and into the highest echelons of China’s Foreign Service. His mother, matron of a middle-class Jewish family living in the outskirts of London, originally had much greater aspirations for him. After all, he had shown early promise as a student and had done well enough on his exams to get accepted to Oxford. But before he could even set foot in a classroom, the family business collapsed, a traumatic event that brought his budding academic career to a premature end and dashed his mother’s dreams. Faced with limited prospects and a shortage of funds, Crook eventually accepted an offer of employment, undoubtedly an opportunity of last resort, from a distant relative who was a furrier in New York.

To be sure, tanning skunk pelts for Garment District furriers was a far cry from rubbing shoulders with Oxford dons, but, as harsh an experience as this may have been, it did afford the young Crook a keen insight into the conditions of the working class and an appreciation for its plight. It was a transformative experience that would redefine his view of the world  and determine the course his future would take.

Like Crook, Rittenberg early in life developed an appreciation for the challenges and conditions faced by the American worker, although there was nothing in his background to suggest that he would have any affiliation with miners, bricklayers and pipefitters, much less end up playing a central role in the Chinese Revolution.

Scion of a wealthy family that was a pillar of the close-knit Jewish community of Charleston, S.C., Rittenberg grew up in privileged circumstances worlds away from the factory workers and day laborers whose cause he would come to champion. Like Crook, Rittenberg excelled as a student and, although he did well enough to secure admission to Princeton, he too would never set foot on campus. However, Rittenberg’s failure to take advantage of higher education at one of the world’s most prestigious academic institutions was not the consequence of a reversal in family fortune, but the result of a conscious decision to reject an institution whose values, Rittenberg reasoned, were not aligned with his own. Rittenberg concluded that the academic environment provided by an elitist university whose students represented a privileged social class would not suit someone who was an active participant in labor strikes, had joined the Communist Party, and had even spent time behind bars as a consequence of his actions.

Given Rittenberg’s age and circumstances, one might be tempted to dismiss such an unorthodox decision as an act of youthful rebellion, but as Rittenberg’s life unfolded, this inclination toward contrarian positions and strict adherence to principle emerged as a consistent character trait that surfaced at critical junctures and guided his most important decisions.

This admixture of unabashed idealism and commitment to the socially disenfranchised informed a worldview that Crook and Rittenberg shared and that would ultimately bring them to China and sustain them in their darkest days.

Rittenberg’s initial engagement with China was purely coincidental. Shortly after his conscription into the U.S. Army at the outset World War II, Rittenberg learned that his first tour of duty would, ironically, be in a classroom learning Chinese, a language he knew nothing about. Teaching new recruits Chinese was a tactical element of the Army’s broader efforts to build up the resources that would help strengthen its position in a country whose political landscape was shifting and whose strategic value was increasing. Much to his surprise, Rittenberg found that he enjoyed learning the language and soon reached a level of proficiency that qualified him for posting to China and assignment to a unit that was operating on the ground in Shanghai .

 The China Rittenberg encountered on arrival in 1943 was in turmoil after years of economic instability, occupation by foreign powers and the looming threat of civil war. He was particularly struck by the abject poverty and dire circumstances that the average Chinese lived. His involvement in relief organizations brought him to the attention of the Communist underground. They sent an agent to approach him with an offer: Join the Communist revolutionaries and serve as a liaison to the representatives of foreign  countries, especially the U.S. Rittenberg accepted the offer on the spot, but with one condition — that he be allowed to join the Chinese Communist Party.

The path that Crook followed to China was equally coincidental, but much more circuitous. Recuperating in a Madrid hospital from injuries he had sustained while fighting in the Spanish Civil War, Crook came across a copy of the newly published, “Red Star Over China,” American journalist Edgar Snow’s classic account of the Communist movement in China

Crook, who had become an avowed Marxist, came to Spain to fight in support of those on the left. While there, he was recruited by the Comintern, ostensibly to spy on suspected Trotskyites. Inspired by his reading of Snow’s book, Crook decided that his destiny lay in China. To get there, he proposed to his Comintern handlers that a they send him to Shanghai, a vantage point from which, he suggested, he would be able to keep an eye on a number of prominent Trotskyists who had gravitated to the city and report on their activities. It didn’t take long for Crook to succumb to Shanghai’s various diversions and, much to the KGB’s dismay, was soon paying more attention to handicaps at the race tracks than to the task of spying and intelligence gathering. When Trotsky was assassinated in 1940, the KGB finally decided it no longer had need of Crook’s services and terminated its relationship with him. After some time casting around for other opportunities of employment, Crook eventually drifted into teaching English and was introduced to a member of the Communist movement through an acquaintance.

In contrast to Rittenberg and Crook, who came to China because they were attracted by the prospect of adventure and driven by a sense of mission, Rosenfeld and Epstein came to China to escape deteriorating conditions in their home countries and to avoid being engulfed by a wave of oppression that was sweeping across Eastern Europe and putting their lives at risk. 

Rosenfeld, who graduated from the University of Vienna’s prestigious medical school, had no sooner set himself up in practice and embarked on a promising career as an obstetrician than Nazi Germany annexed Austria and promptly set about ridding the country of its Jewish population. Like many other Jewish professionals in Vienna, Rosenfeld was forced to shutter his practice and was eventually sent to a labor camp outside the city, his fate irrevocably sealed. In less than a year, though, Rosenfeld would walk out of the camp with a visa in hand that granted him passage to China and asylum in Shanghai. As miraculous as this turn of events may be, and as vague the circumstances surrounding them, it is plausible to assume that Rosenfeld had the good fortune to come to the attention of Ho Feng Shan, the consul general of the Chinese Consulate in Vienna who single-handedly saved the lives of hundreds of Austrian Jews by exploiting poorly enforced regulations (in cities such as Shanghai, whose systems and infrastructures had been undermined by years of turmoil) to issue so-called “asylum” visas that gave them shelter in China. 

Like Shanghai, the city of Harbin at the heart of Manchuria China’s vast northeast region, was in in a state of upheaval. Extension of the Trans-Siberian Railway at the turn of the 20th century had fueled Harbin’s rapid evolution from a remote trading outpost to a full-fledged transport hub and commercial center of strategic value to the Chinese, Russians and Japanese, who by 1930s, were engaged in a tug-of-war over its control. The resulting unrest and dislocation that resulted distorted many of the usual legal rules, political conventions and social norms or dissolved them outright. This combination of factors — a transport hub with poorly enforced regulations — made Harbin an increasingly accessible and therefore attractive destination for revolutionaries, opportunists and refugees.  

 It was under these circumstances that Epstein’s family came to Harbin in the belief that it would serve them as a haven from the increasingly violent pogroms that were threatening Jewish communities across Poland. A brief encounter with  the city’s chaotic urban landscape and the denizens that inhabited it — the American consul who roamed the streets in broad daylight with a drawn pistol in hand, the Japanese film studio director who doubled as a spy with an impressive murder record, and Chinese warlords whose tendency was to shoot first and ask questions later — made it clear to Epstein’s parents that Harbin was a city of questionable safety and certainly no place to raise a young family. In short order, they moved to the city of Tianjin, a bustling port, that today lies just an hour’s train ride southeast of China’s capital, Beijing.

In Tianjin, Epstein received an education in British schools. At a young age, he became interested in journalism, an interest that deepened as he entered his teenage years. By the age of 15, he was freelancing for United Press. He eventually dropped out of school so that he could devote himself full time to reporting on the dramatic events that were unfolding across northern China. Perhaps because of his own firsthand experience with oppression and social upheaval, Epstein, like Crook and Rittenberg, was very sympathetic to the plight of the poor Chinese he encountered, a sympathy that had been cultivated and reinforced by his father, Herman, who admonished the young Israel not to forget the plight that the Jews had suffered.  

Epstein’s journalistic talent and the sympathy he expressed in his writing for the Chinese people, attracted the attention of Song Qingling, Sun Yat-Sen’s widow, who took him under her wing. Song Qingling was a visionary who recognized that China’s success in getting the support it needed would depend on the strength of its image overseas, and set about finding ways to enhance that image. Epstein was one of those ways. She enabled him to launch broad-based publicity campaigns targeted at audiences in the U.S. and Europe by leveraging her network of influential contacts and access to significant financial resources. Establishment of the monthly pictorial China Today with Epstein as editor-in-chief was an outgrowth of these efforts. As the country became more and more distant from the West, the publication effectively became (and remained) Communist China’s voice to the outside world. 

On the eve of the Communist takeover in 1949, Rosenfeld had achieved the rank of officer in the Communist military, a post he had secured largely by making himself indispensable as a leader and doctor who not only dressed the wounds and eased the suffering of the rank-and-file soldiers but, more importantly, attended personally to the needs of senior revolutionary officers who would later occupy prominent posts in the government of the new People’s Republic of China. Given his standing, Rosenfeld was well-positioned to enjoy the fruits of victory and the rewards for everything he and his Chinese comrades had struggled for. Yet, ironically, even before the revolution reached its victorious conclusion, the “Big-Nose Medical Saint,” as he was known by the troops, decided to return home to Vienna. Now that the war was over, Rosenfeld was convinced that Austria was on the road to recovery and that he would eventually be able to revive his livelihood. He also had learned that his sister was still alive and he was eager to be reunited with her.

On the eve of the Communist victory, Crook was also serving on the front lines in northeastern China, applying his teaching experience to the education of young leaders on the battlefield who would come to occupy senior posts in China’s Diplomatic Corps and laying the groundwork for the establishment that would become China’s Foreign Languages Institute. Crook distinguished himself and gained the trust of the Communist leadership  through the degree of his self-sacrifice and, as a party member, willingness to subject himself to self-criticism and abnegation that was as harsh if not harsher than what his Chinese colleagues endured.  

Known to the Chinese as “Li Dunbai,” Rittenberg proved his revolutionary mettle and demonstrated his zeal by struggling side-by-side with Mao, Zhou Enlai and other Communist revolutionaries on an arduous 500-mile journey to the refuge of caves in remote Yan’an that would become known as the “Long March.”

Like the other revolutionaries, Rittenberg lived a spartan life in Yan’an and followed a routine that was well-circumscribed: By day, he was an adviser to Mao, providing insights into American policy and drafting official correspondence to President Harry Truman and other American government officials on Mao’s behalf. By night, he was an active participant in the impromptu dances the revolutionaries organized, an activity that enabled him to forge bonds and deepen relationships with influential members of the communist movement that would play a consequential role in his life in China. One such acquaintance was Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, an actress who, in Rittenberg’s estimation, was a lot better at dancing than she was at acting. Rittenberg also  served as an occasional translator for the Laurel and Hardy movies that Mao, Zhou Enlai and the other revolutionaries were so fond of watching on Friday evenings after dinner.

The next 30 years that Rittenberg  would spend in China had all the arc and sweep of a classic Greek tragedy: The hubris of the young revolutionary eager to make history who is catapulted into the very center of a movement that would change the lives of millions, the reversal of fortune that would lead to a fall from grace, and finally enlightenment, a change from ignorance to awareness.

Hubris

In the early 1960s, on the eve of a decade of upheaval that would come to be known as the Great People’s Cultural Revolution, Rittenberg was working in the foreign affairs office of the Central Broadcasting Bureau, a powerful  organization whose strategic importance would place it on the leading edge of the revolution. Rittenberg, true to his nature, took an active role in the Cultural Revolution at its earliest stages. His engagement in mobilizing workers, organizing revolutionary study sessions and other related activities catapulted him into a position of revolutionary leader.

The following excerpt from a speech he delivered to audiences across the country — from peasants in small villages to students in auditoriums and workers in stadiums — brought him to national prominence and turned him into a celebrity:

 “When I was a young man growing up in America, I worked alongside steelworkers and miners. I joined the American Communist Party. So I have experienced at firsthand how capitalism exploits workers. The life of a worker in the U.S. is a tough and painful one. China should avoid going down the path of capitalism at all costs.”

His spectacular revolutionary career reached its apex with the bold takeover of Central Broadcasting Bureau that he engineered as the leader of a radical faction.

Emboldened by his power and success, he increasingly used his speaking platform and stature to bring the revolutionary commitment of others into question and point out contradictions in their behavior, a tactic that ended the careers of not a few innocent citizens and brought misery to their families.  

A Reversal of Fortune

One of the targets of Rittenberg’s defamatory speeches was Jiang Qing, who for Rittenberg would always be the B actress and dance companion he knew from Yan’an and, in any event,  hardly a threat to someone such as him, who wielded so much power and influence. This turned out to be a severe miscalculation that would ultimately lead to his downfall. Since Yan’an, Jiang Qing, perhaps proving that she was a worthy actress after all, had succeeded in transforming herself into the “White-Boned Demon,” ringleader of the notorious Gang of Four and the object of fear and loathing. In a matter of weeks after delivering his stinging criticism of the woman many had come to see as an object of fear and loathing — hence her nickname — Rittenberg found himself in solitary confinement behind the walls of Qincheng Prison, a correctional facility on the outskirts of Beijing that was less forbidding than Alcatraz, perhaps, but no less notorious.


 

Qincheng Prison Profile

·       Originally “Beiping Prison Number 2”

·       1960 remodeled by Soviet advisers

·       Average cell size 20 m2

·       Three meals a day:

o   Breakfast – steamed bread, cabbage

o   Lunch- rice, noodles, and other grains

·       Exercise regimen:  20 minutes a day (inconsistent)

·       Reading material: The People’s Daily

 


 

For most of the counter-revolutionaries, professors and artists who ended up there, being sent to Qincheng Prison was a fate worse than death. For Rittenberg, the time in Qincheng was a period for reflection and contemplation. The regimen of prison life, the long periods of inactivity and the pervasive silence was, Rittenberg reasoned, an existence that was not much different than that of “a monk in a monastery,” and he kept himself occupied with activities that would keep his mind active and his spirit engaged. “Comrade Li Dunbai,” noted the prison’s chief warden, “reads the[People’s Daily] from beginning to end every day without fail.”

Despite their status as party members, sacrifice on the front lines and impeccable record of service to the state and the party, Crook and Epstein also were imprisoned in Qincheng Prison at the height of the Cultural Revolution, victims of irrational fears of foreign influence, intrigue and spying. This was a fate that befell a good number of foreigners. However, like most of the other foreigners who were imprisoned, Crook and Epstein were released in 1973 and invited to an official state dinner, where they received an official apology from Zhou Enlai. Only Rittenberg was missing. Asked by one of those present at the dinner about Rittenberg’s absence, Zhou Enlai responded gravely: “Li Dunbai has committed severe crimes against the state and its citizens.  Because of this, he will remain in prison.”

Enlightenment and Awareness

Rittenberg’s term in prison would last nearly six more years, and upon his release in 1979, he emerged a much wiser and more humble person. After admissions of error and wrongdoing, he was finally pardoned. The official government statement exonerating him read:

“Comrade Li Dunbai has worked for the benefit of the Chinese people since 1945 and made great contributions to the Chinese revolution.”  

In 1980, Rittenberg, approaching his 60th birthday, decided that he was finished with China and returned to the place where his odyssey had started, Charleston, S.C. There he took a job as a teacher in a local community college, intending to lead a lead a quiet and unassuming life. Although he thought he was finished with China, China, it seemed, had not quite finished with him.

As China began to liberalize and institute economic reforms in the 1980s, large American firms began to take an interest in the potential market opportunities such a huge country offered. But since China had been closed for so many years, the Chinese lacked the insights and experience needed to be successful. Thanks to his extensive knowledge of China and, even more importantly, his familiarity with officials at the very highest levels of the Chinese government — many of whom he had been comrades-in-arms with in the caves of Yan’an — Rittenberg became the go-to adviser for any U.S. company seriously considering entry into the Chinese market. Intel, Levis and Microsoft, to name just a few, knocked on his door. The man who once rejected capitalism for the communist ideal would now grow wealthy serving capitalism in a communist country.

Rittenberg, Crook, Epstein and Rosenfeld each approached China in a unique way and each played a distinctly different role during the time he spent in the country, but in the end, it is what they have in common that provides the greatest insight into their personalities and their motivations. In addition to being Jewish, they all joined the Chinese Communist Party, became Chinese citizens, and, most intriguingly, all lived to be more than 90 years old. Whether there is any connection between their longevity and their engagement with China is open to speculation, but what is certain is that their experiences and contributions generated one of the more unique and interesting perspectives on the great transformation of China in the 20th century.


Paul Ross is a telecommunications executive who has been living in Shanghai for eight years and a member of Kehilat Shanghai, a liberal Jewish community in Shanghai. He first came to China in 1985.

Why Jews should not visit China, regardless of what Israel does


Should American Jews provide tourist dollars to a regime that massacres dissidents, facilitates genocide and finances Israel’s enemies? A spate of upcoming Jewish tours of China has raised anew an old and troubling question about the conflict between tourism and human rights.

“Sukkos 2015: Beijing, China!” beckons an advertisement from Chabad of Beijing, which hopes to convince American Jewish tourists to spend the upcoming holiday in the Chinese capital, enjoying daily kosher meals and outings to a kung fu exhibition, the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square.

The Association of Reform Zionists of America, or ARZA, is also promoting a visit to Tiananmen Square in its upcoming 12-day China trip. As is the American Jewish Congress’ International Travel Program, which features a brochure promising participants that they will get to “Share in a special Shehechiyanu with Challah and wine in Beijing.”

The Hebrew word “shehechiyanu,” which is the centerpiece of a blessing recited on special occasions, means “Who has given us life.” Here it provides a bit of unintended irony, as it precedes the brochure’s reference to the site where pro-democracy protesters were massacred by government forces in 1989.

But Rabbi Arnold Belzer, who is leading the American Jewish Congress tour, will not be mentioning the massacre when he leads Jewish tourists through the square next year.

“I wouldn’t want to bother them with a topic that might take away from the tour experience for which they have paid,” Belzer told me.

Chabad won’t be talking about it on its trip either.

“We’re guests in this country,” said Dini Freundlich, who runs the Beijing Chabad with her husband, Shimon. “And we have to respect the government’s wishes.”

Besides, she added, “It’s not fully clear what happened there.”

According to human rights activists, the only thing unclear about the 1989 killings is whether the body count was in the hundreds or thousands.

Tourism has never been considered off-limits by American Jewish advocacy groups. Anti-Nazi boycotters in the 1930s opposed American tourism to Germany. Soviet Jewry activists in the 1970s urged Americans to refrain from visiting the USSR. After Mexico supported the U.N. resolution equating Zionism with racism in 1975, thousands of Jews canceled their plans to vacation there.

In the case of China, American Jewish tourists are providing support to a regime that engages in profoundly objectionable policies, of which Tiananmen Square is the most memorable example.

Beijing plays a crucial role in propping up the Sudanese government of Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who was indicted in 2009 by the International Criminal Court for allegedly organizing the Darfur genocide. China is Sudan’s single largest trading partner, importing Sudanese oil and providing Khartoum with weapons in violation of a U.N. arms embargo.

The Chinese likewise have a significant relationship with Iran, importing Iranian oil and providing Tehran with military aid, including assistance for the country’s nuclear program and help in the development of advanced missiles and combat aircraft. According to media reports, Beijing has now agreed to give Iran 24 of its J-10 jet fighters.

American Jews should also be concerned that Chinese rockets appear to have made their way into the the arsenals of Hezbollah and Hamas. Hezbollah reportedly fired a Chinese rocket at Israel in 2006. Hamas is also believed to possess rockets made in China. It would be a tragic irony if any victims helped by Chabad in the southern Israeli city of Sderot were harmed by Chinese-made rockets while Chabad of Beijing is bringing Jewish tourist dollars to the regime that manufactured those rockets.

Jewish tours to China typically cost around $5,000 per person, a minuscule number for an economy with a GDP that tops $10 trillion. It also pales compared to the trade that Israel, for its own reasons, conducts with China. But to justify American Jewish tourism to an oppressive country on the grounds that Israel does it too is to say that two wrongs make a right, which is not exactly a time-honored Jewish principle.

Moreover Israel, as a sovereign state, faces circumstances very different from those of American Jews. Israelis can argue that in order to function in this world, they sometimes have no choice but to build relations with regimes whose policies are far from democratic or peaceful.

American Jews, by contrast, do have a choice. They have the luxury of choosing among many countries in which they can enjoyably spend their tourist dollars — countries that are not linked to the genocide of black Africans or the manufacture of rockets that may have been used in attacks on Israel.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and author of 15 books on Jewish history, the Holocaust and Zionism.

India turns to Israel for armed drones as Pakistan, China build fleets


India has accelerated plans to buy drones from Israel that can be armed, defence sources said, allowing the military to carry out strikes overseas with less risk to personnel.

The news comes weeks after long-time rival Pakistan first reported using a home-made drone in combat when it attacked militants on its soil, raising the prospect of a new front in the nuclear-armed neighbours' standoff over Kashmir that has twice spilled into war.

The plan to acquire Israeli Herons was first conceived three years ago, but in January the military wrote to the government asking for speedy delivery, the sources said, as Pakistan and China develop their own drone warfare capabilities.

India has already deployed Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) along the rugged mountains of Kashmir for surveillance, as well as on the disputed border with China where the two armies have faced off against each other.

In September, the Indian government approved the air force's request to acquire 10 Heron TP drones from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) that can be fitted with weapons to engage targets on the ground, an air force official with knowledge of the matter said.

He added that he expected the agreement to be inked soon. The Indian Defence Ministry declined to comment.

The plan to buy Herons in a deal estimated at $400 million would open the option of covert cross-border strikes.

Currently the two armies exchange fire across the de facto Kashmir border at times of tension, but do not cross the Line of Control (LoC) by land or air.

“It's risky, but armed UAVs can be used for counter insurgency operations internally as well across the borders; sneak attacks on terrorist hideouts in mountainous terrain, perhaps,” said an army officer in the defence planning staff.

“DEEP-STRIKE CAPABILITY”

Gurmeet Kanwal, a former head of the government-funded Centre for Land Warfare Studies in New Delhi, said the armed Herons due to enter Indian service by late 2016 will give the air force deep-strike capability.

The United States has carried out hundreds of drone strikes inside Pakistan, targeting al Qaeda and other militants in its northwest. Pakistan has allowed such targeted killings, even though it complains about them in public.

Indian drones, in contrast, face being shot down as soon as they show up on Pakistani radars, the army officer and Kanwal said.

Deniability would be essential in any use of armed drones by India and Pakistan across their bitterly contested border, said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a leading weapons proliferation expert in Pakistan.

“It is likely that drones would be used in a surreptitious mode close to the LoC, far away from populated areas,” he said.

In July, the Pakistan army said it had shot down a small Indian spy drone in Kashmir. India did not comment.

Michael Kugelman, South Asia specialist at the Washington D.C.-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said the arrival of lethal drones in the region could heighten mutual suspicion at a time when ties are strained.

“Pakistan might worry that India could use an armed drone to attack terrorist safe havens in Pakistan or to target a specific terrorist there.”

“India might worry that Pakistan will now be tempted to add drones to its repertoire of asymmetric warfare tactics it has used against India.”

Only the United States, Israel and Britain are known to have used armed drones in combat, although more than 70 countries have UAVs with surveillance capabilities, according to New America, a Washington D.C.-based think-tank.

China has no public strategy for armed drone development, but it has poured resources into UAVs and has shown them off at exhibitions. Chinese combat drones still lag far behind the Israeli-made ones in terms of capability, military experts say.

LOCAL MANUFACTURE?

A delegation from state-owned IAI has been holding talks with the Indian defence ministry to determine the possibility of local manufacture of the Heron TP as part of the “Make-in-India” programme, IHS Jane's said.

Israel does not confirm or deny using or producing armed drones. IAI declined comment on the proposed sale of the Herons, as did Israel's Defence Ministry, which oversees such arms exports.

IAI is one of several Israeli companies manufacturing drones or related technologies.

At least one of them has sold armed drones to a foreign country other than India, a person involved in the deal said, without elaborating on the client, model or manufacturer of the aircraft.

Such deals are handled directly between the governments of Israel and the purchasing country, with mutual secrecy agreements, the person added.

It is not clear what kind of weapons will be fitted to the Heron TPs that India plans to buy.

India has been trying to develop its own combat drone, but the defence research organisation has struggled to integrate a missile onto the proposed Rustom series of UAVs.

David Harari, a retired IAI engineer and Israel Prize winner for his pioneering work in drone development, said India could mount its own weaponry on an Israeli supplied drone, helped by close technological cooperation between the two countries.

Wall Street has worst day in four years, S&P now in correction


U.S. stock indexes plunged almost 4 percent on Monday as investors, rattled about China's economy, sold heavily in an unusually volatile session that confirmed the S&P 500 was formally in a correction.

The Dow Jones industrial average briefly slumped more than 1,000 points, its most dramatic intraday trading range ever, with key component Apple falling heavily only to claw back and end down 2.5 percent.

It was the S&P 500's worst day since 2011 and followed an 8.5 percent slump in Chinese markets, which sparked a sell-off in global stocks along with oil and other commodities .

Wall Street had stayed in a narrow range for much of 2015, but volatility jumped this month as investors became increasingly concerned about a potential stumble in China's economy and after Beijing surprisingly devalued its currency, the yuan.

Some investors unloaded stocks ahead of the close after looking to make money from volatile price swings earlier in the session.

“If things don't settle down in China, we could have another ugly open tomorrow and you wouldn't want to be caught holding positions you bought this morning,” said Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab in Austin.

Apple's Chief Executive Tim Cook, in comments to CNBC, took the unusual step of reassuring shareholders about the iPhone maker's business in China ahead of a dramatic 13-percent drop and rebound in its stock, which closed down just 2.5 percent at $103.12.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 588.4 points, or 3.57 percent, at 15,871.35.

The S&P 500 lost 77.68 points, or 3.94 percent, to 1,893.21, putting it formally in correction mode.

An index is considered to be in correction when it closes 10 percent below its 52-week high. The Dow was confirmed to be in a correction on Friday.

The Nasdaq Composite dropped 179.79 points, or 3.82 percent, to 4,526.25, also in a correction.

Futures for Hong Kong's Hang Seng index were down 2.1 percent, suggesting that more bleeding may be in store when trading begins again in Asia.

The CBOE Volatility index, popularly known as the “fear index”, briefly jumped as much as 90 percent to 53.29, its highest since January 2009.

Preliminary data from BATS Global Markets show 1,287 trading halts on U.S. stock exchanges on Monday due to excessive volatility or tripping of circuit breakers, far more than usual.

The S&P 500 index showed 187 new 52-week lows and just two highs, while the Nasdaq recorded 613 new lows and eight highs.

“Emotions got the best of investors,” said Philip Blancato, chief executive at Ladenberg Thalmann Asset Management in New York.

“The conjecture that the Chinese economy can propel the U.S. economy into recession is ridiculous, when it's twice the size of the Chinese economy and is consumer-based.”

All of the 10 major S&P 500 sectors were down, with energy losing 5.18 percent.

U.S. oil prices were down about 6 percent at 6-1/2-year lows, while London copper and aluminum futures hit their lowest since 2009.

Exxon and Chevron each fell more than 4.7 percent. U.S. oil and gas companies have already lost about $310 billion of market value this year.

The dollar index was down 1.72 percent. It fell more than 2 percent earlier to a seven-month low as the perceived probability of a September U.S. interest rate hike receded.

Traders now see a 24 percent chance that the Federal Reserve will increase rates in September, down from 30 percent late on Friday and 46 percent a week earlier, according to data from inter-dealer money broker Tullett Prebon.

Wall Street's sell-off shows investors are becoming increasingly nervous about paying high prices for stocks at a time of minimal earnings growth, tumbling energy prices and uncertainty around a Fed rate hike.

Alibaba lost 3.49 percent to $65.80, below its IPO price of $68, making it the second high-profile tech company to fall below its IPO price in the past week after Twitter on Thursday.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers on the NYSE 3,064 to 131. On the Nasdaq, 2,632 issues fell and 281 advanced.

Volume was heavy, with about 14.0 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges, double the 7.0 billion average this month, according to BATS Global Markets.

North Korea goes on war footing against South Korea as deadline looms


North Korea put its troops on a war footing on Friday as South Korea rejected an ultimatum to stop propaganda broadcasts or face military action, prompting China to voice concern and urge both sides to step back.

South Korean Vice Defense Minister Baek Seung-joo said his government expected the North to fire at some of the 11 sites where Seoul has set up loudspeakers on its side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the countries.

The South earlier rejected an ultimatum that it halt anti-Pyongyang broadcasts by Saturday afternoon or face attack.

The North's Foreign Ministry said in a statement the military and the public stood ready to safeguard its regime even if it meant fighting an all-out war, and it rejected the idea of restraint in an apparent rebuff of China's calls.

Official media said Pyongyang's military was not bluffing.

China, which remains reclusive North Korea's main economic backer despite diminished political clout to influence Pyongyang, said it was deeply concerned about the escalation of tension and called for calm from both sides.

Since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, Pyongyang and Seoul have often exchanged threats, and dozens of soldiers have been killed in clashes, yet the two sides have always pulled back from all-out war.

The latest hostility is a further blow to South Korean President Park Geun-hye's efforts to improve North-South ties, which have been virtually frozen since the deadly 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy ship, which Seoul blames on Pyongyang.

Park canceled an event on Friday and made a visit to a military command post, dressed in army camouflage.

Both sides traded harsh rhetoric late into Friday night.

The North committed “cowardly criminal acts,” South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo said. “This time, I will make sure to sever the vicious cycle of North Korea's provocations.”

North Korea launched four artillery shells into South Korea on Thursday, according to Seoul, in apparent protest against the broadcasts. The South fired back 29 artillery rounds. Pyongyang accused the South of inventing a pretext to fire into the North.

Both sides reported no casualties or damage in their territory, indicating the rounds were just warning shots.

“The fact that both sides' shells didn't damage anything means they did not want to spread an armed clash. There is always a chance for war, but that chance is very, very low,” said Yang Moo-jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

Joel Wit of 38 North, a North Korea monitoring project at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, said the artillery exchanges were worrying but things could well cool off again.

“When it's happened in the past, there have been dangers of escalation and the U.S. has had to restrain South Korea. It's a very dangerous situation, though it could die down and chances are, it will die down,” he said.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed on Friday for North and South Korea not to take any action that could further aggravate tensions.

SOUTH SAYS WON'T STOP BROADCASTS

The North's shelling came after it had demanded last weekend that South Korea end the broadcasts or face a military response – a relatively rare case of following up on its frequent threats against the South.

Its 48-hour ultimatum, delivered in a letter to the South Korean Defense Ministry, was also uncharacteristically specific, said John Delury, a North Korea expert at Yonsei University in Seoul. The deadline is around 5 p.m. (0800 GMT) on Saturday in Seoul.

South Korea began blasting anti-North propaganda from loudspeakers on the border on Aug. 10, resuming a tactic both sides had stopped in 2004, a few days after landmines wounded two South Korean soldiers along the DMZ.

North Korea on Monday launched its own broadcasts.

Baek told parliament the South's broadcasts would continue unless the North accepted responsibility and apologized for the mines. Pyongyang has denied responsibility.

“There is a high possibility that North Korea will attack loudspeaker facilities,” Baek said.

KCNA said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had declared a “quasi-state of war” in front-line areas.

There were indications the North was preparing to fire short-range missiles, the South's Yonhap news agency said, citing an unnamed government source. The North often fires rockets into the sea during annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which are currently under way.

The U.S. military, which bases 28,500 personnel in South Korea, said it was monitoring the situation. Washington earlier urged Pyongyang to halt “provocative” actions after Thursday's exchange of fire, the first between the Koreas since October.

Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group think-tank said the large U.S. troop presence in the South for the military exercises could reduce the risk of escalation by pressuring the South to exercise restraint, and deterring the North.

“This is a bad time to pick a fight with the South while it has all these resources there,” he said.

The Iran deal: getting to checkmate


The Iran nuclear deal has been likened, ad nauseam, to a game of chess. It is with that model in mind that I favor the deal — though not for the usual reasons. 

Proponents and opponents of the deal make a number of valid points. Most salient are the following: 

1) The sanctions regime is now kaput — with or without the deal; and there is no better deal to be had. 

2) After major sanctions (some $100 billion worth) are lifted, Iran will be freer to achieve all its ambitions, including nuclear. It will do so either by cheating (in the view of skeptics) or by simply interpreting ambiguous deal points in its favor (in the view of the Iranians).

3) Arguable Iranian violations of the deal (and what is not arguable?) will have no serious consequences. Most of the parties will wish to whitewash any violations to maintain the facade of success, and any objector will be left haggling with the Iranians. Also momentous, the decision to make an issue of any violation will have to be balanced against the deal provision that Iran may treat any reimposition of sanctions as relieving it of all deal obligations.

4) If the deal is not implemented, Iran will be legally excused from its contractual obligations to refrain from pursuing — and achieving in very short order — its nuclear weapon ambitions. 

Two other crucial points, however, have escaped the discussion thus far: 

First, President Barack Obama will never launch — or even condone — a military attack on Iran’s nuclear assets. His aversion to the use of force — or even the hint of threats — against Iran since taking office proves that much beyond any reasonable doubt. 

Second, no economic sanction regime or contractual deal obligations will permanently dissuade Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons. The sanctions brought negotiations, and the negotiations bought time, but that time is running out. A decade or so does not mean much to Middle Easterners with three-millennium memories.

Our old friend the shah wanted nukes, the ayatollahs want nukes, and polls have shown that most Iranians want nukes: What they all agree on is that, as heirs to the once-greatest empire on earth, Persia, they cannot be denied this modern-day ticket to great-nation status: Iran must get the bomb — and economic pain is a small price to pay. As Ayatollah Khomeini famously put it, the Iranian revolution was not about lowering the price of melons.

When Pakistan similarly pursued the bomb under threat of economic sanctions, our friend, the secular, Western-educated and -oriented liberal President Ali Bhutto proclaimed, “We will eat grass, even go hungry, but we will get one  [an atomic bomb] of our own. … We have no other choice!” 

Iran under the mullahs feels much the same way — but more intensely. Iran, too, agonizes that its detested enemy already has the bomb. But Iran also wants to re-create the hegemony of Persia as well as the religious zeal to restore Islamic supremacy, which necessitates eliminating the intolerable Jewish sovereign presence at the heart of the Islamic world. The added ingredient of martyrism inherent in Shia Islam is what makes this bellicose concoction especially terrifying. 

So why support the deal? Because it buys time. It provides limited but crucial time during which Iran still has reasons to delay its ambitions. And time until there is a new president in the White House who possesses a greater will to use force to stop Iran’s pursuit of a bomb. Most of the current crop of candidates fill that bill, some obviously more than others.

Deal defenders assert all “suspicious” Iranian sites will be inspected after 24 days’ notice — but Iran’s supreme leader has announced all “military” sites are strictly off limits. The Iranian calculation is thus quite simple: Shelter suspicious nuclear activity within your military establishment. This is the basis of the forthcoming dispute over which the entire deal is liable to collapse in failure. 

The U.N. Security Council, however, is the final arbiter of such a dispute. Russia, China and perhaps others will not vote to “snap back” sanctions (let alone stop violations). The new American president will then face a decision: Tolerate Iranian obstinacy and hope for the best, or coordinate with Israel a comprehensive set of measures, escalating to military strikes. 

If a better deal is to be had, it is then. If not, at the least, a new president will condone an Israeli attack. Equally important, a new president can be counted on to resupply Israel the day after, when the missiles will likely start flying from Lebanon. What awaits may be called a “war” — between Israel (not the U.S.) and Iran and its proxies — but at least it will not be fought with nuclear weapons. One cannot be so sanguine about such a war in a decade, give or take, barring a more realistic strategy. 

Congressional representatives and senators can vote their conscience against the deal. It is an imperfect, even bad, deal, after all. But if the no votes actually kill the deal and the additional time it provides, it could be a mistake of historic proportions.

When chess began in the Middle East, the final move was not called “checkmate.” It was “sheikh meit,” your “leader is dead.” The stakes are life itself. One doesn’t prevail in chess, politics or war by impulsively making feel-good moves. Victory is achievable only by calculating rationally and moving strategically. 

Game on.


Jon E. Drucker has a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University and was a legislative aide for foreign policy to former Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.). He now practices law in Los Angeles.

Video shows huge explosion that rocks Tianjin in northern China


A huge explosion hit an industrial area in the northeastern Chinese city of Tianjin late on Wednesday evening, triggering a blast wave felt several kilometers away and injuring at least 50 people, domestic media reported.

State broadcaster China Central Television reported that the blast had erupted in a shipment of explosives at around 11.30 pm local time and that an unknown number of people had been injured, the South China Morning Post said on its website.

Videos of the explosion showed flames lighting up the night sky and state-run news agency Xinhua quoted residents in nearby districts as saying the blast had shattered windows. Citing a local hospital, Xinhua said more than 50 people had been injured.

Iran deal: See dealer for details


The more I get into the Iran nuclear deal, the more it feels like the television show “Mad Men” — you know, those slick advertising geniuses who seduce you with promises but downplay the fine print.

It’s like one of those radio commercials for hot new car deals, where the announcer chokes on his breath while reading the qualifiers: “MSRP excludes taxes, title, other options and dealer charges; higher MSRP will affect lease price; dealer sets actual prices; lessee responsible for insurance; closed-end lease offered to approved customers only through participating dealers; additional charges may apply at lease end; supplies limited; offer ends March 1. See dealer for details.” 

Oh my, what a deal.

Well, it certainly reminds me of the Iran deal, which is littered with fine print, some of it quite treacherous. 

“Anytime, anywhere” was a wonderful promise … until we discovered the qualifier that Iran can delay inspections of its nuclear sites by more than 24 days. In fact, the process is so cumbersome and bureaucratic it can easily stretch out, according to The Wall Street Journal, to three months or more.

Three months or more! That’s like telling a drug dealer you’ll be busting his house next Tuesday at noon. As Jackie Mason noted, restaurants in New York City have a much tougher inspections regime than what we negotiated with Iran, because they can be inspected at any time without any notice.

This is not about partisanship or politics. It’s about something we all have in common: We hate getting ripped off, especially by slick Mad Men.

Why is this issue so critical?

Because a super-tough inspections regime was supposed to be our consolation prize for allowing Iran to keep its nuclear infrastructure. If you’ll recall, the original goal of diplomacy was pretty straightforward: The United States and its partners would make a major concession — the end of nuclear sanctions — in return for Iran making a major concession — the end of its nuclear program.

When we decided to concede to Iran the right to keep most of its nuclear infrastructure, inspections became the decisive deal point. Anything short of ironclad would seriously weaken the deal. Can anyone argue with a straight face that the inspections regime we negotiated is ironclad?

As bad as that is, though, it gets worse.

“Anytime, anywhere” came with another sexy promise: “snapback sanctions.” In combination, these two promises created an irresistible sales pitch: “We’ll surely catch Iran if it cheats, and when we do, the sanctions will snap right back!”

Irresistible, yes, but wait until you see the fine print.

Simply put, in the unlikely event that we ever do catch Iran cheating and try to “snap back” sanctions, there won’t be many sanctions left to snap back to.

Here is how Washington Institute’s Executive Director Robert Satloff explains it: “Let’s say that the U.N. Security Council does order the reimposition of sanctions. According to my read of the agreement, all contracts signed by Iran up until that point are grandfathered in and immune from sanctions. That means one can expect a stampede of state-to-state and private sector contracts — some real, many hypothetical — all designed to shield Iran from the impact of possible reimposition of sanctions.”

In other words, Iran can quickly rack up a slew of deals with Russia, China and Europe worth more than $100 billion and, even if Iran is caught building a nuclear bomb behind our back, we will have zero power to undo those deals.

I don’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat, this fine print stinks.

The grandfather loophole is especially lethal. Once the Persian mullahs make their irrevocable deals, why should they fear us? It will be difficult enough to catch them cheating — what will restrain them if they’re not even afraid to get caught?

As the emotions are heating up in our community over this deal, I’d like to suggest a less emotional reaction: Study the fine print.

I have, and that’s why I oppose the deal. It’s full of nasty surprises. There are many other examples, such as the sneaky switch from United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929, which says Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles; to the current deal, which says only that Iran is called upon not to undertake such activity. From the mandatory “shall not” to the permissive “called upon”— sneaky, indeed.

The Iran nuclear deal may be complex and hard to understand, but, in my book, the real danger is in the fine print. Study it closely. This is not about partisanship or politics. It’s about something we all have in common: We hate getting ripped off, especially by slick Mad Men.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Israeli filmmakers examine the Chinese ‘cure’ for Internet addiction


Wang “Nicky” Yuchao, a Chinese 16-year-old, thought he was going skiing in Russia with his parents. Instead they brought him to one of some 400 rehabilitation clinics in China dedicated to treating Internet addiction disorder.

Wang spends his days confined to a repurposed army base in Daxing, just south of Beijing. The facility is stark, with cold gray hallways and metal bars in places. Treatment consists of a combination of army boot camp drills, therapy sessions, board games and antidepressants. And of course, he is given no access to Internet or gaming consoles.

Two Israeli filmmakers, Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia, spent three months inside the rehab facility to chronicle how China treats addiction to what one therapist in the film calls “electronic heroin.” Their documentary, “Web Junkie,” premiering July 13 on PBS, follows Nicky — who had the habit of playing “World of Warcraft” some 10 hours a day — and two other patients throughout their months-long stints at the clinic in 2010.“Web Junkie,” which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, highlights the potential “dark side of the Internet,” as the filmmakers explain, by looking at kids who live their lives online — to the exclusion of all else, including family, friends and school. As Medalia told JTA, “Some kids wear diapers as not to miss a minute of the game.”

Back in 2008, Shlam saw an Australian news broadcast about a Chinese youth who was beaten to death in one of the country’s treatment centers. She said the story shook her and inspired her to make the film.

The director of the Daxing facility gave the filmmakers unprecedented access to the rehab center, even insisting that they stay on the base as opposed to commuting in and out each day.

It is still widely debated among psychologists whether or not Internet addiction is an actual psychological disorder that can be treated. China is the first country to list it as such, having done so in 2008 — some argue it was an attempt by the Communist government to further control its citizens.

American teens are online “almost constantly,” according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center. Internet addiction is not listed as a clinical disorder in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” published by the American Psychiatric Association. Gambling is the only behavioral disorder recognized by the guide, though Internet addiction disorder was listed recently in the manual’s appendix as requiring further research.

Israel also uses the manual and does not classify Internet addiction as an official disorder. Still, a 2012 study by the World Health Organization  indicated that young Israelis aged 11 to 15 spend more time surfing the Internet than their peers anywhere else in the world. Perhaps this isn’t surprising: As part of its identity as a “Start-up Nation,” Israel’s economy supports technological innovation, having created popular digital products like the navigation app Waze.

Geography aside, whether or not the problem described in “Web Junkies” is “an addiction or a social phenomenon — and if a social phenomenon can be an addiction,” remains to be seen, Medalia said.

“Web Junkie” premieres July 13 on the PBS series “POV” and will stream online starting July 14 through Aug. 13.

 

China balking at sending workers to West Bank settlements — over safety concerns


China is insisting that its citizens not work on Jewish settlements in the West Bank, but the objections are not based on politics.

An unnamed Israeli official told the French news agency AFP that a deal to bring thousands of Chinese guest construction workers to Israel is “stumbling” over the issue of whether or not such workers could be employed in West Bank settlements.

“Beijing is demanding that we ensure there are no workers in this region,” the official said.

The Israel-China discussions, part of a bilateral labor accord, is part of a larger effort to build affordable housing, according to Haaretz, which noted that China is objecting to West Bank jobs out of safety concerns rather than political ones.

Argentina’s Fernandez mocks how the Chinese speak … during tour of China


Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, on a tour of China to strengthen ties as the economy teeters on the brink of a recession, appeared to commit a diplomatic blunder on Wednesday by poking fun at how the Chinese speak.

While Fernandez's remark on Twitter that the Chinese pronounce the letter 'r' as an 'l' will be taken by her supporters as a light-hearted joke typical of her folksy style on social media, she may have offended her hosts.

In her message, Fernandez suggested that the Chinese struggled to pronounce “rice”, “petroleum” and “Campora,” the Spanish name given to the youth wing of her political party.

“More than 1,000 participants at the event … Are they all from the Campola and in it only for the lice and petroleum?” Fernandez tweeted.

Argentina has turned to China for loans to bolster its thin foreign reserves and financing for energy and rail projects as it grapples with another debt default and a stagnating economy.

There was no immediate reaction from Beijing.

Within minutes of her comments, '#Campola' was trending on Twitter in Argentina, with many voicing dismay and heaping scorn on the president.

“@CFKArgentina Without a doubt, she's gone to pasture,” tweeted one user.

Fernandez's erratic behavior has been scrutinized in past weeks, as she came under fire from political opponents for her handling of the death of a state prosecutor under mysterious circumstances, just days after he accused her plotting to stymie his investigation into a 1994 bomb attack.

Alberto Nisman, found dead last month with a bullet to the head, had drafted a request for Fernandez be arrested for her alleged meddling. The request was left out of his final submission.

A survey by pollster Carlos Fara and Associates published on Wednesday showed the two-term leader's approval rating falling 7 percentage points to 39 percent since November in the capital Buenos Aires and neighboring Buenos Aires province.

Argentines vote for a new leader in October. Fernandez is barred constitutionally from running.

“She makes a joke, as would any citizen,” said Fara. “Beyond whether you think they're appropriate for a president, they won't have much impact at home or abroad.”

Apple iPhone sales trample expectations as profit sets global record


Apple, Inc. quarterly results smashed Wall Street expectations with record sales of big-screen iPhones in the holiday shopping season and a 70 percent rise in China sales, powering the company to the largest profit in corporate history.

The company sold 74.5 million iPhones in its fiscal first quarter ended Dec. 27, while many analysts had expected fewer than 70 million. Revenue rose to $74.6 billion from $57.6 billion a year earlier.

Profit of $18 billion was the biggest ever reported by a public company, worldwide, according to S&P analyst Howard Silverblatt. Apple's cash pile is now $178 billion, enough to buy IBM or the equivalent to $556 for every American.

Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said the Cupertino, California-based company would release its next product, the Apple Watch, in April.

Shares rose about 5 percent to $114.90 in after-hours trade.

Daniel Morgan, senior portfolio manager at Apple-shareholder Synovus Trust Company in Atlanta, Georgia, said that the report was a good sign in a quarter where big tech companies such as IBM and Microsoft Corp have disappointed.

Apple Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri told Reuters in an interview that the company did not sell more iPhones in China than the United States, despite some earlier predictions by research analysts.

But the big-screen iPhone 6 and 6 plus drove revenues in China were up 70 percent in the quarter from a year earlier. The company's success in the competitive Chinese market can be attributed to its partnership with China Mobile Ltd, the largest global mobile carrier, and the appeal of the larger screen size of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

Maestri said he does not expect Apple to struggle because of China's slipping economic growth. “We haven't seen a slowdown,” he added.

Maestri also said the company doubled iPhone sales in Singapore and Brazil.

Apple will reach 40 company stores in greater China by mid-2016, Maestri told analysts on a conference call.

Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, also lauded a 14 percent rise in unit sales of Apple Macintosh computers and sales of older iPhone models.

Apple was well positioned for the current quarter in China, she added, which will include the Chinese New Year holiday and reflect Apple's attempts to sell through new channels.

Apple reported net profit of $18.02 billion, or $3.06 per diluted share, compared with $13.07 billion, or $2.07 per share, a year earlier. That topped expectations of $2.60 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Analysts had expected revenue of $67.69 billion.

Maestri said that Apple faced “a clear headwind” from the strong dollar but that it had included the challenge in its forecasts. Apple predicted revenue of $52 billion to $55 billion in its fiscal second quarter, compared with Wall Street's average target of $53.79 billion.

Cook said that the company's new mobile payment service, Apple Pay, which lets customer buy products from select merchants with their phones, was in its “first inning” and the company would consider adding new features as it looked at expanding outside the United States.

China to send two giant pandas to Israel


The Chinese government has agreed to send two giant pandas to a zoo in Israel.

The gift will be conferred on the Haifa Zoo if Chinese panda experts agree that the conditions there will be appropriate for the animals, according to Haaretz, including providing the appropriate food — a certain kind of bamboo. The zoo must also build a special habitat for the pandas.

A delegation from the Haifa Zoo must visit China to observe the rare animal, which is considered an endangered species.

Haifa and the Chinese city of Chengdu signed a sister-city agreement last week, according to Israel Hayom.

China has used “panda diplomacy” for hundreds of years to strengthen ties with other countries.

 

The I-word isn’t impeachment – it’s idiocracy


Is he – finally – the one we’ve been waiting for?

Just days after the midterm election, President Barack Obama made a big climate change deal with China, asked the F.C.C. to regulate Internet service providers as if they were public utilities and pledged to address the immigration mess on his own instead of continuing to wait for Congress to arise from its dysfunctional deathbed.

The president’s inaction on these issues until now was intended to prevent the electoral debacle and partisan caterwauling that happened anyway.  His previous patience has proven to be time squandered, and his search for common ground with folks who wanted his head on a pike turned out to be a case study in bad poker playing, if not wishful thinking. 

This post-election Obama is the one voters thought they put into office in 2008, but who spent the next six years being called naïve for projecting their civic hopes onto a cypher.  Whatever triggered his transformation – legacy clock ticking, nothing left to lose, stopbullying.gov – it’s a heartening moment for his base.  The challenge now for him is to deliver on that change; the challenge for his supporters is to rescue the stakes of these changes from soap opera.

We loves us our political melodrama.  “Will the Republicans force a government shutdown by baiting Obama to veto a budget that defunds immigration reform?” is the Washington equivalent of “What will Lance do when Kimberly tells him his lover is actually his sister?”  “Will the House impeach Obama?” is as effective a cliffhanger as “Will the train slice Pauline into pieces?”  The same narrative toolkit that makes stories entertaining – conflict, suspense, danger and rescue, power and perversion – also makes democracy theatrical and casts its citizens as spectators.   

The news media cover politics like a long-running serial in chronic need of crisis.  It doesn’t matter whether they caused this or merely reflect it.  Politicians are so accustomed to being performers that wondering whether Ted Cruz actually believes the things he says is as misbegotten a mission as searching for the real Justin Bieber.  It’s not our fault that the political characters angling for our attention seem no more authentic than the Punch and Judy roles they play – their words are scripted, their images are cosmetic and their stories hew to the genre conventions that spawned them.

The downside of storified self-government, and of experiencing pretty much everything else as entertainment, too, is that we relinquish our grip on reality.  In a series of 36 tweets (the perfect vehicle for such an argument), Grist.org columnist David Roberts, “>typographical error in the law – calls this “postmodern conservatism.” The right’s “nihilistic oppositionalism,” he says, makes its own reality.  They have “realized that if you just brazen it out, there’s no… ref to make the call.  In this way, every dispute, even over matters of fact, becomes a contest of power – loudest, best funded, most persistent voices win…. Epistemology becomes competing tantrums…. So there will only be increasing impetus for cons[ervatives] to retreat into fantasy, into simple morality tales… [which] always yield more motivated, organized constituencies than ‘it’s complicated’ ever will.”

Conservatives, of course, accuse the left of worse than fantasy.  The title of a book by James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican about to chair the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, depicts it as deceit:  “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.”  But all he’s really doing is reframing the left’s strategy – to inform voters about scientific data – as the plot of an airport thriller.  “The bad guys are gunning for you!” is much more entertaining than, “May I please explain this graph to you?” And the studio funding that storyline – the fossil fuel industry – has the largest marketing budget in the world.

It’s in the economic self-interest of the news media to make politics as fun as wrestling and as risky as a high-wire act.  That’s what drives ratings.  But we pay a steep price for the pleasures of circus and spectacle.  The most critical problem American society faces right now is, arguably, inequality, and the plutocracy that benefits from it, and the corruption that puts remedies for it beyond our constitutional reach. Every breathless story about impeachment occupies bandwidth not given to exploring the structural problems that Naomi Klein addresses in ““>Idiocracy”?  It projects contemporary commercialism, anti-intellectualism and the showbizzification of everything into a dystopian America five centuries from now.  Five minutes is more like it. “

My travels with the Wong family


My experience is that those of us who believe—albeit with qualifications—in multiculturalism don’t always have the opportunity to put theory into practice.

A transplant from Los Angeles to San Diego, I lived in a confirmed bachelor’s not-so-splendid isolation, with my housekeeper, Patty, and Maltese, Toby, before the Lord smiled on me. The smile came in the form of my association with the cross-border Wong family, who have enriched my observation of multicultural families beyond seeing them at Southern California shopping malls.

My computer consultant and the paterfamilias, 40 year-old Chris, is a blend of Latino and Chinese, born in the UK where his father  served in the U.S. Air Force. Chris’ great grandfather was shanghaied in the 1800s from China to the U.S., where he worked on the railroads up-and-down California before becoming a farmer and dying at a relatively young age in Mexico. Chris’ grandfather, a trucker, mostly transported produce across America, but once delivered  a Christmas tree to Ronald Reagan. His wife, Amor, is a U.S.-born Latina, who is punctilious about good manners and whose roots in Mexico hint at the exotic, though she is unsure whether her great grandmother really was partly Jewish. 

They started successfully building a family in San Diego until they were wiped out financially by the 2008 Crash. Ever resilient, they have relocated at least for a few years in Rosarita Beach, living at the ocean for a fraction of the rent, while maintaining close economic and families ties with relatives in San Diego.

The miracle of the Wong family, which has won my indelible affection, is their six children, ages 2 through 12. Their names  (from oldest to youngest) are Genesis, Jireh, Mission, River, Liberty, and Eternity. Chris has been a lay minister for several decades, and the children are being brought up as believing but tolerant Protestants, with great mutual love—but Internet access closely monitored.

Almost four year-old Libby has mood swings as tempestuous as summer showers, and is already extremely opinionated as well as intellectually sharp. Six year-old River combines perhaps a touch of autism with an artistic streak. Eight year-old Mission plays the piano and is already “macho.” Twelve-year-old Genesis (“Juby”) has her law career mapped out.

Their parents don’t play favorites, but I can. Although I love them all, my special delight  is Jireh (from the Hebrew for “provider”), who’s a 10 year old with a sweet nature, precise vocabulary, musical talents, budding gourmet tastes, race car enthusiasm, and soccer prowess. I am trying to teach him some history—not an easy subject to teach his generation. While on a recent visit to Disneyland, he conned me into riding  with him the “California Screamin” coaster in a front row seat. I am still recovering.

Though living in San Diego, I haven’t visited Mexico in twenty years. With some trepidations about cross-border developments (about which I have written in a scholarly vein elsewhere), I have now agreed to accept the Wongs’ hospitality in Rosarita Beach.  We just returned from a Sunday jaunt on the American side to Temecula where we visited my friend, Selma Lesser (now 95 years old), whom I wrote about previously in the “Jewish Journal” and who lives on her vineyard and winery. It was my pleasure to introduce the children to the wonder, at the other end of the spectrum, of great age combined with the wisdom of experience.

Multiculturalism is all well-and-good. I telecommute as a consultant for the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance is Los Angeles which promotes it. But abstract debates about the merits, pro and con, are no substitute for contact with the real thing.

Mercifully, the Wongs and I rarely discuss politics (though Jireh, I am sad to report, recently exclaimed “politics stinks!”—to which I did not have a good reply).  But we do discuss family trajectories, with my being accorded the honorary title of Tío  Heraldo. 

My association with the Wongs—an all-American as well as multicultural family—keeps alive my hope that we really do have a future worth investing in and, if necessary, fighting for.

*Born in New York but educated as an historian at UCLA,  Harold Brackman, a consultant for the Simon Wiesenthal's Museum of Tolerance,  is coauthor with Ephraim Isaac of From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, and African Americans (Africa World Press, forthcoming).

Protesters stay out on Hong Kong streets, defying Beijing


Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters blocked Hong Kong streets in the early hours on Tuesday, maintaining pressure on China as it faces one of its biggest political challenges since the Tiananmen Square crackdown 25 years ago.

Riot police had largely withdrawn and there were none of the clashes, tear gas and baton charges that had erupted over the weekend. As tensions eased, some exhausted demonstrators slept on roadsides while others sang songs or chanted slogans.

One young police officer relaxed in a chair and played on his mobile phone as thousands of demonstrators milled in the streets nearby, some singing and dancing.

Asked why there were so few police, he replied: “Actually, I don't have a reason for you. But we are tired. We are all human beings so we need a rest.”

The protesters, mostly students, are demanding full democracy and have called on the city's leader Leung Chun-ying to step down after Beijing last month announced a plan to limit 2017 elections for Hong Kong's leader, known as the Chief Executive, to a handful of candidates loyal to Beijing.

China rules Hong Kong under a “one country, two systems” formula that accords the former British colony a degree of autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, with universal suffrage set as an eventual goal.

Communist Party leaders worry that calls for democracy could spread to the mainland, and have been aggressively censoring news and social media comments about the Hong Kong demonstrations.

The outside world has looked on warily, concerned that the clashes could spread and trigger a much harsher crackdown.

“The United States urges the Hong Kong authorities to exercise restraint and for protesters to express their views peacefully,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told a daily briefing on Monday.

The demonstrations, labeled “illegal” by China's Communist-run government in Beijing, are the worst in Hong Kong since China resumed its rule over the territory in 1997.

At their height, white clouds of tear gas wafted among some of the world's most valuable office towers and shopping malls, before riot police suddenly withdrew around lunchtime on Monday.

As tensions subsided, weary protesters dozed or sheltered from the sun beneath umbrellas, which have become a symbol of what some are calling the “umbrella revolution”.

In addition to protection from the elements, umbrellas have been used as flimsy shields against pepper spray.

Organizers said that as many as 80,000 people thronged the streets after the protests flared up on Friday night. No independent estimate of numbers was available.

On Monday and early Tuesday, protesters massed in at least four of Hong Kong's busiest areas, including Admiralty, where Hong Kong's government is headquartered, the Central business district, Causeway Bay, known for its shopping, and the densely populated Mong Kok district in Kowloon.

“I must stress that the events happening now cannot be attributed to the students or Occupy Central. It has evolved into a civil movement,” said leader of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, Alex Chow.

INTERNATIONAL CONCERN

The movement puts Beijing's ruling Communist Party in a difficult position. Cracking down too hard could shake confidence in market-driven Hong Kong, while not reacting firmly enough could embolden dissidents on the mainland.

The protests are expected to escalate on Oct. 1, China's National Day holiday, with residents of the nearby former Portuguese enclave of Macau planning a rally.

Pro-democracy supporters from other countries are also expected to protest, potentially causing further embarrassment.

Televised scenes of the chaos in Hong Kong over the weekend have already made a deep impression outside the financial hub.

That was especially the case in Taiwan, which has full democracy but is considered by China as a renegade province that must one day be reunited with the Communist-run mainland.

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said Beijing needed “to listen carefully to the demands of the Hong Kong people”.

Britain said it was concerned about the situation and called for the right of protest to be protected.

Earlier, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing was “resolutely opposed to any country attempting in any way to support such illegal activities like 'Occupy Central'.”

“We are fully confident in the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong, because I believe this is in keeping with the interests of all the people in China, the region and the world,” she said.

In 1989, Beijing's Tiananmen crackdown sent shockwaves through Hong Kong as people saw how far China's rulers would go to keep their grip on power.

SOME BANKS PULL DOWN SHUTTERS

Banks in Hong Kong, including HSBC, Citigroup, Bank of China, Standard Chartered and DBS, shut some branches and advised staff to work from home or go to secondary branches.

While the financial fallout from the turmoil has been limited so far, Hong Kong shares ended down 1.9 percent on Monday.

About 200 workers at Swire Beverage, a unit of Hong Kong conglomerate Swire Pacific and a major bottler for the Coca-Cola Company, went on strike in support of the protesters, a union representative said. They also demanded the city's leader step down.

The protests have spooked tourists, with arrivals from China down sharply ahead of this week's National Day holidays. Hong Kong on Monday canceled the city's fireworks display over the harbor, meant to mark the holiday. The United States, Australia and Singapore issued travel alerts.

In Kowloon, across the harbor from Central district, tens of thousands of people packed the streets with no police in sight. The protesters were highly organized, with supply stations stacked with water bottles, fruit, biscuits, chocolate bars and other food.

Additional reporting by Donny Kwok, Elzio Barreto, Clare Baldwin; Venus Wu, Yimou Lee, Diana Chan, Kinling Lo, Twinnie Siu, Bobby Yip, Lisa Jucca, Greg Torode, Umesh Desai, Saikat Chatterjee, Twinnie Siu and Stefanie McIntyre in HONG KONG; Writing by John Ruwitch and Anne-Marie Roantree; Editing by Mike Collett-White

Israel’s Iron Dome makers were hit by hackers


Three Israeli defense contractors behind the Iron Dome missile shield and related systems were robbed of hundreds of documents by hackers linked to the Chinese government starting in 2011, a U.S.-based computer forensics expert said on Tuesday.

Comment Crew, as the hacking group is known, stole designs for Israeli rocket systems in a spree of attacks during 2011 and 2012, Joseph Drissel, chief executive of Cyber Engineering Services (CyberESI), said in a phone interview.

The targets of the online attacks were top military contractors Elisra Group, Israel Aerospace Industries, and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. The companies built the system that now partially insulates Israel from rocket barrages fired from the Gaza Strip.

Israeli and U.S. officials have said Iron Dome systems are responsible for shooting down more than 90 percent of the rockets they have engaged, while ignoring missiles on a trajectory to fall wide. That accounts for about a fifth of the rockets Israel has said Palestinian militants have fired into the country during the Gaza Strip crisis.

Krebs on Security, a blog operated by former Washington Post security reporter Brian Krebs, first reported details of the intrusions on Tuesday after being briefed by Drissel on his company's findings.

Four years ago, Drissel founded CyberESI, a threat intelligence consulting firm based in Columbia, Maryland. That came after a decade in the computer forensics lab of the Defense Cyber Crime Center (DC3), an arm of the U.S. Air Force, where he was acting section chief.

His company, which includes former colleagues from his U.S. Defense Department forensic lab, traced the intrusions into Israeli contractors and identified more than 700 stolen emails, documents and manuals pertaining to development of the Iron Dome project and other missile projects.

“'Comment Crew' is so named for a very specific reason: They insert malware with hidden comments on various public Web pages they control and use those sites as command and control centers to download stolen documents,” Drissel said.

CyberESI identified these sites and was able to grab evidence of the stolen documents before Comment Crew could cover their virtual tracks, he said.

Drissel said he was disclosing the attacks only now, after years of seeking unsuccessfully to persuade the affected companies and U.S. and Israeli government authorities to address both the security issues that led to the breaches and to take stock of what specific weapon systems may have been compromised.

In May, the U.S. Justice Department indicted five Chinese military officers who allegedly belonged to Comment Crew, also known as Unit 61398 and based in Shanghai. They were accused of hacking into the networks of U.S. Steel Corp, Toshiba Corp's Westinghouse Electric unit and four other U.S. companies in order to steal trade secrets.

Allegations of hacking and other espionage have strained ties between China and the United States, with Beijing denying last year that it had set up a special military unit to conduct such activity. China retaliated by shutting down a bilateral working group on cyber security.

Two of the Israeli companies named by Drissel declined to comment on the computer security expert's revelations.

An official at the third company, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, who declined to be identified by name, said of the report: “Rafael does not recall such an incident. Rafael's databases, including its air defense databases, are extremely well protected.”

A former senior Israeli military official said assertions that these key defense contractors had been hacked would fit with a pattern of military and industrial espionage around the globe.

“The Chinese have been doing that to all defense contractors in the West, so if this really happened, we are not alone,” said Uzi Rubin, a former head of missile defense at Israel's Defense Ministry and now head of the Rubicon consultancy firm.

Drissel said stolen materials recovered by his company included specifications for the Arrow III system and other ballistic missile defenses. Much of the technology for these systems was developed by Boeing and other contractors for use in U.S. weapons.

Rubin speculated that if the Comment Crew hacking group's purpose was to steal the missile system plans, it was likely that China wanted to obtain technology on the cheap rather that reselling it to other nations.

“If the Chinese really did it, maybe we shall see a Chinese Iron Dome in the future,” he told Reuters. “It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of a compliment.”

Chinese officials were not immediately available for comment.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Editing by Angus MacSwan

Iran, six powers agree to four-month extension of nuclear talks


Iran and six world powers on Friday agreed to a four-month extension of negotiations on a long-term nuclear deal that would gradually end sanctions on Tehran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, diplomats close to the talks said.

Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China had set a July 20 deadline to complete a long-term agreement that would resolve the decade-old dispute over Tehran's nuclear ambitions. But diplomats said they were unable to overcome significant differences on major sticking points.

“We have reached an agreement to extend the talks,” a senior Iranian diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Several Western diplomats echoed his remarks.

The extension agreed to on Friday begins on July 21 and negotiations on a long-term deal are likely to resume in September, diplomats said. They added that the talks were set to conclude by late November.

It has been clear for days that Iran and the six powers would miss the Sunday deadline to reach an accord due to disagreements on a number of key issues in the discussions.

Among the issues dividing them are the permissible scope of Iran's nuclear fuel production capacity and how to address the country's suspected past atomic bomb research. The negotiations began in February in Vienna.

The talks are taking place because of a preliminary agreement reached in Geneva in November 2013 that gave Iran limited sanctions relief in exchange for halting some nuclear activities and created time and space for the negotiation of a comprehensive deal to end the decade-long dispute.

But it remains uncertain whether four more months of high-stakes talks will yield a final agreement, since the underlying differences remain significant after six rounds of meetings this year.

Western nations fear Iran's nuclear programme may be aimed at developing a nuclear weapons capability. Tehran denies this.

The powers want Iran to significantly scale back its nuclear enrichment programme to make sure it cannot yield nuclear bombs. Iran wants sanctions that have severely damaged its oil-dependent economy to be lifted as soon as possible.

After years of rising tension between Iran and the West and fears of a new Middle East war, last year's election of a pragmatist, Hassan Rouhani, as Iran's president led to a thaw in ties that resulted in November's diplomatic breakthrough.

But Iran's new government still insists that the country has a right to develop a nuclear energy programme that includes the production of atomic fuel. The West fears that this fuel, if further processed, could also be used to make bombs.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters earlier this week that Tehran would be willing to delay development of an industrial-scale uranium enrichment programme for up to seven years and to keep the 19,000 centrifuges it has installed so far for this purpose.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry joined the talks last weekend and held several face-to-face meetings with Zarif, but he said before leaving Vienna on Tuesday it was “crystal clear” that Iran keeping all of its existing centrifuges was out of the question.

The United States and its European allies also want Iran to accept restrictions on its nuclear programme for at least 10 years, which Tehran says is excessive.

Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Vienna and by Alissa de Carbonnel in Moscow; Editing by Louise Ireland and Tom Brown

Israel welcomes tech-hungry Chinese investors


China's purchase of a controlling stake in Israel's largest food maker reflects a broader surge in Chinese investment in an economy largely tethered to Western markets.

The deal, announced on Thursday, gives China access to Israel's high tech expertise, cachet among consumers made wary by domestic food production scandals and an alternative place to put their money amid trade obstacles from a wary United States.

In return, China offers a large market and source of funding at a time of growing calls, especially in Europe, for a boycott of Israel over its failure to make peace with the Palestinians.

Overshadowed by its high profile move into Africa, China's role in Israel as been growing fast, despite concern among Israelis that strategic assets may slip from their grasp.

Economy Ministry chief scientist Avi Hasson said the country was second last year after the United States in terms of joint projects between Israel and foreign firms backed by his office, which funds high tech start-ups and facilitates business abroad.

“In 2014 I think China will be number one,” Hasson told Reuters. “Three years ago they were at zero.”

Economy Minister Naftali Bennet said Israel was “going East”, telling a high tech conference Asia had overtaken the U.S. as Israel's second largest export destination after Europe. “We are shifting our economic resources  to Bangalore, Africa and China, China, China,” he said on Thursday.

Not everyone in Israel is delighted by the growing Chinese presence, and some argue their firms will have to pay more for direct investment than more sought-after Western or U.S. brands.

The deal to sell 56 percent of Israel's iconic dairy firm Tnuva to China's state-owned Bright Food Group Co Ltd has hit an especially raw nerve.

Founded more than 80 years ago as a farming cooperative, Tnuva is a symbol of Israel's potent agricultural past.

“What normal country puts its food security and its entire milk industry in the hands of China?” opposition member of parliament Shelly Yachimovich said on Thursday.

Israel's former spy chief Ephraim Halevy, who also opposes the deal, has called on parliament to devise ways of protecting its major assets.

Underscoring concerns of possible espionage, Israel's internal security agency Shin Bet last year advertised for fluent Chinese speakers to serve in the Tel Aviv area, and presumably keep an eye on growing numbers of Chinese visitors.

The economy ministry has played down the potential problems.

“One of the reasons that I assume people have concerns is that it's the unknown. China is still a riddle for many people,” said Ohad Cohen, head of the Israeli Economy Ministry's foreign trade department.

BUSINESS FIRST

Unlike in many other countries, there are no 'Chinatowns' in Israeli cities to serve as a bridge, but growing contacts and trade visits should improve mutual understanding and Israeli's welcome China's reluctance to get involved in the Middle East.

“China doesn't care. The Arab-Israel conflict to them is irrelevant,” said a source who has worked on recent China-Israel deals and declined to be named.

While China has become the manufacturing centre of the world, it has not made such progress in innovation and technology. Israel, by comparison, lacks production muscle but prides itself on its high-tech inventiveness.

The Economy Ministry's Cohen estimates Chinese investment in Israel in the past three years has grown from zero to $4 billion. Foreign direct investment in Israel in 2011-2013 totalled $32 billion.

China says two-way trade has increased more than 200-fold in two decades, reaching more than $10.8 billion in 2013, making China Israel's third-largest trading partner after the European Union and the United States.

“The government of Israel has put the promotion of economic ties with China as a priority,” said Cohen, pointing to visits to China over the past year by both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.

Amir Gal-Or, Beijing-based managing partner of Israel-China investment firm Infinity, believes there will be a 20-30 percent annual rise in the number of Chinese acquisitions of Israeli firms in coming years, while investments in Israeli firms could double annually.

The only way China can balance between its rising global power and increasing cost structure is through innovation, which they are partly seeking in Israel, said Gal-Or.

GEOPOLITICS

Earlier this week, Tel Aviv University and Tsinghua University of Beijing launched a $300 million joint centre for innovative research and education, with Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong coming to Israel to mark the event.

“China has full confidence in the prospects for our relations,” she told a Tel Aviv conference that attracted over 350 delegates from China. “We believe we have a lot to learn from Israel, which is well-known for its innovation.”

Three agreements were signed this week between Israel and China promoting bilateral research and Israeli companies' participation in innovation parks in China.

Adam Fisher, an Israel-based partner at U.S. VC Bessemer Venture Partners who has worked in Beijing, said Chinese investors were looking for alternatives to U.S. markets.

At the same time, he said: “There's a void of investors in Israel. Israeli companies never get access to enough capital and don't raise nearly as much as their U.S. counterparts.”

But while Fisher expects Israeli venture capital firms to continue to raise money in China, he said direct Chinese investment in Israeli start-ups might be more difficult.

“It's not the same cachet as a U.S. brand or even a European brand, so there will always be a tremendous discount on Chinese direct investments in Israeli companies,” said Fisher, who has not raised money in China for his portfolio companies.

BILLIONAIRE

China's appearance on the Israeli financial stage started in earnest in late 2011, with the sale of 60 percent of generic agrochemical maker MA Industries – now called Adama – to China National Chemical Corp (ChemChina) for $1.44 billion.

The following year, Zohar Dayan, CEO of start-up Wibbitz, was scrolling through an email account he rarely checked when he came across a contact form filled out by Horizons Ventures, the venture capital firm of Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing.

Dayan, like many in Israel's U.S.-focused tech sector, was not familiar with Horizons at the time, but the email led to a $2 million investment in his firm, which has developed a technology that can turn text articles into short videos.

Today, Horizons is the single-biggest investor in Wibbitz, and the third most active VC fund in Israel in 2013.

At a modern building in downtown Tel Aviv with views of the Mediterranean, high-tech firm ironSource in April received a Chinese delegation led by Xu Xiaoping, founder of the ZhenFund seed fund and New Oriental Education & Technology Group.

“We are seriously considering investing in a few Israeli companies,” said Xu during his first visit to Israel. “The idea is to bring Israeli technology, innovation … into the bigger Chinese market and develop the technology there.”

China was particularly interested in mobile, Internet, biotech, medical and agricultural technology, he said.

The interest in Chinese investments is reciprocal.

“We are more active in seeking investments and China is now open, the awareness is there, we are on their radar,” said Gidi Sturlesi, CEO of biosurgical products maker LifeBond, which expects to raise money from China by early next year.

Editing by Crispian Balmer and Philippa Fletcher

China urges Israel to make ‘brave’ decisions on peace talks


Chinese President Xi Jinping urged Israel to make “brave” decisions on the latest round of peace talks with the Palestinians, after negotiators ended another U.S-mediated session with no sign of a breakthrough.

“At present, the Israeli-Palestinian talks process has entered a crucial stage; there are opportunities and also many difficulties,” Xi told visiting Israeli President Shimon Peres, China's foreign ministry said late on Tuesday.

“(China) hopes that Israel keeps in mind the broader picture of peace, shows strategic wisdom, makes brave decisions as early as possible, and pushes, along with the international community and Palestinians, for substantive progress on peace talks,” Xi added.

The U.S.-brokered negotiations, which began in July, plunged into crisis last week after Israel, demanding a Palestinian commitment to continue talking beyond an April 29 deadline for a peace deal, failed to carry out a promised release of about two dozen Palestinian prisoners.

China has traditionally had a low profile in Middle East diplomacy despite its reliance on oil imports from there, but is keen to assert its role as a force in international politics.

Last year, Xi met both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, urging them to revive discussions.

Xi, who took office in March last year, did not outline any specific proposals for the peace talks, saying simply that China would keep “playing a constructive role”.

Xi said the Chinese and Jewish peoples had long had friendly relations, pointing out China's role in fighting “fascism and militarism” during World War Two.

Beijing has maintained close relations with the Palestinians for decades. In recent years, it has also cultivated ties with Israel, though Israel is wary of China's links with Iran.

China, Iran's top oil customer and a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, has opposed unilateral sanctions on Tehran, such as those imposed by Washington and the European Union, and has called repeatedly for talks to resolve the stand-off over Iran's contested nuclear program.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ron Popeski

Relatives erupt with grief after Malaysia says plane crashed


Relatives of Chinese passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines flight screamed, cried and collapsed on the ground on Monday after the Malaysian prime minister announced the jet ended its journey in the remote Southern Indian Ocean.

At the Beijing hotel where many of the relatives are staying, family members erupted in shouts and tears after they heard the news, wailing and in some cases dropping to the floor.

One woman screamed out: “It's not possible, it's not possible!” before collapsing.

At least four people were stretchered out, having apparently been overcome with emotion. Others lashed out at reporters.

“Something is being withheld, something is being withheld!” shouted another man.

Others struggled to accept what they had been told.

“I want to tell the journalists…the information they just sent…is not true!” said one lady.

Flight MH370 vanished from civilian radar screens less than an hour after take-off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing with 239 people – more than half Chinese nationals – on board on March 8.

No confirmed sighting of the plane has been made since, but much debris has been found in waters off Australia which might be part of the missing plane.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said fresh analysis of satellite information from British company Inmarsat had shown that the last position of the aircraft was in the Indian Ocean west of Perth, Australia.

Several Chinese media outlets reported on their official Weibo microblogs that family members received a text message saying that “we have to assume beyond reasonable doubt” that none of those onboard survived.

China has repeatedly pressed the airline and the Malaysian government to give more information to family members and ensure they are being properly looked after.

Some relatives had threatened hunger strikes and protests in front of the Malaysian embassy to express their anger.

The official newspaper of China's ruling Communist Party, the People's Daily, wrote on its microblog that many questions remained to be answered, including why the plane ended up in the Indian Ocean and what exactly the new satellite evidence was.

“Search and rescue efforts cannot stop, and the truth must not be absent!” it wrote.

Reporting by Joseph Campbell; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Toby Chopra

Israeli scientists shoot for the moon with dishwasher-sized spacecraft


It's only the size of a dishwasher and weighs as much as giant panda, but its inventors are hoping this spacecraft will go where no other Israeli vessel has gone before – to the moon.

Working on a shoestring budget, the Israeli scientists and engineers building the shuttle – temporarily named “Sparrow” – believe it will land on the moon by the end of 2015, a feat only the United States, Russia and China have managed so far.

The landing will be the toughest task in the Sparrow's mission, not least because of the moon's many mountains and craters, said Yariv Bash, an electronic engineer and the founder of SpaceIL, the group building the spacecraft.

“(Landing) is going to be either 15 minutes of horror or 15 minutes of fame, depending on the outcome,” he told Reuters.

SpaceIL, which is backed mainly by philanthropists, was founded to compete for Google's LunarX Prize, unveiled in 2007. The $20 million prize will go to the first team to land a spacecraft on the moon, make it jump 500 metres and transmit images and video back to earth.

Thirty-three teams started out in the running and they are now down to 18, including competitors from the United States, Italy, Japan, Germany, Brazil, Canada, India and Chile.

SpaceIL believes it has an advantage because the unmanned craft is comparatively small – the size of a dishwasher with legs – and weighs just 140 kg (300 pounds).

Most of the craft's weight is its fuel and propulsion system. By the time it lands on the moon, it will weigh a mere 40 kg.

“The smaller you are, the less it will cost to go to space,” Bash said.

The grey, six-sided shuttle will be fitted with nine computers and eight cameras, making it the smartest and smallest spacecraft to have landed on the moon, according to Bash.

At the moment there is just a prototype, with plans to start building the real machine later this year, a process that should take 12-18 months.

“APOLLO EFFECT”

SpaceIL has raised $21 million in donations out of a total budget of $36 million it believes is needed to build and land the craft. It plans a crowd-funding event to secure the rest of the financing.

The group estimates other teams' budgets at $50-$100 million.

Unlike some of the other competitors in the space race, SpaceIL – which has a team of 250 people of mainly volunteers – is a nonprofit organisation and does not need to show investors a return.

“It's a harder sell to private investors,” said Daniel Saat, SpaceIL's head of business development. “We have to convince investors we are doing something of impact for Israel that inspires and changes the country.”

Even if it does not win, SpaceIL hopes to create an “Apollo effect” that will lead to a new wave of space engineers and scientists in the way Neil Armstrong's 1969 moon walk did, and turn space exploration into Israel's next start-up industry.

“For $36 million, we are going to show the world that there is no longer this glass ceiling in outer space exploration,” Saat said.

Israel, which has experience in sending spy satellites to the lower orbit, does not have capabilities to launch into space, although the Israeli Space Agency is looking to develop a civilian space programme.

SpaceIL said it was close to signing a launch agreement and was considering sites in the United States, Europe, Russia and Kazakhstan.

The Israeli craft will remain on the moon indefinitely and SpaceIL is mulling doing a scientific experiment in studying the magnetic core of the moon.

Should SpaceIL win the prize, they plan to invest the money into new projects, which may include a probe to Mars.

Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Maayan Lubell and Raissa Kasolowsky

As China looks on, Putin poses risky dilemma for the West


One senior Obama administration official called Vladimir Putin's actions in the Ukraine “outrageous.” A second described them as an “outlaw act.” A third said his brazen use of military force harked back to a past century.

“What we see here are distinctly 19th and 20th century decisions made by President Putin,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity to a group of reporters. “But what he needs to understand is that in terms of his economy, he lives in the 21st century world, an interdependent world.”

James Jeffrey, a retired career U.S. diplomat, said that view of Putin's mindset cripples the United States' response to the Russian leader. The issue is not that Putin fails to grasp the promise of western-style democratic capitalism. It is that he and other American rivals flatly reject it.

“All of us that have been in the last four administrations have drunk the Kool-Aid,” Jeffrey said, referring to the belief that they could talk Putin into seeing the western system as beneficial. “'If they would just understand that it can be a win-win, if we can only convince them' – Putin doesn't see it,” Jeffrey said. “The Chinese don't see it. And I think the Iranians don't see it.”

Jeffrey and other experts called for short-term caution in the Ukraine. Threatening military action or publicly baiting Putin would likely prompt him to seize more of Ukraine by force.

But they said the seizure of Crimea represents the most significant challenge to the system of international relations in place since the end of the Cold War. Flouting multiple treaties, the United Nations system and long-established international law, Russia has set a dangerously low standard for military intervention.

“There have not been attacks on ethnic Russians,” said Kathryn Stoner, a Stanford University professor and leading expert on Russia. “That's just a lie. There was no threat to the (Russian naval) base in Crimea. That is just absurd.”

She also argued that the scores of people who died in clashes in the Ukrainian capital before the Russian intervention were Ukrainians, not Russians.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES

But an unresolved international debate over a series of post-Cold War interventions is threatening to cause sweeping instability. From Europe to the Middle East to Asia, regional powers that might act militarily are watching events in Ukraine.

In Putin's eyes, the United States may struggle to claim any moral high ground. Some Russian and European commentators point out that the United States intervened in Kosovo in 1999 and invaded Iraq in 2003 without United Nations approval. And Russian officials have repeatedly said they regret supporting the UN-backed 2011 NATO intervention in Libya.

Russian officials and some western commentators have portrayed all of those interventions as western plots to weaken Russia or destabilize countries in the Balkans and the Middle East.

American officials flatly reject those interpretations. They argue that Russia and other authoritarian rulers are cynically manipulating facts and spreading false conspiracy theories to justify the use of military force to enhance their own power.

They point out that sweeping violence had erupted in Kosovo and Libya, threatening large number of civilians. Both interventions also came after months of diplomatic efforts and international public debate. And even the much-criticized invasion of Iraq came after a decade-long cat-and-mouse game between Saddam Hussein and United Nations weapons inspectors, and a year-long effort by the Bush administration to win UN support.

Whatever Russia's intervention represents, the immediate economic leverage the United States has over Russia is limited, according to experts. The most potent weapon Washington could use would be sanctioning Russian banks, companies or individuals, similar to the sanctions that have proven so damaging to Iran's economy.

When asked by reporters on Sunday whether such sanctions were under consideration, senior Obama administration officials declined to comment.

“We're not going to get into any more detail about what's being considered,” said one senior official who asked not to be named. “You are absolutely right about the vulnerability of Russian banks. We're looking at all of the options.”

TRUMP CARD

A difficulty with effective sanctions lies in Western Europe, where many nations now depend on cheap Russian natural gas to fuel their economies. Germany leads the group, with 60 percent of its natural gas coming from Russia.

Fiona Hill, a former National Intelligence Officer for Russia and Eurasia at the National Intelligence Council, credited Putin with strengthening Russia economically since gaining power in 2000. Though Russia still has economic challenges, Europe's dependence on Russian gas supplies gives Russia a trump card that did not exist during the post-Soviet chaos of the 1990s, she said.

“In the years since Putin has come to power,” she said, “he has removed our leverage.”

Putin has also increased the capabilities of the Russian military; crushed or co-opted dissent; and gained iron control of Russia's media.

Throughout the crisis in Ukraine, Russian media have portrayed the protests that overthrew the country's pro-Russian president as an American-backed coup. Hill said recent public opinion polls show that 60 percent of Russians approve of Putin's actions in the Ukraine.

Secure at home, Putin also fears little backlash from abroad. He believes the United States and Europe will publicly condemn Russia but implement few economic sanctions because Europe remains dependent on Russian natural gas.

“The biggest blow would be the largest companies in Germany not doing business” with Russia, Hill said. “That is what Putin banks on: Russia is too big and important.”

Stoner, the Stanford professor, said that Putin had outmaneuvered the United States and Europe. Officials in Washington and Brussels had failed to anticipate – or counter – Putin's methodical re-assertion of Russian power.

“NATO and the US, in particular, but also Germany – we've all been caught off-guard here in terms of anticipating this sort of behavior,” she said. “It's beyond what people would have expected.”

Jeffrey, the former American diplomat, called for a renewed long-term Western effort to increase leverage over Putin. He argued that the economies of the United States and Europe – which are roughly $30 trillion combined – dwarf Russia's $2.5 trillion economy.

He said long-term steps would be accelerating the negotiation of a trans-Atlantic free trade partnership and measures that would increase American natural gas supplies to Europe. A short-term step would be offering major economic aid to Ukraine's desperately cash-strapped new government.

“We are tremendously more powerful than him,” Jeffrey said. “We ought to be able to bail out Ukraine. We ought to be able to make Europe less energy dependent on Russia.”

Jeffrey said the days and months ahead will be vital. If Putin faces few long-term consequences for seizing Crimea, it will set a precedent for China and other regional powers who may be considering establishing 19th century-style spheres of influence of their own.

“The Chinese,” Jeffrey said, “are in the same position.”

Editing By Richard Woods