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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Four Stories

In Saturday’s New York Times, there were four stories that affected me more than others. The first was the coverage of the latest attempt of Israel’s nationalist camp to strangulate the country’s democracy by silencing the voices of those who do not agree with its ideology. This time it was the far right group Im Tirtzu (If You Will) attack on cultural Israeli icons in the fields of literature, theatre, music, and more. In a true form of McCarthyism, the group accused their targets of being “moles in culture.” Though the organization has since apologized amid criticism from leaders who belong to both the left and right camps of the political spectrum, the group has no intention to cease its attacks on the Israeli left, or what is left of it. I have always praised Israel’s democracy – however imperfect  - proud of, among other things, the country’s free elections, its merciless free press, and its active civil society. But decades of continued occupation, the radicalization of a religious minority, and an atmosphere that was created by the current government – the most right wing ideological cabinet the country has had – seriously threaten the survival of that democracy.

The second story, albeit short, is about France’s recent announcement that it intends to organize an international peace conference in an attempt to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict. I wish France much luck. In the past similar attempts, even during more favorable regional conditions that exist today, had failed. It looks as if France will sooner than later recognize the Palestinian Authority as a state, conforming to Paris’s threat in case the conference would fail.   

The third piece reported the abuse by United Nations peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. According to the report, soldiers of a European Union peacekeeping contingent had raped two teenage girls and paid a 7-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl for sex.  This was only the latest report of such abuses. Rape and sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers have created an endemic problem, which Secretary General Ban Ki-moon must confront with more serious steps than appointing an independent panel investigation these cases.

Lastly, there was a piece of Philippine sex slaves (known as “comfort women”). Along with Chines and Korean women, the Japanese army used them as sex slaves during World War II. Their story touched me most, as that subject always does. The effect of war and its aftermath on women is an issue that is closest to my heart, perhaps because of my own personal experiences, which I tell in my memoir No Laughter in Winter. Its English version is currently being edited.

According to the Times, there are 80,000-200,000 estimated “comfort women,” some of whom are still alive. After years of their activism, Japan has recently extended an apology and monetary compensation to Korean sex slaves. But it did not offer the same to other groups. It is heartening that the elderly victims who are still alive got the courage to tell their stories after decades of shame and silence. Let the Japanese government learn from these women and get the same courage to admit to their war crimes against women and do the right thing by them.

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