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Alternate universe Israel: A visit to the Jewish autonomous region of Birobidzhan... in Russia's Far East

Last summer, after three months of teaching in Japan, I decided to return home to Montreal via Birobidzhan, in Russia's Far East. The Jewish Autonomous Region was getting ready to celebrate its 80th anniversary, and I easily found people to host me.

Built by Jewish enthusiasts from a dozen countries including Argentina, Canada, France, the United States and British Palestine, Birobidzhan is conceptually akin to Israel, which also considers Jews as a nationality rather than a confession. But unlike the State of Israel, Birobidzhan was built on a true "land without a people" and did not have to displace anyone to make the Communist Jewish dream come true. This is one of the reasons an earlier plan to create a Jewish autonomous region in the Crimea, populated for thousands of years, was abandoned in favor of the Far East. Of course, most settlers came from within the Soviet Union, particularly from the Ukraine and Belorussia, where millions of Jews had been living for centuries. They wanted to contribute to the edification of socialism explicitly as Jews.

Two local Jews, cousins Sasha and Igor, met me at the Khabarovsk airport, the closest to Birobidzhan. Igor had recently returned from Israel after 17 years, two of which he spent in the military.

jewish oblast russia
© Yakov Rabkin
A sign marks the entrance to Birobidzhan.

Comment: Also by the author:

Jews in Iran: A travelogue

"Is it anti-Semitic to criticize and boycott Israel?" asks Yakov Rabkin

Bad Guys

America needs new consensus on what is of vital interest to its people, and what isn't

United States flag lady liberty
© David Holt, Flickr
"We will never accept Russia's occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea," declaimed Rex Tillerson last week in Vienna.

"Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns full control of the peninsula to Ukraine."

Tillerson's principled rejection of the seizure of land by military force - "never accept" - came just one day after President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and pledged to move our embassy there.

How did Israel gain title to East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Golan Heights? Invasion, occupation, colonization, annexation.

Those lands are the spoils of victory from Israel's 1967 Six-Day War.

Is Israel being severely sanctioned like Russia? Not quite.


Man accused of kidnapping British model Chloey Ayling claims she fabricated story to become famous

Chloe Ayling
© Global Look Press
Chloe Ayling
The man accused of kidnapping aspiring British model Chloe Ayling has claimed the whole ordeal was "fabricated" to make her famous. Lukasz Herba faces court in Italy on Wednesday over accusations he abducted the 20-year-old before holding her hostage for six days.

Ayling hit the headlines in July after she was found in Italy, having been shoved into a suitcase in an alleged kidnap and ransom plot. Ayling claims that she was offered a modeling job in Milan, but on arrival was snatched and drugged by a group calling itself Black Death - which is accused of selling sex slaves to the Middle East.

Six days later, she was found outside the British embassy. Young mum Chloe was reportedly spared after telling the kidnappers she had a child.

Herba, a 30-year-old Polish national, is in custody in Milan after his arrest. He denies knowingly taking part in a crime. His brother Michal Herba was also charged with being involved in the kidnapping.

Comment: Previously: Staged? Story about British 'model' allegedly kidnapped in Italy unravels (UPDATES)


French business paid $15.2 million to ISIS and terrorist groups in Syria, say human rights lawyers

LafargeHolcim CEO Eric Olsen
File photo of former CEO of the construction materials giant LafargeHolcim Eric Olsen who resigned in April
French cement group Lafarge paid close to $15.2m to armed organisations, including the Islamic State (IS) group, to keep operating in Syria from 2011 to 2015, human rights lawyers said on Tuesday.

The lawyers were speaking at a news conference on the course of a preliminary inquiry launched in June by French prosecutors into Lafarge's operations on suspicion of "financing of a terrorist enterprise".

The lawyers for rights group Sherpa said a large part of the money went directly or indirectly into the pockets of IS and that payments lasted until well after the closure of Lafarge's Jalabiya plant in September 2014.

They were citing a figure pinpointed by prosecutors examining Lafarge's activities in Syria, in the throes of civil war since 2011, and drawn from an internal report by US law firm Baker and McKenzie for Lafarge.


Human remains dug up adjacent to old Jewish cemetery in Poland, rabbi sees it as a scandal

© Kacper Pempel / Reuters
Human remains have been dug up near an old Jewish cemetery in Poland, in what the country's chief rabbi has described as a "scandal." The incident, which occurred during construction work, is being investigated by the local prosecutor's office.

The remains were found in the city of Siemiatycze Tuesday, on grounds adjacent to the fence of a Jewish cemetery. The bones were found during construction work for a new supermarket, parking lot, and electrical transformer station, according to AP.

Although reports state the remains were dug up in an area adjacent to the cemetery, beyond its fence, and that the land belongs to the Polish Motor Association (PZMot), Poland's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich said the area is still part of the cemetery, Gazeta Prawna reported. The rabbi said the Jewish community should have been informed that construction work was being planned at the site.

Schudrich called the incident a "full-out scandal" and "the worst deserialization of the Jewish cemetery" that he has seen since assuming his role as chief rabbi 17 years ago. Under Jewish law, human remains are not to be disturbed.


Caterpillar, Porsche among corporations that paid spy firms to collect intelligence on activists

© Global Look Press
Big, brand-name companies hired private intelligence firms to monitor political groups considered to be threats to their businesses, leaked documents reveal. The papers shine light on the shadowy world of corporate intelligence gathering.

British Airways, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Porsche and Caterpillar are among the companies that have been identified as having enlisted the services of corporate intelligence firms to spy on - and sometimes infiltrate - activist groups.

Hundreds of pages of leaked documents from two corporate intelligence firms, C2i International and Inkerman Group, reveal widespread use of spies-for-hire among the large companies over several years in the 2000s.

The corporate intelligence firms obtained emails, meeting minutes and other internal documents from the groups they spied on, according to The Guardian, which obtained the leaked documents in partnership with the Bureau for Investigative Journalism. Infiltration was also a common tactic used by the private spy firms. In one notable instance, a private spook "dressed up as a pirate with a cutlass and eyepatch as part of a protest."

Comment: See also:


Famed NYC restaurateur accused of sexual misconduct by 10 women

Ken Friedman
© Starpix
Ken Friedman
The owner of one of the city's most famous celeb hangouts, the Spotted Pig, has been accused of routinely groping female employees and demanding sex and nude photos from them - while allowing his buddies to molest them too, a new report says.

An after-hours space on the third floor of restaurateur Ken Friedman's tony Village hot spot is even known among workers and industry insiders as "the rape room" - where public sex is on display, according to the New York Times, quoting 10 women who are accusing the powerful businessman of unwanted sexual advances.

Former longtime server Trish Nelson said Friedman once grabbed her head as she was kneeling down behind the bar to get some glasses, told her "while you're down there," and pulled it toward his crotch - all in front of actress Amy Poehler - in 2007, according to the Times.

Comment: Piggish behavior, yes, but hardly worthy of losing his career over. What happened to the days when certain men were known to be pigs and women acted accordingly?


Politicization of sport continues as IOC sanctions Russian women's hockey team

russian women's hockey players
© Vladimir Fedorenko / Sputnik
From left: Ekaterina Lebedeva, Anna Vinogradova and Alexandra Vafina
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has extended its sanctions against Russia by adding six members of the national women's ice hockey team to the long list of athletes who are now prohibited from participating in any future Olympics.

The results of the Russian women's ice hockey squad from the 2014 Sochi Games, where they finished sixth, were also annulled by the IOC on Tuesday.

"Today the International Olympic Committee has published new decisions from the Oswald Commission hearings, which are being conducted in the context of the Sochi 2014 forensic and analytic doping investigations," the IOC official statement read.

"As a result, six Russian ice-hockey players, Inna Dyubanok, Ekaterina Lebedeva, Ekaterina Pashkevich, Anna Shibanova, Ekaterina Smolentseva and Galina Skiba, have been sanctioned. The case opened against a seventh athlete has been closed without a sanction."

Comment: Previously:


Bonfire of the academies: Former Evergreen State College professors on how leftist intolerance is killing higher education

George Bridges
At colleges and universities all over the country, students are protesting in increasingly virulent and sometimes violent ways. They demand safe spaces and trigger warnings, shouting down those with whom they disagree. It has become rote for outsiders to claim that the inmates are running the asylum; that this is analogous to Mao's Red Guard, Germany's brown shirts, the French Revolution's Jacobins; and, when those being attacked are politically "left" themselves, that the Left is eating its own. These stories seem to validate every fantasy the Right ever had about the Left.

As two professors who recently resigned from positions at a college we loved, and who have always been on the progressive-left end of the political spectrum, we can say that, while none of those characterizations is exactly right, there is truth in each of them.

The Evergreen State College is a public liberal arts college in Olympia, Wash., at the southern tip of Puget Sound, surrounded by water and forests. Being public means it has a socioeconomically diverse student body, which brings a variety of life experiences to campus. It is not an elite college made up primarily of rich kids. It is, rather, an experimental college with a curricular structure that, for both better and worse, is like no other. Most students take full-time 16-credit programs, for up to a full academic year. Instead of hopping from organic chemistry to genetics to art history, students are immersed with others whom they come to know well in full-time, interdisciplinary programs that are often team-taught by faculty. This allows professors to know each student individually, and is particularly well-suited to students with high potential and unusual learning styles.

Comment: What a tale! If it continues on this path Evergreen State College, for all intents and purposes, is finished. As this leftist mind virus spreads, the nation and the world will go the way of Evergreen.

Heart - Black

Six swans found stabbed and beheaded in London

swans beheaded
An investigation has been launched and a public patrol set up, after six swans were found beheaded in south-east London. The killing of mute swans, considered to be the property of Britain's queen, is illegal.

Two swans were found beheaded in Birchmere Park, Thamesmead, in November, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), and another swan was found in Southmere Lake, in the same part of London, while three cygnets are reported to be missing.

Park wardens, however, claim the baby swans, as well as a Canada goose, have been killed.

Inspector Nick Wheelhouse said "park wardens have informed me that they're aware of the deaths of three swans, three cygnets and one Canada Goose so far in recent weeks.