Week of September 11th

  • Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down the current government arrangement allowing for mass exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews from compulsory military service, calling it discriminatory and unconstitutional. The ruling redraws the battle lines over an issue that has long roiled Israeli society. The policy of open-ended deferment dates to 1949 when Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, exempted 400 religious students from military service in an effort to restore the tradition of yeshiva scholarship, which had been nearly destroyed during the Holocaust. The issue has since become tendentious, with the number of those who have been exempted by now amounting to tens of thousands. Those who support wholesale deferment and exemption for Torah students in seminaries argue that Israel needs spiritual preservation as much as physical protection. Critics protest that the fast-growing ultra-Orthodox minority, known in Hebrew as Haredim are not contributing enough to the country’s economy or security, leaving others to bear an unfair burden. Ultra-Orthodox politicians strongly denounced the ruling and vowed to fight it, but given the yearlong time frame for amending the law, the stability of the governing coalition between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Yesh Atid, the party supporting the end of the exemption, did not appear to be in imminent danger.
  • Diplomats from Qatar and the four states boycotting it exchanged heated words at an Arab League meeting on Tuesday. Tensions flared after Qatar’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sultan bin Saad al-Muraikhi discussed the boycott in his opening speech despite the Gulf dispute not being on the agenda. He called the Gulf monarchy’s critics “rabid dogs”. “Even the animals were not spared, you sent them out savagely,” Muraikhi said, referring to the thousands of camels left stranded on the border between Qatar and Saudi Arabia after borders were closed. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain cut diplomatic and trade links with Qatar on June 5, suspending air and shipping routes with the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, which is home to the region’s biggest U.S. military base.
  • A Turkish consular official in Geneva announced a rare, ancient sarcophagus depicting the 12 labors of Hercules was to be shipped home to Turkey on Wednesday. The sarcophagus sat for years in Geneva’s customs-office warehouse before being seized by Swiss customs officials in 2010. Ending a legal battle, the Geneva prosecutor’s office in 2015 approved the restitution. Consul Levant Ceri says the hulking relic will eventually be displayed in the Antalya Archaeological Museum. The second-century marble coffin shows scenes like Hercules strangling the Nemean Lion and killing the Hydra. It has been traced to the ancient Roman city of Dokimeion, believed to be in today’s Antalya province. Experts believe it is one of only 12 in the world. Read more about the 12 labors of Hercules here.
  • Tunisia has abolished a decades-old ban on Muslim women marrying non-Muslims. The announcement comes a month after President Beji Caid Essebsi called for the government to scrap the ban dating back to 1973. Until now a non-Muslim man who wished to marry a Tunisian woman had to convert to Islam and submit a certificate of his conversion as proof. Tunisia is viewed as being ahead of most Arab countries on women’s rights, but there is still discrimination particularly in matters of inheritance.
  • The New York Times reported on Iran’s attempt to address the challenge of alcoholism in a country where it has been banned since 1979. Taboo in Islam, alcohol use in Iran has nonetheless flourished. Since 2015, however, when the Health Ministry ordered addiction treatment centers to care for alcoholics, dozens of private clinics and government institutions have opened help desks and special wards for alcoholics. The government has also allowed a large and growing network of Alcoholics Anonymous groups, modeled after those in the United States. President Rouhani, who came to power in 2013, has been trying to insert realism into Iran’s often strict ideology. The decision to open more alcohol treatment clinics came from his Health Ministry, and reflects the way many social changes are introduced in Iran: quietly ordered and carried out by local governments under the radar.
  • In the Kingdom of Jordan, the Judicial Council recently announced some notable new appointments, including that of Ihsan Zuhdi Barakat, the Amman Court of Appeal judge who has been promoted to the supreme court, becoming the first Jordanian woman to ever reach the highest position in the judiciary. According to the Jordan Times, Barakat has already made huge strides as a woman in the field of law, as she was the first woman in the kingdom to serve as Amman’s attorney general, the first to chair the West Amman Court, and the first to be appointed as an inspector at the Judicial Inspections Directorate. As of 2016, when women constituted 18% of the judiciary, Barakat was one of 176 other female judges in Jordan.
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