Polish embassy in Tel Aviv defaced with swastikas

Israeli police have released photos showing swastikas and slurs daubed onto the gates of Poland’s embassy in Israel. The incident came after the Polish prime minister suggested Jews were also complicit in the Holocaust.

Tel Aviv: Swastika graffiti on Polish embassy (Reuters )

Israeli police released photographs on Sunday of graffiti scribbled onto the gate of the Polish embassy in Tel Aviv, which included Nazi swastikas and the word “murderer.”

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld tweeted photos of the graffiti under the caption, “Police units searching for suspects in Tel Aviv after graffiti written on the entrance of the Polish embassy. Investigation continues.”

Police units searching for suspects in tel Aviv after graffiti written at entrance of polish embassy today. Investigation continues.

What is the background?

The incident came just a day after Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki prompted outrage in Israel for equating Polish collaborators in the Holocaust to supposed “Jewish perpetrators.”

  • At the Munich Security Conference (MSC) on Saturday, Morawiecki was asked by an Israeli journalist if Poland would consider him a criminal if he reported that Polish neighbors had betrayed his Jewish family to the Gestapo, Nazi Germany’s secret police.
  • The Polish prime minister responded: “It’s extremely important to first understand that, of course, it’s not going to be punishable, not going to be seen as criminal to say that there were Polish perpetrators — as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian … not only German perpetrators.”
  • He later backtracked from his remarks on Twitter, writing: “Dialogue about this most difficult history is necessary, as a warning. We will conduct such dialogue with Israel.”

    Sadly,this period also exposed dark parts of human nature, which for some meant collaboration with German Nazis. Dialogue on these difficult chapters of our history is essential—a dialogue we hope to continue w/ Israel. Today, I spoke about this with Prime Minister @netanyahu 2/2

Why this is important: Morawiecki’s comment reignited the countries’ diplomatic dispute over a controversial new Polish law, which allows the government to jail anyone who, “publicly and against the facts,” suggests Polish involvement in Nazi war crimes committed during World War II.

Read more: Israeli minister ‘honored’ by canceled Poland trip amid Holocaust bill row

Watch video02:16

Polish Holocaust law: an attempt to rewrite history?

How did Israel react? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his Polish counterpart had shown a “lack of understanding of history and lack of sensitivity to the tragedy of our people.” The two leaders also spoke on the phone on Sunday. Netanyahu’s office later issued a statement, saying the prime minister had “pointed out that the goal of the Holocaust was to destroy the Jewish people and that all Jews were under sentence of death.”

Read more: Poland’s new ‘Holocaust law’ widely condemned in Israel

Watch video03:31

Could new Polish law criminalize discussion of Holocaust?

What does Poland’s new law say? The law criminalizes ascribing blame for crimes committed by Nazi Germany to the Polish nation. Anyone found guilty could face a maximum sentence of three years. Morawiecki reiterated that the law made clear “there were no Polish death camps … There were German Nazi death camps.”

How has Germany reacted? Germany has repeatedly taken full responsibility for the Holocaust, with Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterating that Nazi Germany was responsible for the atrocities committed during World War II.

Read more: Angela Merkel and Mateusz Morawiecki seek to repair German-Polish relations

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dm/rt (Reuters, AP)

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Australia, US, India, Japan mulling ‘infrastructure scheme to rival China’

Australia, the US, India and Japan are talking about plans for a regional scheme to counterbalance China’s growing influence, a report says. A US official spoke of an “alternative” rather than a “rival” plan.

Train running from London-Jiwu (Getty Images/AFP/I. Infantes)

 Australia, the United States, India and Japan have been discussing a joint regional infrastructure scheme designed to be a rival to China’s multibillion-dollar “Belt and Road” initiative, the Australian Financial Review reported on Monday.

The paper cited an unnamed US official as saying the plan would possibly be on the agenda at talks in Washington this week between Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and US President Donald Trump, although he said the scheme was not yet ready to be announced officially.

The official was quoted as preferring to describe the plan as an “alternative” and not a “rival” to the Chinese “One Belt, One Road” scheme, under which Beijing has been funding major infrastructure projects, including ports, rail networks and roads, in more than 60 countries.

“No one is saying China should not build infrastructure,” the official was quoted as saying. “China might build a port which, on its own, is not economically viable. We could make it economically viable by building a road or rail line linking that port.”

The US, in particular, views the Chinese scheme as an attempt to increase Beijing’s global clout.

Read more: ‘New Silk Road’ and China’s hegemonic ambitions

Silk Road map

Nervous China

News of the planned joint initiative comes shortly after the same countries agreed to revive four-way talks known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD), first devised in the 1990s but later abandoned.  The quartet held talks on the revival in Manila on the sidelines of the November ASEAN and East Asia Summits.

Beijing has expressed its disapproval at the renewal of the QSD, which it sees as a bid to contain its economic advances.

Turnbull is to fly to Washington on Wednesday for a three-day visit at the head of a delegation containing a number of business executives. The meeting with Trump would be the fourth time they have held official talks in less than a year.

Turnbull was one of the first world leaders to congratulate Trump on winning last year’s presidential election.

Read more: China proposes ‘Polar Silk Road’ across Arctic to streamline trade

Watch video42:45

China’s way to the top

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Iranian FM calls Netanyahu’s drone stunt ‘cartoonish circus,’ says Israel ‘not invincible’

Iranian FM calls Netanyahu’s drone stunt ‘cartoonish circus,’ says Israel ‘not invincible’
Iran’s foreign minister ridiculed a security conference speech by Netanyahu, who used a part of a drone to make a point. He lashed out at Israel’s “aggression to neighbors” and mentioned the country’s “crumbling invincibility.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif spoke at the Munich Security Conference a few hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu displayed what he said was a piece of an Iranian drone shot down last week by Israeli forces. The Iranian official dismissed the use of the prop as a “cartoonish circus” that was meant “to blame others for its own strategic blunders, or maybe to evade the domestic crisis they’re facing.”

‘Mr. Zarif, you recognize this?’ – Netanyahu to Iranian FM https://on.rt.com/8zel 

Netanyahu uses fragment of destroyed drone to taunt Iranian FM — RT World News

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used a piece of what he said was fragment of an Iranian drone downed by the Israeli military to taunt Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

rt.com

He added that Israel was avoiding discussion of its own hostile and destructive policies in the Middle East.

“Israel uses aggression as a policy against its neighbors,” Zarif said, citing the regular air incursions into Syria and Lebanon. “The entire speech [by Netanyahu] was trying to evade the issue.”

Zarif also said that the loss of a fighter jet by Israel during the latest flare-up on the Syrian border tarnished the image of invincibility the Israeli military has.

Earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu called Iran the biggest threat in the world, and taunted Zarif while holding the aircraft fragment.

Courtesy: RT

Nigeria frees 475 Boko Haram suspects for lack of evidence

The freed suspects will undergo rehabilitation before reuniting with their families. The trials are part of Nigeria’s biggest legal probe into the militant Islamist insurgency that has plagued its northeastern region.

Boko Haram militants stand in a queue after surrendering

A Nigerian court has released 475 people allegedly affiliated with Boko Haram due to lack of evidence, the justice ministry said on Sunday.

The release order was issued on Friday.

The freed suspects will be returned to their home states for “proper rehabilitation” before being sent back to their families, ministry spokesman Salihu Othman Isah said.

The court handed a second 15-year-jail sentence to Haruna Yahaya, the first person convicted for the kidnapping in 2014 of the Chibok schoolgirls. Yahaya was also sentenced to 15 years imprisonment last week.

Both jail terms will run back-to-back, the justice ministry said in a statement.

The trials are the latest in a string of mass hearings which began in October at four specially-constituted civilian courts at the Kainji military base in central Niger state.

Read moreTrial of Boko Haram suspects in Nigeria poses legal nightmare

Watch video04:15

Boko Haram conflict threatens food security in Nigeria

Infringing on suspects’ rights

Humanitarian groups have criticized the Nigerian authorities’ for holding the Boko Haram suspects for years without trial or even contact with a lawyer.

Isah said the freed Boko Haram suspects were accused of either belonging to the terrorist organization or for concealing information about the group.

Read moreOpinion: Is Boko Haram really on its way out?

“However, the Prosecution Counsel could not charge them with any offence due to lack of sufficient evidence against them. Therefore, the suspects were released,” he said on Sunday.

In October, 45 people suspected of Boko Haram links were convicted and jailed. A further 468 suspects were let off.

The nearly decade-long insurgency fanned by Boko Haram militants in northeastern Nigeria has caused more than 20,000 deaths and has forced two million to flee their homes. Civilian militia leaders blamed the group for three suicide bombings which left 19 people dead at a fish market in Borno state on Friday.

ap/jm (AFP, Reuters)

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Watch video12:02

World Stories – Free Chibok Girls in Nigeria

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Sieren’s China: Vatican makes peace with Beijing

The Vatican has been negotiating with Beijing for years and now seems prepared to make huge concessions. If the Catholic Church wants to grow, it cannot survive without China, says DW’s Frank Sieren.

Xishiku Catholic Church in Beijing (Getty Images/K. Frayer)

From the outset, Christian missionaries have found China a tough nut to crack. In a letter to his fellow Jesuits back in Italy in 1601, Nicolo Longobardo wrote that there was “unity and harmony” in the kingdom and that everyone, both great and small, subjected him or herself to the same king and monarch, i.e. to the emperor. The missionaries thought that by winning over the emperor to Christianity, they would convert millions in one fell swoop. Jesuits tried again and again to woo the court and always failed. As heaven’s representative on earth, the Chinese emperor could hardly accept another, especially not one so far away surrounded by barbarians.

As confident as China’s emperor

Little has changed, really. Chinese President Xi Jinping is just as confident as the erstwhile emperors, and now powerful enough to put the Catholic Church and the Vatican in their place.

Read more: In Xi we trust — Is China cracking down on Christianity?

China’s Communist Party drew the lines in 1949, after taking power. It insisted that anyone who wanted to remain Catholic had to split from Rome and the papacy. The Chinese state only recognizes the Patriotic Catholic Association, which was established by the Communist authorities in 1957. Meanwhile, the underground church which remained loyal to the Vatican was forced to hold mass in private. It functions in a legal gray zone, being more or less tolerated by the state depending on the political situation.

Frank Sieren (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Tirl)DW’s Frank Sieren

Officially, there is religious freedom in China. However, a new law that entered into effect this year extends state control over unofficial religious communities too. The “house churches” will probably also lose some room to maneuver.

There are an estimated 10 to 15 million Catholics in China. That’s not many for a population of 1.3 billion. So there is plenty of potential for missionaries — something that has not changed too much since the 17th century. Just as the missionaries tried back then, Pope Francis, who is very much involved in geopolitics, is trying to wield influence at the very top: He is doing his best to cozy up to Beijing. This is a controversial approach that has triggered a debate among Catholics and others. To get a foot in the Chinese door, Francis recently agreed to recognize seven government-appointed bishops, although for decades the Holy See had only contempt for the Patriotic Catholic Association and its defiance of Rome.

Could a member of the People’s Congress earn Rome’s grace?

And that’s not all! The Vatican is apparently prepared to ask loyal bishops appointed by Rome to retire because the authorities in Beijing do not like them. Bishop Joseph Huang Bingzhang who was consecrated without papal approval and excommunicated, could replace the 86-year-old Peter Zhuang Jianjian from Shantou, who was consecrated secretly with the approval of the Vatican in 2006.

Huang is not only a servitor of god but also a member of the National People’s Congress.

This almost blasphemous development will surely have an impact on the faith of many clandestine Catholics in China.

Joseph Zen Ze-kiun (picture-alliance/AP)Retired Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun has expressed disappointment with Vatican attempts to cozy up to China

Retired Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, 86, has already expressed his disappointment. He has been a tireless advocate for the rights of China’s underground Catholics.

“Do I think that the Vatican is selling out the Catholic Church in China? Yes, definitely, if they go in the direction which is obvious from all what they are doing in recent years and months,” he said in a statement on Facebook.

Beijing and the Vatican are currently working behind closed doors on a fresh state church agreement that could sweep in a new era of relations between the two, starting in the spring. There have never been diplomatic relations between Beijing and the Vatican because of the contentious issue of nominating bishops, but also because the Vatican is one of the last states to recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty. Pope Francis has already signaled that he is prepared to sacrifice relations with Taiwan, however.

The church also has to secure its market

None of this is unfamiliar from the world of business. The stronger China’s influence becomes, the more Beijing can force its negotiating partners into compromising. The Vatican has said that overcoming the divisions will mean more freedom and security for Chinese Catholics, but surely it hopes to gain freedom on the Chinese market. Francis is behaving like the boss of a big corporation. The number of Catholics around the world is decreasing, especially in Europe, so new markets are necessary. This has worked in Africa and South America so far.

The Catholic Church needs China. So it has to play by Chinese rules. And just like every foreign company in China has to enter into a joint venture with a local company, the Vatican seems willing to accept that in China it’s the Communist Party that sets the rules, not god.

DW’s Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for over 20 years.

COURTESY: DW

Despite bad press, Japanese still snapping up cryptocurrencies

Consumers, retailers and the Japanese government are all committed to the widespread adoption of virtual currencies – although concerns linger that the craze for virtual cash may pass. Julian Ryall reports from Tokyo.

Bitcoin (Getty Images/D. Kitwood)

Hundreds of Japanese investors have seen their virtual currency savings wiped out by hackers. Experts warn that more cryptocurrency heists are “inevitable” in the future, prices have fluctuated wildly and change in the sector is happening at an ever-increasing pace – yet the nation’s taste for digital money remains undiminished.

On Tuesday, Tokyo-based Coincheck Inc. allowed users of the digital currency exchange to start making withdrawals once again, more than two weeks after the exchange was shut down after suffering the largest theft of digital currency in history. The thieves – who some experts have claimed are hackers working for the North Korean government – got away with 58 billion yen (€436.54 million) in NEM currency.

Read more:

Japanese authorities raid Coincheck headquarters

Cryptocurrencies: Japan sanctions Coincheck exchange after massive NEM coin heist

Japan’s Financial Services Agency has ordered the company to carry out a thorough investigation to determine the weaknesses in its system that the hackers were able to exploit, while an on-site inspection conducted on February 2 examined whether the exchange had a functioning risk management system in place.

Coincheck APP Smartphone Coincheck Kryptowährung (Imago/Kyodo News)Some see Japan as the perfect place for modern society to go completely cashless

Second major theft

The scale of the theft shocked Japan’s cryptocurrency industry, but suggests that operators have not learned previous lessons. In February 2014, for example, the Mt. Gox bitcoin exchange suffered a similar hacking attack that netted the criminals 850,000 bitcoins, valued at €380.48 million.

Yet more exchanges and virtual currencies are still emerging in a country that has long been considered on the cutting edge of new technologies.

“There is still a lot of confidence and a lot of energy in the development of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies here,” said Scott Gentry, founder of FreeAbound, a cryptocurrency development consultancy in Tokyo.

“This currency theft gives people an opportunity to dig deeper into just what the exchanges they are dealing with have in terms of security and I do not think it will change things over the longer term,” he told DW.

“It has been reported that the founder of Coincheck had been told to install multi-signature security protocols, but he told the authorities that he ‘never got around to it’ – and that is simply a dereliction of duty to his clients,” Gentry said.

“Yes, there will always be some cowboys in any business, but there are also a lot of very good people in this sector, so it will definitely grow.”

There are, at present, 16 digital currency exchanges in Japan and a further 16 awaiting approval to begin operations by the FSA. Those approvals have slowed down after the Coincheck robbery, but Gentry estimates that as many as 100 more companies are preparing to leap into Japan’s cryptocurrency business.

Read more: Bitcoin drops below $10,000 threshold

Companies sign up to virtual cash

Japanese companies are also making it easier for consumers to use their virtual cash, with upwards of 10,000 firms accepting bitcoin. Those companies include high-street electronics retailer Bic Camera and Peach, Japan’s largest low-cost airline. In addition, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, the eighth largest bank in the world, is reportedly developing its own cryptocurrency.

And all this is going on with the blessing – and even the encouragement – of the Japanese government.

In contrast to China, where the government has outlawed cryptocurrency exchanges, and South Korea, which has banned anonymous transactions, Japan has embraced the opportunity to take the lead in the Asia-Pacific cryptocurrency race.

Tokyo believes virtual currencies will drive economic growth and create a new source of tax revenue. One suggestion has been that the evolving industry could earn the Japanese government an additional 1 trillion yen (€7.41 billion) a year.

“There are plenty of foreign investors who want to come to Japan to operate and I have two contacts – an American from Silicon Valley and an investor from Dubai – who have teamed up and are looking to put $100 million into their own exchange in Japan,” said Gentry.

“They believe it has huge potential, but also the computing technology here is second-to-none, and that is what they need.”

At the moment, the majority of Japanese who are buying cryptocurrencies are investors who see their virtual savings as a nest-egg for the future.

“I got my first Bitcoin Cash in January after a Japanese friend showed me just how easy it is to use the system, to transfer money around and, potentially, how easy it is to make a lot of money,” said Chris Dunn, an Australian businessman who lives in Japan.

Read more: Blockchain the future for remittance payments?

Watch video04:57

Yet another cryptocurrency

Investment declines

Dunn’s investment has coincided with the value of Bitcoin and other currencies declining – he estimates that his holdings are now worth around half of their peak value – and he admits to being concerned about what is essentially a new and poorly regulated system of payments.

“I can see there are some huge advantages – it is quick, it cuts out banks and their charges and it can increase in value a lot – but the volatility of these new currencies is a big concern,” he said.

“And yes, Japan is a society that always gets excited about new technologies and the ‘next big trend,’ but I have my doubts about cryptocurrencies catching on over the longer terms in what is essentially a cash-based society and a nation with a growing number of old people who are often averse to change,” he added.

Yet others disagree and see Japan as the perfect place for modern society to go completely cashless.

“I believe Japan has the potential to become a cashless society,” said Hikaru Kusaka, joint founder of Blockhive OU, an Estonia-based blockchain developer, pointing out that it makes “”no sense” to produce coins with a face value of 500 yen (€3.77) when it costs more than that to manufacture them.

COURTESY: DW

Are China and Russia challenging US military dominance?

China is strengthening its military might, while Russia is asserting its foreign policy influence. IISS expert Bastian Giegerich talks to DW about changing US global dominance and the threat of a “great-power war.”

China J-20 fighter jet (Reuters/China Daily)

DW: You note in the IISS 2018 Military Balance report that China has been investing heavily in its air force. Is Beijing now on par with Washington in terms of air dominance?

Bastian Giegerich: China is not yet on par with the United States but it’s catching up. And in some selected areas, our assessment is indeed that China is doing more than just catching up. There are a couple of examples to illustrate that: For instance, we assess that China will add an extended-range air-to-air missile to its inventory this year, and we expect its stealth fighter jet, the J-20, to enter front-line service by 2020. And those are indeed advanced capabilities that challenge air superiority for the United States: At the very least, they will have the effect that the air domain will become a very contested domain again. Operational assumptions over the past two decades for the US, and I would say Western militaries in general, have been that the West and the US own the air domain and can operate in it with great freedom. I think those days now are over.

Your report also notes that China is investing heavily in its navy. What’s the goal in that? 

In the last four years, China has built vessels with a total tonnage that is greater than the total tonnage of the French Navy and is roughly equivalent to the total tonnage of the British Royal Navy. So, clearly the goal for China here is to further develop its blue-water capabilities. In other words, the ability to project force at extended range across the seas.

And the other element which is important to this is that China has opened its first overseas base in Djibouti, which will enable more naval deployments because it will be a base that will help to sustain deployed vessels over time and thereby further contribute to China’s ability to expand power across the oceans.

In Russia, the story seems to be very different. Is Moscow having difficulties when it comes to modernizing its military forces?

Russia has felt that economic difficulties … pose limits to its ability to fund its ambitious defense modernization program. So, in our assessment, that defense modernization program has slowed down a little bit.

The important difference is, however, not just in terms of the ability to spend but the ability to operate and practice. Unlike China, Russia has used, and continues to use, its armed forces in conflicts — in Syria and also with a view to eastern Ukraine. So Russia has gathered a lot of experience using new equipment, using new technologies, putting its personnel through different rotations on operations. It has an advantage there. And China has not yet done that.

Bastian Giegerich International Institute for Strategic Studies (James Clements)Giegerich and his team compiled the 2018 Military Balance report

Under President Donald Trump the US has been urging its European allies to invest more in the military. And this year’s report notes a dramatic increase in European military spending 2017. Do you think this is due to the pressure from Washington?

I think more than anything else it is driven by a recognition in Europe that the world is a dangerous place, that threat perceptions have changed. I would say that is mostly driven by Russia’s more assertive foreign policy behavior, and of course the conflict in Ukraine. American pressure has certainly played a role as well, but it would be wrong to say the spending increases in Europe are a Trump effect — they actually started before Trump took office.

The gloomiest part of your analysis might be the possibility of a great-power conflict. China, Russia and the US are modernizing their nuclear arsenals. Are we returning to the beginning of the 1980s?

I don’t think that’s quite accurate. But I think what we are seeing is a situation where the possibility of a great-power conflict is now probably higher than it was at any point in the past 20 years. That does not mean that a great-power conflict or a great-power military conflict is inevitable … but it is more likely. And part of it is a result of Russia and China challenging the global predominance of the United States and systematically preparing for the possibility of conflict. Nuclear weapons of course are the ultimate deterrence, so to speak. And we’ve looked at the nuclear modernization programs of the three big powers — China, Russia and the US — and all of them are in the process of modernizing their nuclear forces.

Bastian Giegerich is the director of defense and military analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). He leads the team that publishes the annual Military Balance report.

COURTESY: DW