Dems, GOP plot strategies in Arizona’s CD2 race

With Democratic enthusiasm surging, record-breaking turnout might come to Arizona’s Second Congressional District midterm election, said Ron Barber, a former holder of the seat.

“If that kind of energy continues, I think we’re going to have a different kind of midyear voter turnout,” Barber said.

The seat is held by Rep. Martha McSally, who is running for U.S. Senate.

Arizona’s Second Congressional District includes the eastside of Pima County and Cochise County, and is considered a battleground race.

Seven Democrats are campaigning for the seat: Ann Kirkpatrick, former member of the U.S. House; Billy Kovacs, local entrepreneur and co-founder of “Prep & Pastry”; Mary Matiella, former assistant secretary of the Army Financial Management and Comptroller; Bruce Wheeler, former member of the Arizona House of Representatives; Barbara Sherry, a rancher from McNeal; Matt Heinz, a physician at Tucson Medical Center and former member of the Arizona House of Representatives; and William Foster.

Lea Márquez-Peterson, president and CEO of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is running as the Republican candidate.

Even though Arizona is a Republican state, the district is split three ways, Barber said, which usually makes for a tight race. Cochise County is more conservative and the eastside of Pima County is centrist, or center-left, he said. Typically, a Democratic candidate tries to narrow their loss in Cochise. One way to bridge the gap is to push for a big turnout in towns like Douglas or Bisbee, focusing on how to win liberal votes in a conservative area.

Both counties are evenly divided, according to the latest state statistics. Cochise County residents lean conservative: 39 percent Republican, 35 percent Independent and 26 percent Democratic. While Pima County voters are more liberal: 38 percent Democratic, 32 percent Independent and 30 percent Republican.

But turnout slumped in the district during the last three midterm elections.

Read the entire article via the Arizona Sonora News Service. Originally published Feb. 14, 2018.


Covering CD2 reveals America’s protest vote in Southern Arizona

Tucson felt like a righteous metropolis tonight as I honked my way through downtown, winding along Congress Street and Fourth Avenue. That’s what happens when you spend half the day in Sierra Vista. I’m covering Arizona’s Second Congressional District midterm election, so I felt it important to touch base with the Cochise County Republicans. Putting a face to the name helps in more situations than not. Plus I needed to get out of town—for perspective.

Just before three, I took Speedway Boulevard west to Interstate 10 East, and at Benson it was Arizona State Route 90 South for about 30 miles.

It’s a breathtaking drive. Twenty-three mph gusts toyed with my car. You could see 225 miles in each direction. I never imagined a barren landscape would enchant my soul. I cut through the desert, mainly flanked by pickup trucks. Plenty of beards and firepower here, I thought, while passing an oversized gun depot. These are good people. As a New Yorker, most of the country holds a surreal temperament and appears spacious, obtuse or oddly foreign. But we’re all our own pathetic stereotype, which provides an invaluable source of comedic relief.

My unexpected arrival at the office interrupted Bible study. I was overdressed, which is fairly normal. Vera Hylsky, of at the Cochise County Republican Party, introduced herself and asked if she could help. We chatted for a few minutes, as I explained my motivation for dropping by.

Maybe I should have called ahead, I thought. I’m glad I didn’t.

I was looking for a volunteer who I spoke with three days earlier. She was out of the office. But I was offered her contact information and immediately rang her. No answer on either line. So I made myself comfortable and looked around the 30-foot square room.

Running counterclockwise from the front door, the walls are littered with information about Republican politicians and candidates. First it was Trump/Pence, next was Rep. Martha McSally and as you moved through the space the candidates’ stature decreased in national importance. Hylsky explained she organized it this way for simplicity.

At half passed four, the study group was wrapping up their conversation and birthday celebration—one of the five retirees was turning 90. I overheard them discussing the controversy surrounding Trump recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Another topic at hand was the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The details surrounding the latter were murky. I didn’t bother to ask, especially after Hylsky told her cohort I’m a reporter. As they left, we shared pleasantries and I was wished the best of luck with my article.

Is there a liberal bias in the media, Hylsky asked, as we got to talking.

The bias is dependent upon what your readership asks of you, I said, which was the easiest way to indirectly agree.

There are more liberal-leaning newspaper though, she clarified. Of course, I replied.  

The real lost art is reporting hard facts, I furthered; everything is editorialized these days.

Hylsky said her son, a former journalism major, has been saying that for years.

This space made me uneasy, not because I disagree with Conservative politics, but this particular brand of rhetoric is foreign. It felt as if I walked into a church run by an unfamiliar denomination. We’re all “People of the Book” if we subscribe to politics—our saviors simply speak a different language.

Have you seen an increase in people registering with the Republican party here in Cochise, I asked.

Absolutely, Hylsky said without thinking twice. During the Presidential race, there was a large influx of Cochise County residents who registered with the GOP, she said; many were Democrats who were switching parties in order to place their protest vote.

Wait, what? Please repeat that, I furthered. Democrats in Cochise County—who account for less than 27 percent of local registered voters—were joining the GOP because they were that averse to Hillary Clinton winning the election, I asked for clarification. Yes, said Hylsky.

It was difficult to process this information in real time. Two things were clear: it took one question and roughly an hour to find out earth-shattering information about rural politics in Arizona. How many communities throughout the U.S. experienced this convulsion against a Clinton presidency, I thought. More important, why aren’t we reading stories like this?

We rapped for a few more minutes, then it was quitting time for Hylsky.

I decided to grab a sandwich from a local chain restaurant before leaving Sierra Vista. I scribbled a few notes, read bits of news and took time to enjoy my meal. The temperature plummeted as the sun set. I circled around town a taste, eventually weaving through Huachuca City. My attorney called while I was en route, insisting I stop at the Dusk Till Dawn Cabaret and ask for Bunny. That joint’s been closed for years, I jeered back at him. It’s a shame you took so long to leave your city, he said.

Western-based media’s problematic framing of terrorism

Although Frontline’s “How ISIS Came to Be: Four Docs to Watch” offered some important information about the U.S. conflict with Daesh, the special is rife with misleading news frames. The films touch on all of Robert Entman’s conceptualizations of news media framing, which include: define problems, diagnose causes, make moral judgements and suggest remedies.

More than 16 years after September 11, 2001, the mainstream media still packages news via a “one-sided” vantage, perpetuating “a broad consensus about how terrorist events should be interpreted within any particular community” (Norris). But acts of terrorism are political in nature and “terrorism is ‘a method, a modus operandi, not an ideology or worldview’” (Morin).

Granted, the special points to the failures in U.S. intelligence under two former presidents and their lack of clear, justifiable foreign policy. Within this analysis, we can hope the current U.S. administration will capitalize on the mistakes of the past by refusing to err in the same fashion. Conversely, President Donald Trump’s “travel ban” as well as his rhetoric about Daesh operatives being “evil” suggest America is destine to make the same mistakes in the Middle East.

The most egregious display of framing news as a moral judgement occurred in “Confronting ISIS.” Martin Smith speaks with Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, and asks whether Wahhabi Islamic teachings are the cause for extremism. Smith casually links Daesh to Wahhabism, stating this is the religion “from which ISIS springs.” Then he talks with Farah Pandith, former U.S. rep. to Muslim peoples, who says Wahhabism can be blamed for Daesh’s brutality and thirst for global domination. Wahhabism is ultra-conservative, oppressive to women and the antithesis of secular. But bloodlust and oppression via extreme violence is nothing new. Wahhabism is based on the teachings of an 18th Century Saudi Arabian preacher. Breaking news: brutality, power mongering and religious extremism are ideas that were founded centuries before Wahhabism. Moreover, if Daesh were lacking a practical framework for terrorism, they could study the Crusades.

Tucson peace officer’s trip bolsters regional bond with Israel

Israel’s intelligence community told a cohort of volunteer first responders that it is most concerned about a new war with Syria, says Jay Korza, a sergeant with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. If that threat materializes, Korza will be there to help.

Korza traveled to Israel this summer to take part in the Emergency Volunteers Project, which trains American firefighters and first responders to assist during a national emergency. Since its founding, the program has trained 1,000 emergency workers, including 39 American firefighters — several from Southern Arizona — deployed to Israel during 2016’s operation “Water and Fire.”

Korza, 44, is a 17-year veteran with the sheriff’s department. For the last decade, he has been a member of the Pima Regional SWAT team, where one of his duties is serving as a Tactical EMS medic. He also teaches paramedic training courses for Pima Community College’s Paramedic Associate of Applied Science program.   

He heard about the EVP initiative through a coworker, and he and his wife decided to check out an informational seminar last year hosted by the Tucson Jewish Community Center.

If Korza is ever deployed by EVP, he’ll be able to perform the same level of patient care he enjoyed as a corpsman, a fact that ultimately sold him on the program. Although Korza’s wife does not want him entering a war zone, he may utilize his negotiating skills in hopes of working alongside the Israel Defense Forces.

“If an IDF ambulance shows up at the hospital, I’m probably going to be on it when they go back out,” Korza says with a laugh.

Read the entire Arizona Jewish Post article here. Originally published on Dec. 15, 2017.

Teaching pioneer Kenneth Goodman believes education is key to social equality

The most gratifying aspect of teaching is watching your students move toward their own greatness, says Kenneth S. Goodman, a professor emeritus at the University of Arizona department of language, reading and culture.

“I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I’m also proud of what the people who I’ve had a hand in educating have done — it gives me hope,” says Goodman.

Goodman, who turns 90 this month, has spent more than half a century improving the way educators teach and understand early childhood development. He’s an educational pioneer, who is best known for founding the whole language approach to reading.

According to the Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development, the whole language approach is an instructional philosophy on teaching based on three constructivist assumptions: learning cannot be separated from its context; each learner’s purpose for learning is integral to what is learned; and knowledge gained is socially constructed through negotiation, evaluation, or transformation.

Teaching eighth graders sparked Goodman’s love for the classroom. Adolescents are developing not only as people, but as thinkers, so teachers are afforded a wonderful opportunity of influence, says Goodman. “It’s a very moral age, and that’s the age when everything has to be fair.”

Read the entire Arizona Jewish Post article here. Originally published on Dec. 15, 2017.

‘Hezbollah poses greatest threat to Israel,’ says IDF chief of staff

A ‘State Within a State’ Exploits the Arab Spring

Ten Syrian school children were arrested and tortured in the first week of March 2011. “Down with the regime,” was the graffiti slogan they scrawled on a wall in the town of Daraa. Their families attempted to free them, protesting in the streets when their efforts proved nil. Syrian security forces took aim at the group, killing multiple parents. One day later, twenty thousand protesters swarmed the funeral procession. Multiple demonstrations erupted across Syria that day. Banias, Latakia and then Duma; later, the suburbs of Damascus and Aleppo (1). Just as neoliberal economic policies, nepotism, and disillusioned youth successfully toppled the leaders in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt—a general disgust with autocratic rule was stoking flames of discontent in Syria.

During a national address held on March 30, 2011, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad blundered his opportunity to quell the uprising. His forces continued to violently crackdown on demonstrators; by the summer of 2011, the Free Syrian Army was founded, as was the blueprint for civil war.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, this savage civil conflict has killed approximately 465,000 people since it began seven years ago (2). The Syrian Civil War morphed into a international proxy war, which has only deepened the toll on civilian life. The war created a catastrophic refugee crisis, scattering 5.2 million Syrians into neighboring lands and abroad. Approximately 6.3 million Syrians are internally displaced and more than 13.5 million are in need of humanitarian assistance (3).

Wars are void of winners. One side simply hobbles away more gracefully. Conversely, Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Shi’ite militia turned political force, may exit the Syrian Civil War relatively unscathed and hardened for battle. More important, its regional stature may continue to rise since it took up arms alongside al-Assad’s regime in neighboring Syria.

This investigation will examine: the origins of Hezbollah, and its roots in Lebanon’s splintered and complicated history; the ideological factors that justify its military activities; Israel’s response to Hezbollah today; and U.S. policy objectives in Lebanon.

Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, is one the oldest cities in the world, and was first inhabited more than 5,000 years ago. (Photo: Marviikad, July 27, 2015)

From Clandestine Militia to Political Party

Hezbollah, or the “Party of God,” began as a Shi’ite Islamist militia that opposed the Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon. The Lebanese Civil War—a 15-year battle that lasted from 1975 to 1990, and claimed the lives of 150,000 people—acted as one of the many factors that contributed to the formation of Hezbollah. Israel invaded Southern Lebanon in both 1978 and 1982, in order to fight back the Palestine Liberation Organization, and create a buffer zone between the two nations.

In the early 1980s, Hezbollah worked as a clandestine resistance force against Israel. Until 1985, when the group released its founding manifesto in the form of an “Open Letter,” which outlined its militant, religiously conservative and anti-imperialist objectives.

The document stated its enemies included Israel, the United States, France and the Phalange (the right-wing Maronite party in Lebanon founded in 1936). It also echoed the ideology of Iranian Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (4), and Tehran remains an invaluable ally for this Lebanese faction. But tracing the roots of Hezbollah means mapping Lebanon’s splintered national history.

France was responsible for drawing Lebanon’s respective borders following World War I. At the time, Lebanon consisted of three religious groups: Maronite Christians, and Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims. Each of the three sectarian religious groups held a relatively equal portion of the country. Lebanese leaders adopted a confessional form of governance, which aims to evenly distribute power among varying religious communities, and was based on the nation’s last official census conducted in 1932.

Lebanon gained its independence from France in 1943, and its confessional system would be lead by President Bechara El Khoury, who was a Maronite Christian. Sectarian divisions and a Christian hegemony created tense social divisions, until Lebanon’s majority was faced with two growing challenges: the influx of Sunni Muslims, namely Palestinian refugees fleeing their home following the founding of Israel; and its marginalized and newly mobilized Shi’ite community. The tensions reached its peak in 1975, hurling Lebanon into a civil conflict that would draw in multiple nations including the United States, France, Israel, Syria and a supervisory force established by the United Nations Security Council.

Since its founding, Hezbollah has carried out multiple military offensives and have remained an armed presence in Lebanon’s Southern region. Israel withdrew from Southern Lebanon in 2000—Hezbollah credited its covert and overt actions against the foreign occupier as reason for the eventual retreat.

In 1992, Hezbollah entered Lebanon’s political arena, winning eight seats in the parliamentary elections. Its political party secured 10 seats in Lebanon’s confessional government in 2009, “and it has achieved a modest, variable, yet generally steady degree of electoral success” (5).

In 2006, the Hezbollah-Israel War broke out after the Lebanese force kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. The 34-day battle killed 1,190 Lebanese citizens, and Hezbollah’s rockets took the lives of 163 Israelis.

Although this border region remains tense, military skirmishes between Hezbollah and Israel has remained quieted. Since Hezbollah delved into the political system, the organization has limited its military operations. Its continued to build Shi’ite support at home, bolstering social services for Lebanon’s Southern region.

With the eruption of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, Hezbollah has expanded its military force and moved towards evolving into a legitimized regional powerbroker.

Syrians protest against China, Iran, Russia, Hezbollah and the al-Assad regime in Idlib, Syria on March 7, 2012. (Photo: Freedom House)

Identity Politics and Justifiable Conflicts

Hezbollah leverages its different identities to justify participating in armed conflicts, according to Zafer Kizilkaya. This practice has been an ideological cornerstone since its founding in the 1980s, said Kizilkaya, in his article, “Identity, War, and Just Cause for War: Hezbollah and Its Use of Force,” published by the Mediterranean Quarterly on June 1.

Thus, Hezbollah shifted its ideological paradigm in order to justify fighting alongside the al-Assad regime.

Although the paramilitary group mainly relies on support from Lebanese Shi’ite Muslims, they are also claiming to fight for five identity-based causes: Lebanese nationalism, Islamic ideology, a Shi’ite Muslim belief system, Arabism and as a resistance movement (6). This resistance identity is the only one built from scratch, following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon both in 1978 and 1982 (7).

The group began by painting Israel, the United States and the West as the oppressors in the Syrian conflict, claiming this coalition, “wanted to fragment Syria, redesign the Middle East, and subjugate the people of Syria and the region as a whole” (8). This particular justification pitted Hezbollah against the Syrian rebels fighting al-Assad, as well as any foreign nation who aided the rebels or were invested in regime change. However, Hezbollah’s reasoning is deemed illegitimate in most the Muslim world. While battling Israel under the guise of resistance was easy to support, its participation in the Syrian Civil War appears to be motivated by the group’s sectarian identity.

“Like its resistance identity, the prominence of Hezbollah’s Islamic identity has also been in decline because of the group’s decision to intervene in Syria, advancing its Shi’ite identity as the most salient one in the circumstances of a sectarian conflict (9).”

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, balked at the accusation, stating its operations in Syria were aimed at fringe groups, terrorists and “ex-communicators,” namely Daesh, a group regarded as following an improper Islamic doctrine. “Similarly, the group rejected charges that it was acting on a sectarian basis by highlighting its sending of fighters to Bosnia in the 1990s to defend the Sunni Muslims there (10).”

Kizilkaya further stated although Hezbollah maintained a secular tone publicly, its internal messages that were designed to boost baseline support purported their mission in Syria was “a Shi’ite jihad for self-defense.”

Hezbollah’s defense of Shi’ite Muslims in Syria was proven in two ways, according to Kizilkaya: its protecting of Shi’ite holy sites, and its battles with Daesh, whose strict interpretation of Islam sees Shi’ites as apostates.

The adherence to identity politics is what makes the actions of Hezbollah and the Lebanese Armed Forces starkly different. In 2006, the LAF didn’t engage in the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel. Since the onset of the Syrian Civil War, the LAF has simply defended its own border, fighting back Sunni militants, namely Daesh and Ha’ia Tahrir al Sham (the al Qaeda-linked group formerly known as the al-Nusra Front).

Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah—a well respected Shi’ite marjas, or “spiritual reference” who influenced Hezbollah’s ideology—drafted a framework for justifiable conditions for taking up arms. Fadlallah claimed, “deterrence and the prevention of hegemonic plans that preclude the self-determination and development of Muslim people” was a valid reason to use force (11). This call for preemption became a primary justification for Hezbollah entering the Syrian war.

Looking forward, Kizilkaya also argues that Hezbollah’s marriage of its various identities/causes to justifications for participating in armed conflicts, both inside and out of Lebanon, could prove to be its most valuable asset.

Israel Defense Forces soldiers prepare for expected ‘Naqsa Day’ riots near the Quneitra Crossing on the Israeli-Syrian border on May 15, 2011. (Photo: Cpl. Gal Ashuach, IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Israel’s greatest threat is Hezbollah’

Iran is conducting a war against Israel by proxy, the foremost being Hezbollah, which constitutes the gravest threat to the State of Israel, said Gadi Eisenkot, chief of staff for the Israel Defense Forces. Eisenkot’s article—published by the Institute for National Security Studies, a policy-oriented research organization engaged in Israel’s security issues, based out of Tel Aviv University—extensively discussed the Iranian push for hegemony in the region, Hezbollah’s growing strength, especially after its involvement in the Syrian Civil War.

“Hezbollah is a terrorist organization that has been equipped, funded, trained, and even led by the Iranians since 2006,” Eisenkot added. “So far, the Iranians have transferred between $800 million and $1 billion dollars per year to Hezbollah.”

Since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict, the border landscape in the Golan Heights (a plot of Syrian territory that was captured, and annexed by Israel after the Six Day War in 1967)  has changed significantly, Eisenkot explains. This particular border region shared among Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon is littered with deployments from Daesh, the Syrian military and Hezbollah, he said, adding the situation is ever changing and highly complex.

In an effort to curb Hezbollah’s presence in the Golan, Israel has been supplying Syrian rebels with cash, food, fuel and medical assistance, according to a Wall Street Journal article published on June 18 (12).

“The Israeli army is in regular communication with rebel groups and its assistance includes undisclosed payments to commanders that help pay salaries of fighters and buy ammunition and weapons, according to interviews with about half a dozen Syrian fighters.”

According to the WSJ, Israel has established a military unit that oversees the support in Syria—a country that it has been in a state of war with for decades—and set aside a specific budget for the aid.

Although Hezbollah’s primary goal is to achieve a Shi’ite hegemony in Lebanon, its tactical threat to Israel is only increasing (13). The group has 240 strongholds in villages and cities throughout Southern Lebanon, and is growing its precision-rocket capability.

The size of Hezbollah’s arsenal is unknown, but is estimated at 100,000 rockets. The issue is highly politicized by Israel and used to justify its missile defense programs: “Iron Dome” and “David’s Sling” (14). The cost of constructing rudimentary munitions is relatively inexpensive, and Hezbollah has improved the quality of its arsenal when it obtained guidance systems. Moreover, a new threshold was reached when Hezbollah started acquiring ballistic missiles (15), a capability believed to be supplied by the Syrian regime.

These short-range ballistic missiles can carry a 1100-pound warhead and has a range of 210 kilometers—roughly the distance between Beirut and Tel Aviv. As al-Assad rose to power in Syria, he developed a warm relationship with Hezbollah, securing an arms route and cementing an anti-imperialist coalition comprised of Iran, Syria and the Lebanese party.

“If Hezbollah’s current missile strike force constitutes a credible tool of deterrence to the Jewish state, it is largely thanks to Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime (16).”

Eisenkot also said the “Party of God” has cut it teeth militarily on the battlefields of Syria, gaining experience in larger operations than it had in the past (17). He said although 1,300 Hezbollah soldiers have been killed in Syria, with another 5,000 wounded, this force now has 20,000 troops and another 25,000 reservists.

The sub-conventional and sub-state threats of Hezbollah will continue to grow, said Eisenkot, and the IDF is bolstering its military capabilities accordingly.

“We must continue to maintain deterrence in the northern arena vis-à-vis the global jihad movement, the Islamic State, the Iranian forces that operate Shi’ite militias from there, and Hezbollah,” he said (18). “In addition to deterrence, we must also uphold the IDF’s justifiable image and its capability as an unpredictable adversary that is able to provide a harsh response.”

President Donald J. Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk during a conference in Tel Aviv in May. (Photo courtesy of American Embassy in Tel Aviv)

U.S. Strikes Balance Among Security, Aid and Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

United States aid to Lebanon has sought to counterbalance the intrastate influence of Syria and Iran on this religiously divided nation. Congress is currently reviewing the best way to achieve its policy objectives in Lebanon, which include: weakening Hezbollah; bolstering the capabilities of the Lebanese Armed Forces; helping defend Lebanon’s borders by providing military hardware and training; assisting the influx of Syrian refugees since the onset of the civil conflict; and strengthening governmental services and infrastructure (19).

“At the same time, Iranian influence in Lebanon via its ties to Hezbollah, the potential for renewed armed conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, and Lebanon’s internal political dynamics complicate the provision of U.S. assistance (20).”

In July, Lebanon’s then-Prime Minister Saad Hariri led an official delegation to Washington asking for additional aid, “arguing that it was more cost-effective for the international community to assist refugees in Lebanon than it would be to cover the costs of refugees once they reached Europe (21).”

The U.S. has urged Lebanon to keep its borders open to refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict; thus, the State Department has provided more than $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid to Lebanon since FY2012.

In 2016, Lebanon ranked as the fifth-largest recipient of U.S. foreign military financing in the world, said Elizabeth Richard, U.S. ambassador to Lebanon. She also said that the United States had provided $221 million in equipment and training to the LAF last year alone (22).

In pursuing U.S. interests in Lebanon, Congress enacted a sanctions bill targeting parties that facilitate financial transactions for Hezbollah’s benefit in December 2015. This legislation, known as the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act, prohibits the maintenance of any U.S.-based account that provides monetary support to Lebanon’s contentious political and militant group.

Conversely, the U.S. is tasked with walking a delicate balance between curbing Hezbollah’s strength while avoiding sparking an internal conflict in Lebanon. The militia is often deemed more effective than the LAF, and both organizations have fought alongside one another to ward off groups like Daesh. More important, because of Lebanon’s dilapidated institutions Hezbollah (like many other sectarian political factions) operates, “a vast network of schools, clinics, youth programs, private business and local security” within the country (23).

President Donald Trump’s administration appears to have further complicated its own dealings with Hezbollah. On Oct. 10, the State Department offered $12 million in rewards for information that leads to the capture and conviction of two senior Hezbollah officials: Talal Hamiyah and Fu’ad Shukr.

“Until Hezbollah stops using terrorism and violence to achieve its goals, the United States and our allies will aggressively target its terrorism infrastructure and financial support networks,” said Nathan Sales, State Department Counterterrorism coordinator.

Regardless, the U.S. continues to fight alongside Hezbollah while battling Daesh in Syria, furthering the “Global War on Terrorism.” The battlefield experience Hezbollah has gained by justifying its involvement in the Syrian Civil War is a cause for concern for the State Department, its respective allies, most notably Israel, and the international community overall.

“As Hezbollah claims victory in the Syrian conflict and regional players such as Saudi Arabia assert a more active stance against Iranian influence, some observers question whether the resolution of conflict in Syria would lead to an increase in tensions within Lebanon (24).”

A New Powerbroker

Hezbollah basically reconstructed Southern Lebanon after its last war with Israel. When the Syrian Civil War ends, many believe Hezbollah is destine to help restore al-Assad’s ravaged nation. The “Party of God” also devised successful battle strategies in Syria, reclaiming Aleppo from Daesh warring alongside Russian and Syrian forces. Nurturing its social cache, Hezbollah established a Syrian branch of its Imam al-Mahdi Scouts, a youth movement that mirrors the Boy Scouts of America. Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, international sanctions imposed on Iran have been successfully lifted, freeing the financial backbone of Hezbollah’s operations. In November 2016, Hezbollah held a celebratory parade in al-Qusayr, flaunting its military prowess in a Syrian town they unofficially control. The only thing Hezbollah can’t seem to do is slow its regional power grab.

“To host a military parade commending yourselves in another country is as bold as you can get,” said a former State Department official (25). “It’s telling your masters ‘We’re here now.’”

Artful touches in new building express Federation mission

When the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona began designing its new building, not only did Federation leaders want to modernize their workspace, they wanted to create a sacred landmark, says President and CEO Stuart Mellan.

“We really wanted the building to be a place of meaning,” says Mellan. “We understood that we’re creating an office building, but we wanted some of the architectural elements and the art to reinforce the sacred and inspirational aspects of our work.”

The Harvey and Deanna Evenchik Center for Jewish Philanthropy, which houses the Federation and the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona, officially opened its doors on Oct. 15.

The planners designed the new building with four symbolic and functional factors in mind: unity, keeping the Federation and Foundation centralized in one, large space; visibility, having the building act as a landmark that signifies the vitality of the Federation and Foundation; security, providing an adequately secured office; and professionalism, creating an upgraded facility that will provide a modern and comfortable setting to host community events.

The Federation provides essential programming for the Jewish community in Tucson, as well as for its stateside and international partners, says Deanna Evenchik. She believes the Federation is boundless, so naming its artistic centerpiece “Infinite Possibilities” is pitch-perfect.

“When I saw it for the first time, I actually walked into the building and I cried — I got very verklempt,” she says.

Read the entire Arizona Jewish Post article here. Originally published on Dec. 1, 2017.

Tucson restaurateurs highlight joys of community in busy winter season

A handful of Tucson’s restaurateurs are working through the holidays, but instead of dreading their blistering schedule they’re welcoming in the busy season. Filling your plates and bowls warms their souls.

Jason McCarty, a managing partner at Eclectic Cafe, says he sees the 37-year-old eatery as an unofficial anchor of Tucson’s eastside. Moving forward, McCarty hopes Eclectic stays vibrant and continues to grow without losing its “family feel.”

Eclectic has served three generations of regular customers, says McCarty. Their dedicated staff play an integral role at the restaurant, he says, and watching some of their servers get hired at age 17, then work their way through college has been an honor. “And the customers love hearing about their progress.”

“After the consistency of the food, that’s what makes our place different — the relationships the customers have with the staff,” says McCarty.

Tucson’s seasonal residents will make Eclectic their first stop when they return here for the winter, popping in to make sure the eatery didn’t fall apart, says McCarty with a laugh.

“We love our regular customers, we love to see new customers,” says McCarty. “We love this time of year.”

Although Eclectic will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, they will take special orders for holiday meals for pick-up until about a week prior. 

On Monday, Dec. 4, Pastiche Modern Eatery will host its first cocktail pairing dinner, says manager Chris Kroebig. Everyone does a wine or beer pairing event, Kroebig explains, but Pastiche decided to mix it up and show off their liquor selection, which includes 250 types of whiskey. The event will kick off at 6 p.m., cost $60 per person and $110 for couples and reservations are required. Many of the libations will feature products from locally owned distilleries.

Kroebig says as one of the founding partners of the Tucson Originals Restaurants, Pastiche strives to build up independent dining entrepreneurship and local farmers in every way possible.

During the bustling holiday season, their clientele is always very thankful that Pastiche is open, he says. “People definitely appreciate it, and we get a little flutter in our hearts when we hear it.”

It’s a family oriented atmosphere at Pastiche, says Kroebig, explaining many regular customers have invited staff members to weddings and birthday parties, because of the relationships that are built at the local eatery.

The reverse is also true.

“I’ve had people here that I don’t know other than at the restaurant invited to my mother’s birthday party last year,” he says. “And it feels pretty good.”

Read about a handful of other Tucson eateries here. Originally published on Nov. 17, 2017.

Yemen facing largest famine the world has seen for decades, warns UN aid chief

UN News Centre — Yemen will be gripped by famine — one the likes of which the world has not seen in years — if the blockade on basic supplies into the country imposed by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition is not lifted immediately, the top United Nations humanitarian official has warned.

“It will be the largest famine the world has seen for many decades,” Mark Lowcock, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the media late Wednesday, after briefing the Security Council.

Three years into a brutal conflict, Yemen depends on imports – amounting to up to 90 per cent of its daily needs – and millions in the country are being kept alive by humanitarian aid.

The fighting has also all but collapsed the country’s health, and water and sanitation systems. Combined with the lack of food, millions of lives – including those of children – will be lost as their bodies will simply not have the strength to fight off disease.

“What kills people in famine is infections […] because their bodies have consumed themselves, reducing totally the ability to fight off things which a healthy person can,” added Mr. Lowcock.

Underscoring that an immediate resumption of regular UN and relief organizations’ air services to the capital, Sana’a, and Aden are critical to save lives, Mr. Lowcock, also the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that a clear and immediate assurance is also urgently needed that those services will not be disrupted.

Furthermore, all vessels that have passed inspection by the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism should not be subjected to interference, delays to or blockages so that they can proceed to port as rapidly as possible, he added.

“This is really important because humanitarian access through the ports was inadequate even before the measures that were announced on 6 November,” said the senior UN official.

He also called for an immediate agreement to the prepositioning of the World Food Programme — the UN’s emergency food relief agency – vessel in the waters off Aden, assurances that there will be no further disruption to the functions the vessel supports, as well as resumption of humanitarian and commercial access to all the seaports of Yemen.

At the stakeout, Mr. Lowcock, also underscored the Organization’s condemnation of the missile attack on the Saudi capital, Riyadh, over the weekend, terming it an outrageous act.

The coalition imposed the restrictions following the attack, effectively closing air, sea and land access to the war-torn country.

Vaccines will run out in a month — humanitarian group

Meanwhile, the humanitarian community in Yemen also warned that the current stock of vaccines in the country will only last one month and if not replenished, outbreaks of communicable diseases are to be expected with fatal consequences, particularly for children under five and those already suffering from malnutrition.

“The humanitarian situation in Yemen is extremely fragile and any disruption in the pipeline of critical supplies such as food, fuel and medicines has the potential to bring millions of people closer to starvation and death,” said humanitarian organizations, including the UN, working in Yemen in a joint statement Thursday.

“The continued closure of borders will only bring additional hardship and deprivation with deadly consequences to an entire population suffering from a conflict that it is not of their own making,” they added.

(All rights reserved by the UN News Centre. Redistributed for informational purposes only.)

CAI scholar-in-residence to explore Kabbalah’s power, mystery

When medieval Christians claimed that Jewish history and religious practice was in decline, the Kabbalah, a mystical school of thought in Judaism, provided a powerful reimagining of Judaism, says Hartley Lachter, Ph.D., associate professor of religion studies at Lehigh University.

“Kabbalah argues that there is this secret way in which Judaism is not only a relevant religion, but the central religion — thanks to which, the entire universe itself continues to exist,” says Lachter. “And that it’s by virtue of Jewish religious practice that the unity of God is maintained.”

Kabbalah is an esoteric and secret language that attempts to explain the relationship between the divine and human worlds. 

Lachter is the 2017 scholar-in-residence at Congregation Anshei Israel, who will lead multiple community events from Nov. 9-11.

Read the entire Arizona Jewish Post article here. Originally published on Oct. 3, 2017. Photograph by Samuel David Henry.