SIGNAL Note 70: Coronavirus and the Paradox of Social Distancing

Until the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the idea of “social distancing” likely never crossed your mind. But today, from Singapore to the UK, it has become part of everyday vernacular. Here in Israel, people have been encouraged by the government to keep their distance from others, avoid public gatherings and, if possible, work from home. The logic: if people are less mobile and limit interaction, the contagion has fewer opportunities to spread. The slower it spreads, the less likely it is to overwhelm the healthcare system. However, as more and more people practice self-quarantine and social distancing, another public health threat is poised to emerge: loneliness.

While scientists are scrambling to understand how the coronavirus works, psychologists and other medical professionals have long understood the toll that loneliness and isolation take on both body and mind. People that feel disconnected are more likely to develop depression, experience sleep problems and abuse substances. Loneliness has also been identified as a risk factor for physical ailments such as diabetes, autoimmune disorders, lupus, cardiovascular disease and even cancer. That depression and anxiety alone cost the global economy an estimated $1trillion annually, lends perspective to the magnitude of the problem. Loneliness is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease, comparable in scale to obesity and smoking.

SIGNAL Note 69: Healthcare Israel for China’s Healthcare

Safeguarding the physical health of the world’s most populous nation is easier said than done. Nevertheless, the ambitious President Xi Jinping has explicitly expressed that a healthy community is necessary for continued economic and social growth, and therefore a priority. Following the devastating 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic, handled pragmatically by then Paramount Leader Hu Jintao, the Chinese government took several measures to update and reform the healthcare system. The updates significantly improved the overall system. However, despite these considerable efforts to manage the health of the Chinese people, another – already more deadly and infectious – coronavirus has erupted and dispersed throughout China: COVID-19.

SIGNAL Note 68: Futuristic Diplomacy Utilizing State-of-the-Art Technology

Once again, the young country of Israel has taken up the offensive and finds itself on the frontlines of war. Fear not, however, because this time, the enemies are instability and adversity. As a nation whose use of hard power is often harshly denounced, Israel has recently embraced a “softer,” more constructive approach to international relations, one that saves lives rather than destroying them. This new style of combat was adopted not only to improve the international community’s understanding of Israeli identity but primarily to improve the lives of others. The modern weapon of choice is stronger than any kinetic military action: Innovation diplomacy.

SIGNAL Note 67: The Moroccan Exception

The 2011 “Arab Spring” ushered in a period of fanatical intolerance across the Middle East. Minority groups were persecuted as violent Islamist organizations spread terror from Egypt to Iraq.

But this outbreak of fanaticism and violence was nothing new. In fact, persecution of Middle Eastern minorities has been a defining feature of regional history for the past century. Consider the most obvious example: in 1948, shortly before the State of Israel declared independence, approximately 800,000 Jews lived in countries ruled by Arab Muslims. Today, almost all of those Jewish communities are gone. Jews were stripped of their citizenship, their property was stolen and, in some cases, Jewish communities were violently attacked.

SIGNAL Note 66: Middle East presentation at the Beijing Xiangshan Forum, by Mr. Ahmed Al Mansoori, Dubai

The 2019 Beijing Xiangshan hosted a variety of concurrent sessions focusing on critical issues facing China, the region, and the world. Two of the sessions addressed Security Developments in the Middle East. SIGNAL’s Executive Director, Carice Witte, spoke at the first session about regional developments. Also on the panel were experts from China, Germany, and Pakistan. Joining the second session on the Middle East was former UAE parliamentarian, Ahmed Almansoori from Dubai. Mr. Almansoori’s talk presented an analysis of key challenges facing the Middle East and offered fresh ideas on how to address these issues. Mr. Almansoori is an innovative thinker who is committed to re-examining existing conventional wisdom to identify new ways to foster the development and success of societies in the Middle East. The full transcript of his talk can be found here.

Distinguished colleagues, delegates and participants

I would like to extend my thanks to your kind invitation and for giving me this opportunity to address this very important event and share with you our Middle East experience in its wide and complicated geopolitical and economic dimensions. I will address three specific questions. First, what Kind of Impact will the changes in the security situation in the Middle East have on the international security situation, global politics, and economy? Second, what is the current Middle East policy of the major Powers, and do they have converging Interests and possibilities for cooperation in this region? And lastly, how can a new security structure be built in the Middle East?

SIGNAL Note 65: SIGNAL Celebrates the Work of Renowned Educator, Prof. Emeritus Meron Medzini

People-to-people relations are a core component of Xi Jinping Thought. The Chinese leadership has been responsible for crafting many policies that include or are centered around this formidable principle, such as the Belt and Road Initiative. As countries integrate economically and interact politically, having the cultural and personal understanding that comes from a direct individual contact, the road to improved economic, business, and strategic ties. A central method for strengthening people-to-people relations is via bilateral academic exchange.An excellent example of the very positive impact of this kind of exchange in strengthening ties between two countries is the story of the illustrious Professor Medzini.

At 87 years old, Professor Emeritus Meron Medzini is still a force to be reckoned with. A SIGNAL Distinguished Fellow, Prof. Medzini, recently completed his 6th and final Academic Seminar in China, where he lectured more than 1000 students, faculty and community members in several cities across the country.

SIGNAL Note 64: “Indispensable Netanyahu”- The Israeli prime minister’s diplomatic role has overriding importance for American and world security

After 13 years in office, Benjamin Netanyahu has served long enough to have rankled every Israeli I know. He faces a difficult election on September 17, after failing to form a coalition government following a national election earlier this year. As an American, I avoid taking a view on Israeli politics, but this is a special situation in which Netanyahu’s diplomatic role has overriding importance for American and world security. I have argued since 2009 that the United States has a narrow but important set of common interests with Russia in the Middle East. Thanks in large part to Netanyahu, security cooperation seems effective.

No other world leader could have convened, as Netanyahu did June 25, a meeting of Russia’s national security adviser Nicolai Petrushev and American NSA John Bolton. Speaking in Jerusalem, Petrushev declared, “We pay special attention to ensuring Israel’s security,” calling it “a special interest of ours because here in Israel live a little less than about two million of our countrymen.” He added, “Israel supports us in several channels, including at the UN.”

SIGNAL Note 63: Reflecting On Moroccan Sense Of Tolerance

Morocco is not a fully-fledged democracy, as is the case in the West, but incrementally the country, is slowly but surely, moving in that direction. As a matter of fact, the constitution of 2011 has opened the door to the devolution of power and has strengthened the diverse identity of the Moroccan individual: he is Arab, Muslim, Amazigh, Jewish, African and Mediterranean.

Tolerance has been through centuries a way of life of the country and is the second nature of Moroccans, not to say that it is probably part of their DNA. Jews arrived in the country in the year 71 AD after the destruction of their second temple by the Romans. They were well received by the Amazigh/Berber native people and they quickly melted into their social fabric for two reasons: firstly, because they were tribal and secondly they shared in the trait of a strong matriarchal system.

The Jews, though a minority, managed to convert some of the Amazigh/Berber people to Judaism from paganism without obliterating their strong pagan beliefs such as practices linked to agricultural rites of fertility, which even Islam was not able to get rid of.

While the Amazigh/Berber concentrated their efforts on agriculture, cattle-raising and animal husbandry, the Jews developed commerce, trade and early banking practices, a tradition that was to continue for centuries until their departure to Israel starting in the fifties of the twentieth century, after the creation of the Jewish State in Palestine in 1948.

SIGNAL Note 62: Unprecedented Speech By Mossad Chief

Dear friends and colleagues,

This morning, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen gave today an unusual speech, the first one of this kind ever given by an acting chief, a speech which reveals a bit of the organization’s activity and his views. I bring here a translation of a few paragraphs that seemed important to me. Sorry for the length of the thread.

[On the role of the Mossad in identifying and promoting opportunities for peace] The purpose of the Mossad is to protect the State of Israel from the danger of war, but in my opinion it has a no less important role: It is our task to identify opportunities for peace. And furthermore, to initiate moves that could bring peace closer.
Peace is a supreme value, and we apply our principles of war – including daring, creativity and striving for engagement with the enemy – to the battle for peace as well. We have been doing so for very many years.

A Global Order of Connectivity – The Chinese Vision

The international political order that was created after the Second World War is based on the concept of sovereignty. With the breakup of the western empires, the sovereign nation-state became the basic and dominant form of political order. These sovereign states adopted numerous treaties that regulated the complicated relationship between them. The treaties attempted to cover as many aspects of this relationship as possible, from the delivery of mail to the development of nuclear energy. The pervasive nature of this order has earned it the title “global”. Being a part of this order is a prerequisite for providing citizens with global services such as information technology and financial clearance.

Still, the basic logic of the “global” order is a narrow notion of sovereignty. Globality is enforced to the extent that it suits the specific interests of specific states. It is possible to wage a “global war on terror”, for example, because all states are concerned about the physical security of their citizens. It is less possible to create “global” cooperation in order to fight global warming, as this is potentially damaging to the economic interests of some states (more than others). First and foremost, sovereignty still serves to impose borders. Free movement is a privilege reserved mostly for capital, not for many goods and commodities and certainly not for people. The “global” remains an exception to most rules and is dependent on express consent which is not easily given.

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The SIGNAL Note is a Chinese-English publication by SIGNAL's analysts exploring Israel’s Perspective on Xi Jinping Thought & its potential impact on the Middle East.