To all the people complaining that Greta Gerwig should have gotten an Oscar nomination for Best Director, you are correct.
In terms of snubs, however, there is another film that should not be overlooked.
Ari Aster is one of the most brilliant directors in Hollywood. Unlike two films nominated for an Oscar that use a gimmick as a crutch, Aster uses the vehicle of his films being different and unexpected in a provocative way that makes you think about the world in a more profound way.
Aster’s inventive Beau Is Afraid is a challenging film to watch, not unlike Aster’s Hereditary and Midsommar, two horror films. Beau Is Afraid stars Joaquin Phoenix as Beau Wasserman, who is filled with anxiety and has problems with his strange and overprotective Jewish mother, who does something so evil to her son, that it’s borderline implausible.
The film digs deep into the psyche of the Jewish mother-son relationship in a way that is dark but also enlightening. Aster is fearless, but not pointless. There is a big difference.
The film is about a tortured man’s journey to find validation, the pain of not having a wife and children, loneliness, and in a twist, his mother tells him his father died having sex with her, and that he may die if he has sex.
Aster has great metaphors in the film, including one that sets all the problems in motion — Beau’s keys are stolen from him and he can’t go visit his mother for fear that someone will ransack his apartment. It’s a direct comment on the mother-son relationship. Phoenix’s performance is astounding as someone who is constantly nervous, but for good reason. In a way, he may suffer from PTSD and being without his father. The film contains one of the wildest plot twists that might gross out some, but if you think about it more deeply, it is astoundingly potent.
The movie is long and frightening in many ways, though not in the way of a typical horror film. You can’t really place this film in an exact genre. There are elements of horror, drama, and comedy. The excellent Richard Kind plays a Jewish man who is angry at Beau because he tells him that by not showing up to an event, he is making it difficult to adhere to a specific law relating to burial.
This is the ultimate Jewish guilt movie, and voters should feel guilty they did not nominate Beau Is Afraid. Two other films, The Zone of Interest and Anatomy of a Fall, use gimmicks to be different that don’t work. In The Zone of Interest, you see the Nazi who runs Auschwitz in his underwear and playing with his family but you don’t see carnage of Jews being murdered, or really any Jews at all. You are supposed to use your imagination as we see the Nazi family go about its regular life with no conflict. It’s a crutch for those not able to make a powerful film without doing it, as I’ve written about here.
Beau Is Afraid is a film that is mysterious, provocative, profound, and wildly original. So why didn’t it get any Oscar love? Horror films are looked down upon, as are scenes of violence if they’re not from a war. A scene in Aster’s Midsommar was hard to watch. Aster’s films seem to be in their own world, and he does not sugar coat his films with any silver lining — and it might just be that voters don’t have a taste for that.
The author is a writer based in New York.
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PA Anxious to Reward Thousands of New Terrorist Prisoners
The Palestinian Authority (PA) is so anxious to reward the 6,540 new Palestinian terrorists with monthly salaries, known as pay-for-slay payments, that it has decided to bypass standard PA procedures.
According to the PA’s “Regulation of Payment” system, the Red Cross must visit imprisoned Palestinian terrorists to confirm their eligibility for salary rewards. The following is the official PA regulation established in 2010:
[PA] Government Decision Number 23 of 2010, Regarding the Regulation of Payment of the Monthly Salary to the Prisoner: …
Clause 3 — Documentation
For the purpose of the payment of a prisoner’s the monthly salary, his relatives are required to present the necessary documentation…:
1. An original document of the Red Cross attesting to his arrest, and an updated document must be brought every three months for a prisoner who is still in detention…
Clause 5 — Power of Attorney…
3. The authorization of a representative is executed through a power of attorney [form] issued by the Red Cross signed by the prisoner…”
[Source: Issue No. 90 of the PA Records]
In response to the Oct. 7 Palestinian massacre of Israelis — and the abduction of Israeli hostages who have not been visited by the Red Cross — Israel has not allowed the Red Cross to visit Palestinian terrorists in prison. Accordingly, none of the thousands of recently arrested terrorists, both from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, are eligible to start receiving salaries under PA law, due to the absence of Red Cross documents.
However, the PA is so anxious to reward its terrorist prisoners that it decided to bypass its own regulations for at least four months, and start paying the terror reward salaries immediately:
Director of PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs Qadura Fares:
There are thousands of new prisoners [i.e., terrorists arrested since the start of the 2023 Gaza war] … Since Israel is preventing the Red Cross from visiting, we have implemented an emergency measure to put the matter in order, and a decision was made that there is no need for the document from the Red Cross in order to open a file [for a prisoner’s salary] starting from Jan. 1, 2024 until April 30 .”
[Official PA TV, Jan. 31, 2024]
Earlier this week, the PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs announced that 6,540 Palestinians have been arrested since Oct. 7, including 28 since this morning [PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs, Telegram channel, Feb. 5, 2024]. These figures refer to terrorists from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah’s military wing the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, and unaffiliated terrorists. It includes those arrested in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and does not mention how many were released after interrogation.
If even 500 were already released, the 6,000 new prisoners will be receiving a minimum of 1,400 shekels per month (over $380), plus additions for those who are married, have children, or are residents of Israel, thus totaling more than 8,400,000 shekels (more than $2,283,000) per month.
Palestinian Media Watch has already reported that the PA has officially recognized the Hamas terrorists from the Gaza War as prisoners.
The author is the founder and executive director of Palestinian Media Watch, where a version of this article first appeared.
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Iran, Israel, and the Houthis: What’s Happening on the World’s Seas
The global maritime arena is undergoing a period of change and upheaval. This includes Iranian aggression and Houthi piracy, conflict in the Black Sea, maritime border disputes over energy deposits in the Mediterranean Sea, tensions in the South China Sea, Russian and Iranian shadow ships, drought in the Panama Canal, and new emissions standards for vessels, all of which are hindering global trade while adding to the cost of energy transit and insurance.
Nathan Bowditch’s American Practical Navigator is required reading. First published in 1802, the book remains a comprehensive guide to maritime navigation and is still studied at the top naval academies.
In the phrase “The seas are confused,” Bowditch describes a state in which waves come from multiple and sometimes unpredictable directions, often due to storms. He could have been describing the current state of global maritime affairs, which in recent years has faced challenges on many fronts. These include increased threats to critical maritime straits from Iranian and Houthi attacks; maritime conflict in the Black Sea between Russia and Ukraine; emerging major power competition and tensions in the South China Sea; maritime border disputes over energy deposits in the Mediterranean Sea; climate change and droughts affecting the Panama Canal; and the rise of new environmental standards and emissions quotas for vessels that affect their profitability.
Countries wishing to navigate these “confused seas” must develop a cohesive maritime strategy to adapt to the challenges and capitalize on the opportunities they create.
In recent months, Houthi attacks have been disruptive to global trade, emphasizing the need for global cooperation to ensure the security of critical maritime straits. Backed by Iran, the Houthis have intensified maritime provocations in the Red Sea and near the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, conducting drone and missile attacks on both commercial and military ships and engaging in piracy.
The Houthis’ maritime campaign began on November 19, 2023, when their forces captured the commercial vessel M/V GALAXY LEADER, and they have since conducted dozens of similar attacks. These actions led major shipping companies to bypass the Red Sea by rerouting their vessels around the African continent, creating delays of 10-30 days to ongoing shipments.
US CENTCOM has labeled these hostile actions an overt menace to both international trade and maritime security, though trade has largely adjusted to them. Despite the attacks, global oil prices are now lower than they were before the war began. This is due primarily to predictions of decreased economic growth in China and the quick reaction of US oil producers, which set new records of production and exports to compensate for any loss.
The US, in collaboration with other countries, has been actively addressing the recent escalations in the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait; other maritime powers have shied away from direct conflict while hoping to profit from these events. The US, UK, and other coalition partners have conducted several strikes against Houthi positions. The intervention of the US and other coalition ships, including the USS CARNEY (DDG-64) and USS MASON (DDG-87), an American destroyer, limited the damage of potentially catastrophic Houthi missile and drone attacks. These strikes are unlikely to deter future Houthi aggression; rather, by destroying military targets used in attacking shipping, they are designed to degrade the Houthis’ ability to conduct future operations successfully.
The European Union has approved a naval mission to protect Red Sea shipping that will be in operation on February 19. The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) People’s Liberation Army Navy, by contrast, has chosen a cautious path in the hope of avoiding conflict. The PRC is hoping the restricted use of the Suez Canal will translate into more traffic on its overland Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which connects it with Europe through Russia, Pakistan, and the Central Asian states. The BRI initiative is one of the most extensive development programs in history but has been rife with corruption, human rights violations, and major cost overruns. So far, the BRI has forced the PRC to spend $104 billion in bailouts for the failed projects that comprise it. As such, the current Red Sea crisis, which is forcing trade to seek alternate routes, has been a boon to the PRC.
Iran’s activities near the Straits of Hormuz have also added to regional maritime tensions. Although Iran tends to use surrogates when being provocative, it is increasingly choosing direct action.
Last year, the M/V Suez Rajan (recently renamed the ST. NIKOLAS) was at the center of a sanctions violation incident in which it was illegally carrying crude oil from Iran to Turkey. The US intercepted the tanker and diverted it to Houston, Texas, where the oil was confiscated. On January 11, 2024, the vessel found itself in the midst of a retaliatory action by Iran in the Gulf of Oman. The Iranian navy took control of the ST. NIKOLAS, detaining the vessel along with its crew of 15 and escorting them to Iran. Like the GALAXY LEADER, the ST. NIKOLAS and her crew remain detained. The fact that Iran feels more emboldened to take such direct action is a red flag for US deterrence in the Arab Gulf region.
Away from the Middle East, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has created another volatile maritime arena in the Black Sea region. The Black Sea is a vital shipping route for Ukraine. The war has disrupted the country’s ability to export goods, including grain. The conflict has also introduced new maritime war technologies, such as unmanned “suicide” vessels. As these have proven very effective, they are likely to be a permanent feature of future maritime conflicts.
More ominously, the conflict has led to the deployment of naval mines, which pose a serious threat to people and shipping routes. The extent of mining operations remains unknown, but a recent article in the Guardian estimates that Russia has deployed an estimated 400 to 600 sea mines in the maritime areas of Ukraine. Chains moor some mines while others float free, though even the fixed mines can come free due to weather, adding to the danger. Mines are indiscriminate. They are designed to detonate upon contact with the hull of virtually any ship. Even if the conflict were to end soon, it would take years to de-mine the Black Sea.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has also created a global “dark fleet” problem. One way Russia has been circumventing US and EU sanctions since 2020 has been to turn to a fleet of around 1,400 “shadow ships” that operate outside regulations. These merchant ships are old and inadequately insured, their true ownership is concealed, and their flags of registry are often swapped. These shadow ships are a hazard to themselves, other ships, and the environment. They are used in newly created alternative logistics networks by countries currently banned from the normal global system, including Russia, Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela.
Much of this dark fleet is made up of crude oil tankers. These ships are estimated to carry as much as 10% of the world’s crude oil trade. However, in addition to allowing the circumvention of oil sanctions, the dark fleet also enables an illicit arms trade and the transportation of equipment used in the development of nuclear technologies. The fact that this dark fleet may be carrying nuclear technologies to Iran, and that Iran itself has been employing such a fleet for its own oil exports, closely ties the Russia-Ukraine war to the growing Iranian threat to the maritime straits in the Middle East.
Adding to these new challenges are existing trends that have been exacerbated in recent years, such as the conflict over Taiwan and great power competition over the South China Sea, which remains a focal point of international tensions. These tensions are largely fueled by the PRC’s territorial claims and assertive maritime activities, which it views as vital to maintaining the security of its maritime trade routes and to the pushing away of competing claims by US-backed rivals.
The South China Sea region, which is known for its strategic maritime routes and significant untapped natural resources, has witnessed increased militarization and island-building efforts by the PRC. These efforts have challenged the sovereignty claims of neighboring Southeast Asian nations and prompted concerns over freedom of navigation. This assertiveness has led to frequent confrontations with the US and other global powers that conduct freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) to challenge the PRC’s maritime claims as each side tests its rival’s red lines.
The relationship between the PRC and the Philippines has become particularly strained. Despite its relatively modest military capabilities, the Philippines has been vocal in opposing the PRC’s territorial assertions, especially around features like the Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands. Incidents involving the harassment of Filipino fishermen by Chinese vessels, the presence of large fleets of Chinese maritime militia, and the PRC’s disregard for the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling that invalidated China’s expansive claims under the “nine-dash line” theory have all contributed to the tensions.
US strategists fear that the PRC is using its conflict with the Philippines as a testing ground to improve its maritime capabilities and experience, as well as to send a message to larger powers. The oft-quoted Chinese idiom, “Kill the chicken to scare the monkey,” seems to apply to this strategy.
Other than great power politics, another source of increased maritime conflict that has fueled tensions in the South China Sea derives from the rise of cheaper and more efficient drilling and exploration technologies for oil and gas deposits in the deep sea. Over the past two decades, major deep-sea energy discoveries around the world have pushed countries to better define their previously neglected exclusive economic zones (EEZ) through maritime border delimitation 200 nautical miles from shore, creating overlaps and tensions with neighboring countries. Recent tensions between Turkey and Cyprus, Guyana and Venezuela, Ghana and the Ivory Coast, and in the South China Sea were exacerbated by the promise of rich offshore energy deposits. These tensions were also sharpened by weak definitions and even weaker enforcement of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) regarding how EEZ borders are set and who gets to set them. As a result, the concept of “international waters” is almost gone from the Mediterranean Sea, the South China Sea, or the Arctic Ocean, as each littoral country tries to lay claim to as much of its offshore area as possible.
Not all current maritime problems have arisen from conflicts. The Panama Canal is grappling with significant drought problems that are affecting its operational capacity and thus the global shipping industry. Drought has caused dire declines in water levels in the Alajuela and Gatun lakes, which play a crucial role in the canal’s function. The decrease in water reserves has necessitated reducing the number of ships passing through the canal. Additionally, the canal faces the challenge of balancing water usage between its operations and providing for local cities, including Panama City, as these lakes and rivers also serve as vital water sources for those areas.
The ongoing drought has also led to restrictions on the maximum ship depth allowed in the canal. Large vessels must now take alternative routes, like the Drake Passage or the Magellan Straits. Maersk Lines, one of the world’s largest shipping companies, has used a “land bridge” by moving containers from ships to trucks and trains that cross the isthmus instead of taking the longer shipping route. All this significantly adds to time, costs, and environmental impact.
The longer routes, necessary wartime insurance, and environmental compliance measures have all added to the likelihood of delays, disruptions, and costs. Vessel war insurance, which usually hovers around 0.02% of the cost of the vessel, has risen to 0.75% and, in some cases, as much as 1.0%. For a large container ship, the extra insurance can cost shippers an extra $1 million or more.
While climate change is creating challenges to international shipping, the solutions to climate change are also rife with challenges to the industry, especially when it comes to laws and regulations regarding emissions reduction. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has called for “a just and equitable transition” to a decarbonized shipping industry and full decarbonization by 2050. Global shipping regulations like the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) regulations from 2020 have been implemented to address this. IMO 2020 mandates a significant reduction in the sulfur content of marine fuels, from 3.5% to 0.5%, to decrease marine pollution and protect coastal communities.
Despite these efforts, UNCTAD’s recent review of maritime transportation says CO2 emissions caused by the shipping industry are getting worse, not better. UNCTAD points to the rising average ship age – just over 22 years – which adds to the pollution problem. These older ships cannot be retrofitted with emissions controls and remain profitable. Thus, the industry is relying on recapitalization (replacement of older fleets), which has added to demand and backlogs for builders.
The confluence of headwinds described above will likely raise transport costs and affect shippers throughout the coming year, but they will also help the current global shipping recession come to an end. CNBC reports that Vessel-Operating Common Carriers (VOCC) like Maersk, COSCO, and Evergreen are anticipating a rise in rates to levels not seen since before the COVID disruptions of 2021 and 2022. While it is true that the industry has been in a slump, with rates halved since the pandemic, industry experts forecast that current conflicts and other challenges will end the freight recession by the third quarter of 2024.
Regional provocations and environmental challenges mark the “confused seas” of the maritime landscape, but the international community’s collective action, the shipping industry’s resilience, and regional geopolitical responses to these challenges will determine the future of the global maritime commons.
CDR. David Levy, a retired US Navy Commander and former US diplomat, is a senior research fellow at the BESA Center. He was Director of Theater Security Cooperation for US Naval Forces Central Command and was US Air and Naval Attaché in Tunis. CDR. Levy is a former RAND Corp. Federal Executive Fellow and a Ph.D. candidate at Bar-Ilan University in the Politics Department.
Dr. Elai Rettig is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Studies and a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He specializes in energy geopolitics and national security. A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.
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From Tragedy to Proactive Peace: Holocaust Insights in Israel’s Security Measures
The Holocaust stands as a stark lesson in the catastrophic outcomes of unchecked hatred, systemic discrimination, and the silence of the global community in the face of deadly human rights violations.
This dark chapter in history compels us to examine contemporary threats to human dignity and life, especially the acts of terrorism from groups like Hamas. These acts destabilize regions and challenge our collective moral compass, urging us to apply historical lessons to prevent a recurrence of history’s darkest moments.
Israel, born from the ashes of the Holocaust, has embedded the memory of this tragedy into the very core of its national identity and security policies. The Jewish State’s approach to security is not just about safeguarding borders, but also about preserving the sanctity of life, a resolve that was forged in the Holocaust’s aftermath.
Israel’s security measures, often scrutinized, are fundamentally shaped by an acute awareness of what happens when threats are not taken seriously. This awareness informs its vigilant stance against groups like Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel, echoing the genocidal intent of the Nazis. In other words, this strategic foresight is complemented by educational initiatives that instill the importance of vigilance and the moral imperative to act against potential threats to human dignity.
Israel’s security apparatus employs advanced technology and intelligence-gathering to preempt terrorist attacks, reflecting the state’s commitment to “never again” allow Jewish lives to be imperiled without recourse. Yet Israel also faces ethical dilemmas reminiscent of those posed by historical persecution, balancing national security with the rights of Palestinians. This balance is precarious, underscoring the need for solutions that ensure security without compromising human dignity, mirroring the global call to action that arose from the Holocaust’s horrors.
Beyond military and security responses, Israel’s investment in Holocaust education serves as a tool against extremism. By educating future generations about the consequences of unchecked hatred and bigotry, Israel aims to cultivate a society resilient against ideologies that fuel terrorism. Furthermore, Israel’s efforts in peacebuilding and normalization with Arab states indicate a forward-looking approach to securing not only its future, but also fostering regional stability, drawing on historical lessons to navigate contemporary challenges.
The global response to the Holocaust underscored the need for international cooperation to prevent future atrocities. Israel today advocates for a unified global stance against terrorism, emphasizing the importance of collective action and shared intelligence. International cooperation in counter-terrorism efforts not only bolsters Israel’s security, but also contributes to global peace, highlighting the interconnectedness of nations in the fight against extremism.
The Holocaust’s enduring lesson is the necessity of confronting hatred, safeguarding the vulnerable, and erasing the scourge of indifference. As Israel navigates the threats posed by terrorism today, it leverages these lessons in its security strategies, striving for a balance that honors the memory of Holocaust victims while addressing the complexities of modern geopolitical realities.
This commitment to learning from the past and acting decisively in the present underscores the ongoing relevance of Holocaust insights to Israel’s security measures, offering a path toward a future where peace and human dignity can flourish.
Elham Sataki, a distinguished journalist with more than two decades of expertise, specializes in international reporting, digital content production, and investigative journalism. She possesses a deep knowledge of European history and American policy, coupled with a talent for delivering compelling narratives across various media platforms. She was the former anchor of VOA ( Voice of America).
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