Decoding Funny Faces to Detect Disease
Prof. Talma Hendler of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Psychology discovers brain imaging can identify mental illness before it starts.
Like Russell Crowe’s character in A Beautiful Mind, life is often difficult for the 2.4 million Americans with schizophrenia. A late or incorrect diagnosis and the lack of effective treatment options can destroy a sufferer`s quality of life.
Schizophrenia usually emerges between the ages of 18 and 30, but diagnosis before the disease manifests could be the key to developing more successful treatments, says Prof. Talma Hendler of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Psychology.
Until now, detecting mental illness before symptoms appear has been nearly impossible. Building on her groundbreaking work on facial recognition and brain imaging, Prof. Hendler is hoping to make early diagnosis a reality by identifying the physical markers of mental illness — particularly schizophrenia — inside the brain.
“With better diagnosis, plus earlier and more disease-specific treatment, we can make a real difference in the lives of these patients,” Prof. Hendler says.
For years, the mechanism behind the abnormal social behavior that characterizes many schizophrenic patients has been a mystery. To study the physical manifestation of schizophrenia, Prof. Hendler used brain imaging to illustrate differences between the brain activity of schizophrenic patients and healthy adults. Her work is part of the Functional Human Brain Mapping project at Tel Aviv University.
Prof. Hendler`s findings, published recently in the journal Human Brain Mapping, showed that when presented with photographs of emotional faces with “bizarre” characteristics, the brains of schizophrenic patients were much less reactive than established norms.
In her previous research published in the journal Neuron, when shown a bizarre "funny face", healthy minds respond with selective activity within the brain, sounding the alarm that there is something disturbing about the image. Prof Hendler then posited that although this selective response is found in visual areas, it has distributed effects in the brain; “The visual areas of the brain are highly connected to other areas, including the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, but in schizophrenic patients, there is a diminished connection between the various parts, leading to disturbed integration of information — and thus to distorted experiences," she says.
Developing Early Screening Processes and Better Treatments
“Recognizing facial emotions is a very early process, so young children could be screened for a predisposition to mental disease by measuring their brain connectivity while detecting emotional cues,” Prof. Hendler explains. An objective early marker of the disease would be especially useful for those already considered high risk, such as children with an immediate family member with the disease. With early diagnosis to guide individually tailored treatment, it may be possible to reduce the effect of the disease and, in some cases, even prevent its outbreak.
By identifying the physical characteristics of a mental disorder, Prof. Hendler is also paving the way for new types of treatment. “Current drugs treat the abnormal behavior, not the brain disorder that is causing the behavior,” she says, “We want to be able to develop more specific treatments based on objective brain markers, which are the actual characteristics of the disease.”
Prof. Hendler’s work has been published in leading journals in the field of cognitive neuroscience such as the Journal of Neuroscience and the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Neuroimage and Neuron. She is currently also working on using brain imaging to characterize and identify predispositions for post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers.
Future work with “funny faces” will also look at basic human emotions such as shame, envy and guilt. Having a neural marker for these emotions might give clinicians an early-detection tool to spot abnormalities in social interactions. Problems in socializing are a hallmark of schizophrenia.
Senator George Mitchell Discusses Israel`s Security Challenges at INSS Conference
Noted American and Israeli politicians examine the future of Israeli security.
Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, recently named special envoy to the Middle East by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, lauded the strong relationship between the U.S. and Israel at the second annual international conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, one of the world`s leading think tanks and an external institute of Tel Aviv University. Speaking on the TAU campus on December 17-18, 2008, Mitchell called the bond between the leaders of the two nations "essential."
Major speakers at the conference also included Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, as well as former TAU President Ambassador Itamar Rabinovich.
On a hopeful note, Senator Mitchell made an analogy between the ideological conflict that once faced Northern Ireland and the Israeli-Palestinian situation. “There is no such thing as a conflict that can’t be ended,” said Senator Mitchell.
Rays of Light in a Dark Time
Continuing the positive theme, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni focused on the idea of establishing common interests to help Israel achieve peace in the region with the help of foreign powers. “When we identify common interests, the whole world is with us,” she asserted, re-emphasizing Israel’s desire to establish peaceful relationships with its neighbors.
The featured speakers examined the current security situation of the State of Israel within the framework of the rapidly changing global political landscape.
The discussion included a wide range of American and Israeli security experts and political figures who analyzed the changing face of Israel’s national security in the evolving political world, including how U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration will impact the Middle East.
Relationship with U.S. "Israel`s Most Strategic Asset"
Prime Minister Olmert also spoke about the type of policy the new American government will apply to the Middle East, and how that will affect the region. He called Israel’s relationship with the United States its “most important strategic asset.”
The emergence of that relationship, and the development of American-Israeli relations, was described by Ambassador Rabinovich. His brief overview of historical Israeli-American relations since the State of Israel was established in 1948 provided a context for the comments made by other speakers.
Experts also addressed strategic alliances, ideological differences, and Iranian nuclearization.
The Moshe Dayan Center
US ambasador visit at the dayan center.
The New York Times lists the Moshe Dayan Center as an important Israeli resource for information relevant to recent discussions on its website (see link - scroll down on right side of page).
50 years of the Aharonov-Bohm Effect Concepts and Applications.
Charles M. Marcus
Chang C Tsuei
Chen Ning Yang
*to be confirmed
Aharonov-Bohm Effect in:
Quantum Hall Effect
Quantum Geometrical Phases
Nonlocal Aspects of the Aharonov-Bohm effect
Future – Dan David prize in the field of “Global Public Health”
Robert C. Gallo (Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, USA) for his research of the HIV and T cell leukaemia viruses and especially for the development of a robust, simple blood test to detect the HIV virus, the importance of which for the epidemiology of this huge pandemic cannot be overestimated.
Present - Dan David prize in the field of “Leadership”
Tony Blair (former Prime Minister of Great Britain) for his exceptional leadership and steadfast determination in helping to engineer agreements and forge lasting solutions to areas in conflict
Past - sharing the Dan David prize in the field of “Astrophysics – History of the Universe”
Paolo de Bernardis, (in the pic) (University La Sapienza, Rome, Italy), Andrew Lange (Caltech, USA) and Paul Richards (UC Berkeley, USA), are awarded the 2009 Dan David Prize for their discoveries concerning the geometry and composition of our Universe with the BOOMERanG and MAXIMA experiments. The publication of their data in 2000 provided the first undisputed evidence that the Universe has a flat geometry.
Russia and the Middle East in an Era of Change
The English Speaking Friends of Tel Aviv University, The S. Daniel Abraham Center for International and Regional Studies, The International Forum, H.E. Mr. Piotr V. Stegniy, Ambassador of Russia.
Chairman: Prof. Raanan Rein Coordinator: Miriam Ben-Haim
Wednesday, March 11, 2009 at 6:00 p.m.
Naftali Building of Social Sciences, Hall 003 (Ground Floor)
Entrance and parking Ramniceanu gate (4), Dr. George Wise St
War and Peace Index – February 2009 Prof. Ephraim Yaar and Prof. Tamar Hermann
THE TAMI STEINMETZ CENTER FOR PEACE RESEARCH. Only a small minority of the entire Israeli public (17%) is satisfied with the results of the recent elections (43% are dissatisfied, 35% are in between, and the rest do not know). Yet close to 90% of all those who voted would vote again for the same party
even if they knew the election results from the start. That is, their perception is that
it’s the other voters, not themselves, who erred. Among those who did not vote but, in
light of the results, would do so if given another opportunity (16%, with the
overwhelming majority, 69%, saying they would not vote even if given a further
chance to do so), 30% would opt for Kadima and 27% for Likud, with the rest of the
parties receiving only a few percentage points. In other words, if the nonvoters went
to the booths, Kadima would keep its small lead over Likud. In the court of public
opinion, the two prime-ministerial candidates are in a very close race: 37.5% prefer
Livni, 37.6% favor Netanyahu. Taking the sampling error into account, the meaning
of these results from a statistical standpoint is a tie between the two.
As for the coalition that stands to emerge, there is a clear preference for a
combination of Likud, Kadima, and Labor (36%), with the rest of the preferences
divided between a coalition of Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, and the other right-wing parties
(22%) and a coalition of Likud, Kadima, and Yisrael Beiteinu (16%). A segmentation
of the preferences by voting in the elections reveals that among voters for the
religious parties (Torah Judaism, the Jewish Home, the National Union, and Shas),
and to a lesser extent among Likud voters, the clear preference is for a decidedly
right-wing coalition, while among Meretz and Labor voters the majority prefers a
Likud-Kadima-Labor coalition—meaning the Labor Party’s idea of sitting in the
opposition is not very popular among left-wing voters.
Since, as in the past, security issues played the central role in the latest election
campaign (perhaps one should note here that currently in the Israeli public as a
whole, 43% define themselves as Right, 26% as Center, and 20% as Left; the rest do
not know), we checked whom the public most trusts to have the responsibility for
these issues. Interestingly, the Likud candidate for defense minister in this coalition,former chief of staff Moshe (Boogie) Yaalon, is considered the “right person” by only
14% of the public as a whole, while Ehud Barak leads by a large margin with 45%
seeing him as the preferred candidate. Shaul Mofaz has the support of 13% of the
public, and Avigdor Lieberman of 10%. Barak is, interestingly, also preferred as
defense minister by the right-wing public, though by a smaller margin compared to
the other candidates. In any case, Ehud Barak’s popularity as defense minister could
explain why there is a preference for a coalition that includes Labor.
Over a month since the end of Operation Cast Lead, the entire Israeli public’s
assessment of its results appears to be divided almost evenly between the
disappointed (33%) and the satisfied (36%), with the rest (29%) either in the middle
or not knowing. The Jewish public, though, evidences a clear lead for the satisfied:
39% versus 25% who are dissatisfied (the rest have no clear opinion on the matter).
The dissatisfaction seems to stem mainly from the majority’s opinion (56% of the
entire public and 66% of the Jewish public) that Israel should have continued the
operation until Hamas surrendered rather than give in to the international pressure to
stop the fighting. Thus, in the public as a whole, 22% (24% of the Jewish public) think
the operation was ended in time and 15% think it should have been ended earlier
(6% of the Jewish public think so).
Since the data reveal a sense among the public that the operation did not achieve
any unequivocal result, we again checked the positions on negotiations with Hamas.
While a majority still says there is no place for such negotiations, the proportion that
thinks otherwise is large: 45% of the entire Israeli public (40% of the Jewish public)
believe today that Israel should hold negotiations with Hamas. A segmentation of the
preferences by voting in the elections shows that in the Jewish public, there is a
majority favoring negotiations with Hamas among voters for Meretz (93%), Labor
(56%), and Kadima (53%), while for all the other parties a majority opposes it.
On the issue of Gilad Shalit, there is broad agreement (77% of the entire public and
85% of the Jewish public) that his release must be a precondition for a ceasefire with
Hamas, even if this means no agreement is signed and Hamas renews the massive
fire against the southern communities. In a similar spirit, an overwhelming majority (77% of the entire public and 70% of the Jewish public) supports a deal in which, in
return for Gilad Shalit’s release, Israel would free hundreds and possibly even more
Palestinian prisoners including many with “blood on their hands.” A segmentation by
voting in the elections shows that in the Jewish public there is a majority of
supporters of such a step in all the parties except the Jewish Home and the National
Union, whose voters apparently see releasing terrorists as a real danger or an
Tony Blair and Robert Gallo Among 2009 Dan David Prize Winners
Three $1 Million Awards to be presented.
The international Dan David Prize, which annually awards three prizes of US$1 million each for outstanding achievement, announced the names of its 2009 laureates today.
The Dan David Prize is named after international businessman and philanthropist Dan David and is headquartered at Tel Aviv University. The laureates, who donate 10% of their prize money towards 20 doctoral and postdoctoral scholarships, will be honoured at a ceremony on May 17, 2009 at Tel Aviv University in the presence of the President of the State of Israel, Mr. Shimon Peres.
The 2009 Dan David Prize laureates, in the Past, Present and Future Time Dimensions, are:
Past - sharing the prize in the field of “Astrophysics – History of the Universe”:
• Paolo de Bernardis (University La Sapienza, Rome, Italy), Andrew Lange (Caltech, USA) and Paul Richards (UC Berkeley, USA) are awarded the 2009 Dan David Prize for their discoveries concerning the geometry and composition of our Universe with the BOOMERanG and MAXIMA experiments. The publication of their data in 2000 provided the first undisputed evidence that the Universe has a flat geometry.
Present - in the field of “Leadership”:
• Tony Blair (former Prime Minister of Great Britain) for his exceptional leadership and steadfast determination in helping to engineer agreements and forge lasting solutions to areas in conflict
Future –in the field of “Global Public Health”:
• Robert C. Gallo (Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, USA) for his research of the HIV and T cell leukaemia viruses and especially for the development of a robust, simple blood test to detect the HIV virus, the importance of which for the epidemiology of this huge pandemic cannot be overestimated.
Upon announcement of the laureates Dan David commented: “The 2009 laureates epitomise the essence of the three Time Dimensions; we have three scientists who shed light on the way in which our universe was formed, a great leader instrumental in resolving on-going world conflicts, and a scientist working to alleviate human disease and suffering now and in the future ”.
Prof. Zvi Galil, President of Tel Aviv University and Chairman of the Dan David Prize Board of Directors added that "Tel Aviv University’s vision and mission i.e., the achievement of excellence, innovation, ingenuity, creativity and the advancement of knowledge, are embodied in these activities and reinforce the underlying goals of the Dan David Prize". Prof. Galil extended his sincere congratulations to the distinguished laureates and has expressed his best wishes to Mr. Dan David "for continued good work toward making this a better world."
The Moshe Dayan Center, Nasrallah`s Defeat in the 2006 War, Assessing Hezbollah`s Influence, by Eyal Zisser
On the night of February 12, 2008, a car bomb in Damascus killed Imad Mughniyeh, the head of Hezbollah`s military wing. The assassination shattered the legend of Hezbollah`s invincibility. Intelligence services of at least forty countries had pursued Mughniyeh for decades, and he had succeeded in evading them all. His elusiveness substantiated Hezbollah`s claim that its enemies had no hope of finding cracks in the group`s network or in the ranks of its faithful. Mughniyeh`s death destroyed that myth. Since that fateful Tuesday, every child in Lebanon knows that whoever got Mughniyeh will be able to get to Hasan Nasrallah, Hezbollah`s secretary-general, as well.
At Mughniyeh`s Beirut funeral, Nasrallah blamed Israel for the assassination and said the group`s revenge would not be slow in coming. His emotive response is understandable. Not only was Mughniyeh`s death a severe blow to Hezbollah—he was the group`s terror mastermind and chief military strategist—but the shattering of the legend of Mughniyeh also lowered Hezbollah`s standing and morale.
Nasrallah in a Tight Spot
Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah (L) and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meet in Tehran, August 1, 2005. Hezbollah is viewed increasingly as a Shi`i force serving as a tool, if not a fifth column, of Iran with the aim of advancing a host of Iranian interests. But Iranian disappointment with Nasrallah`s conduct during and after the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war and its belief that Nasrallah endangered Iranian interests by his un-calculated behavior has been evident in many reports in both the Lebanese and Arab media.
For years, it has been customary to view Nasrallah as one of the canniest players in the Middle East. Under his leadership, Hezbollah achieved major successes and established itself as the leader of the Lebanese Shi‘i community and as the most capable terrorist group threatening Israel. Nasrallah became a respected leader not only to many Lebanese Shi‘a but also to Arabs and Muslims far beyond Lebanon`s borders.
Nasrallah built Hezbollah into an organization standing on two pillars. One pillar is its powerful, armed militia that focuses on the struggle with Israel, and the other is the organization`s political and social activities, which aim to improve the lot of the Lebanese Shi‘a and, eventually, challenge the existing order in the country on behalf of the Shi‘i community. During the 1990s, Hezbollah became the leading power among the Lebanese Shi‘a, eclipsing the Amal movement thanks to the social, economic, and political infrastructure Hezbollah had developed. Election results to the Lebanese parliament and the local municipalities demonstrate this superiority. Since 2000, many in Lebanon and abroad have begun to suspect that Nasrallah seeks to take power in Lebanon by democratic means, exploiting the fact that his Shi‘i supporters constitute the largest community in the country, perhaps 35 to 45 percent of the total population. Indeed, following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Nasrallah began calling for the implementation in Lebanon of a democratic system such as the Americans had brought to Iraq.
Despite his shrewdness, Nasrallah has been a compulsive gambler for whom only one step separates success from catastrophe. For many years, he won, but in the summer of 2006, his winning streak was broken. First, he kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, sparking war with Israel; second, he chose after that war to challenge the Lebanese government of Fouad Siniora, plunging Lebanon into a long crisis and Hezbollah into the murky waters of Lebanese politics.
Nasrallah`s gambles have transformed Hezbollah`s identity and standing. The group gained the respect of many Lebanese, Arabs, and Muslims as it acquired the sheen of victory as a resistance movement. Now, however dominant Hezbollah is, it is developing into just another Lebanese political party, corrupted by its participation in day-to-day politics. Yet inside Lebanon, its record includes the terrible destruction it brought on the country through its unilateral actions. Worse, it is viewed increasingly as a narrowly-focused Shi‘i force serving as a tool, if not a fifth column, of Iran with the aim of advancing a host of Iranian interests—inside Lebanon, against Israel, and across the Sunni divide.
Two years after Hezbollah`s war with Israel, Lebanon is a divided country teetering on the verge of a civil war that is largely a result of Hezbollah`s bellicosity toward Israel and its refusal to submit itself to the domain of politics with the rest of Lebanon. Hezbollah itself is a battered and bruised organization struggling to regain its standing inside Lebanon.
Meanwhile, two other realities are indisputable: First, since the 2006 war, quiet has prevailed along the Israeli-Lebanese border such as has not been known there since the late 1960s, prior to the arrival of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) forces in Lebanon. This quiet derives above all from Hezbollah`s wariness of Israel. The organization is concerned that it and its supporters will not be able to withstand the strain of a new round of fighting. The second reality is Nasrallah`s disappearance from public events. Prior to the 2006 war, it was customary for him to participate monthly in more than dozen meetings. For example, in October and November 2005, Al-Manar television and the Lebanese National News Agency reported twenty-eight public meetings, speeches, or media events. His need to remain hidden is a blow to someone who depends on frequent public exposure, and it reinforces the perception of Hezbollah`s vulnerability to assassination and sabotage. Indeed, rumors are rife of Iranian dissatisfaction with Nasrallah. On the eve of Mughniyeh`s assassination, reports circulated that Tehran had supplanted Nasrallah`s leadership with his deputy leader Na‘im Qasim. While both Nasrallah and Qasim denied the reports, Iranian disappointment with Nasrallah`s conduct during and after the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war and its belief that Nasrallah endangered Iranian interests by his uncalculated behavior has been evident in many reports in both the Lebanese and Arab media.
From Victory to Defeat
In May 2000, Hezbollah reached the highest peak of its existence. On the night of May 24, 2000, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) completed its retreat from the so-called security zone in southern Lebanon, a unilateral withdrawal undertaken without any agreements or commitments with the other side. For Hezbollah, this became both a great victory and a day of celebration.
The IDF retreat from southern Lebanon gave Hezbollah new prestige. The organization was now viewed as the vanguard of the Arab struggle against Israel and as a rising force with a promising future both inside Lebanon and abroad. It was assumed that Hezbollah was destined to play a significant regional role, especially in view of the political and even ideological vacuum that characterized inter-Arab relations. In Israel, there were even some people who expressed concern that Nasrallah had his sights set on becoming a pan-Arab leader of the stature of Gamal Abdul Nasser.
In October 2000, months after the Israeli withdrawal, Hezbollah renewed its attacks on Israeli targets, mainly in the Shebaa Farms region at the foot of Mount Hermon. With Iranian and Syrian help, Hezbollah had developed an impressive military capability that included an arsenal of 12,000 missiles with ranges covering all of northern Israel to Hadera. Hezbollah soon began to encourage and assist terrorist activities carried out by Palestinian organizations against Israel.
Nasrallah has headed the Hezbollah organization since February 1992. His achievements stem both from political astuteness and his deep understanding of the strategic realities of the region. However, Nasrallah`s hubris leads him to mistakes. Whatever successes he achieves encourage him to take more gambles. And like any gambler, he eventually lost.
On the morning of July 12, 2006, Hezbollah fighters attacked an IDF patrol moving along the Israeli-Lebanese border. Nasrallah later admitted that he had thought at the time that the Israeli response would be minor, localized, and limited, like past Israeli reactions to similar Hezbollah provocations. Instead, the government of Israel launched an all-out war against Hezbollah.
The war lasted thirty-three days and brought ruin and destruction not witnessed since the end of the Lebanese civil war (1975-90) on the Lebanese side of the border, from the towns and villages in the south to the Shi‘i suburbs of Beirut. The fighting killed close to 1,300 Lebanese civilians, together with perhaps 600 Hezbollah fighters. Nearly a million Lebanese became refugees, including most of the Shi‘i population of southern Lebanon.
As the war ended, Nasrallah declared that Hezbollah had won a "divine victory." After all, Hezbollah had survived the Israeli assault and had quite a few successes in the fighting such as striking Haifa for the first time since 1948, as well as hitting the Israeli military vessel, Hanit, off the Beirut shore on the evening of July 14, 2006. However, the gains did not outnumber the losses. Hezbollah suffered severe blows during the fighting, hence Nasrallah`s admission that if he realized there was even a one percent chance of a sustained military response from Israel, he would not have given orders to kidnap the Israeli soldiers.
In Israel as well as in the West, Nasrallah is too often perceived only as the leader of a terrorist militia with several thousand fighters and rockets that seeks confrontation with Israel. Those who look at Nasrallah through that narrow prism believe that, as Nasrallah continued firing rockets into Israel until the last day of the fighting, he could legitimately be seen as the victor in the confrontation.
However, Nasrallah does not simply see himself as the leader of an army. In both his own eyes and those of his followers, he was a symbol for the entire Arab if not Muslim world. As of July 11, 2006, he was the leader of a political and social movement—probably the largest in Lebanon—with deep roots in the Lebanese Shi‘i community. Hezbollah had fourteen representatives in the parliament, more than four thousand representatives in local municipal councils, an education system with dozens of schools and about one hundred thousand students, a health system with dozens of hospitals and clinics caring for half a million people a year, a banking system, marketing chains, and even pension funds and insurance companies. Nasrallah has devoted much of his energy in the last decade to building up his movement, or domestic empire, as it were. He viewed the creation of such an empire as his life`s work, which would take him far, possibly even to a contest over the control of Lebanon.
But, Israel set back Nasrallah`s efforts. Hezbollah suffered perhaps US$4 billion damage to its institutions and enterprises while the damage caused to Lebanon was perhaps five times more. Despite such a result, Lebanese Shi‘a had no choice but to rally around Nasrallah. There was no one else in Lebanon let alone at the U.N. or in the international community who cared about them. Communal Lebanese government leaders focused on the interests of the Sunni, Maronite, and Druze communities even though these communities barely suffered in the war. However, the damage inflicted on the Shi‘a clearly reduced Nasrallah`s room for maneuver, as evidenced by his admission at the end of the war.
As the weeks and months passed, the degree of damage inflicted on the organization`s military power also became clear. It was just as painful and significant as the damage done to the organization`s political power. First, Israeli forces destroyed Hezbollah`s stockpile of strategic missiles, primarily Zilzal unguided rockets from Iran, during the first moments of the Israeli attack on the night of July 12, 2007. Nasrallah had hoped to use these missiles against central Israel. This was a severe blow to the Hezbollah leader, who lost an important bargaining chip even before the campaign began. Indeed, the precision of Israeli intelligence, which enabled Jerusalem to strike at the organization`s strategic stockpile, surprised Nasrallah.
Second, Israeli assessments estimate that Hezbollah lost about a third of its elite fighting force. While Hezbollah has no difficulty attracting volunteers to its ranks, turning them into skilled military operators is a lengthy and complex process. Third, despite the mistakes made by the IDF in conducting the military campaign, Israeli soldiers triumphed in every face-to-face battle with Hezbollah.
Nasrallah concealed these facts from the Lebanese people and perhaps even from Iran. Hezbollah fed reports of successes and victories to both audiences. Despite the false reports, however, Tehran likely realized the scope of disaster Hezbollah had suffered, and there is no doubt that Nasrallah himself grasped the extent of the damage that had been done to his organization and himself.
In the wake of the 2006 war, the following facts have become clear: First, Hezbollah, which represented itself as the "defender of Lebanon," turned out to be its destroyer, due to the extensive devastation it brought down on the heads of the Lebanese people in the course of the war. Second, Hezbollah`s deterrent charm was dispelled. The war made it clear that the organization could no longer carry out military operations against Israel along the Lebanese-Israeli border and expect Israel to refrain from retaliating. Third, Hezbollah was perceived more and more as a Shi‘i organization serving Iranian interests.
Thus, there is nothing surprising in the fact that since the war, Nasrallah has devoted himself to repairing and rebuilding his power while, at the same time, taking greater care than ever before to preserve the quiet along the Lebanese-Israeli border. He has no desire to rekindle the confrontation with Israel until his position in Lebanon has improved.
Indeed, Hezbollah used Israel`s acquiescence to a prisoner swap in June 2008 to try to bolster its domestic position and to rebuild its reputation in Lebanon. However, critics in Lebanon pointed out the terrible price Lebanon paid for this deal during the 2006 war. Moreover, the U.S. and European efforts to resume negotiations on the question of the Shebaa Farms raised Hezbollah`s fears that any deal would make it difficult to use the conflict with Israel to reestablish itself in Lebanon and in the Arab Middle East. It is not surprising that Hezbollah spokesmen both expressed reservations over any new deal and promised to continue the struggle with Israel regardless of whether Jerusalem returned Shebaa Farms to Lebanon.
Nasrallah`s War on Beirut
On November 9, 2006, the Amal and Hezbollah ministers serving in the government of Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora submitted their resignations in protest over the refusal of the Cedar Revolution coalition to submit to the demands of the Shi‘i organizations to establish a national unity government in which the Shi‘i representation would be increased and in which Michel Aoun, Hezbollah`s loyal ally, would also be given representation. On the face of it, these looked like innocent, and even legitimate, demands aimed at advancing dialogue and understanding between the various Lebanese communities and wielders of power. However, if these demands were met and Nasrallah`s representatives and allies received a third of the portfolios in the Lebanese government, then they would acquire veto power over any resolution the Lebanese government tried to adopt.
During the two years that followed, Lebanon found itself mired in a crisis that paralyzed the entire political system. The trauma of the lengthy civil war that ended with the 1989 Ta`if agreement continues to play an important role in the public`s consciousness. It impelled both Nasrallah and his opponents to act with restraint so as not to be perceived as responsible for the decline of the state into a new civil war, which would surely lead to a loss of support from their followers.
Lebanese president Emile Lahoud`s term of office ended on November 24, 2007, and for many weeks afterwards, Lebanese politicians could not agree on Lahoud`s successor. Matters were complicated by the speaker of the parliament, Nabih Berri, who exploited his authority to prevent parliament from convening to elect a president.
During the first months of 2008, all efforts to resolve the crisis and bring about the election of a new president failed. In the meantime, tensions between the rivals increased to the breaking point. Hezbollah-aligned unions declared a strike while the government adopted a resolution to dismiss Wafiq Shuqayr, Beirut airport`s chief security officer, known for his close relations with Hezbollah, and to close down Hezbollah`s independent communication network.
Hezbollah considered the Siniora government`s decision an unacceptable challenge, or as Nasrallah put it, as a declaration of war against the movement. Hezbollah thus decided to break the stalemate in Lebanon and to try to force on its enemies a solution to the crisis that would strengthen its own standing.
On May 8, 2008, Hezbollah supporters took over the Sunni suburbs of West Beirut. Alongside the occupation of West Beirut, Hezbollah men took over the West Beirut offices of the Al-Mustaqbal party led by Said al-Din al-Hariri and shut down its television and radio stations in addition to setting fire to the building housing the party`s newspaper, Al-Mustaqbal, which belongs to the media empire run by the Hariri family. In addition, Hezbollah, in a show of force, surrounded the residencies of Hariri and Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Druze community.
This was an impressive demonstration of the military might of Hezbollah, but most Lebanese already acknowledged the military superiority of Hezbollah over all its rivals, including the Lebanese army. Hezbollah`s move was calculated and cautious: In order to signal that they did not wish the destruction of the Lebanese political system, Hezbollah supporters did not appear in uniform as organized forces and avoided attacking government buildings or clashing with the Lebanese army. Indeed, in a matter of two days Hezbollah evacuated their positions and left the streets of West Beirut, enabling the Lebanese army to deploy its forces there.
But Hezbollah`s impressive victory over its rivals was pyrrhic. The challenge facing Hezbollah is not and never has been the occupation of West Beirut. Its challenge is to win the hearts of the Lebanese people, especially those who are not part of the Shi‘i community. Those Lebanese who regarded Hezbollah with mistrust and resentment now regard it with hatred. Fouad Siniora discovered that in his weakness there is much strength and that his unwillingness to fight Hezbollah militarily won him the support and empathy of many in Lebanon and in the Arab world at large. Many Lebanese noted that while Hezbollah had refrained from firing a single bullet at Israel since the end of the 2006 war, it had turned its weapons on Lebanese in West Beirut, an event more in the interest of the Iranian government than that of the Lebanese people, regardless of sectarian preference or political outlook.
The May 2008 violence, which cost the lives of more than one hundred Lebanese, shows that no one in Lebanon has an interest in a renewed civil war. It was only a few days before an Arab reconciliatory effort began, which led to an all-Lebanese summit in Doha, Qatar. On May 23, 2008, the summit produced the Doha agreement, which enabled the election of Michel Suleiman as Lebanese president two days later. Other parts of the agreement dealt with the establishment of a unity government, in which the opposition headed by Hezbollah would have one third of the seats and thus the power to veto all government decisions, and understandings regarding the election law for the forthcoming 2009 parliamentary elections. The total break has thus been delayed until the next time.
Lebanon has weathered the struggle over the identity of the president and is now facing the struggle over the composition of the government. But it also must face the yet-to-come struggle over the parliamentary elections scheduled for spring 2009. Altogether, these flash points should be viewed as a prelude to the much more significant struggle over who is to rule Lebanon and what Hezbollah`s role in Lebanon will be.
As time passes, the severity of the blow suffered by Lebanon and its people from the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war becomes clear. The war resulted in a political crisis in Lebanon that continues to threaten to deteriorate into civil war, this time between the Shi‘i community and the country`s other groups. True, the war did not engender this crisis; its roots lie in deep, long-term problems that have been unfolding in Lebanon for some time. However, there is no doubt that the war intensified existing tensions, exposed wounds that had scabbed over only with great difficulty, and created new political and social resentments.
Precisely because the Shi‘a will become the majority in Lebanon within a few years, the power struggle between Hezbollah and the Amal movement for primacy among the Shi‘a is of the utmost importance. Surveys conducted in Lebanon shortly after the end of the war indicate support of up to 65-70 percent among Shi‘a for Hezbollah under Nasrallah`s leadership. However, the same surveys also show that the organization`s hard-core supporters comprise no more than 25-30 percent of the community. This means that most of the members of the Shi‘i community are not necessarily in Nasrallah`s pocket, and they might transfer their allegiance from Hezbollah to Amal if Amal can offer them the same hope that Hezbollah once embodied. The Amal movement believes in the integration of the Shi‘a into Lebanese life while Hezbollah represents a radical outlook imported from Iran. Though the economic aid that Iran provides Hezbollah has allowed the organization to become a leading force within the Lebanese Shi‘i community, an internal Shi‘i conflict between Amal and Hezbollah has by no means been averted.
Thus, in several respects, Hezbollah and its leader find themselves in deep trouble, fighting a rearguard action in order to maintain themselves and regain the status they enjoyed on the eve of the 2006 war. However, no one should think that the organization or its supporters are going to disappear. They will continue to be a permanent factor in the Lebanese equation. The challenges presently facing the organization are not simple, nor are the challenges facing Nasrallah. For him, Hezbollah is his life`s work, yet he has gotten the organization into deep trouble by his badly calculated gambles. Once a gambler, always a gambler; it is likely that Nasrallah will take risks again and, again, make big mistakes.
Still, the real challenge seems to be the one confronting the Lebanese state: How will the government, along with the various Lebanese communities, deal with the Shi‘i community? Will they work to enable that community to live in dignity and integrate more fully and justly into the Lebanese system?
Hezbollah will remain the most powerful force in Lebanon. But it is weaker and more vulnerable than many Israeli or Western officials admit. Since the 2006 war, Hezbollah has become more aware of its limits and weakness. It is more careful, calculating, and prepared to gamble on the demographical changes that will eventually give it victory in the internal struggle for control of Lebanon. For the time being, it is keeping the border with Israel quiet and prefers to play its winning card—a sophisticated propaganda machine—that has given Hezbollah a victorious image time and again in the past.
Where does this all take Lebanon? The answer to this question depends on the other Lebanese actors, some of whom, like Michel Aoun, are cooperating with Hezbollah for short term tactical gains, and on regional and international actors, who have failed until now to confront Hezbollah and to use its weakness to the advantage of Lebanon and the Lebanese.
Western officials do have a winning card to play, however. By revealing the organization`s weakness and its failures, they can begin to neutralize Hezbollah`s propaganda machine and begin to puncture inflated Arab and Lebanese perceptions of Hezbollah, the first steps necessary to neutralizing the threat it poses to Lebanon and to regional stability.
Eyal Zisser is director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University.
Israeli Arabs are voting less By ELIE REKHESS
There is evidence of a gradual decline in the participation rate of the Arab public in elections in recent years. Between 1996 and 2006, there was a 21 percent drop in election participation, from 77% to 56%, the lowest participation rate ever recorded for Arab voters in Knesset elections.
There are many different reasons for this retreat from the voting booths: disappointment with the achievements of Arab MKs; mistrust of the parliamentary political process or its effectiveness; ideological, religious or Islamist ban on participation; protest against the government establishment; a stronger orientation toward NGOs as an alternative to parliamentary politics.
The succession of events in the past three years, since elections were last held, portends a continued rise in abstention from voting. From the perspective of internal Arab politics, the first critical event, and especially notable, was the publication of four "Future Vision" documents in late 2006 and early 2007. These documents, which were the first attempt of their kind to formulate a coherent ideological conceptualization of the status of the Arab minority, proposed an ideological-political alternative to the current system. While the Future Vision documents contain no explicit ban on Knesset elections, their call to establish a consensual democracy (a binational state) certainly does little to encourage Arabs to cast their ballot in this year`s elections.
In terms of external influences, the Second Lebanon War of 2006 and Operation Cast Lead of early 2009 sharply accentuated the issue of the national identity of Arabs in Israel. The incompatibility between the Israeli-civic element of their identity and the national-Arab-Palestinian element intensified, resulting in a reinforced sense of national Arab belonging. In addition, the war in Gaza caused deep wounds that are not expected to heal quickly: The Arabs accused Israel of committing "war crimes" and "genocide" in Gaza. This adversarial position further discourages Arabs from performing their civic duty of participating in the upcoming democratic election process.
Finally, there has been no significant improvement in the relations between the Arab community and the establishment since the previous elections. True, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has recognized the continued discrimination of the Arab population on several public occasions in the last year, and has frequently spoken of the need for a change. Still, there is a difference between words and actions. In practice, little has changed.
THE COMBINED EFFECT of these developments is the growing polarization in Jewish-Arab relations. In recent years, mutual alienation and distrust have grown substantially. The eruption of violence in Acre in early October of last year is the latest indication of the fragility of these relations, and of their volatility.
The radical Jewish right-wing grows stronger as Avigdor Lieberman`s anti-Arab propaganda gathers steam. Balad and United Arab List-Ta`al were temporarily disqualified by the Central Election Committee. Together with the aggressive and emotional response of Arab MKs to the war in Gaza and to government policy, these developments promise to feed the vicious cycle in which Arab-Jewish relations are trapped: As the ouroboros of Greek symbolism, the head swallows the tail in desperate symbiosis.
The Arab parties, whose future is paradoxically contingent on voters` participation in Knesset elections, are investing supreme efforts to ensure that their voters cast a ballot. Their zeal is understandable: Once again, the Arab parties failed to form a united Arab bloc that might have won enough votes to meet minimum representation requirements with relative ease, and to establish a substantial Arab presence in the Knesset. As a result, the parties and lists are now fighting individually for their political future, by demonstrating their loyalty to the Palestinian-Arab cause (or "national-Islamist" cause in the case of UAL-Ta`al), forcefully rejecting the Zionist worldview, harshly criticizing government policy and conducting a campaign aimed to punish the Zionist parties competing for the Arab vote.
In view of the current situation, there is little chance that their attempt will succeed, although the Arab parties may manage to transform the upcoming elections into a mass protest of the Arab public. If, as surveys predict, the participation rate of Arabs in the elections does indeed continue to drop, representation of Arabs in the Knesset will also shrink, and the public debate on alternatives to parliamentary politics can be expected to focus intensely on three potential levels: developing the concept of an all-Arab parliament, reinforcing civil society organizations and increasing support for the Islamist stream that advocates the establishment of independent institutions.
The author is director of the Adenauer Program at Tel Aviv University and is currently the Crown Visiting Chair in Middle East Studies at Northwestern University
The Moshe Dayan Center, Turkey and Israel in the Aftermath of the Gaza War: Relations at a Crossroad? Ofra Bengio
The recent Davos incident in which Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan demonstratively walked off the stage during his debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres was not an accident. Rather, it was the culmination of a long process of changing Turkish priorities under the two AKP governments and a new configuration of Ankara’s foreign policy’s role in the region. The main principles of this policy, however conflicting they may be at different times, are the following:
1. Playing a pivotal role in the region.
2. Multilateralism, i.e. courting Arab and Muslim countries of the region while maintaining its ties with Israel.
3. Engaging its neighbours for the sake of insuring “zero conflicts” with them.
4. Playing the role of mediator in various regional problems.
5. Attempting to strike a new balance between its European and Middle East policies.
6. Setting an example of a democratic Muslim state for Arab and Muslim countries, in contrast to Iran.
The most important transformation under the AKP is that it has turned Islam into a platform for advancing its bid for regional leadership. Thus, the AKP engaged Hamas and granted it legitimacy, rather than ostracize it as most other countries did. The invitation to Hamas’s senior personality in Damascus, Khalid Mash`al, to visit Ankara in early 2006, was a harbinger for things to come. Unlike Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Jordan, Ankara did not raise the spectre of Shi`i Islam, allowing it to pose as neutral party in the Sunni-Shi`i conflict raging in the region and thus enhance its stature in the Muslim world. Similarly, in the last few months and especially after the war in Gaza, Turkey has sought closer ties with Arab and Muslim countries due to domestic political and economic considerations in advance of approaching local and national elections, and in order to obtain aid from Arab oil-rich countries at a time of economic crisis.At the same time, it continued its attempts to play the role of mediator, using both its European and its Middle Eastern credentials.
Turkey’s relations with Israel should be seen against this background, as well as the sea-changes that have occurred in the region since the AKP’s advent to power in Turkey in 2002. The 2003 US-Iraq war sparked a deterioration in Ankara’s relations with Washington, and also had negative effects on Turkey’s perceptions of Israel’s role in the region, especially regarding Iraqi Kurdistan. In addition, the Turkish military elite, the chief architect of Turkey’s close links with Israel, lost of its hold over the political system and thus its ability to dictate foreign policy lines. Moreover, the growing friction between this elite and the AKP government, manifested in the still-unfolding Ergenekon scandal, only added to the ambiguity toward Israel. At the same time, Turkey has developed close relations with its erstwhile hostile neighbor, Syria, thus lessening Turkey’s need for a strong ally in the south to counterbalance Damascus. Similarly, for the ruling AKP, the Islamic Republic of Iran appeared much less threatening than it did to previous Turkish governments. Added to all of this was the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, particularly the outbreak of the second intifada in Fall 2000, and the more recent war with Hamas in Gaza, which severely damaged Israel’s image in Turkey.
Capping these changes is the fact that the long-standing, inherent asymmetry in Turkish-Israeli relations became even more pronounced under the AKP. Turkish politicians have no qualms about vehemently attacking Israel because of its policies towards the Palestinians, while Israeli politicians tred delicately on tiptoes regarding any issue that touches on Turkish sensitivities. For example, Israeli politicians refrain from any referrance to Turkey’s policies regarding the Kurds, let alone criticizing them. As for the Turkish media, most of its reports on the Palestinian problem are one-sided and biased against Israel. Israeli attacks against Palestinians are always reported, but the Turkish media rarely dwells on Hamas terrorist attacks against Israel.
Israel has been concerned with the spread of anti-Semitism in Turkey in recent years. Kavgam, (Mein Kampf), was a best-seller in Turkey. The immediate causes for the rise in anti-Semitism are not clear. It could be the result of the strengthening of ultra-nationalist trends, or that the very ascent to power of an Islamic party has legitimized it. One thing is certain: the Turkish government has not done enough to fight this phenomenon. Whereas Germany and other states forbid the publication of Mein Kampf, the Turkish government did not do so, on the flimsy pretext of protecting democracy. By contrast, official Israel has done its best to take into consideration Turkish sensitivities on the Armenian issue, including lobbying in Washington against attempts to achieve US recognition of the massacres of Armenians during World War I as genocide.
All this prepared the ground for the outburst of Turkish attacks against Israel and support for Hamas in the wake of the three-week Israeli military offensive. Erdogan led the way by warning Israeli leaders that “history will judge them for the black stain they are leaving on humanity”. He even went as far as to declare that the blood of the dead Palestinian children would not be left on the floor, and that Israel’s deeds were "a crime against humanity". Taking their cues from him, the media and the Turkish street escalated their anti-Israeli, and at times even anti-Semitic attacks to a point which surpassed those voiced in Arab countries. No wonder, then, that Erdogan came to be considered a hero by Gazans, Iranian and Syrians. The main problem, therefore, is that a great deal of damage was done on the level of people-to-people relations between Israelis and Turks, relations which were quite amicable for many years and which will be much more difficult to mend than those in the official political-diplomatic sphere.
Nevertheless, there is ample reason to think that Turkey and Israel will be able to overcome this latest crisis, however serious it may be, due to underlying common interests. They have no serious problems on the bilateral level. They have never engaged in a war against each other, nor do they pose any sort of strategic menace to one another. Morover, for all the changes in the geostrategic map in the region, Turkey and Israel still share common threat perceptions. Both countries dread the day when Iran might have nuclear weapons, and the military in Turkey most certainly would like to continue maintaining intimate strategic ties on this score. Similarly, both need to share information and technological know-how for combatting international terror networks. As in the Iranian case, Israel serves as a bulwark against real or imagined threats emanating from Turkey`s Arab neighbors. Turkey’s aspirations to play the role of mediator may also help to bury existing grudges. Nor are common economic interests to be belittled. Finally, Israel remains important to Turkey as a balancing power in the region, as well as an advocate for Ankara in different international forums.
To sum up, although Turkish-Israeli relations under the AKP governments have lost much of the intimacy of the 1990s, the bonds of mutual interests are still strong enough to enable the two partners to overcome occasional crises.
TAU researchers help discover smallest extra-solar planet yet
A Tel Aviv University team participated in research that has discovered a planet outside our solar system. This search is being carried out with help from the CoRoT satellite launched by the French Space Agency.
Tuesday`s announcement of the discovery was made at a Paris conference organized by the satellite`s scientific team. CoRoT is short for Convection, Rotation and planetary Transits.
Dr. Shai Zucker of the geophysics and planetary sciences department, and Prof. Zvi Mazeh and his student Avi Shprorer from the astrophysics department helped discover a planet called CoRoT-Exo-7b, which has a radius 70 percent larger and a mass four times greater than that of Earth.
It is the smallest of the 330 planets discovered so far outside the solar system and is 390 light-years away, left of Orion in dim Monoceros, the Unicorn.
This discovery brings astronomers closer to discovering extra-solar planets on which life could exist, though this newly revealed planet cannot sustain life.
It revolves around its star once every 20 hours and is very close to it. As a result, its surface temperature is very hot, over 1,000 degrees Celsius - too hot for life forms.
The French satellite searches for events in which a planet revolves around a distant star, hiding part of it from us on Earth for a short time.
Such an event, which recurs with every revolution, makes it possible for researchers to measure the planet`s radius, and observations from our planet result in estimates of its mass.
When it hides the star, the light that reaches us is weakened us by 0.03%. Only measurements by a satellite outside the atmosphere allows such sensitivity.
Even though Israel did not help fund the satellite`s construction and launch, the Israeli scientists were invited to analyze its observations because they have proven their abilities to do so in the past.
Tel Aviv University affirms that attorney Pnina Sharvit-Baruch will teach her course
Tel Aviv University affirms that attorney Pnina Sharvit-Baruch will teach her course on international law as planned at the Buchmann Faculty of Law in the second semester of the 2008-9 academic year.
Pluralism is a central tenet of Tel Aviv University, part of its reason for being and of its important societal role. In this regard, the University’s policy is clear and it does not intend to bow to pressures from one quarter or another. The University management believes it unacceptable to examine or evaluate the legal, political or moral positions of its lecturers, so long as these positions are lawful and within the norms of a democratic society. Indeed, the University strives to expose its students to diverse thoughts and perspectives and encourages academic discussion of all issues, including controversial ones.
more information at
The Moshe Dayan Center - Iran
The leader of Iran wants to “wipe Israel off the map.” Was he misquoted? Not by a long shot. By Joshua Teitelbaum.
During the past several years, Iranian leadersmost prominently President Mahmoud Ahmadinejadhave repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people. Certain journalists and Iran experts interpret some of these statements to be simple expressions of dissatisfaction with the Israeli presence in the West Bank or eastern Jerusalem or with the current Israeli government and its policies.
“Ahmadinejad did not say he was going to wipe Israel off the map, because no such idiom exists in Persian,” insists Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, who argues that Ahmadinejad was not calling for the destruction of Israel. Jonathan Steele writes in the Guardian that Ahmadinejad was simply remarking that “this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time. . . . He was not making a military threat. He was calling for an end to the occupation of Jerusalem at some point in the future. The ‘page of time’ phrase suggests he did not expect it to happen soon.”
Scholars continue to soft-pedal the Iranian president’s words. Professor Stephen Walt, previously the academic dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and coauthor of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy with Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, told a Jerusalem audience in early June 2008: “I don’t think he is inciting to genocide.”
In reality, the intent behind Ahmadinejad’s language is clear. Those who seek to excuse the Iranian leader should be challenged when they use the tools of scholarship to obfuscate these extreme and deliberate statements. What emerges from a comprehensive analysis of what Ahmadinejad said and how it has been interpreted in Iran, including by leading blogs and news outlets, some officialis that the Iranian president was calling not just for “regime change” in Jerusalem but for the actual, physical destruction of the state of Israel. Ahmadinejad’s language constitutes a call for genocide, the destruction of the Jewish state and its residents.
The Iranian government itself reinforces this understanding with its own rendering of Ahmadinejad’s slogans on posters and billboards and during official parades. Moreover, examining them in context demonstrates beyond a doubt that when Iranian leaders use the euphemism “Zionist regime” or “the Jerusalem-occupying regime,” they are definitely referring to the state of Israel and not to the present government. Iranian leaders simply follow the timeworn practice in the Arab world of referring to the “Zionist regime” in an attempt to avoid dignifying Israel by using its name. They are not talking about a nondirected, natural historical process that will end with Israel’s demise; rather, they are actively advocating Israel’s destruction and have made it clear that they have the will and the means to effect it.
THE “WIPE ISRAEL OFF THE MAP” SPEECH
In an address to the “World without Zionism” conference held in Tehran on October 26, 2005, Ahmadinejad said:
Our dear Imam [Khomeini] ordered that this Jerusalem-occupying regime [Israel] must be erased from the page of time. This was a very wise statement. (Va Imam-e aziz-e ma farmudand ke in rezhim-e eshghalgar-e Qods bayad az safhe-ye ruzegar mahv shaved. In jomle besyar hakimane ast.)
New York Times Tehran correspondent Nazila Fathi translated the statement as Israel “must be wiped off the map,” a nonliteral translation that nevertheless conveys the meaning of the original: the destruction of Israel.
It cannot be credibly denied: the Iranian president has persistently called not just for “regime change” in Jerusalem but for the actual, physical destruction of the state of Israel.
Soft-pedaling Ahmadinejad’s call for the destruction of Israel, Cole told the Times that all Ahmadinejad had said was that “he hoped its regime, i.e., a Jewish-Zionist state occupying Jerusalem, would collapse.”
Official Iranian representatives and organs have since based their slogans on Ahmadinejad’s statement, loosely translating the statement as “Israel should be wiped off the face of the world.” This is evident in photographs of banners and signs in parades and ceremonies. Even the Iranian newscaster who introduced the report on the “World without Zionism” conference used the word “Israel” (instead of the “Jerusalem-occupying regime”) and also the word “world” (instead of the “page of time”), rendering Ahmadinejad’s statement as “erasing Israel, this disgraceful stain, from the world.”
Although Iranian leaders are well aware that they are watched by the international media and occasionally soften their statements accordingly, they are less careful in internal forums and events. But when Ahmadinejad punctuates his speech before a large crowd with “Death to Israel” (marg bar Esraiil ), this is no longer open to various interpretations. He is openly calling for the destruction of a country, not a regime.
DEHUMANIZATION BEFORE GENOCIDE: ISRAEL AS INFECTION
In the same speech of October 26, 2005, Ahmadinejad returned to the theme of Israel as dirty vermin that must be eradicated:
Soon this stain of disgrace will be cleaned from the garment of the world of Islam, and this is attainable. (Be-zudi in lake-ye nang ra az damane-ye donya-ye Islam pak khahad kard, va in shodani’st.)
To remove any doubt in the mind of the Persian reader that Ahmadinejad is referring to Israel, the Iranian president’s official site (www.president.ir ) interpolates the word “Esraiil” in its report on the speech to explain the expression “stain of disgrace.”
A common motif of incitement to genocide is the dehumanization of the target population. The Nazi weekly Der Stürmer portrayed Jews as parasites and locusts. In the early 1990s, Hutu propaganda in Rwanda against the Tutsis described them as cockroaches. Before Saddam Hussein attacked the Iraqi Shiite population in 1991, his Baath Party newspaper characterized them as “monkey-faced people.” Similarly, Iran’s Ahmadinejad has called Israeli Jews “cattle,” “bloodthirsty barbarians,” and “criminals.”
The theme of the Israeli as a germ or microbe is a common one with the Iranian president. In his speech before a crowd in Bandar Abbas on February 20, 2008, Ahmadinejad said: In the Middle East, they [the global powers] have created a black and filthy microbe called the Zionist regime, so they could use it to attack the peoples of the region, and by using this excuse, they want to advance their schemes for the Middle East. (Dar mantaqe-ye Khavar-e Miyane niz jarsum-e siyah va kasifi be-nam-e rezhim-e sahyonisti dorost karde-and ta be-jan-e mardom-e mantaqe biandazand va be-behane-ye an siyasatha-ye khod-ra dar Khavar-e Miyane pish bebarand.)
On the occasion last year of the sixtieth anniversary of Israel’s founding, Ahmadinejad stated that “global arrogance established the Zionist regime sixty years ago.” The Islamic Republic News Agency reported that “President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday labeled the Zionist regime as a ‘stinking corpse’ and said those who think they can revive the corpse of this fabricated and usurper regime are mistaken.”
According to Ahmadinejad, ridding the world of the germ of Israel is possible and imminent. On April 14, 2006, he insisted that Israel was “heading towards annihilation.” He added that Israel was
a dried, rotten tree that will collapse with a single storm. (Derakht-e khoshkide va puside’i ast ke ba yek tufan dar ham khahad shekast.)
Referring to the United States (the “Great Satan”) and Israel (the “Little Satan”), Ahmadinejad said at a military parade on April 17, 2008:
The region and the world are prepared for great changes and for being cleansed of satanic powers. (Mantaqe- va jehan amade-ye tahavolat-e bozorg va pak shodan az doshmanan-e ahrimani’st.)
Ahmadinejad was fully prepared to make his assertions about Jews and Israel in the Western press as well. In an interview that appeared in the French daily Le Monde on February 5, 2008, he said the Jews of Israel are “a people falsified; invented, [the people of Israel] will not last; they must leave the territory.” Again, this is not a call for a change of government or new policies. It is clear he believes that Israelis will not endure and will not continue to stay on the territory where they live. This is a call to remove Israel’s Jewish population from the country, either by ethnic cleansing or by physical destruction.
READING AHMADINEJAD IN TEHRAN
Although certain Western commentators seek to whitewash Ahmadinejad’s statements on Israel, pro- and anti-regime Iranians (and others in the region) have no doubt that the Iranian president has been referring to the destruction of Israel.
“Soon this stain of disgrace will be cleaned from the garment of the world of Islam, and this is attainable.”
Resalat, a conservative Iranian daily, published an editorial on October 22, 2006, titled “Preparations for the Great War,” reflecting on an Ahmadinejad speech two days earlier. “It must not be forgotten that the great war is ahead of us, perhaps tomorrow, or in a few months, or even a few years,” the editorial read. “The nation of Muslims must prepare for the great war, so as to completely wipe out the Zionist regime, and remove this cancerous growth.”
One anti-regime blog stated: “In every Internet site that I visit today (for example BBC or Radio-Farda) or the satellite radio and television news stations that I listen to, the first news item is the pearls of wisdom issued by Mr. Ahmadinejad regarding the countdown to the destruction of Israel.”
Another Persian-language blog critical of Israel quoted Ahmadinejad and then asked its readers, “What have we done to erase this Israel from the scene of time?”
In the Ham-Mihan Forum, a question was raised about Ahmadinejad’s declaration that the countdown toward Israel’s destruction had begun. Among the seventy-one responses: “My opinion is that first you [Ahmadinejad] should fix up your own country, and then you can say that Israel should be destroyed. The people in Iran don’t have bread and we are concerned with Palestine.”
An Iranian newspaper editorial read: “The nation of Muslims must prepare for the great war, so as to completely wipe out the Zionist regime, and remove this cancerous growth.”
“I wish that all of this energy that is devoted to the destruction of Israel would be directed towards the destruction of drug addiction, poverty, corruption, and prostitution.”
Bloggers at Imam Sadegh University called for a boycott of Israeli products, with the following message: “Dear bloggers: If you would like to do so, you can take the first steps towards obliterating Israel from the map of the world.”
Ahmadinejad’s statement at the “World without Zionism” conference is widely quoted in blogs by those supporting the statement, those critical of the statement, and those who support the statement but question the timing. Persian-language bloggers all agree, however, that “the Jerusalem-occupying regime must be erased from the page of time” means the physical destruction of the state of Israel.
Even before Ahmadinejad spoke about wiping Israel off the map, the Iranian regime used such expressions without leaving any doubt about what they meant. A banner calling for Israel’s elimination was draped across a Shahab-3 missile during a 2003 military parade, for example. The Iranian regime itself has clarified that such expressions about Israel’s future do not describe a long-term historical process, in which the Israeli state collapses like the former Soviet Union, but rather the actual annihilation of Israel as a result of a military strike. The Shahab- 3 missile has a range of eight hundred miles or more and can reach Israel from Iranian territory.
Michael Axworthy, who served as the head of the Iran section of Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1998–2000, rejects the notion that Ahmadinejad has been mistranslated and misinterpreted: “The formula had been used before by Khomeini and others, and had been translated by representatives of the Iranian regime as ‘wiped off the map.’ Some of the dispute that has arisen over what exactly Ahmadinejad meant by it has been rather bogus. When the slogan appeared draped over missiles in military parades, that meaning was pretty clear.”
THE THREATS START AT THE TOP
Iran’s highest political authority is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who succeeded Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989. Khamenei has made statements about Israel similar to Ahmadinejad’s. In a televised sermon on December 15, 2000, he declared, “Iran’s position, which was first expressed by the Imam [Khomeini] and stated several times by those responsible, is that the cancerous tumor called Israel must be uprooted from the region.”
“Dear bloggers: If you would like to do so, you can take the first steps towards obliterating Israel from the map of the world.”
A month later, on January 15, he stated: “It is the mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to erase Israel from the map of the region.” Hossein Shariatmadari, a Khamenei confidant who serves as one of his major mouthpieces, wrote an editorial in the Iranian daily Kayhan on October 30, 2005, in which he argued, “We declare explicitly that we will not be satisfied with anything less than the complete obliteration of the Zionist regime from the political map of the world.”
Ayatollah Ahmad Janati, a member of Ahmadinejad’s inner circle and chairman of the Guardian Council of the Constitution, told reporters during a celebration of the anniversary of the Islamic revolution that every year the crowds are bigger and the slogans more enthusiastic. He added, “The blind enemies should see that the wish of these people is the death of America and Israel.”
Mohammad-Ali Ramin refers to himself, as does the press, as an adviser to Ahmadinejad. The secretary of the political committee of the Rayeheh Khosh-Khedmat Party, which supports the president, he is a well-known Holocaust denier and is believed to be behind the president’s statements on that issue. On June 9, 2006, according to the reformist Internet daily Rooz, Ramin told students in Rasht:
Among the Jews there have always been those who killed God’s prophets and who opposed justice and righteousness. Historically, there are many accusations against the Jews. For example, it was said that they were the source for such deadly diseases as the plague and typhus. This is because the Jews are very filthy people. For a time, people also said that they poisoned wells belonging to Christians and thus killed them.
Ramin does not even bother to cover up his anti-Semitism by using “Zionists” instead of “Jews.”
Ayatollah Hussein Nuri Hamadani, a leading religious authority associated with the regime, told a meeting with the Mahdaviyat (messianic) Studies Institute in April 2005, “One should fight the Jews and vanquish them so that the conditions for the advent of the Hidden Imam will be met.”
A CASE OF INCITEMENT
Finally, it is instructive to examine the view of the Shiite militia Hezbollah toward Israel for an indication of Iranian intentions. Hezbollah was founded in 1982 with the deployment of Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley and the training of its first cadre; its first governing council was established by the Iranian ambassador to Damascus, Ali Akbar Mohtashemi. In its founding political platform, Hezbollah is clear that it takes its orders from Tehran: “We abide by the orders of one single wise and just leadership . . . personified by Khomeini.”
Take note of the statement of Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah. In 2002, he disclosed his own organization’s genocidal intent when he declared:
Islamic prophecies and not only Jewish prophecies declare that this state [Israel] will come into being, and all the Jews of the world will gather from all corners of the world in occupied Palestine. But this will not be so their false messiah [al-Dajjal] can rule in the world, but so that God can save you the trouble of running them down all over the world. And then the battle will be decisive and crushing.
The statements of Iran’s proxies and its leaders, particularly President Ahmadinejad, leave no doubt. They constitute incitement to genocide of the people of Israel. They are alarmingly similar to the coded statements of incitement that preceded the Rwandan genocide of the Tutsis in 1994 and should therefore alarm all peace-loving people.
There is ample legal basis to prosecute Ahmadinejad in the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court for direct and public incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity.
Special to the Hoover Digest. This article is adapted from a longer, fully referenced version available from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (
Hebrew Literature (in English translation) Seminar
Tel Aviv University’s Literature Department in conjunction with the English-Speaking Friends is offering a one of its kind seminar - Hebrew Literature (in English translation): Texts and Contexts. The seminar is a timely response to the Israeli-Anglo community’s increased interest in Hebrew language authors and the origins and nuances of Israeli culture. The series of five lectures presented in English by Literature Department Chair, Prof. Michael Gluzman, and other outstanding culture scholars will take place in Gilman Building Room 262 on Mondays in March at 18:30.
Organized and coordinated by Dr. Iris Milner, the seminar features stories by Brenner, Agnon, Oz, Appelfeld, Castel-Bloom, and others engaged in Israel’s social and political debates over socialism, Zionism, the melting pot ideology, the reception of Holocaust survivors, ethnic conflict and war. A number of these appear for the first time in translation. “The seminar affords a unique opportunity for English speaking residents, new immigrants, and foreign diplomats to understand the significant role modern Hebrew literature has played in reflecting and shaping Israeli culture over the past 130 years,” said Linda Landau, Seminar Chair and coordinator of the English-Speaking Friends Literary Book Circle, an affiliate of the Los Angeles-Tel Aviv Partnership Program.
For further information and to register, call the Friends office at 03-6048055 or 6406379, Fax 03-6407294, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further information regarding this press release, please contact Linda Landau, Hebrew Literature Seminar Chair at 03-699-1912 or 054-4567333
Or email: email@example.com
`Stem cell injections can cause tumors`
Prof. Gideon Rechavi, head of Tel Aviv University`s Cancer Biology Center is the first in the world to have documented that the injection of stem cells from aborted human fetuses can trigger tumors.
Stem cells, especially those from few-day-old embryos, are considered by many to be a potential cure for a wide variety of chronic disorders - from Parkinson`s and Alzheimer`s to diabetes and heart disease - because they have the ability to produce new cells of all types for the repair of diseased organs.
But the new research, based on the case of a now-16-year-old Israeli youth suffering from a rare genetic degenerative disease who underwent the highly experimental injections in Russia, is the first documented case of a human brain tumor - albeit a benign, slow-growing one - after fetal stem cell therapy, and sounds an alarm that future stem cell use must be preceded by extensive research.
The patient, born here to parents of Moroccan origin, developed ataxia telangiectasia (AT) as a young child. Degeneration of a certain brain region gradually robs these children of movement, and a faulty immune system leads to frequent infections and cancers. Most victims die in their teens or early 20s.
Although the boy`s doctors at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, urged the desperate parents against it, they took him to an unnamed clinic in Moscow for injections of fetal stem cells into his brain and spinal cord.
He returned to Russia twice - at age 10 and 12 - for more injections.
Then, at the age of 13, he developed painful headaches, and an MRI scan showed he had tumors in several parts of the brain and the spinal cord.
Two-and-a-half years ago, hematology Prof. Gideon Rechavi, head of Sheba`s Cancer Center and Tel Aviv University`s Cancer Biology Center, headed a team that investigated the case and found after extensive pathological and genetic research that the tumors were not germane to the patient, but were sourced from at least two fetuses whose foreign tissue had been injected into him.
For example, the tumors contained both XX (female) and XY (male) cells, while if they had come from the boy`s body they could not have female chromosomes. They also had two normal copies of the ATM gene, which causes AT when mutated. Since the boy has AT, those genes cannot be his.
The team noted, however, that the fact that the boy has AT may have facilitated the growth of the tumors because of the weak immune system in such patients.
In 2006, the boy underwent brain and spinal cord surgery performed by Prof. Shlomo Constantini, head of the pediatric neurosurgery department at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center`s Dana Children`s Hospital. Only those tumors that were believed to grow relatively rapidly were removed.
Today, the youth`s condition is stable, with the tumors growing slowly enough to be considered benign, but he is wheelchair-bound.
While the parents reportedly regret taking him to Russia, AT is such a dangerous genetic disorder - killing most victims by the age of 20 - that it threatens his life more than the tumors.
The Jerusalem Post learned that the researchers` work, just published in the US Public Library of Science (PLoS) on-line, open-access journal, was initially turned down for publication by the highly prestigious journals Nature and Science.
One of the study`s authors, Dr. Ninette Amariglio, suggested that the journals were apparently "fearful of the multi-billion-dollar stem cell lobby, as the study could hurt its prospects."
In addition, publishers "prefer optimistic science. Our study is not pessimistic, but it warns that researchers have to be aware of possible complications and dangers," said Amariglio, who heads the Diagnostic Molecular Hemato-Oncology Laboratory at Sheba Medical Center.
"We by no means suggest that stem cell research should be halted," Amariglio stressed. "Although this report indicates the need for caution in stem cell therapy, we do not imply that the research in stem cell therapeutics should be abandoned.
"We do suggest that extensive research into the biology of stem cells and in-depth preclinical studies, especially of safety, should be pursued in order to maximize the potential benefits of regenerative medicine while minimizing the risks."
Stem cells are not medications, Amariglio added, but are still unpredictable, so desperate patients should not undergo questionable "therapies" that could endanger them more than their disease.
First Junior Scholars Conference on Jewish Art
The Lester and Sally Entin Faculty of Humanities, The Goldstein-Goren Diaspora Research Center, Jewish Art and Visual Culture Research Project, Yolanda and David Katz Faculty of the Arts, Department of Art History
3-4 March, 2009
Tel Aviv University
Gilman Bldg., Drachlis Hall (Room 496)
|Research at TAU|
A Sprightly Explanation for UFO Sightings?
TAU leads global studies of "sprites," a natural phenomenon related to thunderstorms. Prof. Colin Price, head of the Geophysics and Planetary Sciences Department. In legend, sprites are trolls, elves and other spirits that dance high above our ozone layer. But scientists at Tel Aviv University have discovered that some very real “sprites” are zipping across the atmosphere as well, providing a possible explanation for those other legendary denizens of the skies, UFOs.
Thunderstorms, says Prof. Colin Price, head of the Geophysics and Planetary Sciences Department at Tel Aviv University, are the catalyst for a newly discovered natural phenomenon he calls “sprites.” He and his colleagues are one of the leading teams in the world studying the phenomenon, and Prof. Price leads the study of “winter sprites” ― those that appear only in the northern hemisphere’s winter months.
“Sprites appear above most thunderstorms,” explains Prof. Price, “but we didn’t see them until recently. They are high in the sky and last for only a fraction of a second.” While there is much debate over the cause or function of these mysterious flashes in the sky, they may, Prof. Price says, explain some bizarre reports of UFO sightings.
An Electrifying Discovery
Sprites are described as flashes high in the atmosphere, between 35 and 80 miles from the ground, much higher than the 7 to 10 miles where regular lightning bolts usually occur.
"Lightning from the thunderstorm excites the electric field above, producing a flash of light called a sprite,” explains Prof. Price. “We now understand that only a specific type of lightning is the trigger that initiates sprites aloft.”
Though sprites have existed for millions of years, they were first discovered and documented only by accident in 1989 when a researcher studying stars was calibrating a camera pointed at the distant atmosphere where sprites occur.
“Sprites, which only occur in conjunction with thunderstorms, never occur on their own, and are cousins to similar natural phenomenon dubbed by atmospheric electricians as ‘elves,’ ‘goblins’ and ‘trolls,’” Prof. Price says. These flashes are so named because they appear to “dance” in the sky, which may explain some UFO sightings.
Candles on a Celestial Birthday Cake
Tel Aviv University’s research team is one of the leading global groups studying the phenomenon. But Prof. Price and his students are now working in collaboration with other Israeli scientists from The Open University and The Hebrew University to take three-dimensional pictures of sprites to gain a better understanding of their structure. Using remote-controlled roof-mounted cameras, the researchers are able to look at the thunderstorms that produce sprites when they are still over the Mediterranean Sea.
From their unique vantage point in Israel, the researchers are leading the world in the study of winter sprites. Prof. Price’s new camera techniques, in particular, have revealed the sprites’ circular structures, which are much like those of candles on a birthday cake. Using triangulation, Prof. Price and his team have also been able to calculate the dimensions of the sprites’ features. “The candles in the sprites are up to 15 miles high, with the cluster of candles 45 miles wide — it looks like a huge birthday celebration!”
Because of their high altitude, sprites may also have an impact on the chemistry of the Earth’s ozone layer. “Since they are relatively infrequent, the global impact is likely small,” says Prof. Price. “But we’re researching that now.”
Evildoers Everywhere: Get a Whiff of This
TAU chemists explore sweat as the "fingerprint of the future". Dr. Michael Gozin of Tel Aviv University’s School of Chemistry.
The food you eat, the drugs you take, your state of mind, and your gender — all these make your sweat unique. Tel Aviv University chemists may turn this fact into a new crime-fighting tool that would make Sherlock Holmes blink in amazement.
Dr. Michael Gozin of Tel Aviv University’s School of Chemistry is trying to revolutionize the field of “sweat science” by embarking on new research that criminals and terrorists will find downright repugnant. He and his team are looking at the biochemical components of human sweat as a new kind of ID, suspecting that each person has his or her very own chemical fingerprint.
“Dogs and other animals can differentiate between people easily, defining each person by his or her smell. Some animals can track us wherever we go,” says Dr. Gozin, whose lab is preparing to work on this project with the U.S. Air Force. “All people sweat, so we thought: Why not try and track it?” Now working on isolating various biochemical components of sweat, Dr. Gozin hopes to present the first paper of the findings in this unique field of research later this year.
Sniffing Out Osama
If the scientists’ thesis proves true, sweat could be used to track terrorists and criminals when fingerprints are partially damaged or do not exist. Collected from a T-shirt, sock, or even a hand sliding across a table, sweat can hold a lot of secrets. And by analyzing the chemical composition of this sweat, notorious suspects evading investigators could be traced and found.
Sweat is a complex mixture of proteins and byproducts of our metabolism emitted from our pores. It also contains volatile compounds, only some of which our noses pick up. Dr. Gozin is investigating those compounds with heavy molecular weights, like proteins and peptides, which stick around long after a person and his smell have vanished.
Sweating to Know You
“These heavier molecules will stay on the skin or the surface of a table if you touch it. We are figuring out in what proportions these compounds are found in sweat of individuals,” says Dr. Gozin. He surmises that there are thousands of different chemical compounds in our sweat, some in only very minute trace amounts.
Some compounds, Dr. Gozin expects, will be found in comparable proportions among all humans, but like a fingerprint, or DNA, the ratio among other compounds in any given individual may be unique.
Besides crime fighting, defense and security applications, the chemical ID could be used to track and trace missing children, or by doctors to help understand human maladies.
Faster Than a Strand of DNA
Using a high-end mass spectrophotometer provided by the U.S. Department of Defense and Israeli Ministry of Defense, Dr. Gozin expects that results from sweat tests can be produced in real-time, much more quickly than today’s or even tomorrow’s DNA tests. In theory, sweat ID could be used in conjunction with a “bionic nose,” to sniff people at airports as they pass through security checks.
Stressing that this basic research is in its early stages, Dr. Gozin said that the first indication of success will be the ability of his system to distinguish between male and female sweat.
Females turn into males when times get tough... on the sea floor, that is
Without intending to provide ammunition for the current argument over whether a woman would be as competent as a man in the prime minister`s hot seat, TAU zoology Prof. Yossi Loya has found that when times get tough, nature sends in the boys - at least when it comes to an important species of coral.
TAU zoology Prof. Yossi Loya is the first in the world to discover that Japanese sea corals engage in "sex switching" under periods of stress, especially when threatened by global warming, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The fragile, flower-like sea animals are essential to all life in the ocean.
In times of stress such as extreme hot spells, the female mushroom coral (known as a fungiid coral) switches its sex so that most of the population becomes male.
The advantage of doing so, says the world-renowned coral reef researcher, is that male corals can more readily cope with stress when resources are limited.
"We believe, as with orchids and some trees, sex change in corals increases their overall fitness, reinforcing the important role of reproductive plasticity in determining their evolutionary success," says Loya, whose findings have just appeared in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
"One of the evolutionary strategies that some corals use to survive seems to be their ability to change from female to male," adds Loya. "As males, they can pass through the bad years, then, when circumstances become more favorable, change back to overt females. Being a female takes more energy. And having the ability to change gender periodically enables a species to maximize its reproductive effort."
Corals, though a part of the animal kingdom, can act like plants. Both are sedentary life forms, unable to move when times get tough. In stressful environmental conditions, male corals can "ride out the storm," he notes. "In the evolutionary sense, males are less expensive to maintain. They are cheaper in terms of their gonads and the energy needed to maintain their bodies," he says. He adds that this theory probably doesn`t apply to humans, even those who have opted for a sex change.
While admired for their beauty by divers, coral reefs provide an essential habitat for thousands of species of underwater creatures. Without the reefs, much of the underwater wildlife in reef habitats would perish. And for millions of people in the tropical regions, coral reef sea life is a major source of daily protein.
Coral reef destruction, however, is expected to continue as an effect of global warming. About one-quarter of coral reefs around the world have already been lost. The TAU zoologist`s finding may give new insight to scientists into developing coral breeding strategies for the time when the massive climate changes predicted by scientists set in.
"This knowledge can help coral breeders. Fungiid corals are a hardy coral variety that can be grown in captivity. Once you know its mode of reproduction, you can grow hundreds of thousands of them," says Loya, currently involved in coral rehabilitation projects in the Red Sea. He has been studying coral reefs for more than 35 years and won the prestigious Darwin Medal, awarded every four years by the International Society for Coral Reefs, for a lifetime contribution to the study of coral reefs.
Tiny "Lab-on-a-Chip" Can Detect Pollutants, Disease and Biological Weapons
Prof. Yosi Shacham-Diamand, vice-dean of TAU’s Faculty of Engineering, develops highly accurate nano-scale biomonitoring solution.
For centuries, animals have been our first line of defense against toxins. A canary in a coalmine served as a living monitor for poisonous gases. Scientists used fish to test for contaminants in our water. Even with modern advances, though, it can take days to detect a fatal chemical or organism.
Until now. Working in the miniaturized world of nanotechnology, Tel Aviv University researchers have made an enormous — and humane — leap forward in the detection of pollutants.
A team led by Prof. Yosi Shacham-Diamand, vice-dean of TAU’s Faculty of Engineering, has developed a nano-sized laboratory, complete with a microscopic workbench, to measure water quality in real time. Their “lab on a chip” is a breakthrough in the effort to keep water safe from pollution and bioterrorist threats, pairing biology with the cutting-edge capabilities of nanotechnology.
“We’ve developed a platform — essentially a micro-sized, quarter-inch square `lab` — employing genetically engineered bacteria that light up when presented with a stressor in water,” says Prof. Shacham-Diamand. Equipment on the little chip can work to help detect very tiny light levels produced by the bacteria.
Instead of using animals to help detect threats to a water supply, Prof. Shacham-Diamand says, “Our system is based on a plastic chip that is more humane, much faster, more sensitive and much cheaper.”
Tiny Lab-on-Chip Boosts Accuracy
“Basically, ours is an innovative advance in the ‘lab on a chip’ system,” says Prof. Shacham-Diamand. “It’s an ingenious nano-scale platform designed to get information out of biological events. Our solution can monitor water with never-before-achieved levels of accuracy. But as a platform, it can also be used for unlimited purposes, such as investigating stem cell therapies or treating cancer.”
According to published literature, Tel Aviv University is one of the top five universities in the world pioneering the “lab on a chip” concept. The nanolabs can be used to evaluate several biological processes with practical applications, such as microbes in water, stem cells, or breast cancer development. Prof. Shacham-Diamand’s active lab group publishes a major paper about once a month in this field, most recently in the journal Nano Letters.
Environmental, Medical and Defense Uses for “Mini-Labs”
Partnering with other Israeli scientists, Tel Aviv University is currently building and commercializing its water-testing mini-labs to measure and monitor how genetically engineered bacteria respond to pollution such as E. coli in water. Cities across Israel have expressed interest in the technology, as has the state of Hawaii.
But other uses are being explored as well. Funded by a $3 million grant from the United States Department of Defense Projects Agency (DARPA), the new lab-on-a-chip could become a defensive weapon that protects America from biological warfare. His system, Prof. Shacham-Diamand says, can be also modified to react to chemical threats and pollution. With some tweaking here and there, it can be updated as new threats are detected.
Prof. Shacham-Diamond’s research has also attracted the interest of cancer researchers around the world. He recently addressed 400 physicians at a World Cancer Conference who are seeking new devices to measure and monitor cancer and pharmaceuticals. “They need sensors like Tel Aviv University’s lab on a chip. It’s a hot topic now,” says Prof. Shacham-Diamond.
Fighting Tomorrow`s Hackers
Prof. Oded Regev, Blavatnik School of Computer Science — Keeping Encryption Safe From Future Quantum Computers. One of the themes of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is the need to keep vital and sensitive information secure. Today, we take it for granted that most of our information is safe because it`s encrypted. Every time we use a credit card, transfer money from our checking accounts -- or even chat on a cell phone -- our personal information is protected by a cryptographic system.
But the development of quantum computers threatens to shatter the security of current cryptographic systems used by businesses and banks around the world.
“We need to develop a new encryption system now, before our current systems -- such as RSA -- becomes instantly obsolete with the advent of the first quantum computer,” says Prof. Oded Regev at Tel Aviv University’s Blavatnik School of Computer Science. To accomplish that, Prof. Regev has proposed the first safe and efficient system believed to be secure against the massive computational power of quantum computers and backed by a mathematical proof of security.
Secure for Centuries
Prof. Regev stresses it is imperative that a new cryptographic system be developed and implemented as soon as possible. One reason is that current information, encrypted with RSA, could be retroactively hacked in the future, once quantum computers are available. That means that bank and other financial information, medical records, and even digital signatures could instantly become visible.
“You don’t want this information to remain secure for just 5 or 10 years until quantum computers are built,” says Prof. Regev. “You want it to be safe for the next century. We need to develop alternatives to RSA now, before it’s too late.”
New Cryptographic System
Cryptographic systems are used to transmit secure information such as bank and online transactions, and typically rely on the assumption that the factoring problem is difficult to solve. As a simplified example, if the number 3088433 were transmitted, an eavesdropper wouldn’t be able to tell that the number is derived from the factors 1583 and 1951. “Quantum computers can ‘magically’ break all of these factoring-based cryptographic systems, something that would take billions of years for current computers to accomplish,” Prof. Regev explains.
The current gold standard in encryption is the universally used RSA cryptosystem, which will be instantly broken once quantum computers are a reality -- an event predicted to happen as early as the next decade. To replace RSA in this new reality, Prof. Regev combined ideas from quantum computation with the research of other leaders in the field to create a system that is efficient enough to be practical for real-world applications.
Prof. Regev’s work was first announced in the ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing and will appear in the Journal of the Association for Computing Machinery. His work has now become the foundation for several other cryptographic systems developed by researchers from Stanford Research Institute, Stanford University, and MIT. Its potential real-world applications are extensive, ranging from banking transactions to eBay and other online auctions to digital signatures that can remain secure for centuries.
Can Cannibalism Fight Infections?
Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob, an award-winning scientist from Tel Aviv University’s School of Physics and Astronomy, unlock the secret of drug resistance in deadly bacteria.
Competition between two sibling colonies of the Paenibacillus dendritiformis. Cells in the area between the two colonies are dead.
Whenever humans create a new antibiotic, deadly bacteria can counter it by turning into new, indestructible super-bugs. That’s why bacterial infection is the number one killer in hospitals today. But new research from Tel Aviv University may give drug developers the upper hand in outsmarting bacteria once and for all.
The secret weapon against a colony of bacteria may be to stress it with its own protection system, which forces it to reduce its population through cannibalism.
“Our studies suggest this is a new way to fight off bacteria,” says Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob, an award-winning scientist from Tel Aviv University’s School of Physics and Astronomy. “If we expose the entire colony to the very same chemical signals that the bacteria produce to fend off competition, they`ll do the work for us and kill each other. This strategy seems very promising — it’s highly unlikely that the bacteria will develop resistance to a compound that they themselves produce.”
A Sophisticated Secret Weapon to Foil Attack
Cannibalism among bacteria, explains Prof. Ben-Jacob, is a strange cooperative behavior elicited under stress. In response to stressors such as starvation, heat shock and harmful chemicals, the bacteria reduce their population with a chemical that kills sister cells in the colony.
“It works in much the same way that organisms reduce production of some of their cells when under starvation,” says Prof. Ben-Jacob. “But what’s most interesting among bacteria is that they appear to develop a rudimentary form of social intelligence, reflected in a sophisticated and delicate chemical dialogue conducted to guarantee that only a fraction of the cells are killed.”
The researchers’ findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, were carried out in collaboration with a group from Texas University led by Prof. Harry Swinney and his post-doctoral fellow Dr. Avraham Be`er, formerly of Tel Aviv University. Prof. Ben-Jacob believes that the discoveries offer new hope for fighting both bacterial infections of today and the super-super-bugs of the future.
In the current study, the researchers investigated what happens when two sibling colonies of bacteria — Paenibacillus dendritiformis (a special strain of social bacteria discovered by Prof. Ben-Jacob) — are grown side by side on a hard surface with limited nutrients. Surprisingly, the two colonies not only inhibited each other from growing into the territory between them but induced the death of those cells close to the border, researchers found.
Even more interesting to the scientists was the discovery that cell death stopped when they blocked the exchange of chemical messages between the two colonies. “It looks as if a message from one colony initiates population reduction in the cells across the gap. Each colony simultaneously turns away from the course that will bring both into confrontation,” says Prof. Ben-Jacob.
Getting to Know the Enemy
In only a year, bacteria can develop resistance to a new drug that may have taken years and a small fortune to develop, but drug developers haven’t utilized bacteria`s cooperative behavior and social intelligence yet.
Bacteria, Prof. Ben-Jacob says, know how to glean information from the environment, talk with each other, distribute tasks and generate collective memory. He believes that bacterial social intelligence, conveyed through advanced chemical language, allows bacteria to turn their colonies into massive "brains" that process information, learning from past experience to solve unfamiliar problems and better cope with new challenges.
“If we want to survive the challenges posed by bacteria, we must first recognize that bacteria are not the simple, solitary creatures of limited capabilities they were long believed to be,” concludes Prof. Ben-Jacob, who is now investigating practical applications for his current research findings.
Prof. Yossi Leshem Makes Airways (and Birdways) Safer
The spectacular flight into New York`s Hudson River could have been avoided. Prof. Yossi Leshem from TAU`s Department of Zoology has already saved Israeli air authorities over $750 million in damages from collisions with migrating birds. And according to Prof. Leshem -- an ornithologist, air force veteran and world-renowned expert on bird-aircraft collisions -- U.S. Airways pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger III was a hero.
"If it weren`t for Sullenberger`s cool-headedness, he might have crashed in New York or New Jersey. It could have been a story with a very different ending," he said. Prof. Leshem`s remarks appeared in a recent story in Israel21c.
To help Americans avoid any future catastrophes with migrating birds, Prof. Leshem has arranged for Sullenberger to be invited to Israel in August for a conference on flight safety. The conference will include both U.S. and Israeli air force experts.
"Most people don`t understand what a miracle the landing was," Prof. Leshem said. "It`s not easy to land on water -- especially with two damaged engines -- at the perfect angle."
At the conference, Prof. Leshem hopes both Israelis and Americans will learn to avert any similar disaster scenario in the future. He plans to report on his efforts with colleagues in Jordan and Turkey to develop a regional real-time radar warning system to prevent bird strikes. He has already set up two such systems in Israel.
Harold Hartog School of Government and Policy, Faculty of Social Sciences, publications
Jewish Philanthropy and the Israeli Third Sector - The Case of Israeli Think Tanks / Dr. Sarit Bensimhon - Peleg.
Faith and International Development.
Changing Sexes on the Sea Floor
Prof. Yossi Loya from Tel Aviv University’s Department of Zoology unlocks the secret of coral survival during global warming.
Trees do it. Bees do it. Even environmentally stressed fish do it. But Prof. Yossi Loya from Tel Aviv University’s Department of Zoology is the first in the world to discover that Japanese sea corals engage in “sex switching” too.
His research may provide the key to the survival of fragile sea corals -- essential to all life in the ocean -- currently threatened by global warming.
In times of stress like extreme hot spells, the female mushroom coral (known as a fungiid coral) switches its sex so that most of the population becomes male. The advantage of doing so, says the world-renowned coral reef researcher, is that male corals can more readily cope with stress when resources are limited. Apparently, when times get tough, nature sends in the boys.
“We believe, as with orchids and some trees, sex change in corals increases their overall fitness, reinforcing the important role of reproductive plasticity in determining their evolutionary success,” says Prof. Loya, whose findings recently appeared in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The Will to Fight and Survive
Prof. Yossi Loya
“One of the evolutionary strategies that some corals use to survive seems to be their ability to change from female to male,” says Prof. Loya. “As males, they can pass through the bad years, then, when circumstances become more favorable, change back to overt females. Being a female takes more energy. And having the ability to change gender periodically enables a species to maximize its reproductive effort.”
Corals, though a part of the animal kingdom, can act like plants. Both are sedentary life forms, unable to move when times get tough.
In stressful environmental conditions, male corals can “ride out the storm,” so to speak, says Prof. Loya. “Males are less expensive -- in the evolutionary sense -- to maintain. They are cheaper in terms of their gonads and the energy needed to maintain their bodies,” he adds.
He also notes that this theory probably doesn’t apply to humans, even those who have opted for a sex change.
While admired for their beauty by divers, coral reefs provide an essential habitat for thousands of species of underwater creatures. Without the reefs, much of the underwater wildlife in reef habitats would perish. And for millions of people in the tropical regions, coral reef sea life is a major source of daily protein.
Keeping the Food Chain and Natural Wonders Alive
Coral reef destruction, however, is expected to continue as an effect of global warming. About one-quarter of coral reefs around the world have already been lost. Prof. Loya’s finding may give new insight to scientists into developing coral breeding strategies for the time when the massive climate changes predicted by scientists set in.
“This knowledge can help coral breeders. Fungiid corals are a hardy coral variety which can be grown in captivity. Once you know its mode of reproduction, we can grow hundreds of thousands of them,” says Prof. Loya, currently involved in coral rehabilitation projects in the Red Sea.
Prof. Yossi Loya has been studying coral reefs for over 35 years. He has also won the prestigious Darwin Medal, awarded once every four years by the International Society for Coral Reefs, for a lifetime contribution to the study of coral reefs.
Editor: Gill Rosner1