| The Beat |

Big Showdown, No Resolution

From geopolitics to tech titan spats, this past year has been defined by several major clashes that look set to dominate 5784 as well

Russia vs. Ukraine

To the surprise of many, we’re still talking about Putin’s war with Ukraine. It seems the conflict is here to stay, and both sides are still seeking support from allies to keep this long fight going.

The Ukrainian cause has become a virtue-signaling opportunity for some governments, and President Zelensky has adeptly exploited that. He constantly cajoles NATO countries for support, as if he is entitled to receive assistance. And the Western response has been swift. The US Defense Department recently approved a new $600 million security package, while Germany is pushing for Ukraine’s admission to the European Union.

Putin has had a tougher time finding friends. With no Western countries willing to help, he has had to seek support on the other side of the globe. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un arrived last week in Moscow in a bulletproof train for talks on arm sales. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has offered Putin help, but everyone knows Beijing operates with ulterior motives. With Western sanctions pounding Putin’s economy, Chinese exports to Russia surged by a remarkable 67.2% in the first half of 2023.

Putin is expected to travel to China in October, his first international trip since the start of the war — a clear sign that it’s one of the few places outside of Russia where he can feel secure.

Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump

Anyone who’s flown economy knows how boring it is to have only two menu options. The United States seems to have settled for this scenario when it comes to elections, as everything about the 2024 race points to a replay of 2020.

One might think that Joe Biden would have the advantage of incumbency. But even Democrats are worried about his failure to connect with the electorate. Montana senator Jon Tester was blunt: “There’s just no enthusiasm. You’ve got to be concerned about those poll numbers.”

Despite Biden’s vulnerability, some Republicans can only shake their heads as front-runner Donald Trump challenges the current president to an “audacity test.” Trump is trying to turn his biggest problem, his clouded legal situation, into his greatest asset. Polls should be taken with a grain of salt, but a CBS survey showed Trump getting traction with voters over his indictments. Trump has abandoned his iconic “Make America Great Again” slogan for a new one: “I’m being indicted for you.” But how would that look on a red baseball cap?

Elon Musk vs. Mark Zuckerberg

The only thing sadder than two adults acting like children is two billionaires doing the same. The Musk-Zuckerberg clash may even descend to the absurd depths of a cage fight in an arena. While that bout is unlikely to materialize, one shouldn’t overlook their other confrontation.

“Facebook is manipulating the public almost everywhere on Earth. That’s why they won’t open-source their algorithm,” Elon tweeted, positioning himself as a champion of free speech, against Zuckerberg.

Working in Musk’s favor is the steep decline of Zuckerberg’s Threads platform. It initially threatened Twitter (now known as X) and grabbed tens of millions of users. But Threads’ usage statistics show a 79% drop over the last two months.

But Zuckerberg isn’t standing pat. Musk is a leading advocate for government regulation of AI. He can’t be happy to hear that Meta is developing an AI model that improves on its current Llama 2 and is expected to be faster than ChatGPT.

Left vs. Right in Europe

They say time heals all wounds. Maybe this explains what’s happening with the far-right in Europe. The postwar era consigned fascist and nationalist parties to the margins. But voter displeasure with center-left policies on immigration and the economy, and with perceived center-right capitulation on those issues, has brought the far right back from the fringes.

In the remaining months of the year, elections will reshape political landscapes across Europe, including in Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, and Poland. Far-right parties have already gained ground in Italy, Greece, and Finland, and this trend looks set to continue. Even in France, according to a Politico poll, Marine Le Pen trails President Emmanuel Macron by only 1 percent.

While even most far-right candidates try to distance themselves from the legacy of fascism, there are exceptions to the rule. Astonishingly, one of them is in Germany. Björn Höcke, a leader in the extreme-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, is openly anti-immigration, has been accused of anti-Semitism, and calls for the end of the European Union: “The EU must die for the true Europe to live.”

In a few months, elections will be held for the European Parliament, where the true power of the right and the resonance of the most extreme factions’ message will be revealed.

Bibi vs. Israel’s Opposition

Time was, the most polarizing political issue in Israel was Binyamin Netanyahu. The country went through four elections in five years because Bibi had alienated so many on the right that he couldn’t cobble together a stable coalition; meanwhile, the left could do no better, because the only thing uniting them was antipathy for Netanyahu.

Now judicial reform has provided a new bone for everyone to pick. Perhaps tired of protestors’ undemocratic chants of “de-mo-krat-ya,” Netanyahu says he’ll “exhaust every possibility” to forge a compromise with the opposition. But his most troublesome coalition partner, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, steadfastly opposes any concessions: “We will not support this surrender. I call on my fellow coalition heads to make their voices heard. Let us oppose this capitulation.”

Netanyahu can’t afford to jettison Ben Gvir. Polls show that dissolution of the coalition would lead to his worst nightmare: losing power. If elections were held today, Benny Gantz would lead a center-left coalition with 63 seats. Meanwhile, chareidi voters wait disappointedly, again, for resolution to the yeshivah draft issue.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 979)

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