Israel Builds Case for Europeans to Accept Iran Nuclear Deal ‘Fix’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to use the West’s pre-eminent annual security conference to argue for tougher Western action against Israel’s regional rival, Iran.

Netanyahu is scheduled to make that case in a speech to global leaders and security officials at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday.

As he left for Germany on Thursday, Netanyahu said he would present proof of Iran’s involvement in a cross-border confrontation between Israel and Syria earlier this month — the most serious clash of its kind since Syria’s civil war began in 2011. He also said he would reiterate Israel’s determination to defend itself against any threat “without restriction.”

Iran has denied Israel’s assertion that an Iranian drone launched from Syria infiltrated Israeli airspace on February 10. Israel retaliated by carrying out airstrikes in Syria, triggering return fire from Syrian forces.

​Nuclear deal on agenda

Netanyahu also has joined a Trump administration campaign to press European powers to toughen the Iran nuclear deal that they and the previous Obama administration negotiated with Tehran.

U.S. President Donald Trump issued an ultimatum to European powers last month, saying he would pull out of the deal unless they agreed to new limits on Iran’s nuclear and other activities by May 12.

Netanyahu backed the ultimatum. Israel fears the existing deal will enable Iran to quickly develop nuclear weapons when its limitations on Iranian uranium enrichment begin expiring in the 2020s.

Israeli leaders see a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat because of repeated calls by Iranian leaders for the destruction of the Jewish state. Tehran says its nuclear ambitions are peaceful.

 

WATCH: Israel Builds Case for Europeans to Accept Iran Nuclear Deal ‘Fix’

Israel’s ruling parliamentary coalition and main opposition party dismiss the Iranian assurances.

In an exclusive January interview with VOA’s Persian service in Jerusalem, Israeli parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein said he was working constantly to keep Iran’s nuclear ambitions on the international agenda.

“We are trying not to let the world believe that in the last couple of years, everything’s already fine because a deal was signed and many important players — the United States, China, Russia and European Union — were all behind the deal,” Edelstein said. “We have to provide information, and we know for a fact what the Iranians are up to.” He said he would communicate that message to EU officials, whom he met in Brussels on Jan. 23.

Netanyahu’s former national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, also speaking to VOA Persian at his home in the central Israeli town of Ra’anana, said he believed European powers were receptive to Israeli concerns.

“The Europeans don’t feel well with the fact that the Iranians continue to enhance their long-range missile capability,” Amidror said. “They also know about terror organizations that the Iranians are building around the world. So they might say, ‘OK, we think it’s very bad to change the [nuclear] agreement,’ but the circumstances might lead the Europeans to understand that there is a need to contain Iran, and the way to contain Iran is by cooperating with the U.S.” 

Iran denies supporting terror organizations, saying instead that it fights such groups in the region.

​Europe’s alternate approach

EU officials so far have shown little sign of accepting U.S. demands for changes to the nuclear deal.

In remarks to the media Jan. 11, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said concerns about Iranian missiles and increasing regional tensions were outside the scope of the nuclear deal and should be resolved in other forums.

“The unity of the international community is essential to preserve a deal that is working, that is making the world safer and that is preventing a potential nuclear arms race in the region,” Mogherini said. “And we expect all parties to continue to fully implement this agreement.”

In another VOA Persian interview in Tel Aviv, the former chief of the Israeli spy agency Mossad, Efraim Halevy, said the EU was right to focus on preserving the nuclear deal, particularly through boosting trade ties with Iran.

“Economically, [the West should] open up areas of commerce, tourism, industry and communication [with Iran], in order to allow the Iranian public at large to benefit from the fruits of the agreement,” Halevy said.

But with U.S. officials calling the agreement a “disaster,” the Trump administration has said it is working with Britain, France and Germany to “fix” it by the May 12 deadline.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Persian service. 

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NATO Chief Warns of Growing Nuclear Threat From North Korea, Russia

The head of NATO has said the alliance is determined to avoid a new arms race with Russia, but he warned that Moscow is developing new nuclear weapons that pose a threat to the West. Jens Stoltenberg spoke at the three-day Munich Security Conference in Germany, where political and military leaders from around the world are gathered to discuss defense issues amid growing doubts over the future of the current global order. Henry Ridgwell reports from the conference.

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Young People with Disabilities Skate Toward Glory at the Special Olympics

As the world watches the Olympic Winter Games in South Korea, some American athletes in Washington are lacing up their skates to train for their own, major sporting event. Special in every way, these young people work to overcome their developmental obstacles to compete for gold — just like the world’s top athletes in Pyeongchang. Arash Arabasadi reports from Washington.

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In Troubling Times, Curling Might be Just What We Need

The world, some fret, is falling apart. Politicians spar viciously on social media. Leaders lie. Former heroes fall like dominoes amid endless scandals. Cruelty has come to feel commonplace.

But never fear: We have curling.

The sport with the frenzied sweeping and clacking rocks has rules that require players to treat opponents with kindness. Referees aren’t needed, because curlers police themselves. And the winners generally buy the losers a beer.

At the Pyeongchang Olympics, curlers and their fans agree: In an era of vitriol and venom, curling may be the perfect antidote to our troubled times.

“Nobody gets hit — other than the rock,” laughed Evelyne Martens of Calgary, Canada, as she watched a recent Canada vs. Norway curling match. “And there’s nothing about Trump here!”

​Thanks, Scotland

In the 500 years since curling was conceived on the frozen ponds of Scotland, it has remained largely immune to the cheating controversies and bloated egos common in other sports. This is thanks to what is known as “The Spirit of Curling,” a deeply ingrained ethos that dictates that curlers conduct themselves with honor and adhere to good sportsmanship.

The World Curling Federation’s rules state: “Curlers play to win, but never to humble their opponents. A true curler never attempts to distract opponents, nor to prevent them from playing their best, and would prefer to lose rather than to win unfairly.”

Kindness is the baseline for what curling is all about, says Canadian Kaitlyn Lawes, who won the gold medal this week in curling mixed doubles.

“We shake hands before the game, we shake hands after. And if someone makes a great shot against you, we congratulate them because it’s fun to play against teams that are playing well,” Lawes says. “I think that spirit of curling can be used in the real world — and hopefully it can be a better place.”

Case in point: After losing the curling mixed doubles gold medal to Canada, Switzerland’s Martin Rios swallowed his disappointment during a press conference to say that the Canadians had deserved to win, declaring: “They were the better team.”

The Canadians returned the favor by heartily applauding their Swiss opponents not once but twice. And before the women’s round-robin match Thursday, the Korean team presented their Canadian competitors with a gift bag of Korean curling banners and pins.

​A certain morality

Children new to the sport are coached about the spirit of curling from the very start, says Willie Nicoll, chairman of British Curling. Fair play is not an afterthought, he says. It is the heart of the game.

“It’s always been looked at as being a very gentlemanly sport,” says Kate Caithness, president of the World Curling Federation. “Where does that happen in sport, when you say to your opposition, ‘Good shot?’”

It’s not that curling isn’t competitive. Like every other Olympian in Pyeongchang, curlers all want the gold — just not at the expense of their integrity.

Perhaps the best example of this is the lack of referees. Officials rarely get involved in matches because players call themselves out for fouls. If a curler accidentally hits a stone that’s in motion with their foot or broom — a situation known as a “burned stone” — he or she is expected to immediately announce the mistake. Aileen Geving, a member of the U.S. Olympic curling team, says it would be unthinkable for her not to own up to such a goof.

“We all have to be true to ourselves and I know I would feel way too guilty not to say anything if I hit it!” she says, laughing. “I think there’s a certain morality behind that.”

On Friday, an exceedingly unusual controversy over a burned stone erupted that — unsurprisingly — meandered its way to a mild end. In a tense match against Canada, a Danish player accidentally hit a moving rock. Canada, which had the right to decide what happened, chose to remove the rock from play rather than allow it to remain.

The “aggression” stunned some observers. Canadian media covering the game launched into frenzied discussions, and some curling fans tweeted shock over what they considered unsportsmanlike behavior.

This, though, was the measured reaction from the Danish team’s skip a bit later: She wouldn’t have made the same choice, but she also wasn’t mad.

For the fans, seeing such displays of warmth — or, in the above case, lack of heat — can be a welcome respite from the harshness of the outside world.

Sinking into her seat at the Gangneung Curling Centre, Crystle Kozoroski was still stressed from attending the previous night’s rough and rowdy hockey game. Watching curling, she said, was just the therapy she needed.

“I’m still tense from last night’s game — my body is literally sore,” said Kozoroski, of Manitoba, Canada. “It’s nice just to sit and relax.” Curling is, she says, a “very calming and soothing sport.”

​A typical game

Here is how a typical game starts at Gangneung: Opponents turn to each other, share a handshake and wish each other “Good curling!” A bouncy organ tune blasts across the arena and the stadium announcer cheerfully bellows, “Good luck and GOOD CURLING!” The crowd whoops with glee. Even if you have no idea what is happening, it is almost impossible not to smile.

There’s a sense that everyone is welcome. And with curling, that’s kind of true. Both women and men compete in all three versions of the sport — traditional curling, mixed doubles and wheelchair — and members of curling clubs range in age from 7 to 90.

That feeling of inclusiveness is intertwined with a deep camaraderie that goes back to curling’s inception. Take “broomstacking,” named for the original practice of opponents stacking their brooms in front of a roaring fire after a game and enjoying a drink together.

These days, rivals still socialize after matches, with the winner generally buying the loser a round. The other day, Canadian gold medal curler John Morris posted a photo on Instagram of himself sharing a locker room brew with U.S. rival Matt Hamilton, their arms slung around each other and grins stretching across their faces.

Mae Polo, whose son Joe Polo is a member of the U.S. Olympic curling team, says she and her family have formed tight bonds with curlers across the globe. Those friendships have traversed any competitive or cultural divides, she says, with the curlers’ families all helping each other sort out travel logistics to the Olympics.

Curling is one big family, she says. And maybe, just maybe, curling could serve as a blueprint for us all.

“The world needs to take a lesson from it,” she says. “Let’s just love each other.”

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Український співак Алексєєв представить Білорусь на «Євробаченні-2018»

Український співак Микита Алексєєв (ALEKSEEV) представить Білорусь на міжнародному музичному конкурсі «Євробачення-2018». 

Увечері 16 лютого в Мінську відбувся фінал національного відбіркового туру конкурсу. З дев’яти претендентів шляхом голосування телеглядачів і професійного журі переможцем став український співак ALEKSEEV.

Пісня «Forever» набрала максимальну кількість балів за підсумками рішення журі і голосування глядачів.

Микита Алексєєв розповідає, що його підтримали білоруські учасники «Євробачення» минулих років – Олена Ланська, група Naviband і Дмитро Колдун, з якими він познайомився на першому етапі національного відбору 11 січня.

Раніше білоруські учасники відбору вимагали дискваліфікувати Микиту Алексєєва, кажучи, що його пісня порушує правила конкурсу, оскільки пісня була представлена задовго до відбору. У команді співака такі звинувачення відкинули.

В Україні триває національний відбір на «Євробачення-2018».

Цього року пісенний конкурс «Євробачення-2018» відбудеться в Португалії.

Минулого року конкурс проходив у Києві з 7 до 13 травня, переможцем став Салвадор Собрал із Португалії з піснею «Amar Pelos Dois».

 

 

 

НА ЦЮ Ж ТЕМУ:

Український відбір на «Євробачення-2018»: Laud, The Erised та Vil’na вийшли до фіналу

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Black Athletes in 1980s, ’90s Not Outspoken, but Not Silent 

By the 1980s, America finally publicly embraced the black athlete, looking past skin color to see athleticism and skill, rewarding stars with multimillion-dollar athletic contracts, movie deals, lucrative shoe endorsements and mansions in all-white enclaves.

Who didn’t want to be like Mike?

But those fortunate black athletes like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods did not, for the most part, use their celebrity to speak out. Most were silent on issues like the crack epidemic, apartheid in South Africa, the racial tensions exposed by the O.J. Simpson trial and the police brutality that set off the Rodney King riots.

There were exceptions — more, perhaps, than are generally remembered. And the times and the media of those times did not necessarily lend themselves to protest. But while Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali once stood up — and more recently, Colin Kaepernick , LeBron James, Serena Williams and others would not back down — black athletes of the ’80s and ’90s were known mostly for playing games.

“It seems to me that we need to rethink how we define ‘activism’ since black athletes certainly were involved in various social causes during that era. Anecdotally, I think about them donating to various scholarship funds and participating in ‘say no to drugs’ campaigns,” said Johnny Smith, professor of sports, society and technology at Georgia Tech University. “That’s certainly a form of activism. “However, on the whole, the most prominent black male athletes were not confrontational or outspoken.”

When Harvey Gantt took on conservative Republican Senator Jesse Helms in 1990, Jordan — the undisputed superstar athlete of his time — refused to support the black Democrat in his native North Carolina, reportedly saying Republicans buy shoes, too.

It took until 2016 for Jordan to finally speak out strongly on a social issue by condemning the killing of black men at the hands of police, writing in a column published by The Undefeated, a sports and pop culture website.

Woods said this week that throughout America’s history, blacks have struggled.

“A lot of different races have had struggles, and obviously the African-Americans here in this country have had their share of struggles,” Woods said. “Obviously has it gotten better, yes, but I still think there’s room for more improvement.”

Not everyone is an activist

The mold of the public activist — the person who is willing to lead but also willing to lose everything for a cause — doesn’t fit everyone, said Harry Edwards, a scholar of race and sports who has worked as a consultant for several U.S. pro teams.

Some people don’t want to be bothered, Edwards said, but “that has always been there. That was there during slavery. Nat Turner comes and says, ‘Hey, let’s run away. Let’s get some guns. Let’s get some machetes, and let’s fight for our freedom.’ And you always have someone say, ‘You kidding me?’ ”

Dominque Wilkins, a National Basketball Association Hall of Famer known as the “Human Highlight” for his thunderous, acrobatic dunks during the 1980s and ’90s, believes social media have amplified athletes’ voices — and the Twitter-less past did not offer sports stars the soapboxes they have now.

“We didn’t have a platform because it wasn’t that type of media around,” Wilkins said. “You had the normal, everyday media, but you didn’t have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram — you didn’t have any of that.”

Wilkins, 58, said people are completely off base when they say his generation didn’t do anything or care about what was happening in their communities and in the world.

“We grew up in a different era. We were born in the civil rights era. I remember when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated,” said Wilkins. “People who say we didn’t care don’t know what they’re talking about. … We cared. We were a part of it, so we cared.

“Our parents lived it. Our grandparents lived it. How can we not care?”

Behind-the-scenes work

The activism of the time was different, said sports historian Victoria Jackson, who works in the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies at Arizona State University.

Behind the scenes, superstar athletes worked in their communities and with schools — without making their activities known or asking for publicity for their time. Millions of dollars went to schools like historically black colleges and universities, as well as other deserving charities, without public acknowledgment, Jackson said.

“While we might have seen a decline in athletes voicing strong opinions publicly about systemic racism, police brutality, criminal justice and education and residential and workplace reform — and perhaps the growth of endorsements contributed to this — I would suspect, if we did a little digging, we’d find countless stories of athletes doing work in the space of social justice and that this is the constant theme in the long historical arc,” she said.

There were some who spoke loudly. Dashiki-wearing point guard Craig Hodges, Jordan’s teammate on the Chicago Bulls, presented then-President George H. W. Bush with a letter in 1991, urging more concern for African-Americans during one of the Bulls’ championship trips to the White House.

During the 1995-96 season, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf began stretching or staying in the locker room during the national anthem. Abdul-Rauf was suspended for one game.

But at season’s end, despite averaging 19.2 points and 6.8 assists, he was traded from the Denver Nuggets to the Sacramento Kings. And when his contract expired two years later, he couldn’t get a tryout and was out of the league at age 29.

Efforts in boardrooms

Those protests, some say, may not represent the most radical actions of black athletes of the time, which were in the boardrooms, not on the streets.

Jordan built a brand that turned him into a Nike powerhouse, where he brought African-American businessmen and women up the ladder with him, before becoming the first black sports billionaire with his ownership of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.

Magic Johnson, in addition to building a business empire, spoke out passionately about the HIV/AIDS crisis after contracting the disease. The NFL’s Man of the Year award was long named for Walter Payton, who pushed organ donation into the public limelight in his native Chicago and around the country through his foundation while advocating for minority ownership in professional football.

Mike Glenn, who played in the NBA from 1977 to 1987 and is a member of the National Basketball Retired Players Association board of directors, believes how those first black millionaires went about their business helped build the foundation that allows athletes to speak out today.

“I think all of them were aware of backlash,” said Glenn, a collector of documents on African-American history and culture. “They were aware that if you say certain things it may hurt your brand, or may hurt your ability to do things or that maybe even the league would take a different look at you. I think it was an insecurity of their position regardless of how much success they had.”

Jordan and other iconic athletes of that period established the power of individual sports brands, a transitional platform Glenn believes athletes benefit from today.

“LeBron has took what Michael had,” Glenn said, “and taken it a step further.”

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13 Russians Charged in Mueller Investigation

A federal grand jury investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election on Friday indicted 13 Russian nationals including 12 employees of a St. Petersburg, Russia-based company that carries out online influence operations on behalf of Moscow.

 

The indictment alleges that Internet Research Agency, a propaganda outfit tied to the Kremlin, engaged “in operations to interfere with elections and political processes” during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

 

WATCH: Rosenstein on ‘Information Warfare’ Against US

The firm’s 12 employees are accused of carrying out its “interference operations targeting the United States” from 2014 to the present, according to the indictment.  

The goal was to “promote discord in the United States to undermine public confidence in democracy,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Friday. “We must not allow them to succeed.”

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office announced the indictments.

Mueller’s sprawling investigation into Russian election interference has led to the indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and associate Rick Gates.

 

Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their contacts with Russian officials during the campaign and the transition.

 

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Billionaire Wynn Gets No Money in Casino Termination Deal

A termination agreement between embattled casino mogul Steve Wynn and the company bearing his name shows that he won’t receive any compensation and can’t be involved in any competing gambling business for two years.

The terms of the agreement were released Friday by Wynn Resorts. Wynn resigned as CEO earlier this month amid sexual misconduct allegations.

The billionaire has vehemently denied the allegations, which he attributes to a campaign led by his ex-wife.

As part of the agreement, Wynn also agreed to cooperate with any investigation or lawsuits involving his time with the company. He can have his attorney present. Wynn Resorts created a committee to investigate the sexual misconduct allegations.

As fallout from the allegations, Wynn also resigned as finance chairman of the Republican National Committee.

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Being There Helps at Olympics, Even If You Don’t Want to Be

Highlights from media coverage of the Pyeongchang Olympics:

BEING THERE: Sometimes the secret to good reporting is simply being there, even if you’d rather not. Alpine skiing reporter Steve Porino was right near American Mikaela Shiffrin as she vomited before heading out on her first slalom run Friday in South Korea. Fortunately, he didn’t have a camera. Was it nerves? Was Shiffrin coming down with something at the worst possible time? Not clear. In a high-flying sport decided by split seconds, though, her condition is valuable information. (Later, after finishing in fourth place, she admitted to anxiety that made her sick.) Analyst Bode Miller is full of insight from being a recent top competitor on the ski circuit. He even has his own tales of throwing up before major races, and the pressure that can literally make you sick.

​SHARP WORK: Listen to the work of Leigh Diffey and Bree Schaaf as they called the skeleton competition won handily by Yun Sung-Bin. They bring excitement and historical sweep to their calls, explaining the technicalities without getting lost in them. “This is one of those moments that just makes your heart feel like it’s going to explode,” Schaaf said over the replay of the South Korean’s final run. “His form, his expression. I am blown away by not just this race but the entire season by Yun Sung-Bin.” Similarly, cross-country ski analyst Chad Salmela made the women’s 10-kilometer freestyle race easier to understand, despite its complexities. He captured the thrill as he and viewers tried to will Jessica Diggins over the finish line to earn the USA’s first Olympic medal in the sport. She fell less than four seconds short in a 25-minute race.

TRYING AGAIN: NBC prepared a strong feature on American snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis, a four-time Olympian sadly known best to many for falling while making an unnecessary jump at the end of a race she was dominating, costing her a sure gold medal in the 2006 Turin Games. Unfortunately, producers aired it around 1 a.m. Eastern on Thursday on the East Coast, right before a men’s qualifying round in snowboarding. Time constraints probably prevented NBC from showing it before Jacobellis competed Friday (she finished fourth) and that’s a shame, because anyone who saw the story would have rooted hard for her.

​PRIME TIME PLUS: NBC decided this year to air its Olympic telecast at the same time across the country, and that paid off for West Coast viewers in the U.S. with Thursday’s competition in Korea. They were able to see Shiffrin win her giant slalom gold medal live in a prime viewing window, right before 10 p.m. Pacific on Wednesday. In past years, West Coast viewers were stuck watching reruns of an East Coast feed that aired three hours earlier.

COORDINATION: On a busy night Thursday, NBC seemed to use the extra space of its NBCSN cable network wisely. Producers showed a wider sweep of Olympic events on the network, while letting people who wanted to see an extended look at figure skating have the chance on cable. One area to improve upon: keeping viewers better informed of their options.

RATINGS: If the ratings were an Olympic race, NBC slipped a few seconds off its pace on Wednesday. The Nielsen company said 19.2 million people watched competition in prime time on NBC, the cable network NBCSN and through streaming services, down 8 percent from the 20.8 million who watched NBC for the corresponding night at the Sochi Olympics four years ago. An estimated 17.2 million watched NBC alone, or 17 percent off Sochi.

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Ancient Beard Traditions Shape Face of Modern Jerusalem

Facial hair is trendy worldwide these days, but in Jerusalem beards have never gone out of style, projecting religious mysticism, nationalism and ideals of masculinity.

 

For men of all faiths in the holy city, a beard can be an important statement of religious devotion, connecting past generations to God through the tangled strands of history. Facial hair also reflects social mores in many communities. In some cases, it can even reflect one’s political views.

 

Nowhere is this more visible than in Jerusalem’s Old City, where bearded ultra-Orthodox Jews, Christian clerics and devout Muslims all come into contact in a densely packed mix of some of the world’s most sensitive holy sites.

 

For Eitan Press, 40, growing a beard is a spiritual journey that embodies ancient concepts of Jewish mysticism while challenging modern perceptions of masculinity.

His beard balm company, “Aleph Male,” is more than a clever word play on the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. He says it expresses Jewish values that stand in sharp contrast to the tough Alpha Male narrative often associated with facial hair.

 

“Rather than being a man at the top of the pyramid, it’s the image of a man who is lifting his brothers up,” said Press, who has a majestic, full red beard.

“When a man grows a beard, it is incumbent upon him to act with greater kindness, compassion and sensitivity toward the world because he is now wearing on his face a divine quality,” he said.

At Jerusalem’s bustling Mahane Yehuda market, he demonstrated his unique blends on a recent day, “anointing” bearded shoppers with balms inspired by Jewish festivals and rites.

 

One conjures up the citrus notes of Sukkot, the autumn festival that commemorates the desert wandering of the Jews during the Exodus. Items like myrtle branches and the etrog, a fruit resembling a lemon, are used in ceremonies.  

 

Another blend has aromas of clove and cinnamon, spices used in Havdalah, the ritual marking the end of the Sabbath and the beginning of the new week.

 

“Jewish beard culture is literally thousands of years old. Moses had a beard. King David had a beard,” he said. “The custom for Jewish men to anoint their hair and beards with sacred oil goes back to the Bible.”

 

The custom of religious Jews wearing beards is rooted in a passage in the Biblical book of Leviticus that forbids “destroying” beard edges and prohibits shaving with a blade. While Jewish law permits the use of electric razors or scissors to trim beards, some sects don’t shave at all.

 

‘Channel of divinity’

Michael Silber, a Hebrew University professor who has researched beards, said that some Orthodox Jewish communities, leaning on Jewish mystical texts, consider facial hair so holy that men refrain from even combing their beards, fearing they will pull hair out. Strands that fall out naturally are sometimes placed in prayer books for preservation, he said.

For the pious that follow such teachings “beards are a channel of divinity” connecting them to God, he said.

 

Beards cross religious lines.

 

Zuheir Dubai, an Islamic scholar and imam in the West Bank city of Nablus, said that while Muslim men grow beards for religious reasons, moustaches are rooted in popular culture.

 

Some grow moustaches to emulate powerful leaders, like Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, he said. Some autocratic governments in the Mideast were known to shave off a prisoner’s mustache as a form of humiliation, Dubai said.

 

In Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, some men swear by their mustache, putting their hand on it to convince people to accept their word, Dubai said.

 

Muslim beard traditions stem from the time of the Prophet Muhammad, who in the 7th century urged his followers to wear beards and “shorten the mustache as a sign of modesty.” They regained popularity in modern times with the rise of political Islam about three decades ago. Some Muslims tint their beards orange with henna, which may have been used by the prophet, Dubai said.

 

Among Orthodox Christian priests, long bushy beards are as common a sight as their long, flowing robes on the narrow, winding cobblestone streets of Jerusalem’s ancient Old City.  They see a beard as a sign of devotion to God and homage to Jesus – traditionally portrayed with a beard.

In Jerusalem wearing a beard can also reflect political sentiments. “In the 1980s religion begins to be intertwined with political orientations and this is reflected with the rise of the beard among the more right-wing oriented and religiously oriented, both Jews and Muslims,” Silber said.

 

Many bearded men, of course, often have simpler motives and just like the style.

 

Tal Johnson, a barber in the Israeli city of Holon, said growing one is not as easy as it looks.

 

“You can’t eat with it … there are lots of things that are terrible, like hummus … or fried egg that is runny, and you need to wash it afterward, all of this, it’s very complicated. Eating soup is awful,” he said.

 

For Heath Loftis, an American visiting Jerusalem, it has a different meaning altogether.

 

“I grew the beard after my time in the Marine Corps,” he said. “We always had to keep our face shaved. So I grow it out now as a freedom, but also as a tribute to that time in the Marine Corps.”

 

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