The upcoming European Parliament elections will be crucial.
Amidst the chaos and confusion of Brexit, the established political parties, such as the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the center-left Socialists & Democrats (S&D), are predicted to lose a significant amount of seats and, with them, their combined majority in Parliament.
Years after the so--called migration crisis, the established parties have still not found an answer to rising far-right, populist and anti-European movements that have significantly grown among almost all EU member states, taking the lead in polls in at least three: Italy, Poland and France.
This trend will have significant impact on the new European Parliament, which is being elected from May 23rd to May 26th across Europe and will have its constituent session in July of this year.
In addition to S&D and EPP losing their combined majority, far-right and nationalistic groups are predicted to double their seats yet again. It was just announced that some of these groups are planning to form a new coalition with parties ranging from the German Alternative for Germany to the Danish People’s Party to the Italian 5 Star Movement that will significantly increase their influence in the EU Parliament.
To make matters worse, the biggest group, EPP, is shrinking further, having just suspended Victor Orban’s Hungarian Fidesz party due to its anti-European and anti-Semitic campaigns, which might also put into jeopardy the nomination of Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber as new commission president.
With the election campaigns just starting, politicians from centrist parties are calling for a doomsday vote, hysterically reiterating the importance of this vote as the year of destiny that will make or break the European Union. But one cannot ignore the strange feeling of having seen and heard all of this before:
The slogans and warnings were the same in 2014 during the last elections, when the campaign promises from the various parties were almost identical to the current ones.
The only thing that seems to have changed, besides the increased urgency of the surge in right-wing populist movements, is the fact that the political groups in the EU Parliament spent yet another five years unable or unwilling to address the urgent issues and present a proper alternative to rising populism, nationalism and, with it, also the terrifying rise of anti-Semitism across Europe.
It might look as if the EU has done quite a lot in the time between the 2014 elections and today, including creating the position of a special coordinator on combatting anti-Semitism, implementing a code of conduct with IT companies to tackle hate speech and anti-Semitism online, adopting an EU Parliament Anti-Semitism Resolution in 2017 and Council Declaration in 2018 and making combatting anti-Semitism a priority in the last two EU Council presidencies of Austria and Romania.
But despite all of these efforts, the phenomenon of anti-Semitism has nevertheless escalated across Europe. The 2018 EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency Report on Anti-Semitism is the undeniable proof for this devastating failure.
The fear is that this further shift to the right after the elections will also significantly threaten the already too-little and too-ineffective efforts against anti-Semitism on the EU level and in its member states.
The political power shift will have direct implications for the European Parliament committee chairs and the Parliament president and vice-presidents as well as the nomination and confirmation of EU commissioners.
Imagine what will happen if the relevant European Parliament committee for fundamental rights and combatting anti-Semitism, the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home affairs committee (LIBE), is chaired by a far-right nationalist member of parliament. Imagine having a xenophobic, populist justice commissioner a few months from now.
This is not doom-mongering, but is unfortunately a possible scenario that already exists in EU member states such as Austria, where all ministries relevant to Jewish issues are in the hands of the populist far-right FPÖ, a party with which the Israelite Community of Vienna rightfully refuses to engage.
And to complicate matters even further, the European heads of state have just decided in a special council meeting in Brussels that the U.K. will get yet another extension until Oct. 31, 2019, to sort out the messy Brexit negotiation gridlock, including full membership rights and obligations that will make them participate in the EU elections as well as negotiations for the upcoming EU budget and composition of the new EU commission should they be unable to leave beforehand by agreeing to the existing deal.
There is still so much to do to even slow down the ugly resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. The last thing anyone needs is yet another deterioration of the political status quo in the EU that will make the fight against anti-Semitism even more difficult and might lock down the EU institutions altogether, thereby making them unable to protect what they were established to do: protecting and promoting the European values of fundamental rights for each and every one of its citizens.
Benjamin Nägele was named director of E.U. affairs for B’nai B’rith International in 2015. In this capacity he focuses on promoting EU-Israel relations and advocates for Jewish causes at the European institutions in Brussels. He previously worked as an EU affairs officer for B’nai B’rith International and as a policy advisor at the European Parliament. Click here to read more of his work.
This week, United States sanctions that were lifted after the signing of the 2015 agreement on Iran’s nuclear program began to be reimposed following the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal, whose other signatories were Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union. With saber-rattling renewed between Tehran and Washington — but economic stress in Iran prompting some Iranians, if not yet their leadership, to consider President Trump’s offer to negotiate with “no preconditions” — a review of the original deal’s terms and pitfalls is in order.
The 2015 agreement required Iran to give up and limit or suspend a substantial part of its nuclear material and activity: Iran was obligated to eliminate roughly 97 percent of its uranium stockpile, dismantle and put under seal two-thirds of its centrifuges, cap uranium enrichment at levels considerably below weapons grade and remove the core of its plutonium reactor. The deal also required Iran to accept extensive monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and it required Iran to pledge never to obtain a nuclear weapon.
But, of course, the deal was very far from air-tight:
While the IAEA has reported finding no evidence of major Iranian noncompliance with the deal thus far, Tehran has a long record of able deception and of violating commitments — as reconfirmed in the extensive intelligence material recently made public by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, refuting Iran’s claim that its supreme leader forbade outright any pursuit of nuclear weaponry.
One significant and underreported reality about the U.S. pullout from the deal is that it reflected, and solidified, growing Arab-Israeli alignment focused on containing the Iranian threat. This, if nothing else, is a silver lining to the Iranian problem, and the U.S. is a critical partner in encouraging Arab-Israeli reconciliation and cooperation.
At the same time, does the potential unraveling of the nuclear deal help or hurt the most extreme elements in Iran? It isn’t easy to say. The hardline Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, which maintains significant power in Iran’s economy, finds ways to benefit from especially difficult times, and the nuclear deal was associated with the relative “moderates” in Iran. At the same time, economic strain in Iran builds pressure against the regime — as seen in the most recent popular protests calling for an end to corruption and an end to the foreign adventurism that has made Iran the world’s leading state-sponsor of terror.
Global observers continue to assess the initial U.S. nuclear talks this year with North Korea. How are those negotiations influencing, and also being influenced by, the Iran experience? Iran has told North Korea that it can’t trust the U.S. to stay in a deal — though American firmness on Iran had at least set a high bar for the North Korean process. On the other hand, North Korea, unlike Iran, is already known to have nuclear weaponry. Will Iran be tempted to follow Pyongyang’s lead in engaging in new talks, or, prioritizing its saving of face, will it refuse to renegotiate the deal of 2015?
In the meantime, primary focus has been on the response by European allies to the U.S. withdrawal. While the Europeans became politically and economically wedded to the deal — and have already now been reeling over separate disagreements with the U.S. over the Paris climate accord, free trade agreements, tariffs, and NATO and other coalitions — European government officials have started acknowledging that it will be difficult to maintain the deal without American participation, since European companies will not want to lose access to the U.S. market by violating Washington’s reimposed sanctions on Iran.
If, in fact, Europe is unable to preserve the economic incentives needed to keep the Iranians themselves in the nuclear agreement, and it collapses, the question is: what happens next? Russia and China would likely veto attempts to reinstate U.N. sanctions. Iran, perhaps just short of provoking outright war, will almost surely make a point of ramping up nuclear activity. Iran will also continue to want to extract a price from Israel for the U.S. pullout —just as it and its proxies such as Hezbollah are already keen to undermine Arab-Israeli partnership and to recoup popular credibility among Arabs, lost in the bloody sectarian war in Syria, by again attacking Israel. And Israel, for its part, has made clear that it will act against the build-up of Iranian military positions in Syria to match those it established in Lebanon along the border with Israel. Russia has reportedly signaled that it will help maintain distance between the Iranians and Israel’s boundaries, although both Russia and Iran have served as critical allies preserving the rule of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
Only time will tell whether a more dependable, comprehensive and lasting resolution of Iranian nuclear and other destabilizing activities will be achieved. However, to achieve it, common purpose will be needed. If such commonality can be reached by many Arabs and Israelis, it should be between the U.S. and Europe, as well as India, Japan and others who are being pressed to wean themselves off of Iranian oil. No less, commonality can and must be reached between Republicans and Democrats, who long shared a bipartisan recognition that the Iranian threat is an existential one for indispensable allies of the United States.
David J. Michaels is Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs at B'nai B'rith International, where he began working in 2004 as Special Assistant to the Executive Vice President. A Wexner Fellow/Davidson Scholar, and past winner of the Young Professional Award of the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America, he holds degrees from Yale and Yeshiva University. Click here to view more of his content.
On July 29, 2014 three Palestinians, according to their own testimony, highly intoxicated, filled six bottles with petrol and threw them against the synagogue in Wuppertal. One of the perpetrators was arrested on sight while filming the arriving firefighters and commentating in Arabic.
The district court of Wuppertal sentenced the three young men to suspended sentences for up to two years, largely due to the fact that they did not have a previous criminal record, the marginal damage at the synagogue and the fact that they were apologetic and covered for the caused damage.
More surprising than the verdict and mild punishment itself was the opinion given by the court: The judge ruled and sentenced the accused only for arson, believing the defendants claim that they did not have anything against Jews and just wanted to raise awareness of the war in Gaza, therefore ruling out any anti-Semitic motivation due to lack of evidence.
Unlike many European Union member-states, Germany does not explicitly punish hate crimes as such. But it does allow for hate motivation to be taken into account in assessing sentences.
Following the ruling, an outcry went through the media and Jewish communities, especially the small community of Wuppertal. Most of them of Russian origin, they had escaped persecution and discrimination in the former Soviet Union and came to Germany in the ‘80s and ‘90s in the hope of a better life, now left in shock and traumatized.
The state of Germany and its police and judiciary had, as in many other cases over the summer and during anti-Israel demonstrations, abandoned their obligation to prevent or at least prosecute obvious anti-Semitic attacks and slander.
Once again shouts such as “Jews to the Gas” or “Kill the Jews” could be heard in the streets of major cities, without the police that accompanied the protestors making any attempt of holding the shouters responsible or stopping and prosecuting them.
But what’s even more worrisome and troubling than the misguided and flawed court ruling of 2015 is the confirmation, in second instance, by the higher district court and Judge Thomas Bittner, who ruled on an appeal on points of law by the prosecution. The court only slightly increased the sentence, again on parole, but followed the reasoning of the previous court decision:
“The attack on the Wuppertal synagogue cannot be defined as anti-Semitic, there is simply no proof for an anti-Semitic motivation,” states the official court ruling.
“Can there be a clearer indication for anti-Semitism than trying to burn down a synagogue?” rightfully asks Leonid Goldberg, the Jewish Community leader in Wuppertal, in an interview with German magazine Spiegel.
This was not an Israeli embassy, but a house of God, used by Jewish German citizens, not Israelis, to practice their faith. If one were to make up a textbook definition of anti-Zionism becoming anti-Semitic, this would be it.
The judge also missed out on the opportunity to respond to the summation of the prosecutor Kiskel, in which he stated that the attack was obviously anti-Semitic.
The now legally binding and confirmed regional court decision is a final confirmation of a clear case of German jurisprudence’ surrender towards anti-Semitic hate crimes motivated by a distain for the state of Israel.
A devastating and shocking signal to German Jews, not only due to the fact that a German synagogue was in flames once again (the original Wuppertal had been burned down during the infamous Kristallnacht) but for the incomprehensible court decision that refused to make the shockingly obvious connection between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
But this case just makes the real underlying problem obvious once again:
The lack of a working definition on anti-Semitism that encompasses all forms of old and new anti-Semitism, including forms of anti-Zionism, that can be used as a guideline and tool.
Another failed attempt to adopt such a definition had just been made by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) during its annual conference in Hamburg in December of 2016 (decisions are made unanimously, and out of the 57 member states only one, Russia, opposed the adoption).
Germany itself as rotating chair of the OSCE had prioritized and lobbied for the adoption of an anti-Semitism definition. The same definition which the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) had adopted already earlier this year, and which includes, among others, two paragraphs that would have helped the judge in Wuppertal to not make such a terrible mistake:
To be fair, the appeal on points of law was in regards to the length of the sentence, and not regarding a re-evaluation of the motivation behind the attack. The court in Wuppertal also did not, as claimed by the Jerusalem Post and other media articles, claim that the attack was a justified criticism of Israel, the contrary was the case: Judge Bittner recognized the heavy traumatization of the Jewish community and made clear that this was no juvenile prank but a serious crime.
He nevertheless did not follow the prosecutors demand for a sentence without parole. What the new appeal ruling also failed to do, despite getting a second chance to correct the terrible mistake of its predecessor, was point out the obvious anti-Semitic character of the attack and thereby send an urgently-needed, strong message to the Jewish community that the German judicial system is able to recognize and prosecute anti-Semitic incidents against its Jewish population.
Not once did Judge Bittner mention the word anti-Semitic in his ruling.
This case is another instance that proves and drives B'nai B'rith's work and engagement in pushing for an official definition on anti-Semitism to better protect our Jewish communities and prevent such attacks from not being labeled for what it really is: another shameful anti-Semitic attack on a Jewish community in Europe.
World attention has recently been focused on the shameful passage of an anti-Israel resolution on settlements at the U.N. Security Council. Resolution 2334 contains a litany of criticism of Israel while absurdly striking a tone on incitement and terrorism that puts the onus on both sides of the conflict.
The resolution condemns all building beyond the 1949 Jordanian-Israeli armistice line—a line created after Jordan and other neighboring Arab states invaded the newly independent State of Israel in an attempt to annihilate it from existence. The armistice line (also known as the “Green Line”) stood in place until 1967, when Jordan and other Arab states again tried to destroy Israel, only to lose significant territory in the Six-Day War, when Israel liberated the eastern part of Jerusalem (including the Old City) and Judea and Samaria (which Jordan had by then re-named the “West Bank”), among other territories.
The section in Resolution 2334 that could prove to be the most problematic in the long term is a vaguely worded passage that calls on states to “distinguish” between their dealings with Israel and territories Israel gained during the Six-Day War. It’s not clear how states should “distinguish” their actions, but it is clear how the Palestinians and the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement will read this phrase—they will clearly try to use this as international cover for a boycott.
More on the Latest Anti-Israel U.N. Resolution
On the same day that the Security Council passed Resolution 2334, the General Assembly’s 5th Committee (the U.N.’s administrative and budget committee) decided, by its usually lop-sided anti-Israel majority, to fund a Human Rights Council (HRC) decision from March to create a database of companies doing business in areas beyond the Green Line. There is no ambiguity about what is happening with this decision—the U.N. is being willingly co-opted to become the secretariat of the BDS movement, creating a list of companies that activists can draw upon for divestment campaigns.
Israel submitted an amendment to this 5th Committee resolution to strip the funding from the mandate, but only Australia, Canada, Guatemala, Palau and the United States sided with Israel. The European Union (EU) gave a statement saying that EU member states would vote against the amendment as a bloc (even though the EU did not support the original HRC decision in March, albeit only by abstention), because it was important to stand by a principle of not letting policy discussion distract from the budgetary process, which is often run by consensus. Apparently that principle is more important than the principle that the United Nations should not be co-opted for anti-Semitic purposes.
The EU has been trying on this issue to have its cake and eat it too. Some EU members have laws against boycotts of Israel (and EU leaders pay lip service to opposing a boycott), yet the EU Commission put out guidelines by which member states should label all Israeli products from the disputed territories. While the guidelines do not explicitly call for a boycott of goods from the settlements, it seems only reasonable to deduce that it is meant to enable one.
The U.N.’s database will contain Israel companies based in the disputed territories, of course, but it will also likely target outside corporations that do business in the territories, multinational corporations that help bring security for Israeli citizens regardless of whether they reside within the Green Line or not. And it could very well be broadened to include Israeli businesses not even based in the territories, but those such as banks and stores that operate wherever their Israeli customers reside.
These recent U.N. actions may have created an overreach that provides an opportunity to move the U.N. in the right course. The Security Council resolution has created a furor in Congress and the incoming administration, which has led to threats of action against the U.N. Because of this, we’re now hearing the use of a word that we have not heard in a while at the U.N.—“reform.” If there is to be any reform at the U.N., one of the first priorities must be to reverse the barely concealed anti-Semitic efforts to boycott Israel that so many member states seem willing to either promote or at the very least tolerate.
Despite an astounding array of conventions, covenants, directives, framework decisions, case law and other existing legal instruments meant to ensure human rights and freedom from discrimination in the European Union, Jews continue to face high levels of anti-Semitism in nearly all of the 28 EU member states.
I had the privilege of participating recently in the 10th Israel-EU Bilateral Dialogue on Combating Antisemitism, Racism and Xenophobia at the invitation of the Israeli Foreign Ministry (MFA) in Jerusalem earlier this month. The forum was established to allow Israelis and representatives of the European Commission—the government of the European Union—to discuss their ongoing work in combating antisemitism, exchange experiences and compare best practices. Participants included high-ranking European Commission and Israel Foreign Ministry officials, experts and practitioners in the field of education and social media.
The meeting occurred after the failed attempt by the 57-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to adopt the long-awaited Working Definition of anti-Semitism. Researchers, lawmakers and law enforcement practitioners have long complained that the lack of a generally agreed-upon definition of anti-Semitism—even if not legally binding—has helped confound efforts to combat the issue. So long as there was no definition, one man’s anti-Semitism could arguably be another man’s legitimate, albeit judgmental, opinion about Jews or Israel.
READ: A Potential Breakthrough in Defining Anti-Semitism
The definition proposed to the OSCE—only one sentence long with no mention of the State of Israel—goes on to provide 11 illustrative examples, most of which reference different manifestations of anti-Israel prejudice as forms of anti-Semitism: “Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust;…Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor; Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation; Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g. claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis; Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis...” – while adding the clear caveat that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
The definition was adopted in May by the 31-member International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (encompassing European states plus the U.S., Canada, Argentina and Israel), but due to an obstructionist role played by a single member, the Russian Federation, the definition did not pass muster at OSCE, leaving states wanting to do utilize this new tool in the fight against anti-Semitism to adopt it individually as local legislation. The UK’s new prime minister Theresa May has committed Great Britain—faced with an alarming 61% increase in anti-Semitic crime over the past year—to being the first country to formally adopt the definition as law.
Despite the palatable disappointment at the OSCE vote, the Israel-EU dialogue provided a useful opportunity for officials to restate the Union’s commitments to counter anti—Semitism. Daniel Braun, the deputy head of cabinet for Věra Jourová, the European Union's commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality, declared that combating anti-Semitism is not the responsibility of the Jewish community alone but an assault on fundamental rights that affects all people and not only minorities. Paul Nemitz, director for fundamental rights and rule of law, said that the Holocaust is part of European citizenship and that everyone, not only Jews, suffer from the effects of anti-Semitism, adding that the dialogue on combating the issue must continue irrespective of the state of the political dialogue between Israel and the EU.
The dialogue also provided a platform for an exchange of views on best practices, latest research and technological advances in combating anti-Semitism and also for a reality check on the efficacy of some long-held axioms.
For example, the EU has put much hope—and funding—into education and youth action as a means of tackling radicalization and anti-Semitism. Indeed, the concluding sentences in the extensive 10-year review on anti-Semitism in the EU, published last month by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, states that “Education is essential to prevent intolerant attitudes. Through education that fosters socialization, tolerance, universal values and encourages critical thinking, children and young people can bring change to their families and communities, and ultimately to the broader society.” This was reflected in the message of Katharina Von-Schnurbein, coordinator for combating anti-Semitism, who said that to change attitudes in the long term, EU member states need to tackle hate through education by working among teachers and principals. Braun also said that tolerance education must involve the whole spectrum of Jewish history in Europe, not just the Holocaust, which has been the focus of EU efforts until now. He was concerned by reports of anti-Semitic acts in schools and universities in Europe, adding that newcomers to the continent are bringing anti-Semitic attitudes with them and that it is Europe's responsibility to inculcate its basic principles of respect and tolerance into these newcomers.
But putting this approach into question, Dr. Eyal Kaminka, director of the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, argued that in the current hyper-charged atmosphere at many schools across Europe today, it is doubtful that meaningful change could be affected in schools since, as reported by many of the European teachers his school trains in methods for teaching the Holocaust, they are unable to implement any Holocaust curriculum in the face of student’s raucous objections, fanned by attitudes of Holocaust denial at home. Kaminka called on the EU officials to review the telling testimonies he has compiled of teachers across Europe that reflect the true face of intolerance and anti-Semitism in the classroom.
Perhaps the most hopeful news at the dialogue came from reports on implementation of the new Code of Conduct on countering illegal hate speech online reached this May between the Commission and four major IT platforms: Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Social media is widely recognized as the principal platform for the promotion of anti-Semitic attitudes today. Under the Code, the IT companies must put in place a clear and effective process to review notifications regarding illegal hate speech on their services so they can remove or disable access to such content. Von-Schnurbein said that the Code establishes that the internet is no longer a legal black hole—, as it has been since its inception some 15 years ago, but that standards of incitement and illegal hate speech apply there too as it does in the print and broadcast media, terminating the privilege IT companies had claimed until now that they are not responsible for 3rd party content.
Although much hope was put in the Code, Von-Schnurbein expressed disappointment at the findings of the first review of implementation undertaken in October that indicated that only 28% of flagged entries have been removed by the platforms, a percentage she admitted did not meet expectations. When the fact that the flaggers are all vetted and paid for by the IT companies themselves, the percentage of takedowns pales even further (takedowns of flagged offensive material from non-vetted sources is even lower).
This led a number of participants in the dialogue to express incredulousness at the IT company's continued insistence on using manual flagging while objecting to the institution’s use of more uniform and reliable technological solutions for automatic removal as they already do to generate individualized advertising and content. As reported recently by Digital Trends, Google recently made improvements to its algorithm that will prevent Holocaust denial websites from appearing in search results. This improvement in the algorithm was made after Google came under fire for enabling neo-Nazi and Holocaust-denying websites to rank high up in search results for questions such as: "Did the Holocaust happen?"
Some of the most advanced technology available to cleanse the web from hate speech has been developed in Israel. One of these is Spot.IM—a fully automated tool that monitors the comments sections in online media outlets for hate and verbal violence, identifying individuals who prowl the internet hoping to spark violent discourse or aggravate them. The platform, now used by over 5,000 active news sites and online magazines in the U.S., Israel and Europe—automatically filters their activity up to and including blocking them and deleting their entire comment history.
Israel is also in the process of falling in line with the U.S., Canada, Australia and the UK after a new legislation, the Removal of Terror-Inciting Content from Social Media bill, dubbed the “Facebook bill,” passed first muster last week in the Cabinet. Under the bill, courts will be empowered to order social media companies to remove posts that the authorities consider “a criminal endangerment to personal, public or national security." Although in the past year, 71% of 1,755 requests made by the Justice Ministry to providers to remove content were met, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said that while internet companies were cooperating with the government in cleansing the web of content that violates defamation, adoption, Holocaust denial, incitement and anti-terrorism laws, "it is important that this cooperation be required, and not according to their whims.” The bill would apply to posts that “call for an act of violence or terrorism" and demands that posts are removed from visibility in Israel.
The Jewish community in general and B'nai B'rith in particular, along with other watchdog agencies, have a responsibility to ensure that the Commission keeps up pressure on the providers to make the Internet and social media a safer environment. In fact, speakers at the dialogue expressed that the dedication and commitment exhibited by Jewish interlocutors on this issue could be duplicated among other targeted minorities in Europe. This is a distinction I believe many of us would be only too happy to concede.
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