Tag Archives: Israel

Saudi Arabia has to be stopped and this time it may get stopped

It appears that the KSA has crossed all lines of decency, if there were ever any.

In the eyes of many in the West, it crossed them not because it has been brutally killing tens of thousands of innocent people in Yemen, not even because it keeps sponsoring terrorists in Syria, (and, in fact, all over the world), often on behalf of the West. And not even because it is trying to turn its neighboring country, Qatar, from a peninsula into an island.

The crimes against humanity committed by Saudi Arabia are piling up, but the hermit kingdom (it is so hermit that it does not even issue tourist visas, in order to avoid scrutiny) is not facing any sanctions or embargos, with some exceptions like Germany. These are some of the most barbaric crimes committed in modern history, anywhere and by anyone. Executing and then quartering people, amputating their limbs, torturing, bombing civilians.

But for years and decades, all this mattered nothing. Saudi Arabia served faithfully both big business and the political interests of the United Kingdom first, and of the West in general later. That, of course, includes Israel, with which the House of Saud shares almost a grotesque hatred towards Shi’a Islam.

And so, no atrocities have been publicly discussed, at least not in the Western mass media or by the European and the US governments, while weapons, worth hundreds of billions of dollars, have been arriving into the KSA, and the oil, that dark sticky curse, kept flowing out.

Was Riyadh enjoying total impunity? Definitely!

But all this may soon stop, because of a one single man, Mr. Jamal Khashoggi or more precisely, because of his alleged tragic, terrifying death behind the walls of the Saudi Consulate in the city of Istanbul.

According to the Turkish authorities, quoted by The New York Times on October 11, 2018:

Fifteen Saudi agents arrived on two charter flights on Oct. 2, the day Mr. Khashoggi disappeared.

Supposedly, they brutally murdered Mr. Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen, and then they used sawmills to severe his legs and arms from the body.

All this, while Mr. Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancé, Hatice Cengiz, was waiting for him on a bench, in front of the consulate. He went in, in order to take care of the paperwork required to marry her. But he never came back.

Now the Turkish nation is indignant.

Ten years ago, even one year ago, everything would have been, most likely, hushed up. As all mass murders committed by the Saudis all over the world were always hushed up. As was hushed up the information about the Saudi royal family smuggling drugs from Lebanon, using their private jets – narcotics that are clouding senses and are therefore used in combat zones and during terrorist attacks.

But now, this is the end of 2018. And Turkey is not ready to tolerate an atrocity by an increasingly hostile country; an atrocity committed in the middle of its largest city. For quite some time, Turkey and the KSA are not chums anymore. Turkish military forces were already deployed to Qatar several months ago, in order to face the Saudi army and to protect the small (although also not benign) Gulf State from possible attack and imminent destruction. In the meantime, Turkey is getting closer and closer to Iran, an archenemy of Saudi Arabia, Israel and US.

It has to be pointed out that Mr. Khashoggi is not just some common Saudi citizen – he is a prominent critic of the Saudi regime, but most importantly, in the eyes of the empire, a correspondent for The Washington Post. Critic but not an ‘outsider’. And some say, he was perhaps too close to some Western intelligence agencies.

Therefore, his death, if it is, after all, death, could not be ignored, no matter how much the West would like the story to disappear from the headlines.

President Trump remained silent for some time, then he became “concerned”, and finally Washington began indicating that it could even take some actions against its second closest ally in the Middle East. The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been ‘cultivated’ both by Washington and other Western powers, but now he may actually fall from grace. Is he going to end up as Shah Pahlavi of Iran? Not now, but soon, or at least ‘at some point’? Are the days of the House of Saud numbered? Perhaps not yet. But Washington has a track record of getting rid of its ‘uncomfortable allies.

*****

The Washington Post, in its editorial “Trump’s embrace emboldened Saudi Crown Prince’, snapped at both the ‘Saudi regime’ (finally that derogatory word, ‘regime’ has been used against the House of Saud) and the US administration:

Two years ago it would have been inconceivable that the rulers of Saudi Arabia, a close US ally, would be suspected of abducting or killing a critic who lived in Washington and regularly wrote for the Post – or that they would dare to stage such operation in Turkey, another US ally and a NATO member. That the regime now stands accused by Turkish government sources of murdering Jamal Khashoggi, one of the foremost Saudi journalists, in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate could be attributed in part to the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s 33-year-old de facto ruler, who has proved as ruthless as he is ambitious. But it also may reflect the influence President Donald Trump, who has encouraged the Crown Prince to believe – wrongly, we trust – that even his most lawless ventures will have the support of the United States.

“Wrongly, we trust?” But Saudi Arabia and its might are almost exclusively based on its collaboration with the global Western ‘regime’ imposed on the Middle East and on the entire world, first by Europe and the UK in particular, and lately by the United States.

All terror that the KSA has been spreading all over the region, but also Central Asia, Asia Pacific, and parts of Africa, has been encouraged, sponsored or at least approved in Washington, London, even Tel Aviv.

The Saudis helped to destroy the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and then the socialist and progressive Afghanistan itself. They fought Communism and all left-wing governments in the Muslim world, on behalf of the West. They still do.

Now both the West and the KSA are inter-dependent. The Saudis are selling oil and buying weapons, signing ‘monumental’ defense contracts with the US companies, such as Lockheed Martin. They are also ‘investing’ into various political figures in Washington.

The current alleged murder of a journalist triggered an unusual wave of soul-searching in the Western media. It is half-hearted soul searching, but it is there, nevertheless. On October 2018, the Huffington Post wrote:

By directing billions of dollars of Saudi money into the U.S. for decades, Riyadh’s ruling family has won the support of small but powerful circles of influential Americans and courted wider public acceptance through corporate ties and philanthropy. It’s been a solid investment for a regime that relies heavily on Washington for its security but can’t make the same claims to shared values or history as other American allies like Britain. For years, spending in ways beneficial to the U.S. ― both stateside and abroad, such as its funding Islamist fighters in Afghanistan to combat the Soviet Union ― has effectively been an insurance policy for Saudi Arabia.

It means that the White House will most likely do its best not to sever relationships with Riyadh. There may be, and most likely will be, some heated exchange of words, but hardly some robust reaction, unless all this tense situation ‘provokes’ yet another ‘irrational’ move on the part of the Saudis.

The report by Huffington Post pointed out that:

One of the few traditions in American diplomacy that Trump has embraced wholeheartedly is describing weapons sales as jobs programs. The president has repeatedly said Khashoggi’s fate should not disturb the $110 billion package of arms that Trump says he got the Saudis to buy to support American industry. (Many of the deals were actually struck under Obama, and a large part of the total he’s describing is still in the form of vague statements of intent.)

Keen to keep things on track with the Saudis, arms producers often work in concert with Saudi Arabia’s army of Washington lobbyists, congressional sources say.

This is where the Western reporting stops short of telling the whole truth, and from putting things into perspective. Nobody from the mainstream media shouts: ‘There is basically no independent foreign policy of Riyadh!’

Yes, oil buys weapons that are ‘giving jobs to men and women working in the US and UK factories’, and then these weapons are used to murder men, women and children in Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere; they threaten Iran, Qatar and several other countries. Oil and Western support also help to recruit terrorists for the perpetual wars desired by the West, and they also help to build thousands of lavish mosques and to convert tens of millions of people in Southeast Asia, Africa and elsewhere to Wahhabism, which is an extreme, Saudi-UK religious dogma. (My book Exposing Lies of the Empire. contains important chapter on this topic – “The West Manufacturing Muslim Monsters: Who Should Be Blamed for Muslim Terrorism”).

*****

Despite what many in the West think, there is hardly any love for Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. The KSA is sometimes supported, out of ignorance, commercial interests, or religious zeal, by such far-away Muslim countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, but as a rule, not by those who live ‘in the region’.

Many, if not most, in the Arab countries have already had enough of Saudi arrogance and bullying, by such monstrous acts like the war against Yemen, or implanting/supporting terrorists in Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere, or by recent the de facto kidnapping of the Lebanese Head of State, by moral hypocrisy and by turning holy Muslim sites into business ventures with vulgar commercialism all around them, and the clear segregation of the rich and poor.

Many Arabs hold Saudi Arabia responsible for turning an essentially socialist and egalitarian religion into what it has become now, of course, with the determined support from the West, which desires to have an obedient and rituals-oriented population all over the Muslim world, in order to control it better, while plundering, without any opposition, its natural resources. Saudi Arabia is a country with some of the greatest disparities on earth: with some of the richest elites on one hand, and widespread misery all around the entire territory. It is an ‘unloved country’, but until now, it has been ‘respected’. Mainly out of fear.

Now, the entire world is watching. Those who were indignant in silence are beginning to speak out.

Few days ago, an Indonesian maid was mercilessly executed in the KSA. Years ago, she killed her tormentor, her old ‘a patron’ who was attempting to rape her, on many occasions. But that was not reported on the front pages. After all, she was ‘just a maid’; a poor woman from a poor country.

All of us, writers and journalists all over the world, are hoping that Mr. Khashoggi (no matter what his track record was so far) is alive, somewhere, and that one day soon he will be freed. However, with each new day, the chances that it will happen are slimmer and slimmer. Now even Saudi officials admit that he was murdered.

If he was killed by Saudi agents, Mr. Khashoggi’s death may soon fully change both his country and the rest of the Middle East. He always hoped for at least some changes in his country. But most likely, he never imagined that he would have to pay the ultimate price for them.

This time, the Saudi rulers hoped for a breeze, which would disperse the smell of blood. They may now inherit the tempest.

Why Is Israel Afraid of Khalida Jarrar?

When Israeli troops stormed the house of Palestinian parliamentarian and lawyer, Khalida Jarrar, on April 2, 2015, she was engrossed in her research. For months, Jarrar had been leading a Palestinian effort to take Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Her research on that very evening was directly related to the kind of behavior that allows a group of soldiers to handcuff a respected Palestinian intellectual, throwing her in jail with no trial and with no accountability for their action.

Jarrar was released after spending over one year in jail in June 2016, only to be arrested once more, on July 2, 2017. She remains in an Israeli prison.

On October 28 of this year, her ‘administrative detention’ was renewed for the fourth time.

There are thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, most of them held outside the militarily Occupied Palestinian Territories, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

However, nearly 500 Palestinians fall into a different category, as they are held without trial, detained for six-month periods that are renewed, sometimes indefinitely, by Israeli military courts with no legal justification whatsoever. Jarrar is one of those detainees.

Jarrar is not beseeching her jailers for her freedom. Instead, she is keeping busy educating her fellow female prisoners on international law, offering classes and issuing statements to the outside world that reflect not only her refined intellect, but also her resolve and strength of character.

Jarrar is relentless. Despite her failing health – she suffers from multiple ischemic infarctions, hypercholesterolemia and was hospitalized due to severe bleeding resulting from epistaxis – her commitment to the cause of her people did not, in any way, weaken or falter.

The 55-year-old Palestinian lawyer has championed a political discourse that is largely missing amid the ongoing feud between the Palestinian Authority’s largest faction, Fatah, in the Occupied West Bank and Hamas in besieged Gaza.

As a member of the Palestine Legislative Council (PLC) and an active member within the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Jarrar has advocated the kind of politics that is not disconnected from the people and, especially, from the women who she strongly and uncompromisingly represents.

According to Jarrar, no Palestinian official should engage in any form of dialogue with Israel, because such engagement helps legitimize a state that is founded on genocide and ethnic cleansing, and is currently carrying out various types of war crimes; the very crimes that Jarrar tried to expose before the ICC.

Expectedly, Jarrar rejects the so-called ‘peace process’, a futile exercise that has no intention or mechanism that is aimed at “implementing international resolutions related to the Palestinian cause and recognizing the fundamental rights of the Palestinians.”

It goes without saying that a woman with such an astute, strong position, vehemently rejects the ‘security coordination’ between the PA and Israel, seeing such action as a betrayal to the struggle and sacrifices of the Palestinian people.

While PA officials continue to enjoy the perks of ‘leadership’, desperately breathing life into a dead political discourse of a ‘peace process’ and a ‘two state solution’, Jarrar, a Palestinian female leader with a true vision, subsists in HaSharon Prison. There, along with dozens of Palestinian women, she experiences daily humiliation, denial of rights and various types of Israeli methods aimed at breaking her will.

But Jarrar is as experienced in resisting Israel as she is in her knowledge of law and human rights.

In August 2014, as Israel was carrying out one of its most heinous acts of genocide in Gaza – killing and wounding thousands in its so-called ‘Protective Edge’ war – Jarrar received an unwelcome visit by Israeli soldiers.

Fully aware of Jarrar’s work and credibility as a Palestinian lawyer with an international outreach – she is the Palestine representative in the Council of Europe – the Israeli government unleashed their campaign of harassment, which ended in her imprisonment. The soldiers delivered a military edict ordering her to leave her home in al-Bireh, near Ramallah, for Jericho.

Failing to silence her voice, she was arrested in April the following year, beginning an episode of suffering, but also resistance, which is yet to end.

When the Israeli army came for Jarrar, they surrounded her home with a massive number of soldiers, as if the well-spoken Palestinian activist was Israel’s greatest ‘security threat.’

The scene was quite surreal, and telling of Israel’s real fear – that of Palestinians, like Khalida Jarrar, who are able to communicate an articulate message that exposes Israel to the rest of the world.

It was reminiscent of the opening sentence of Franz Kafka’s novel, The Trial: “Somebody must have made a false accusation against Joseph K., for he was arrested one morning without having done anything wrong.”

Administrative detention in Israel is the re-creation of that Kafkaesque scene over and over again. Joseph K. is Khalida Jarrar and thousands of other Palestinians, paying a price for merely calling for the rights and freedom of their people.

Under international pressure, Israel was forced to put Jarrar on trial, levying against her twelve charges that included visiting a released prisoner and participating in a book fair.

Her other arrest, and the four renewals of her detention, is a testament not just to Israel’s lack of any real evidence against Jarrar, but for its moral bankruptcy as well.

But why is Israel afraid of Khalida Jarrar?

The truth is, Jarrar, like many other Palestinian women, represents the antidote of the fabricated Israeli narrative, relentlessly promoting Israel as an oasis of freedom, democracy and human rights, juxtaposed with a Palestinian society that purportedly represents the opposite of what Israel stands for.

Jarrar, a lawyer, human rights activist, prominent politician and advocate for women, demolishes, in her eloquence, courage and deep understanding of her rights and the rights of her people, this Israeli house of lies.

Jarrar is the quintessential feminist; her feminism, however, is not mere identity politics, a surface ideology, evoking empty rights meant to strike a chord with western audiences.

Instead, Khalida Jarrar fights for Palestinian women, their freedom and their rights to receive proper education, to seek work opportunity and to better their lives, while facing tremendous obstacles of military occupation, prison and social pressure.

Khalida in Arabic means “immortal”, a most fitting designation for a true fighter who represents the legacy of generations of strong Palestinian women, whose ‘sumoud’ – steadfastness – shall always inspire an entire nation.

Netanuyahu’s Courting of Bolsonaro is the Latest of Israel’s Alliances with Far-right Figures

The victory of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s presidential election last week has won Israel a passionate new friend on the international stage. The world’s fifth-most populous nation will now be “coloured in blue and white”, an Israeli official said, referring to the colours of Israel’s flag.

The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately called to congratulate Bolsonaro, a former army officer with a pronounced nostalgia for his country’s 20-year military dictatorship. Critics describe him as a neo-fascist.

According to Israeli media reports, it is “highly probable” that Netanyahu will attend Bolsonaro’s inauguration on January 1.

The Brazilian president-elect has already promised that his country will be the third to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem, after the United States and Guatemala. That will further undermine Palestinian hopes for an eventual state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Bolsonaro has told Israel that it can count on Brazil’s vote at the United Nations, and has threatened to close the Palestinian embassy in Brasilia.

One might imagine that Netanyahu is simply being pragmatic in cosying up to Bolsonaro, given Brazil’s importance. But that would be to ignore an unmistakable trend: Israel has relished the recent emergence of far-right leaders across the Americas and Europe, often to the horror of local Jewish communities.

Bolsonaro has divided Brazil’s 100,000 Jews. Some have been impressed by the frequent appearance of Israeli flags at his rallies and his anti-Palestinian stance. But others point out that he regularly expresses hostility to minorities.

They suspect that Bolsonaro covets Israel’s military expertise and the votes of tens of millions of fundamentalist Christians in Brazil, who see Israel as central to their apocalyptic, and in many cases antisemitic, beliefs. Not that this worries Netanyahu.

He has been engaged in a similar bromance with Viktor Orban, the ultra-nationalist prime minister of Hungary, who barely veils his Jew-baiting and has eulogised Miklos Horthy, a Hungarian leader who collaborated with the Nazis.

Netanyahu has also courted Poland’s far-right prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, even as the latter has fuelled Holocaust revisionism with legislation to outlaw criticism of Poland for its involvement in the Nazi death camps. Millions of Jews were exterminated in such camps.

Israel is cultivating alliances with other ultra-nationalists – in and out of power – in the Czech Republic, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Austria.

The conclusion drawn by Jewish communities abroad is that their well being – even their safety – is now a much lower priority than bolstering Israel’s diplomatic influence.

That was illustrated starkly last week in the immediate aftermath of a massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue on October 27. Robert Bowers gunned down 11 worshippers in the worst antisemitic attack in US history.

Jewish communities have linked the awakening of the white-nationalist movement to which Bowers belonged to the Trump administration’s hostile rhetoric towards immigrants and ethnic minorities.

In Pittsburgh, huge crowds protested as Trump paid a condolence visit to the Tree of Life synagogue, holding banners aloft with slogans such as: “President Hate, leave our state.”

Equally hard to ignore is that Israeli leaders, while they regularly denounce US and European left-wingers as antisemites for criticising Israel over its abuse of Palestinians, have remained studiously silent on Trump’s inflammatory statements.

Chemi Shalev, a commentator for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, noted the disturbing impression created by Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the US, escorting Trump through Pittsburgh. Dermer looked like a “bodyguard”, shielding the president from local Jewish protesters, Shalev observed.

Meanwhile, tone-deaf diaspora affairs minister Naftali Bennett, leader of largest Israeli settler party, the Jewish Home, milked the local community’s pain over the Pittsburgh massacre to Israel’s advantage. At an official commemoration service, he compared Bowers’ bullets to rockets fired by Palestinians, describing both as examples of antisemitism.

In an online post before the attack, Bowers singled out the synagogue for its prominent role helping refugees gain asylum in the US.

Trump has rapidly turned immigration into a “national security” priority. Last week, he sent thousands of US troops to the border with Mexico to stop what he termed an “invasion” by refugees from Central America.

Drawing on the histories of their own families having fled persecution, liberal Jews such as those at the Pittsburgh synagogue believe it is a moral imperative to assist refugees escaping oppression and conflict.

That message is strenuously rejected not only by Trump, but by the Israeli government.

In a move Trump hopes to replicate on the Mexico border, Israel has built a 250km wall along the border with Egypt to block the path of asylum-seekers from war-torn Africa.

Netanyahu’s government has also circumvented international law and Israeli court rulings to jail and then deport existing refugees back to Africa, despite evidence that they will be placed in grave danger.

Bennett has termed the refugees “a plague of illegal infiltrators”, while the culture minister Miri Regev has labelled them a “cancer”. Polls suggest that more than half of Israeli Jews agree.

Separately, Israel’s nation-state law, passed in the summer, gives constitutional weight to the notion that Israel belongs exclusively to Jews, stripping the fifth of the population who are Palestinian citizens of the most basic rights.

More generally, Israel views Palestinians through a single prism: as a demographic threat to the Jewishness of the Greater Israel project that Netanyahu has been advancing.

In short, Israel’s leaders are not simply placating a new wave of white-nationalist and neo-fascist leaders. They have a deep-rooted ideological sympathy with them.

For the first time, overseas Jewish communities are being faced with a troubling dilemma. Do they really wish to subscribe to a Jewish nationalism in Israel that so strongly echoes the ugly rhetoric and policies threatening them at home?

• First published in The National

It Is a New Era, But China’s Balancing Act Will Fail in the Middle East

Although ties between Washington and Tel Aviv are stronger than ever, Israeli leaders are aware of a vastly changing political landscape. The US’ own political turmoil and the global power realignment – which is on full display in the Middle East – indicate that a new era is, indeed, in the making.

Unsurprisingly, this new era involves China.

China’s Vice President, Wang Qishan, arrived in Israel on October 22 on a four-day visit to head the fourth China-Israel Innovation Committee. He is the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit Israel in nearly two decades.

In April 2000, the former president of China, Jiang Zemin, was the first Chinese leader to ever visit Israel, touring the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and paying diplomatic dues to his Israeli counterparts. At the time, he spoke of China’s intentions to cement the bond between the two countries.

Wang Qishan’s visit, however, is different. The “bond” between Beijing and Tel Aviv is much stronger now than it was then, as expressed in sheer numbers. Soon after the two countries exchanged diplomatic missions in 1992, trade figures soared. The size of Chinese investments in Israel also grew exponentially, from $50m in the early 1990s to a whopping $16.5bn according to 2016 estimates.

China’s growing investments and strategic ties to Israel are predicated on both countries’ keen interest in technological innovation, as well as on the so-called “Red-Med” Railway, a regional network of sea and rail infrastructure aimed at connecting China with Europe via Asia and the Middle East. Additionally, the railway would also link the two Israeli ports of Eilat and Ashdod.

News of China’s plan to manage the Israeli port of Haifa has already raised the ire of the US and its European allies.

Times have changed, indeed. Whereas in the past, Washington ordered Tel Aviv to immediately cease exchanging American military technology with China, forcing it to cancel the sale of the Phalcon airborne early-warning system, it is now watching as Israeli and Chinese leaders are managing the dawn of a new political era that – for the first time – does not include Washington.

For China, the newfound love for Israel is part of a larger global strategy that can be considered the jewel of China’s revitalized foreign policy.

Qishan’s visit to Israel comes on the heels of accelerated efforts by Beijing to promote its mammoth trillion-dollar economic project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

China hopes that its grand plan will help it open massive new opportunities across the world and eventually guarantee its dominance in various regions that rotated, since World War II, within an American sphere of influence. BRI aims to connect Asia, Africa, and Europe through a “belt” of overland routes and a maritime “road” of sea lanes.

The China-US competition is heating up. Washington wants to hold on to its global dominance for as long as possible while Beijing is eagerly working to supplant the US’ superpower status, first in Asia, then in Africa and the Middle East. The Chinese strategy in achieving its objectives is quite clear: unlike the US’ disproportionate investments in military power, China is keen on winning its coveted status, at least for the time being, using soft power only.

The Middle East, however, is richer and, thus, more strategic and contested than any other region in the world. Rife with conflicts and distinct political camps, it is likely to derail China’s soft power strategy sooner rather than later. While Chinese foreign policy managed to survive the polarizing war in Syria through engaging all sides and playing second to Russia’s leading role at the UN Security Council, the Israeli Occupation of Palestine is a whole different political challenge.

For years, China has maintained a consistent position in support of the Palestinian people, calling for an end to the Israeli Occupation and for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. However, Beijing’s firm position regarding the rights of Palestinians, seems of little consequence to its relationship with Israel, as joint technological ventures, trade and investments continue to grow unhindered.

China’s foreign policymakers operate with the mistaken assumption that their country can be pro-Palestine and pro-Israel at once, criticizing the Occupation, yet sustaining it; calling on Israel to respect international law while at the same time empowering Israel, however unwittingly, in its ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights.

Israeli hasbara has perfected the art of political acrobats, and finding the balance between US-western discourse and a Chinese one should not be too arduous a task.

Indeed, it seems that the oft-repeated cliché of Israel being “the only democracy in the Middle East”, is being slightly adjusted to meet the expectations of a fledgling superpower, which is merely interested in technology, trade and investments. Israeli leaders want China and its investors to think of Israel as the only stable economy in the Middle East.

Expectedly, Palestinian priorities are wholly different.

With the Palestinian struggle for freedom and human rights capturing international attention through the rise of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, more and more countries are under pressure to articulate a clear stance on the Israeli Occupation and apartheid.

For China to enter the fray with an indecisive and self-serving strategy is not just morally objectionable, but strategically unsustainable as well. The Palestinian and Arab peoples are hardly interested in swapping American military dominance with Chinese economic hegemony that does little to change or, at least challenge, the prevailing status quo.

Sadly, while Beijing and Tel Aviv labor to strike the needed balance between foreign policies and economic interests, China finds itself under no particular obligation to side with a well-defined Arab position on Palestine, simply because the latter does not exist. The political division of Arab countries, the wars in Syria and elsewhere have pushed Palestine down from being a top Arab priority into some strange bargain involving “regional peace” as part of Trump’s so-called “Deal of the Century”.

This painful reality has weakened Palestine’s position in China, which, at least for now, values its relationship with Israel at a higher level than its historical bond with Palestine and the Arab people.

Western Media Attacks Critics of the White Helmets

Introduction

The October 16 issue of NY Review of Books has an article by Janine di Giovani titled “Why Assad and Russia Target the White Helmets“. The article exemplifies how western media promotes the White Helmets uncritically and attacks those who challenge the myth.

Crude and Disingenuous Attack

Giovani’s article attacks several journalists by name. She singles out Vanessa Beeley and echoes the Guardian’s characterization of Beeley as the “high priestess of Syria propaganda”. She does this without challenging a single article or claim by the journalist. She might have acknowledged that Vanessa Beeley has some familiarity with the Middle East; she is the daughter of one of the foremost British Arabists and diplomats including British Ambassador to Egypt. Giovanni might have explored Beeley’s research in Syria that revealed the White Helmets founder (British military contractor James LeMesurier) assigned the name Syria Civil Defence despite the fact there is a real Syrian organization by that name that has existed since the 1950’s. For the past several years, Beeley has done many on-the-ground reports and investigations in Syria. None of these are challenged by Giovanni. Just days ago Beeley published a report on her visit to the White Helmets headquarters in Deraa.

Giovanni similarly dismisses another alternative journalist, Eva Bartlett. Again, Giovanni ignores the fact that Bartlett has substantial Middle East experience including having lived in Gaza for years. Instead of objectively evaluating the journalistic work of these independent journalists, Giovanni smears their work as “disinformation”. Presumably that is because their work is published at alternative sites such as 21st Century Wire and Russian media such as RT and Sputnik. Beeley and Bartlett surely would have been happy to have their reports published at the New York Review of Books, Newsweek or other mainstream outlets. But it’s evident that such reporting is not welcome there. Even Seymour Hersh had to go abroad to have his investigations on Syria published.

The New McCarthyism

Max Blumenthal is another journalist singled out by Giovanni. Blumenthal is the author of three books, including a New York Times bestseller and the highly acclaimed “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel”. Giovanni describes his transition from “anti-Assad” to “pro-Assad” and suggests his change of perspective was due to Russian influence. She says, “Blumenthal went to Moscow on a junket to celebrate RT’s tenth anniversary. We don’t know what happened during that visit, but afterwards, Blumenthal’s views completely flipped.” Instead of examining the facts presented by Blumenthal in articles such as “Inside the Shadowy PR Firm that’s Lobyying for Regime Change in Syria“, Giovanni engages in fact-free McCarthyism. Blumenthal explained the transition in his thinking in a public interview. He also described the threats he experienced when he started to criticize the White Helmets and their public relations firm, but this is ignored by Giovanni.

Contrary to Giovanni’s assumptions, some western journalists and activists were exposing the White Helmets long before the story was publicized on Russian media. In spring 2015 the basic facts about the White Helmets including their origins, funding and role in the information war on Syria were exposed in my article “Seven Steps of Highly Effective Manipulators“. The article showed how the White Helmets were a key component in a campaign pushing for a “No Fly Zone” in Syria. It confirmed that the White Helmets is a political lobby force.

In spring 2016, Vanessa Beeley launched a petition “Do NOT give the Nobel Peace Prize to the White Helmets“. That petition garnered more support than a contrary petition urging the Nobel Prize committee to give the award to the White Helmets. Perhaps because of that, the petition was abruptly removed without explanation from the Change.org website. It was only at this time, with publicity around the heavily promoted nomination of the White Helmets for a Nobel Peace Prize that RT and other Russian media started to publicize and expose the White Helmets. That is one-and-a-half years after they were first exposed in western alternative media.

White Helmets and Chemical Weapons Accusations 

Giovanni ignores the investigations and conclusions of some of the most esteemed American journalists regarding the White Helmets and chemical weapons incidents in Syria.

The late Robert Parry published many articles exposing the White Helmets, for example “The White Helmets Controversy” and “Syria War Propaganda at the Oscars“. Parry wrote and published numerous investigations of the August 2013 chemical weapons attack and concluded the attacks were carried out by an opposition faction with the goal of pressuring the US to intervene militarily. Parry also challenged western conclusions regarding incidents such as April 4, 2017 at Khan Shaykhun. Giovanni breathlessly opens her article with this story while Parry revealed the impossibility of it being as described.

Buried deep inside a new U.N. report is evidence that could exonerate the Syrian government in the April 4 sarin atrocity and make President Trump look like an Al Qaeda dupe.

Legendary American journalist, Seymour Hersh, researched and refuted the assumptions of Giovanni and the media establishment regarding the August 2013 chemical weapons attacks near Damascus. Hersh’s investigation, titled “The Red Line and Rat Line“, provided evidence the atrocity was carried out by an armed opposition group with active support from Turkey. A Turkish member of parliament provided additional evidence. The fact that Hersh had to go across the Atlantic to have his investigation published suggests American not Russian disinformation and censorship.

In addition to ignoring the findings of widely esteemed journalists with proven track records, Giovanni plays loose with the truth. In her article she implies that a UN investigation blamed the Syrian government for the August 2013 attack. On the contrary, the head of the UN investigation team, Ake Sellstrom, said they did not determine who was responsible.

We do not have the evidence to say who did what ….The conflict in Syria is surrounded by a lot of rumors and a lot of propaganda, particularly when comes to the sensitive issue of chemical weapons.

First Responders or Western Funded Propagandists?

Giovanni says, “But the White Helmets’ financial backing is not the real reason why the pro-Assad camp is so bent on defaming them. Since 2015, the year the Russians began fighting in Syria, the White Helmets have been filming attacks on opposition-held areas with GoPro cameras affixed to their helmets.”

In reality, the ‘White Helmets” have a sophisticated media production and distribution operation. They have much more than GoPro cameras. In many of their movie segments one can see numerous people with video and still cameras. Sometimes the same incident will be shown with one segment with an Al Qaeda logo blending into the same scene with a White Helmets logo.

Giovanni claims “The Assad regime and the Russians are trying to neutralize the White Helmets because they are potential witnesses to war crimes.” However, the claims of White Helmet “witnesses” have little credibility. The White Helmet “volunteers” are paid three times as much as Syrian soldiers. They are trained, supplied and promoted by the same western states which have sought to regime change in Syria since 2011. An example of misleading and false claims by a White Helmets leader is exposed in Gareth Porter’s investigation titled “How a Syrian White Helmets Leader Played Western Media” . His conclusion could be directed to Giovanni and the NYReview of Books:

The uncritical reliance on claims by the White Helmets without any effort to investigate their credibility is yet another telling example of journalistic malpractice by media outlets with a long record of skewing coverage of conflicts toward an interventionist narrative.

When the militants (mostly Nusra/al Qaeda) were expelled from East Aleppo, civilians reported that the White Helmets were mostly concerned with saving their own and performing publicity stunts. For example, the photo of the little boy in east Aleppo looking dazed and confused in the back of a brand new White Helmet ambulance was essentially a White Helmet media stunt eagerly promoted in the West. It was later revealed the boy was not injured, he was grabbed without his parent’s consent. Eva Bartlett interviewed and photographed the father and family for her story “Mintpress Meets the Father of Iconic Aleppo Boy and says Media Lied About his Son“.

A Brilliant Marketing Success

The media and political impact of the White Helmets shows what money and marketing can do. An organization that was founded by a military contractor with funding from western governments was awarded the Rights Livelihood Award. The organization was seriously considered to receive the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize just three years after its formation.

The Netflix infomercial “The White Helmets” is an example of the propaganda. The scripted propaganda piece, where the producers did not set foot in Syria, won the Oscar award for best short documentary. It’s clear that lots of money and professional marketing can fool a lot of people. At $30 million per year, the White Helmets budget for one year is more than a decade of funding for the real Syrian Civil Defence which covers all of Syria not just pockets controlled by armed insurgents.

Unsurprisingly, it has been announced that White Helmets will receive the 2019 “Elie Wiesel” award from the heavily politicized and pro-Israel Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. This, plus the recent “rescue” of White Helmets by the Israeli government, is more proof of the true colors of the White Helmets. Vanessa Beeley’s recent interview with a White Helmet leader in Deraa revealed that ISIS and Nusra terrorists were part of the group “rescued” through Israel.

The Collapsing White Helmets Fraud

Giovanni is outraged that some journalists have successfully challenged and put a big dent in the White Helmets aura. She complains, “The damage the bloggers do is immense.”

Giovanni and western propagandists are upset because the myth is deflating. Increasing numbers of people – from a famous rock musician to a former UK Ambassador – see and acknowledge the reality.

As described in Blumenthal’s article, “How the White Helmets Tried to Recruit Roger Waters with Saudi Money“, rock legend Roger Waters says:

If we were to listen to the propaganda of the White Helmets and others, we would encourage our governments to start dropping bombs on people in Syria. This would be a mistake of monumental proportions…

Peter Ford, the former UK Ambassador to Syria, sums it up like this:

The White Helmets are jihadi auxiliaries… They are not, as claimed by themselves and by their supporters… simple rescuers. They are not volunteers. They are paid professionals of disinformation.

Giovanni claims her article is a “forensic take down of the Russian disinformation campaign to distort the truth in Syria.” In reality, Giovanni’s article is an example of western disinformation using subjective attacks on critics and evidence-free assertions aligned with the regime change goals of the West.

“A Cruel Choice”: Why Israel Targets Palestinian Schools

Several Palestinian students, along with teachers and officials, were wounded in the Israeli army attack on a school south of Nablus in the West Bank on October 15. The students of Al- Sawiya Al-Lebban Mixed School were challenging an Israeli military order to shut down their school based on the ever-versatile accusation of the school being a “site of popular terror and rioting.”

“Popular terror,” is an Israeli army code for protests. The students, of course, have every right to protest, not just the Israeli military Occupation but also the encroaching colonization of the settlements of Alie and Ma’ale Levona. These two illegal Jewish settlements have unlawfully confiscated thousands of dunams of land belonging to the villages of As-Sawiya and Al-Lebban.

“The Israeli citizens”, that the Occupation army is set to protect by shutting down the school, are, in fact, the very armed Jewish settlers who have been terrorizing this West Bank region for years.

According to a 2016 study commissioned by the United Nations, at least 2,500 Palestinian students from 35 West Bank communities must cross through Israeli military checkpoints to reach their schools every day. About half of these students have reported army harassment and violence for merely attempting to get to their classes or back home.

However, this is only half of the story, as violent Jewish settlers are always on the lookout for Palestinian kids. These settlers, who “also set up their own checkpoints”, engage in regular violence as well, by “throwing stones” at children, or “physically pushing (Palestinian children) around.”

“UNICEF’s protective presence teams have reported that their volunteers have been subjected to physical attacks, harassment, arrest and detention, and death threats,” according to the same UN report.

In other words, even the ‘protectors’ themselves often fall victim to the army and Jewish settler terror tactics.

Add to this that Area C – a major part of the West Bank that is under full Israeli military control – represents the pinnacle of Palestinian suffering. An estimated 50,000 children face numerous hurdles, including the lack of facilities, access, violence, closure and unjustified demolition orders.

The school of Al Sawiya Al Lebban located in Area C is, therefore, under the total mercy of the Israeli military, which has no tolerance for any form of resistance, including non-violent popular protests by school children.

What is truly uplifting, however, is that, despite the Israeli military Occupation and ongoing restrictions on Palestinian freedom, the Palestinian population remains one of the most educated in the Middle East.

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the literacy rate in Palestine (estimated at 96.3%) is one of the highest in the Middle East and the illiteracy rate (3.7% among individuals over the age of 15) is one of the lowest in the world.

If these statistics are not heartening enough, bearing in mind the ongoing Israeli war on Palestinian school and curricula, consider this: the besieged and war-stricken Gaza Strip has an even higher literacy rate than the West Bank, as they both stand at 96.6% and 96% respectively.

In truth, this should not come as a total surprise. The first wave of Palestinian refugees that were ethnically-cleansed from historic Palestine were so keen on ensuring their children strive to continue their education, they established school tents, operated by volunteer teachers as early as 1948.

Palestinians understand well that education is their greatest weapon to obtain their long-denied freedom. Israel, too, is aware of this dichotomy, knowing that an empowered Palestinian population is far more capable of challenging Israeli dominance than a subdued one, thus the relentless and systematic targeting of the Palestinian educational system.

Israel’s strategy in destroying the infrastructure of Palestinian schooling system is centered on the allegation of ‘terror’: that is, Palestinians teach ‘terror’ in their schools; Palestinian school books celebrate ‘terrorists’; schools are sites for ‘popular terror’ and various other accusations that, per Israeli logic, compels the army to seal off schools, demolish facilities, arrest and shoot students.

Take, for example, the recent comments made by the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, who is now leading a government campaign aimed at shutting down operations by the UN organization that caters for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

“It is time to remove UNRWA from Jerusalem,” Barkat announced early October.

Without any evidence whatsoever, Barkat claimed that “UNRWA is strengthening terror,” and that “the children of Jerusalem are taught under their auspices, terror, and this must be stopped.”

Of course, Barkat is being dishonest. The jibe at UNRWA in Jerusalem is part of a larger Israeli-US campaign aimed at shutting down an organization that proved central to the status and welfare of Palestinian refugees.

According to this skewed thinking, without UNRWA, Palestinian refugees would have no legal platform, thus closing down UNRWA is closing down the chapter of Palestinian refugees and their Right of Return altogether.

The link between the shutting down of Al Sawiya Al Lebban, the targeting of UNRWA by Israel and the US, the numerous checkpoints separating students from their schools in the West Bank and more, have more in common than Israel’s false allegation of ‘terror.’

Israeli writer, Orly Noy, summed up the Israeli logic in one sentence. “By destroying schools in Palestinian villages in Area C and elsewhere, Israel is forcing Palestinians to make a cruel choice — between their land and their children’s futures,” she wrote earlier this year.

It is this brutal logic that has guided the Israeli government strategy regarding Palestinian education for 70 years. It is a war that cannot be discussed or understood outside the larger war on Palestinian identity, freedom, and, in fact, the very existence of the Palestinian people.

The students’ fight for their right to education in Al Sawiya Al Lebban Mixed School is by no means an isolated skirmish involving Palestinian school kids and trigger-happy Israeli soldiers. Rather, it is at the heart of the Palestinian people’s fight for their freedom.

Saving the Holy Land

Many readers will know of Kairos from their Palestine Document of 2009. This was a bold statement by a group of Christian Palestinians which told the truth about the tragic situation in their country under Israeli occupation…. “a cry of hope in the absence of all hope”.

Kairos is Greek meaning ‘a critical moment in time’. The document was called ‘A Moment of Truth; A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering’. And it was published after the murderous onslaught by Israel against Gaza over Christmas and New Year 2008/9.

The Kairos people said they had “reached a dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people. The decision-makers content themselves with managing the crisis rather than committing themselves to the serious task of finding a way to resolve it.”

It was a long and comprehensive document so I’ll just quote this extract to provide a flavour:

Religious liberty is severely restricted; the freedom of access to the holy places is denied under the pretext of security. Jerusalem and its holy places are out of bounds for many Christians and Muslims from the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Even Jerusalemites face restrictions during the religious feasts. Some of our Arab clergy are regularly barred from entering Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is the heart of our reality. It is, at the same time, a symbol of peace and sign of conflict. While the separation wall divides Palestinian neighbourhoods, Jerusalem continues to be emptied of its Palestinian citizens, Christians and Muslims. Their identity cards are confiscated, which means the loss of their right to reside in Jerusalem. Their homes are demolished or expropriated. Jerusalem, city of reconciliation, has become a city of discrimination and exclusion, a source of struggle rather than peace.

Also part of this reality is the Israeli disregard of international law and international resolutions, as well as the paralysis of the Arab world and the international community in the face of this contempt. Human rights are violated and despite the various reports of local and international human rights’ organizations, the injustice continues.

We also declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God…. We declare that any theology, seemingly based on the Bible or on faith or on history, that legitimizes the occupation, is far from Christian teachings, because it calls for violence and holy war.

In 2012 came ‘The Iona Call’ in answer to the Kairos Palestine document. It said:

We are called to respond boldly to the deepening suffering of our sisters and brothers in Palestine under occupation by Israel.We believe it is necessary to challenge the deafening silence of most churches in the face of the continuing injustice of dispossession and denial of basic human and political rights. We agree with the Kairos Palestine document that the occupation by Israel is an evil and a sin.

We ask our churches and theological institutions to challenge how the Bible has been used to justify oppression and injustice.We support Palestinians in their non-violent resistance to Israeli injustice and oppression. We endorse their call for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) and other forms of non-violent direct action. We call on Christians to put pressure on governments and the European Union to demonstrate a commitment to justice for Palestinians and security for all people. [The added emphasis is mine.]

In 2017 Kairos Britain merged with Friends of Sabeel UK and became Sabeel-Kairos. The former had been seeking a just and lasting peace in the region based on the realisation of full human and political rights for all. The latter supported the Sabeel Theology Centre in Jerusalem, encouraged the Christian community in the Holy Land in their life and witness, and raised awareness in the UK of Christians in the Holy Land and promoted links with them. Let us hope the marriage bears fruit.

“An inhumane situation that must be changed”

Then, earlier this year Kairos issued a Statement on Gaza and Jerusalem reminding the world that on 14 May 2018 (the 70th anniversary of the proclamation of an Israeli State) Israel slaughtered 60 people and wounded or maimed 2771 among crowds in Gaza walking unarmed towards their villages, which they had been forced to leave.

They were killed in cold blood and posed no threat to anybody. At the same time, the American embassy was relocated to Jerusalem in violation of international law. The transgressor is the great power that should call on others to respect international law.

We live in an inhumane situation that must be changed. The siege on Gaza, on two million people living on land of merely 380 km², must be lifted. The West Bank must be liberated and the people in it regain their freedom and complete equality must be ensured for all inhabitants…. This is the 70th year of this painful truth: the Holy Land has become the land in which human beings kill each other….

We call upon the international community to remember its own resolutions and to abide by them. We call upon churches to be the conscience of humanity and hear the cry of the oppressed in the Holy Land. We call upon them to condemn the Christian Zionists whom we saw in these days contradicting the Gospel of love and peace, by supporting oppression and injustice, under the pretext of prophecies, and standing with the powerful of this world in their injustices.

We urge the international community to shoulder its responsibilities. We call upon it to exert every pressure, even sanctions if necessary, to force Israel to follow the path of peace and justice…. abandon its apartheid practices and comply with international law.”

Ugly reality

They have just announced their intention to launch a Kumi (Rise Up) project later this month. Sabeel is inviting local and international individuals and organizations to join and work as a united force.

The Kumi project, they say, is founded on these three values:

  • Inclusivity: everyone is welcome to join the movement.
  • Justice: based on international law, ending the occupation (including Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem), the right of return, and equal rights for all citizens of Israel.
  • Nonviolent resistance: a commitment to using nonviolence as the only form of resistance.

Its aim is to raise awareness about Palestine and exert pressure on the powerful decision makers of the world to do what is right and end the occupation. With their deep knowledge they have drafted as good a discription of the dire situation as I have seen:

The ugly reality of the present situation has created a feeling of hopelessness for many Palestinians. In our attempt to stand firm in the face of oppression, many believe that we have no chance of success and rightfully feel that we have reached rock-bottom. From global to local levels, we are disheartened by the current reality.

First, at the highest level, the United Nations continues to prove that they are not capable or willing to implement their own resolutions when it comes to Palestine, nor are they able to pass new resolutions to protect the Palestinian people living under military occupation without being blocked by a veto from the United States.

Second, the major players in the international community, including the European Union, UK, China, and Russia, have not shown real political will to help Palestinians achieve their rights.

Third, the United States of America, considered the superpower of the world today, continues to disregard international law and ignores the call to stand for Palestinian rights. Both Democrat and Republican governments have failed to advocate for justice and lasting peace in the land.

Fourth, Israel has become a captive of its own fears and fundamentalist views.

Fifth, we Palestinians feel overwhelmed with what is happening in the Arab World. From the failure of the Arab Spring to bring true and lasting reform, the escalating sectarian wars, the disrespect of human rights, to the growth of religious extremism, we do not expect help from our Arab brothers and sisters.

Sixth, we witness the lack of true coordination between human rights organizations in Palestine, Israel, and around the world developing a clear road map so that a solution based on justice and international law is achieved.

Finally, the internal divisions and disputes among Palestinians have restricted our ability to resist as one united people. These divisions have not only broken our resistance but have also broken our spirits, making us feel completely helpless in the face of oppression.

There’s nothing like telling it the way it is! But despite the many reasons for hopelessness, say Sabeel, they feel that giving up as a people on the margins simply isn’t an option.

Thankfully, Sabeel-Kairos maintains credibility by managing to separate themselves from the usual religious windbags who shy away from politics. The Christian Church ducks these uncomfortable issues by relying on ‘interfaith dialogue’ and maintaining the “deafening silence” referred to in the Iona Call. Take those great buddies the former Archbishop of Canterbury and former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Oodles of interfaith dialogue there. At top level too. But it made no difference. In a vicious attack Sacks recently called a mild remark by Jeremy Corbyn about Zionists 5 years ago “the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech” and absurdly described Corbyn as “an anti-Semite” who has “given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate”. Sacks revealed himself in his true colours especially when it emerged that he had been promoting and leading the notoriously provocative March of the Flags each year on Jerusalem Day, which is an out-and-out religious hate fest terrorising Palestinians in their own homeland.

This appeared in Haaretz last year:

The march, largely attended by bussed-in yeshiva students, is associated with hate speech and violence. Haaretzs Bradley Burston describes it as an annual, gender-segregated extreme-right, pro-occupation religious carnival of hatred, marking the anniversary of Israel’s capture of Jerusalem by humiliating the city’s Palestinian Muslims. Marchers vandalized shops in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter, chanted “Death to Arabs” and “The (Jewish) Temple Will Be Built, the (Al Aqsa) Mosque will be Burned Down,” shattered windows and door locks, and poured glue into the locks of shops forced to close for fear of further damage.” 

Nice one, Sacks. He was elevated to the House of Lords in 2005 “for services to the Community and to Inter-faith Relations”. Oh, the irony of it.

Israel, said Sacks, is the place where his people were born almost 4,000 years ago. I read somewhere that Lord Sacks is of Polish/Lithuanian extraction. Can he demonstrate ancestral ties to the ancient Holy Land?

What Sabeeel-Kairos says helps campaigners and civil society keep focus on some of the essential issues in the big struggle ahead. I pick out the following:

  • Challenge the deafening silence of most churches and why the Bible has been used to justify oppression and injustice;
  • The ‘enemy within’ is often the Christian Zionist;
  • Call for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) and other forms of non-violent direct action;
  • Need for better co-operation among human rights organisations and civil society groups in drawing up a road map towards a solution based on justice and international law;
  • America, the great power, must be persuaded to respect international law and call on others to do the same;
  • The siege on Gaza must be lifted;
  • The West Bank must be liberated and its people allowed to regain their freedom. Equality must be ensured for all inhabitants;
  • The international community must shoulder its responsibilities and the UN must show itself capable or willing to implement its own resolutions or dissolve; and,
  • Internal divisions have destroyed Palestinian resistance and undermined international support. The causes must be removed – urgently.

It’s sickening to read that Israelis continue to murder Palestinians daily, with impunity. I, for one, want to see campaigners target the those in Washington and London who could stop the systematic killing and impose justice but to their everlasting shame won’t.

Canada brings Venezuela to International Criminal Court

Requesting the International Criminal Court to investigate Venezuela’s government is a significant escalation in Ottawa’s campaign of interference in the domestic affairs of another country.

Supported by five like-minded South American nations, it’s the first time a member state has been brought before the ICC’s chief prosecutor by other members.

In Canada the campaign to have the ICC investigate the Nicolás Maduro government began in May. “I would like to see the states from the G7 agreeing to refer the matter of crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court for a prospective investigation and prosecution,” said Irwin Cotler at an Ottawa press conference to release a report on purported Venezuelan human rights violations. The former Liberal justice minister added, “this is the arch-typical example of why a reference is needed, as to why the ICC was created.”

Cotler was one of three “international experts” responsible for a 400-page Canadian-backed Organization of American States (OAS) report on rights violations in Venezuela. The panel recommended OAS secretary general Luis Almagro submit the report to the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC and that other states refer Venezuela to the ICC. In a Real News Network interview Max Blumenthal described “the hyperbolic  and propagandistic nature” of the press conference where the report was released at the OAS in Washington. Cotler said Venezuela’s “government itself was responsible for the worst ever humanitarian crisis in the region.”

Worse than the extermination of the Taíno and Arawak by the Spanish? Or the enslavement of five million Africans in Brazil? Or the 200,000 Mayans killed in Guatemala? Or the thousands of state-murdered “subversives” in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Peru, etc.? Worse than the tens of thousands killed in Colombia, Honduras and Mexico in recent years? Worse than the countless US (and Canadian) backed military coups in the region?

Or perhaps Almagro, who appointed Cotler and the two other panelists, approves of the use of military might to enforce the will of the rich and powerful. He stated last month: “As for military intervention to overthrow the Nicolas Maduro regime, I think we should not rule out any option … diplomacy remains the first option but we can’t exclude any action.” Even before he mused about a foreign invasion, the former Uruguayan foreign minister’s campaign against Maduro prompted Almagro’s past boss, former president José Mujica, to condemn his bias against the Venezuelan government.

For his part, Cotler has been attacking Venezuela’s Bolivarian government for a decade. In a 2015 Miami Herald op-ed Cotler wrote that “sanctions” and “travel-visa bans … isn’t enough.” The US government “must increase the pressure on Maduro to respect the fundamental human rights of all Venezuela’s people.” The next year Venezuela’s obstructionist, opposition-controlled National Assembly gave Cotler an award for his efforts, notably as a lawyer for right-wing coup leader Leopoldo Lopez. When he joined Lopez’ legal team in early 2015 the Venezuelan and international media described Cotler as Nelson Mandela’s former lawyer (a Reuters headline noted, “Former Mandela lawyer to join defense of Venezuela’s jailed activist”). In response, South Africa’s Ambassador to Venezuela, Pandit Thaninga Shope-Linney, said, “Irwin Cotler was not Nelson Mandela’s lawyer and does not represent the Government or the people of South Africa in any manner.”

In 2010 Cotler called on a Canadian parliamentary committee to “look at the Iranian connection to Chávez”, asking a representative of Venezuela’s tiny Jewish community: “What evidence is there of direct Iranian influence, or involvement, on Chávez and the climate of fear that has developed? Is there any concern in the [Jewish] community, with some of the Iranian penetration that we know about in Latin America with respect to terrorist penetration, that it’s also prospectively present for Venezuela?”

A year earlier “Mandela’s lawyer” accused president Hugo Chavez of anti-Semitism. Cotler co-presented a petition to the House of Commons claiming an increase in state-backed anti-Semitism in Venezuela. At the time Cotler said Venezuela had seen a “delegitimization from the president on down of the Jewish people and Israel.” These unsubstantiated accusations of anti-Semitism were designed to further demonize a government threatening North American capitalist/geopolitical interests.

As for the sincerity of his commitment to ending humanitarian crises, Cotler has devoted much of his life to defending Israeli human rights violations, including its recent killing of unarmed protesters in Gaza. His wife, Ariela Zeevi, was parliamentary secretary of Likud when the arch anti-Palestinian party was established to counter Labour’s dominance of Israeli politics. According to the Canadian Jewish News, she was a “close confidant of [Likud founder Menachem] Begin.”

Cotler was no doubt angered by Chavez’s criticism of Israel. In 2009 Venezuela broke off relations with Israel over its assault on Gaza that left 1,400 Palestinians dead. Beyond Israel, Cotler has made a career out of firing rhetorical bombs at the US and Canada’s geopolitical competitors and verbal pellets at its allies.

Of course, it is not surprising to see such hypocrisy from someone leading a hypocritical Canadian campaign to destabilize and overthrow an elected government.

Why Liberal Jews in Israel and the US have made Lara Alqasem a Cause Celebre

An American student of Palestinian descent detained in Israel’s airport for nearly a fortnight has become an unexpected cause celebre. Lara Alqasem was refused entry under legislation passed last year against boycott activists, and Israeli courts are now deciding whether allowing her to study human rights at an Israeli university threatens public order.

Usually those held at the border are swiftly deported, but Ms Alqasem appealed against the decision, becoming in the process an improbable “prisoner of conscience” for the boycott cause.

The Israeli government, led by strategic affairs minister Gilad Erdan, claims that the 22-year-old is a leader of the growing international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Activists like Ms Alqasem, he argues, demonise Israel.

Two lower courts have already ruled against the student. Israel’s supreme court has postponed her deportation until Wednesday while it reconsiders the evidence. But refusing to go quietly, Ms Alqasem is attracting increasing international attention to her plight.

So far Israeli officials have shown only that Ms Alqasem once belonged to a small Palestinian solidarity group at a Florida university that backed boycotting a hummus company over its donations to the Israeli army.

Under pressure, Ms Alqasem has disavowed a boycott of Israel, citing as proof her decision to enroll in a masters programme in Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Given the blanket hostility in Israel to the boycott movement, Ms Alqasem has found a surprisingly wide array of allies in her legal struggle.

Members of the small Zionist-left Meretz party visited her and demanded she be allowed to attend the course, which began on Sunday.

Ami Ayalon, a retired head of the Shin Bet, the secret police that oversees security checks at Israel’s borders, warned that the agency was now “a problem for democracy” in repeatedly denying foreigners entry.

Vice-chancellors of eight Israeli universities sent a letter of protest to the government and 500 academics at Hebrew University submitted a petition decrying Ms Alqasem’s incarceration.

The solidarity has been unprecedented – and perplexing.

Israeli officials control entry not only to Israel but also to the occupied Palestinian territories. For decades, foreigners with Arab-sounding names – like Ms Alqasem – have been routinely harassed or turned back at the borders, with barely a peep from most on the Israeli left.

And over the same period, Israel has stripped many thousands of Palestinians from the occupied territories of the right to return to their homeland after living abroad. These abuses, too, have rarely troubled consciences in Israel.

So what makes Ms Alqasem’s case different? The answer confers little credit on liberal Israelis.

Israel’s universities are worried that the academic boycott has highlighted their long-term complicity in Israel’s occupation and is gradually eroding their international standing. Joint research projects with foreign universities are in jeopardy, as is their lucrative income from programmes they wish to expand for overseas students.

The universities want to co-opt Ms Alqasem as a poster girl for academic freedom in Israel.

They hope she will provide cover for their guilty secret: that they have stood by, or actively assisted, as Israel made a mockery of academic freedom for Palestinians under occupation. Research shows that Israel’s universities have strong ties to the nation’s military, which regularly attacks Palestinian places of learning and limits Palestinians’ freedom to study by enforcing strict movement restrictions.

Jewish liberals in Israel and the US, meanwhile, are concerned at the entrenchment of the Israeli far-right’s rule. In recent weeks, a wave of Israeli and American Jewish activists have been detained and questioned at the border over their politics.

Those liberals desperately need to draw a red line, halting the expansion of racial profiling into political forms of profiling that undermine their own status. If the courts uphold the fundamental rights of Ms Alqasem, their own rights will be more secure too.

That was why progressive Jewish leaders in the US added their own voices last week, signing a petition calling for Ms Alqasem to be allowed to study in Israel.

But the case has shone a light not only on the self-interested opportunism of Israeli liberals but also on the hypocrisy of leaders of progressive American Jewish communities.

Ms Alqasem was identified as a boycott activist via a McCarthyite website called Canary Mission, which has murky ties to the Israeli government.

Since it launched in 2014 under the slogan “If you’re racist, the world should know”, the site has built an online database profiling thousands of US academics and students, including Jewish ones, critical of Israel.

Its aim is to terrify US academia into silence on Israel. The site explicitly threatens to send letters to prospective employers accusing its targets – those who show solidarity with Palestinians – of being antisemitic.

Until recently, this blacklist had passed largely unremarked outside pro-Palestinian circles. But since its role in helping Israeli officials bar Jewish and non-Jewish activists became clear, interest in its provenance has grown.

This month the Forward, an American Jewish publication, unmasked several of Canary Mission’s major donors. They include the communal funds of Jewish federations representing liberal communities in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The trail leads back to a shadowy registered charity in Israel called Megamot Shalom, which aims to “protect the image of the state of Israel”.

Simone Zimmerman, an American Jewish peace activist who was detained at the border by Israeli officials in August, lamented that the American Jewish establishment’s secret support for Canary Mission “reeks of hypocrisy and betrayal”.

Supposedly liberal Jewish institutions in Israel and the US wish to be seen battling racism and aiding good causes, including the rights of a Palestinian-American student after she repudiated a boycott of Israel.

But covertly they support and finance projects intended to silence criticism of Israel and enforce the oppression of Palestinians they say they want to help.

Ms Alqasem has been turned into a pawn in the struggle between Jewish liberals and Israeli ultra-nationalists. Israel’s continuing violations of the wider rights of Palestinians – to enter and freely move around their homeland, and to receive an education – are simply not part of the discussion.

• First published in The National

Russian “Collusion” is a Red Herring While a Fourth Reich Rises

As the 2018 U.S. midterm elections approach, there is still no evidence of ‘collusion’ between the campaign of President Donald J. Trump and the Russian government after nearly two years of inquiry. Thus far in the Department of Justice’s investigation led by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, only a trail of corruption involving Trump associates has been discovered. None of their wrongdoings connect to the Russian nationals also indicted in the probe, including the illicit lobbying by former campaign chairman Paul Manafort in Ukraine which actually went against Russia’s interests on behalf of the EU. One can anticipate that more misdeeds by his cronies will be uncovered given that corruption in Washington grows on trees, some of which may even implicate Trump himself. However, if there were anything incriminating at the level of high treason, the likelihood that it wouldn’t have been unearthed already after such an exhaustive inquest relying on splitting hairs for indictments is slim.

The Kremlin has also fulfilled the need of a scapegoat across the Atlantic for the UK’s Brexit referendum. Mueller has examined emails from the shadowy British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, but seemingly only to scrutinize whether they contain evidence of intrigue between Trump and Russia. The UK-based voter profiling company, chaired by former Trump campaign and Breitbart CEO Stephen K. Bannon and owned by the mysterious right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer, provided services for both the Trump and Brexit campaigns using the collected data of more than 80 million Facebook users for ‘electoral engineering.’ After the scandal broke, the firm was suspended by Facebook and then reported to have shut its doors. It quickly came to light that the company had merely re-branded itself under the handle Emerdata Ltd., now under the management of Mercer’s daughters Rebekah and Jennifer. It is even operating out of the same headquarters in London and although it is still under federal investigation, no criminal charges appear imminent against its previous incarnation. Cambridge Analytica denies breaking any laws but it is widely believed to have done so by electoral watchdog groups. Have there been no legal proceedings because the DOJ is prioritizing finding connections between Trump and Moscow?

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie made several admissions about its activities. One significant disclosure was that its database building of social media users was assisted by employees of Palantir Technologies, the nebulous software company owned by another pro-Trump billionaire, Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel. A GOP mega-donor and Silicon Valley venture capitalist with close ties to Robert Mercer, Thiel was rewarded with a spot on the executive committee of Trump’s transition team after his surprising victory. The Palantir moniker eerily derives from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings after a crystal ball used by a wizard to see into far off places and the past. Palintir employees aided the firm in constructing ‘psychographs’ of voters based on their preferences, behavior, and internet activity in order to target them with advertising. Why on earth is Russia the center of the investigation and not the multiple private intelligence and data mining firms hired to stage-manage the election?

One possibility is because Palintir’s expertise has previously been employed for data scraping services by a range of powerful clients, including predictive-policing software for law enforcement and even the National Security Agency for developing its XKEYSCORE internet surveillance database. If election manipulation by the Trump campaign was facilitated by a company previously contracted by the Pentagon to weaponize data using social media as a global spy tool, it is easy to conclude why Russia would be a preferred suspect in the investigation. Only the naive could believe the Mueller inquiry represents anything other than the interests of the U.S. intelligence apparatus. After all, it is their unsubstantiated word alone that has been the entire source for the claims of Russia’s alleged interference. If the investigation findings were to implicate Palintir which is funded by the CIA’s venture capital fund In-Q-Tel, we are really expected to believe a career spook like Mueller would be impartial?

Palintir also has an outpost in Tel Aviv, Israel. One of Trump’s most controversial foreign policy moves has been the abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal accord and it just so happens that the inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency used Palintir’s Mosaic software to ensure Tehran was in compliance. If the President of the United States is openly supported by the billionaire supplying the technology to verify Iran is in accordance with the agreement and has campaigned vowing to sabotage it, how in the world is this ethical and not a conflict of interest? Shortly before the U.S. withdrawal, Trump even met with Thiel just hours after speaking with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu about Iran. Cambridge Analytica is also tied to Israel through private intelligence firm Wikistrat Inc. which offered the Trump campaign social media election manipulation services in a partnership. It is clear that any loose associations between the Kremlin and Trump have been overplayed in order to soft pedal the overwhelming influence by Israel. Meanwhile, Putin cannot even appear to rig the vote in his own country, as following Russia’s recent unpopular pension reforms his political party suffered losses in regional elections.

Christopher Wylie indeed testified that it was a Russian data scientist who authored the survey app which gathered the information used by Cambridge Analytica from millions of Facebook profiles. The psychology professor, Aleksandr Kogan, provided the data to Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL). Evidently, his research for the app through the University of St. Petersburg was funded using Russian government grants but Kogan, who is actually a Moldovan-born U.S. citizen, has done academic studies subsidized by the U.S., UK, Chinese and Canadian governments as well. The dots that have been connected to Russian intelligence possessing access to Kogan’s data are pure speculation, as are the claims that Kogan is a spy, a highly unlikely possibility considering he is still currently employed by the University of Cambridge. What is more certain is Cambridge Analytica’s nefarious use of private information to target voters for the Trump and Leave EU campaigns, but the Mueller team remains fixated on Moscow.

What are the consequences of this smokescreen? Steve Bannon has been free to move on from his ouster in the Trump administration to offer his prowess to far rightists around the world with the formation of a organization dubbed “The Movement.” Based in Belgium and co-founded with the country’s populist demagogue Mischaël Modrikamen, its stated aim is to prop up ultra nationalism across the EU before next year’s European Parliament elections. The shady organization is intended to be a right-wing equivalent of the Open Society Foundation by bolstering far right political movements from behind the scenes. Bannon’s modus operandi is in giving a businesslike and accessible polish to right-wing populism while placing greater emphasis on anti-immigration, the refugee crisis and Islamophobia. The Movement is consulting parties such as:

  • Fidesz, party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
  • The Italian League, party of Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini
  • Alternative for Germany/Alternative for Deutschland (AfD)
  • Sweden Democrats, third place in last month’s general election
  • Dutch Party for Freedom, led by Geert Wilders and is the second largest party in the Netherlands House of Representatives
  • Freedom Party of Austria
  • Swiss People’s Party
  • UK Independence Party (Ukip); Bannon is close colleagues with leader Nigel Farage
  • National Front/National Rally (France) led by Marine Le Pen
  • Belgium People’s Party
  • VOX (Spain)

Prior to the Great Recession, far right political organizations had remained on the periphery for decades following the Second World War until the 2008 financial crash reintroduced the economic circumstances that gave rise to fascism in the 1930s. Suddenly, the far right began to flourish in countries hit hardest by the Eurozone’s debts. This development was simultaneous with the emergence of the Tea Party in the U.S. resurrecting the Gadsden banner. Golden Dawn made notable gains in the Greek parliament but their brand still resembled the anti-Semitic nationalists of Eastern Europe, a hard sell in the rest of the continent. When a further destabilized Middle East facilitated by Western interventionism led to a flux of migrants seeking refugee status in the EU, an opportunity arose for transformation of nationalism in Western and Southern Europe to an ‘accessible’ Islamophobic variety.

The distinguishing characteristic of this new wave of fascism is not just jettisoning of anti-Semitism, but strong support of the state of Israel. For instance, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) which is now the largest opposition party in the Bundestag is bankrolled by the pro-Israel Gatestone Institute and closely aligned with Netanyahu’s Likud party. In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Front (now known as National Rally) is historically anti-Semitic but has gradually shifted its agenda toward attacking Islam in recent decades as well. Steve Bannon himself even boasted he is an avowed “Judeo-Christian Zionist.” On the surface this disturbing alliance between Holocaust-denying figures like Viktor Orban and Israel may seem unlikely, it also makes perfect sense considering both Zionists and the extreme right hold the historical view that Jews are fundamentally non-native to Europe and they have a common civilizational ‘enemy’ in Islam.

Bannon isn’t limiting his enterprise to the Northern Hemisphere either and has already exported it to the global south. It was recently reported that the former White House Chief Strategist is advising the campaign of the runoff winner for Brazil’s presidency, Jair Bolsanaro, who has been described as a “Brazilian Trump” and “Tropical Hitler” for his disparaging statements about women, gays, blacks and the country’s indigenous minority. Bolsanaro has also expressed nostalgia for the military dictatorship that lasted more than two decades in Brazil after a 1964 U.S.-backed coup. Bolsanaro has been such a paralyzing figure in Brazilian politics, he was hospitalized after a knife stabbing at a campaign event last month. Historically, fascism and South America are no strangers — following WWII, it was Argentina under Juan Perón which provided secret safe harbor to Nazi war criminals such as Adolf Eichmann and Auschwitz physician Josef Mengele.

With no end or likely impeachment in sight, it is clear that the media and public have been diverted toward a ruse contrived by the U.S. intelligence community. The entire premise of the Russia investigation ostensibly presumes its own conclusion, searching for the missing pieces to a preconstructed narrative rather than determining what actually transpired. It has all the hallmarks of a counterintelligence PSY-OP, designed to commandeer public disapproval of Trump into serving the State Department’s objective of undermining Russia and sabotaging even the most modest efforts to be diplomatic with Moscow. The media and establishment can hardly contain their contempt for the working class in the theft of their agency, as if none of their grievances which the extreme right has capitalized on could be legitimate. Still, if it were to be determined that the election was compromised by the likes of Cambridge Analytica and Palintir instead of the Kremlin, it would remain a distraction from underlying causes.

The global economic downturn is what has nurtured the far right, but its rebirth in Europe truly originates with the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1989, the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously hypothesized in The End of History and the Last Man that Karl Marx had been proven wrong that communism would replace capitalism with the advent of liberal democracy. Fukuyama wrote:

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

If socialism failed, almost thirty years later it appears that so too are capitalism and liberal democracy. We were told the fall of communism was the ‘end of history’, and there were no longer any further steps in humanity’s evolutionary process. Once a celebrated figure, what Fukuyama wrote then can only be interpreted today as a colossally failed prediction by an intellectual charlatan. Both a resurgence of socialism as well as a potential descent into fascist barbarism are back on the table in our present historical moment.

Last month, the media was enthralled by the collective laughter of the international community at Trump’s embarrassing speech to the United Nations General Assembly that seemed to all but confirm the dismantling of U.S. hegemony. While Trump made clear his ultra-nationalist departure from his predecessors in denouncing “the ideology of globalism”, per usual the presstitutes overlooked one of the address’s most significant moments when he stated:

Virtually everywhere socialism or communism has been tried, it has produced suffering, corruption, and decay. Socialism’s thirst for power leads to expansion, incursion, and oppression. All nations of the world should resist socialism.

That Trump devoted a portion of his tirade to denounce socialism is remarkable and a virtual admittance that the ruling classes are trembling that it is no longer a dirty word in the Western lexicon. On the one hand, because capitalism is in a crisis large sections of the working class are desperately turning to a far-right appealing to their popular anger at the elite and prejudices against migrants. Capitalism has historically kept the far right on life support in reserve for absorbing revolt in its periods of crisis to be misdirected into jingoism and scapegoating, an opposition much easier to control. If the far right today is ascendant, so too is socialism which must seize upon the class struggle that has once again returned to the forefront determining political life. If liberal democracy speaks of the ‘end of history’, fascism represents the end of humanism in its hostility to culture and civilization, no matter how new and improved its image. History is indeed repeating itself. As the great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano once said in what could have been a rebuttal to Fukuyama’s thesis —“History never really says goodbye. It says, ‘see you later.’”