What’s scarier: Terrorism or internet censorship?

Featured photo - What’s Scarier: Terrorism, or Governments Blocking Websites in its Name?

The French Interior Ministry on Monday ordered that five websites be blocked on the grounds that they promote or advocate terrorism. “I do not want to see sites that could lead people to take up arms on the Internet,” proclaimed Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

When the block functions properly, visitors to those banned sites, rather than accessing the content of the sites they chose to visit, will be automatically redirected to the Interior Ministry website. There, they will be greeted by a graphic of a large red hand, and text informing them that they were attempting to access a site that causes or promotes terrorism: “you are being redirected to this official website since your computer was about to connect with a page that provokes terrorist acts or condones terrorism publicly.”No judge reviews the Interior Ministry’s decisions. The minister first requests that the website owner voluntarily remove the content he deems transgressive; upon disobedience, the minister unilaterally issues the order to Internet service providers for the sites to be blocked. This censorship power is vested pursuant to a law recently enacted in France empowering the interior minister to block websites.

Forcibly taking down websites deemed to be supportive of terrorism, or criminalizing speech deemed to “advocate” terrorism, is a major trend in both Europe and the West generally. Last month in Brussels, the European Union’s counter-terrorism coordinator issued a memo proclaiming that “Europe is facing an unprecedented, diverse and serious terrorist threat,” and argued that increased state control over the Internet is crucial to combating it.

The memo noted that “the EU and its Member States have developed several initiatives related to countering radicalisation and terrorism on the Internet,” yet argued that more must be done. It argued that the focus should be on “working with the main players in the Internet industry [a]s the best way to limit the circulation of terrorist material online.” It specifically hailed the tactics of the U.K. Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU), which has succeeded in causing the removal of large amounts of material it deems “extremist”:

In addition to recommending the dissemination of “counter-narratives” by governments, the memo also urged EU member states to “examine the legal and technical possibilities to remove illegal content.”

Exploiting terrorism fears to control speech has been a common practice in the West since 9/11, but it is becoming increasingly popular even in countries that have experienced exceedingly few attacks. A new extremist bill advocated by the right-wing Harper government in Canada (also supported by Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau even as he recognizes its dangers) would create new crimes for “advocating terrorism”; specifically: “every person who, by communicating statements, knowingly advocates or promotes the commission of terrorism offences in general” would be a guilty and can be sent to prison for five years for each offense.

In justifying the new proposal, the Canadian government admits that “under the current criminal law, it is [already] a crime to counsel or actively encourage others to commit a specific terrorism offence.” This new proposal is about criminalizing ideas and opinions. In the government’s words, it “prohibits the intentional advocacy or promotion of terrorism, knowing or reckless as to whether it would result in terrorism.”

There can be no doubt that such new criminal laws are specifically intended to ban ideas these governments dislike. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives lays out numerous ways that the law will allow the government to imprison people for the expression of political ideas:

The new offence will bring within its ambit all kinds of innocent speech, some of which no doubt lies at the core of freedom of expression values that the Charter was meant to protect. . . .Even if the government exercises restraint in laying charges and arresting people, the result is an inevitable chill on speech. Students will think twice before posting an article on Facebook questioning military action against insurgents overseas. Journalists will be wary of questioning government decisions to add groups to Canada’s list of terrorist entities.

If someone argues that continuous Western violence and interference in the Muslim world for decades justifies violence being returned to the West, or even advocates that governments arm various insurgents considered by some to be “terrorists,” such speech could easily be viewed as constituting a crime.

To calm concerns, Canadian authorities point out that “the proposed new offence is similar to one recently enacted by Australia, that prohibits advocating a terrorist act or the commission of a terrorism offence-all while being reckless as to whether another person will engage in this kind of activity.” Indeed, Australia enacted a new law late last year that indisputably targets political speech and ideas, as well as criminalizing journalism considered threatening by the government.

Punishing people for their speech deemed extremist or dangerous has been a vibrant practice in both the U.K. and U.S. for some time now, as I detailed (coincidentally) just a couple days before free speech marches broke out in the West after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Those criminalization-of-speech attacks overwhelmingly target Muslims, and have resulted in the punishment of such classic free speech activities as posting anti-war commentary on Facebook, tweeting links to “extremist” videos, translating and posting “radicalizing” videos to the Internet, writing scholarly articles in defense of Palestinian groups and expressing harsh criticism of Israel, and even including a Hezbollah channel in a cable package.

In this regard, having the French Interior Ministry now unilaterally block websites is the next logical step in this growing attack on free speech by Western governments in the name of stopping extremism and radicalism. The large red hand of state censors over the Internet is a perfect symbol of the prevailing mindset in the West, whose fondness for self-righteously condemning China and Iran for their attempts to control Internet content is bottomless. The ironic mass arrests by France of people who “glorify” terrorism — carried out in the immediate aftermath of the Paris “free speech” rally — largely targeted that country’s Muslims.

Let’s briefly note the futility of the French efforts: in the way that censorship efforts fail generally and are particularly doomed to failure in the Internet era. I’m currently in Germany, just a few miles from the French border, and am able to access all the banned sites. Reports suggest that the French government failed miserably on technical grounds to block the targeted sites, as at least four of the five are still fully available even in France. The owner of the hosting company for one of the banned sites, islamic-news.info, insisted on Twitter yesterday that he was never contacted with any request to remove offending material.

Beyond the technical issues, trying to legislate ideas out of existence is a fool’s game: those sufficiently determined will always find ways to make themselves heard. Indeed, as U.S. pop star Barbra Streisand famously learned, attempts to suppress ideas usually result in the greatest publicity possible for their advocates and/or elevate them by turning fringe ideas into martyrs for free speech (I have zero doubt that all five of the targeted sites enjoyed among their highest traffic dates ever today as a result of the French targeting).

But the comical futility of these efforts is exceeded by their profound dangers. Who wants governments to be able to unilaterally block websites? Isn’t the exercise of this website-blocking power what has long been cited as reasons we should regard the Bad Countries — such as China and Iran — as tyrannies (which also usually cite “counterterrorism” to justify their censorship efforts)?

As those and countless other examples prove, the concepts of “extremism” and “radicalizing” (like “terrorism” itself) are incredibly vague and elastic, and in the hands of those who wield power, almost always expand far beyond what you think it should mean (plotting to blow up innocent people) to mean: anyone who disseminates ideas that are threatening to the exercise of our power. That’s why powers justified in the name of combating “radicalism” or “extremism” are invariably — not often or usually, but invariably — applied to activists, dissidents, protesters and those who challenge prevailing orthodoxies and power centers.

My arguments for distrusting governments to exercise powers of censorship are set forth here (in the context of a prior attempt by a different French minister to control the content of Twitter). In sum, far more damage has been inflicted historically by efforts to censor and criminalize political ideas than by the kind of “terrorism” these governments are invoking to justify these censorship powers.

And whatever else may be true, few things are more inimical to, or threatening of, Internet freedom than allowing functionaries inside governments to unilaterally block websites from functioning on the ground that the ideas those sites advocate are objectionable or “dangerous.” That’s every bit as true when the censors are in Paris, London, and Ottawa, and Washington as when they are in Tehran, Moscow or Beijing.

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Blair’s well-remunerated consulting work seems to have eroded his idealism

Featured photo - Tony Blair Is Terrible at Promoting Human Rights, Great at Enriching Himself

After serving nearly eight years as special peace envoy for the “Quartet” powers mediating the Israel-Palestine conflict, Tony Blair is resigning, reportedly “over his poor relations with senior Palestinian Authority figures and [his] sprawling business interests.”

After almost a decade as envoy, it’s hard to see anything Blair has done to bring Israelis and Palestinians any closer to peace. The two parties are farther apart than ever by most accounts, with Israeli leaders publicly disavowing the “two-state solution” the Quartet on the Middle East was created to bring about. During Blair’s tenure, a Palestinian official described the group as “useless, useless, useless.” A Brookings Institution report concluded that “the Quartet’s role was usually relegated to that of a political bystander.

But although he failed to broker peace, did Blair manage during his time as special envoy to transform himself into a well-paid and outspoken apologist for some of the most brutal autocracies in the world. The former prime minister who once positioned himself as a principled supporter of democracy, even famously waging a war to bring democracy to Iraq, now leads a consulting firm which has reportedly received tens millions of dollars doing advisory work for dictatorial governments in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Last year, leaked documents obtained by Britain’s The Telegraph revealed Blair advising the dictatorial government of Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nuzarbayev on how to best spin a 2011 massacre of unarmed protestors by his regime — a massacre that occurred just a few weeks after Blair began working for the regime, which had ostensibly hired his firm to advise it on good governance issues like judicial reform, corruption, free press, and the rule of law. While Blair worked for Nazarbayev however, human rights actually deteriorated in Kazakhstan, according to various sources. As Human Rights Watch’s director for Central Asia said of Blair’s role in that country, “[Blair] has been indifferent to those suffering abuses and has given a veneer of respectability to the authorities during a severe crackdown on human rights.”

In the wake of Egypt’s 2013 military coup, Blair again stepped in to offer his support for the junta of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, endorsing his putsch and, according to some reports, even accepting a formal role as “economic adviser” to the new regime. Despite widespread and ongoing human rights violations by Sisi’s government, including a Tiananmen Square-scale massacre of peaceful protestors in 2013, Blair has remained one of the most vocal supporters of Egypt’s government. Hailing the military’s annulment of democracy for “rescuing” the country, Blair has publicly stood by the regime even while it has been excoriated by human rights groups for killing, torturing and imprisoning Egypt’s former revolutionary activists.

Earlier this month, leaked documents revealed that Blair’s consulting firm was attempting to negotiate a £30 ($44.5M USD) commercial agreement with the United Arab Emirates, reportedly offering the country the ability to capitalize on Blair’s private network of influence and contacts. In this case, yet again, Blair’s oft-cited concern for human rights has apparently come into conflict with his own personal interests in colluding with a government which has come under withering criticism for its brutal treatment on political dissidents and human rights activists.

Whatever his other failures, Blair has undeniably succeeded in creating a lucrative career for himself as a globetrotting “consultant” for tyrannical governments across the world. While his financial dealings are opaque, some estimates of his personal wealth have run as high as £100 million ($148,430,000 USD) — a figure which Blair has denied, saying, un-mathematically, “I’m not worth 100 million, a half of it, a third of it, a quarter of it or a fifth of it or really a fraction.”

Blair’s well-remunerated consulting work seems to have eroded his idealism when it comes to human rights. As prime minister, Blair characterized himself as a committed opponent of dictatorial regimes, even waging a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people for the supposed purpose of spreading democracy. But speaking last week at a conference in the Egyptian coastal resort city of Sharm al-Sheikh, Blair said it was important to be “realistic” that developing countries will lack “100% Western-style democracy.” As for helping lead the charge into Iraq, and as for that country’s postwar descent into chaos and religious extremism, Blair recently said that “we have to liberate ourselves from the notion that ‘we’ have caused this,” while at the same time advocating even broader military action in the region as a solution.

Since leaving office Blair has continued to advocate for even more military adventurism, saying that “a substantial and not fringe minority” of Muslims support terrorism, and that military force must be deployed in a “generational struggle” against such people. Blair has also responded to criticism that his previous wars may have contributed to the rise of religious extremism by saying that terrorism has “very strong causes within the religion of Islam” and has not been driven by any foreign policy decisions he may have made as prime minister.

These statements have apparently been too much even for Blair’s former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who attributed the radicalization of some Muslim youth to the “bloody crusades” waged by Blair in Iraq and Afghanistan, suggesting that his former Prime Minister “should put on a white coat with a red cross” if he wants to continue his advocacy of further such conflicts.

Though Blair is now resigning from his role as a Middle Eastern “peace envoy”, it seems like a twisted irony that someone who played such an integral and unapologetic role in setting that region ablaze would have ever been selected for such a position in the first place. Despite a long history of what can only be described as folly and disgrace, Blair inexplicably continues to be rewarded with prestigious diplomatic posts, high-profile speaking engagements, and lucrative contractual arrangements with foreign governments. And he seems ready to remain in the public eye. As Blair said in December, “I have a lot of energy. I feel extremely fit. There’s no way I’m going to retire and play golf. You look at someone like Henry [Kissinger]. He’s 91 and he’s still going strong…..These are my role models.”

Photo: Hassan Ammar/AP

ACLU files new lawsuit over Obama administration drone ‘kill list’

Top civil liberties group calls for greater transparency regarding ‘targeted killing program’ and how officials handle possibility of civilian deaths

Boys gather near the wreckage of car destroyed last year by a US drone air strike targeting suspected al Qaeda militants in the southeastern Yemeni province of Shabwa in 2013.
Boys gather near the wreckage of car destroyed last year by a US drone air strike targeting suspected al Qaeda militants in the southeastern Yemeni province of Shabwa in 2013. Photograph: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

As the US debates expanding its campaign against the Islamic State beyond Iraq and Syria, the leading US civil liberties group is intensifying its efforts to force transparency about lethal US counterterrorism strikes and authorities.

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will file a disclosure lawsuit for secret Obama administration documents specifying, among other things, the criteria for placement on the so-called “kill list” for drone strikes and other deadly force.

Information sought by the ACLU includes long-secret analyses establishing the legal basis for what the administration terms its “targeted killing program” and the process by which the administration determines that civilians are unlikely to be killed before launching a strike, as well as verification mechanisms afterward to establish if the strike in fact has caused civilian deaths.

The suit, to be filed in a New York federal court, also seeks basic data the Obama administration has withheld about “the number and identities of individuals killed or injured” in counterterrorism strikes, according to the ACLU filing. In February 2013, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who favors the drone strikes, estimated they had killed 4,700 people.

“Over the last few years, the US government has used armed drones to kill thousands of people, including hundreds of civilians. The public should know who the government is killing, and why it’s killing them,” Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director for the ACLU, told the Guardian.

The ACLU suit proceeds after the Obama administration disclosed none of the lethal counterterrorism documentation through a Freedom of Information Act request the civil liberties group launched in October 2013. According to the new lawsuit, the departments of state, justice and defense, as well as the CIA, have stonewalled the ACLU’s requests for nearly 18 months.

Recent legal history suggests the ACLU is in for an uphill court struggle. The Obama administration, which has called itself the most transparent in history, has thus far repelled or delayed ACLU lawsuits for disclosure around drone strikes and the 2011 assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen and al-Qaida propagandist. Additionally, the administration is fighting the ACLU on the legality of its bulk surveillance activities and to prevent the release of thousands of graphic photographs detailing Bush-era torture by the CIA and military.

Yet the administration has seen the courts chip away at its blanket denials of documents sought by the ACLU. Most of the intelligence community’s disclosures of surveillance memos since Edward Snowden’s revelations have followed the administration’s courtroom losses to the ACLU and other civil-liberties groups. In June, the second circuit court of appeals forced the Department of Justice to release much of a critical 2010 memo blessing the killing of Awlaki. (The ACLU is seeking the release of 10 more major intelligence memos related to targeted killing.)

Colleen McMahon, the federal judge who initially denied that memo’s release in 2013, ruled against the ACLU with regret, writing that loopholes in transparency laws benefitting the government left her “stuck in a paradoxical situation” that she likened to Alice in Wonderland. Since the new lethal-force lawsuit is related to the Awlaki one, McMahon may be the federal judge who hears it.

The new ACLU suit seeks to pierce the veneer of assurances by President Obama that the drone strikes and other lethal counterterrorism practices his administration has embraced have been restricted.

Obama announced he was raising the still-undisclosed standards for launching drone strikes in May 2013 and insisting on “strong oversight of all lethal action”. He said future strikes would require “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured”.

His White House portrayed the acknowledgment of the strikes as a transparency milestone, but the administration still refused to disclose the processes and legal memoranda underpinning the speech.

While estimates indicate that the drone strikes, launched by both the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, have declined since Obama’s speech, a November report by the human-rights group Reprieve found that Obama’s drone strikes had killed 1,147 people in pursuit of only 41 men, prompting questions about the rigor of the process employed by the administration to launch attacks.

Obama’s 2013 speech and the drone-strike decline also occurred before the 2014 rise of the Islamic State and the renewed US war in the skies over Iraq. Not only are Predator and Reaper drones used in airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, but the administration’s desired legal authorization against Isis would permit global targeting of the jihadist army and its far-flung affiliates – which now include Boko Haram in Nigeria as well as allies in Libya, the Sinai peninsula and beyond.

That authorization “wisely does not include any geographical restriction”, argued the new defense secretary, Ashton Carter, in congressional testimony last week, “because [Isis] already shows signs of metastasizing outside of Syria and Iraq”.

Jaffer told the Guardian there could be no “legitimate justification” for persistent official stonewalling on civilian casualties and the procedures by which people, including US citizens, can find themselves on a secret government “kill list”.

“The categorical secrecy surrounding the drone program doesn’t serve any legitimate security interest. It serves only to skew public debate, to obscure the human costs of the program, and to shield decision-makers from accountability,” Jaffer said.

How Lobbies, Intelligence Services and Advertisers DICTATE Mainstream Media Content

newspaper_chains

Recently several journalists who worked in the mainstream media (MSM) exposed its corrupt nature, weighing in on the growing mistrust it inspires. We hope the following will inspire you to support independent media like Global Research!

Former chief political commentator of the Telegraph, Peter Oborne, resigned from the newspaper because it would not publish articles on HSBC for fear of losing advertising revenues. The bank is well-known for its money-laundering for Mexican drug cartels as well as its involvement in tax evasion schemes.

In an opinion piece called “Why I resigned from the Telegraph” he wrote:

“The coverage of HSBC in Britain’s Telegraph is a fraud on its readers. If major newspapers allow corporations to influence their content for fear of losing advertising revenue, democracy itself is in peril…From the start of 2013 onwards stories critical of HSBC were discouraged. HSBC suspended its advertising with the Telegraph… HSBC, as one former Telegraph executive told me, is “the advertiser you literally cannot afford to offend” (Peter Oborne, Why I have resigned from the Telegraph, Open Democracy, February 17, 2015)

When it comes to powerful lobbies’ influence on media content, the Zionist lobby is very well known for accusing journalists and editors of anti-Semitism and imposing its own propaganda. Even so-called progressive newspapers such as The Guardian are subject to Zionist propaganda.  David Cronin writes:

I submitted an exposé of how the pro-Israel lobby operates in Brussels. While waiting to find out if the piece would be used, I phoned Matt Seaton, who had taken over as comment editor. We had a pleasant conversation but Seaton stressed that he regarded the subject as sensitive.

I, then, modified the piece to make its tone less polemical. Still, it was not published…

Cronin decided to write about his experience when he realized that The Guardian was much less reluctant to offer platforms to Israeli politicians and their Zionist propaganda:

“Daniel Taub, Israel’s ambassador to the UK … uses a quote attributed to Golda Meir, Israel’s prime minister from 1969 to 1974, to hit back at aid agencies who accuse Israel of impeding Gaza’s reconstruction: “We will only have peace when our enemies love their children more than they hate ours.” The inference that Palestinians hate Israelis more than they love their children is a racist caricature… In February, the paper gave Yair Lapid, until recently Israel’s finance minister, a platform to describe calls for a cultural boycott of Israel as “shallow and lacking in coherence. (David Cronin How The Guardian Told Me to Steer Clear of Palestine, Electronic Intifada, 11 March 2015)

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung‘s former editor Udo Ulfkotte recently published a book called “Bought Journalists. How Politicians, Secret Services and High Finance Control the Mass Media” (Gekaufte Journalisten), in which he explains how journalists manipulate the masses for powerful interests:

Saying he believes a medical condition gives him only a few years to live, and that he is filled with remorse, Dr. Udo Ulfkotte, the editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of Germany’s largest newspapers, said in an interview that he accepted news stories written and given to him by the CIA and published them under his own name. Ulfkotte said the aim of much of the deception was to drive nations toward war. (Ralph Lopez, Editor of Major German Newspaper Says He Planted Stories for the CIA, Reader Supported News, February 04, 2015)

Another book stirred some controversy lately, Au service de la République, (Serving the Republic) Roger Auque’s memoirs published posthumously. Auque, a well-known journalist who worked for major French magazines as well as the French Canadian public network Radio-Canada, admitted: “I was paid by the Israeli secret services to lead operations in Syria, using reporting as a cover.” Le Figaro, one of France’s leading magazines for which he worked, writes that “he also offered his services to the DGSE, (the French CIA) before becoming an object of interest for the CIA.”

Contrary to Ulfkotte, who’s filled with remorse, the French reporter was “not at all ashamed of this revelation”.

These few examples show once again the importance of independent media and how the corporate mainstream media is nothing but a mouthpiece for powerful interests who do not want you to be informed but rather want to manufacture consent and keep you in the dark about important issues.

Navajo Nation Advances Fight Against Voter Suppression

Navajo Nation Advances Fight Against Voter Suppression

Navajo Tourism

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/NAVAJO TOURISM DEPARTMENT

Native American members of the Navajo Nation currently make up just over half of the voting age population of San Juan County, Utah, but only one Native serves on the three-member county commission.

Last week, a Utah federal judge refused the county’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Navajo Nation alleging that under the current election districting plan, Natives are packed into one super-majority district. According to the complaint, the county did not use current data when it reapportioned the districts in 2011 to favor the county’s white residents, and the omission constitutes “intentional racial discrimination” under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

“The population of Indians in the county is sufficiently large and geographically compact to require two or more single-member commission districts with majority voting-age Indian populations,” the most recent complaint, filed in December 2012, said.

As the Native population has grown, the county has continued to pack the population into one district to maintain white control of the county commission and has apportioned just two districts of the five-member school board for the Native majority. According to the 2010 census, members of the Navajo Nation make up 52.17 percent of the total population and 50.33 percent of the voting population of the county.

Without proportionate representation on the county commission and school board, the Navajo Nation does not have an equal say on issues of importance to the tribe, like education — an issue with a long history of discrimination in the county.

In the 1970s, the white population made up the majority of the school board and was able to advocate for better schools for white students. At the same time, hundreds of Native American students had to be bused more than a hundred miles round trip to attend San Juan High School, the closest high school to the reservation. And elementary schools in the Native American part of the county were overcrowded, run-down and inferior to those located in the Anglo neighborhoods. As a result, many Navajos dropped out of school — San Juan High School had the highest drop-out rate in Utah — while others never attended school or were sent to schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Looking to address the problems associated with sending high school students on buses for hours each day, members of the tribe filed a lawsuit against the county in 1974 seeking to open a public school on the reservation. The county settled and built three schools for the Navajo Nation. But then in 1994, members of the tribe reopened the case and asked for another school to be built on Navajo Mountain, a more remote part of the reservation. The court eventually guaranteed a right to an equal, public education to Native Americans in 1995 in the suit that has been called the Brown v. Board for Indian County.

Utah was the last state to give voting rights to Native Americans after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a state statute barring them from voting in 1957. But even with the right to vote protected, San Juan County and other counties across the U.S. have found other ways to suppress the Native American vote.

In 1983, a Utah federal court ruled against San Juan County’s at-large voting plan, which discriminated against Natives Americans — who did not make up the majority of the county at the time — by allowing every voter in the county to vote for each representative, instead of dividing the county into districts that choose their own representatives. The settlement required that the county replace its election system with “fairly drawn single member districts.”

While at-large voting systems have been ruled unconstitutional across the country, counties with large Native American populations have turned to other methods of keeping Natives away from the polls. Buffalo County, South Dakota refused to open a satellite office for early voting on the Crow Creek Sioux reservation, effectively disenfranchising many of the 2,000 Native Americans who live on the reservation but do not have access to transportation to vote in the county seat located 26 miles away.

A separate lawsuit alleging the same discrimination in Jackson County, South Dakota was successful before the 2014 midterm and the county agreed to open an early voting polling center on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The legal action continued in order to ensure the voting rights would be maintained for future elections and in January, the U.S. Department of Justice intervened.

Surging support for Palestine fuels JVP’s biggest meeting yet

It was a sentiment shared by many of the attendees. JVP has transformed from a scrappy California-based group to a national force in the American Jewish community and in the Palestine solidarity movement. Held from March 13-15, JVP’s latest national membership meeting was filled with Jewish prayer, a memorial service for those killed in Israel/Palestine last summer, and countless talks on dozens of different topics. The meeting, like JVP itself, was intergenerational and interdenominational, with young and old Jews and non-Jews holding discussions on the future of JVP. Some attendees were there for their first JVP gathering.

 

It was not nearly as slick as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference, but there was a real sense that JVP was growing into a force that holds real power at the grassroots level.

JVP has grown alongside other Palestine solidarity groups, whose ranks have been swelled by those watching frequent assaults on Gaza. Young Jews and liberal Democrats are increasingly voicing criticism of Israel, a trend JVP is seeking to capitalize on. A February Gallup poll revealed that 48 percent of Democrats sympathize with Israel over the Palestinians–a drop of ten points from last year.

“It is the end of the era of ‘progressive except for Palestine,’” said Cecilie Surasky, JVP’s deputy director.

It’s a bold statement to make. The political landscape has not yet seen the extinction of progressives who triangulate between pro-Israel politics and social justice work.

But many liberals are increasingly being forced to choose between progressivism and support for Israel. And JVP is one of the leading groups seeking to force the end of the era of “progressives except for Palestine.” One of their newest hires is Rabbi Joseph Berman, now JVP’s federal policy organizer. He’s tasked with working on Capitol Hill to further the work of JVP. The coming years will see JVP trying to impact federal policy–a monumental task, though one that doesn’t seem impossible after 60 lawmakers boycotted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to Congress.

The Baltimore meeting was the biggest JVP national gathering yet. The growth stems from a source all the attendees want to see end: the worsening situation on the ground in the region. Last summer’s assault on Gaza lead to a boom in JVP membership and donations, and a shift to the left among some liberal Zionists who decided to join JVP. The Gaza war last summer lead to 30 new chapters being formed. 60,000 new people signed up to be online supporters, according to JVP executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson.

One person representative of the leftward pull liberal Jews feel is Seth Morrison, a former board member of J Street’s Washington, D.C. chapter. This was Morrison’s first JVP national gathering, but he threw himself fully into the group: he helped plan the JVP meeting.

Morrison’s frustration with J Street grew during 2013, in part because J Street refused to support the Palestinian Authority’s bid for United Nations recognition. Morrison said he thought J Street was not using the political power it had accumulated, and he eventually became a supporter of BDS, which J Street opposes.

“What I’ve realized about Israel–which I still love and support and have good feelings about–is that Israel is addicted to the occupation,” Morrison told me. “I’ve come to believe that BDS is tough love.” Morrison said “tough love” is important to combating addiction.

The national membership meeting was the first get-together since JVP changed its position on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement from one of support for targeted boycotts and divestments to full endorsement of the BDS call. When JVP staffers reminded the audience of that change, the overwhelming majority of people applauded.

Cecilie Surasky told me the change in position meant JVP could now fully endorse academic and cultural boycotts, the two most controversial aspects of the BDS movement. JVP’s support could be crucial in the coming year, as academic associations like the American Anthropological Association consider endorsing the academic boycott.

In addition to discussions about BDS, the right of return and many other topics, the JVP meeting was filled with discussions and panels about connections between Palestine and other struggles for justice. There was a panel on the U.S.-Mexico border and immigration rights. The Black Lives Matter movement, sparked by police killings of unarmed Black people in Ferguson and elsewhere, was also central to this year’s gathering. One of the most packed panels was one featuring poet Aja Monet and activist Ahmed Abuznaid, who discussed the recent Black Lives Matter delegation to Palestine.

Connecting the dots between Black Lives Matter and Palestine, and how anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism has become just as institutionalized as anti-Black racism in the U.S., was Angela Davis, the famed scholar who delivered the closing address.

“Speaking out against the militarization of the police requires us to understand how deeply the state of Israel is implicated in this process, of the trainings of US police officers,” said Davis. “The Israeli military police in occupied Palestine have emerged as a model of how protesters should be dealt with everywhere. And this is why it appears as if we are witnessing the replication of their behavior in a small town called Ferguson, Missouri, and all over the country.”

The end of her speech was greeted with rapturous applause and a standing ovation. Davis was followed out by dozens of JVP members hoping for a picture with one of the most famous Black intellectuals alive today.

Israeli pressure at UN over children’s rights list worked

Source says officials backed away from recommending that IDF be added to list of children’s rights violators after phone calls from Israeli officials

Displaced Palestinian children peak from under a shop door, where their family is taking shelter in Gaza City in July 2014.
Displaced Palestinian children peak from under a shop door, where their family is taking shelter in Gaza City in July 2014. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

 

Senior UN officials in Jerusalem have been accused of caving in to Israeli pressure to abandon moves to include the state’s armed forces on a UN list of serious violators of children’s rights.

UN officials backed away from recommending that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) be included on the list following telephone calls from senior Israeli officials. The Israelis allegedly warned of serious consequences if a meeting of UN agencies and NGOs based in Jerusalem to ratify the recommendation went ahead. Within hours, the meeting was cancelled.

“Top officials have buckled under political pressure,” said a UN source. “As a result, a clear message has been given that Israel will not be listed.”

Organisations pressing for the IDF’s inclusion on the list since the war in Gaza last summer – which left more than 500 children dead and more than 3,300 injured – include Save the Children and War Child as well as at least a dozen Palestinian human rights organisations, the Israeli rights organisation B’Tselem and UN bodies such as the children’s agency Unicef.

“These organisations are in uproar over what has happened,” said the UN source.

The IDF’s inclusion on the UN’s list of grave violators of children’s right would place it alongside non-state armed forces such as Islamic State (Isis), Boko Haram and the Taliban. There are no other state armies on the list. It would propel Israel further towards pariah status within international bodies and could lead to UN sanctions.

Although Jerusalem-based officials cancelled the meeting – and subsequently omitted to recommend the IDF’s inclusion on the list – the UN complained to Israel over the intimidation of its staff. Susana Malcorra – a high-ranking official in the New York office of the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon – raised the issue in a private letter to Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor. The UN in New York said it could not comment on leaked documents.

The telephone calls were made to June Kunugi, Unicef’s special representative to Palestine and Israel, on 12 February, the night before a meeting to decide whether to recommend the IDF’s inclusion on the list. One call was from a senior figure in Cogat, the Israeli government body that coordinates between the IDF, the Palestinian Authority and the international community; the other was made by an official in Israel’s foreign ministry.

According to UN and NGO sources, Kunugi was advised to cancel the meeting or face serious consequences. However, Israeli sources described the telephone conversations as friendly and courteous attempts to persuade Kunugi to delay the working group’s decision on its recommendation regarding the IDF until Israel had been allowed to present its case on the issue.

At 8.54am the next morning, an email was sent on behalf of James Rawley, a senior official with Unsco (the office of the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process) who had called the meeting, to participants. It said: “Please be informed that today’s meeting scheduled at 13:00hrs has been postponed. Sincere apologies for the inconvenience this may have caused.”

A joint statement to the Guardian from Kunugi and Rawley said the “strictly confidential process” of determining inclusion on the list was still ongoing and was the “prerogative of the UN secretary general, and it rests with him alone”. The UN in Jerusalem was unable to comment on the process, it added, but the submission from Jerusalem to New York was “based on verified facts, not influenced by any member state or other entity”.

Unicef has called a fresh meeting to update UN and NGO officials in Jerusalem on Thursday.

The decision on which state and non-state armed forces are to be included on the list will be taken by UN chiefs in New York next month. However, according to the UN source, “a political decision has already been taken not to include Israel”.

A separate source told the Guardian: “The UN caved to Israel’s political pressure and took a highly contentious step to shelter Israel from accountability.”

The list of violators of children’s rights is contained in the annex of the annual report of the secretary general on children and armed conflict. A “monitoring and reporting mechanism”, established by a UN security council resolution, supplies information on grave violations of children’s rights, such as killing and maiming, recruitment of minors into armed forces, attacks on schools, rape, abduction, and denial of humanitarian access to children. The secretary general is required to list armed forces or armed groups responsible for such actions.

Following last summer’s seven-week war in Gaza, a number of UN agencies and NGOs met to consider whether to recommend the IDF’s inclusion on the list. According to insiders, participants “agreed there is a strong and credible case to recommend listing”.

A 13-page internal Unicef paper seen by the Guardian examined the case for the IDF to be listed on the basis of its actions in last summer’s war in Gaza, including the killing and injuring of children, and “targeted and indiscriminate” attacks on schools and hospitals.

Several of the working group’s participants wrote to the UN secretary general to urge the inclusion of the IDF on the list. A letter sent in December by Defence for Children International (Palestine) said: “There is ample evidence to demonstrate that Israel’s armed forces have committed acts that amount to the grave violations against children during armed conflict, as defined by UN security council resolutions, including killing or maiming children and attacks against schools and hospitals.”

The Israeli ministry of foreign affairs and Cogat declined to answer specific questions about the phone calls to Kunugi, but said in a joint statement: “Israel has a good working relationship with Unicef and the United Nations in general. Israel has no desire to get into a slanging match with anti-Israel elements nor to submit to their intimidations.”