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[l] at 5/23/22 4:04pm
WASHINGTON – A new book from former Defense Secretary Mark Esper has revealed shocking new details about the Trump administration’s war on Venezuela. “A Sacred Oath: Memoirs of a Secretary of Defense During Extraordinary Times” admits that the Trump administration plotted to invade Venezuela and discussed assassinating President Nicolas Maduro, carrying out a wave of terrorist attacks on civilian infrastructure, and raising a mercenary army to start a Contra-style terror war. Esper also all but confirms Washington’s involvement in Operation Gideon – a botched military invasion of the country, and a 2018 attempt on Maduros life. While barely covered in Western media, Esper’s confessions have caused a storm of commotion in the South American nation. However, Diego Sequera, a Caracas-based investigative journalist, told MintPress that few were taken aback by the news. “It is, in a way, shocking. But on the other hand, it is pretty much usual for us here,” he said, adding: “The news is not surprising at all; we in Venezuela are used to it. Since 2004, when the first Colombian paramilitary unit with a plan to assassinate President [Hugo] Chavez was arrested, there have been a lot of exposés of this nature.”   “Really part of the United States” Donald Trump invited self-declared Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó to be the guest of honor at his State Of The Union address in 2020, where Guaidó was described as “the true and legitimate president” and received a standing ovation from Republicans and Democrats alike. Trump and Guaidó’s post-SOTU meeting was reported in the press at the time as “focused on actions to achieve democracy and liberty.” Esper’s account, however, reveals that the conversation revolved around an American invasion of the country. Trump, who Esper says had been “fixated on Venezuela since the early days of his administration,” asked Guaidó directly, “What if the U.S. military went down there and got rid of Maduro?” The offer was music to the ears of the Venezuelan, who replied, “Of course we would always welcome U.S. assistance.” Guaidó had attempted four coups already, each time calling on the people and the military to rebel and join his side, but had received a less than enthusiastic response. Esper’s account aligns with that of a previous tell-all book from National Security Advisor John Bolton. In “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” Bolton claims Trump said that it would be “cool” to invade Venezuela because it is “really part of the United States.”   The invasion had some vociferous backers in the room, including Mauricio Claver-Carone, senior director of the National Security Council, and Robert O’Brien, Trump’s national security advisor. Esper felt Claver-Carone’s judgment was clouded by his personal investment in undermining Latin American socialism, being as he was, a member of the virulently anti-communist Miami-Cuban community. Often called “the capital of Latin America,” Miami is full of emigres who push Washington for a more hawkish stance on Cuba, Venezuela, and Latin America more generally. Bolton’s book also paints Claver-Carone and O’Brien as hawks. Esper, however, was alarmed by the prospect of a military quagmire and suspected that Guaidó was far less powerful than he made out to be. As Esper told Trump, the Venezuelan opposition would only “fight to the last American.” When he asked Guaidó directly whether “his people” would be willing to organize, train and fight, the response amounted to “It would be so much easier and quicker if the U.S. would do this for us.”   Operation Gideon Instead, Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley suggested raising an army of mercenaries to carry out a terror war against the Venezuelan population, along the lines of what the U.S. did with the Contras in Nicaragua. As Esper wrote: General Milley also thought we should look at irregular warfare options, such as the U.S. training and arming of Venezuelan expatriates [REDACTED]. The United States had a long history with these types of operations. It was an idea worth developing. Milley and I had discussed this several times before. However, Guaidó’s team was more interested in discussing secret plans of which even Esper was unaware. At one point, one of Guaidó’s colleagues leaned forward and said, “We have some plans you [the U.S. government] know we are working on; they’re just not ready yet,” made a quick reference to Florida, and shared a smile, a nod and a knowing look with Claver-Carone. At the time, Esper claims to have been nonplussed by this comment. However, he later understood it as a reference to Operation Gideon, an attempt by a semi-private Florida mercenary firm to mount an amphibious invasion of Venezuela, shoot their way to the presidential palace, capture, detain, or “remove” Maduro, and install Guaidó as “president.” Operation Gideon was attempted just a few weeks after the meeting, but failed spectacularly as the heavily armed mercenaries were overpowered even before they reached land, when disgruntled lobstermen from the local fishing collective disarmed them with nothing more than fishing knives and old revolvers. The event has since been christened Trump’s “Bay of Piglets.” While the operation was carried out with extraordinary incompetence, the seriousness of the event should not go understated. Guaidó himself signed a contract with SilverCorp USA, a Trump-linked mercenary firm, that stated the group would become his personal death squad after the insurrection, with the power to murder and assassinate all people resisting the new government. For this service, Guaidó promised to pay SilverCorp an initial fee of around a quarter of a billion dollars. The deal was signed at Trump’s Mar a Lago resort in Florida. The U.S. servicemen who participated in the botched operation were sentenced to 20 years in a Venezuelan prison. “I wasn’t at all surprised by Mark Esper’s revelations, given the U.S.’s long and sordid history of destabilization of governments that are not to its liking,” said Steve Ellner, a retired professor of economic history and political science at the Universidad de Oriente in Venezuela. Ellner, an American who has lived in Venezuela for over 40 years and closely studied the rise in tensions between the two nations, added: Esper’s revelations lead to nothing less than the conclusion that Washington was involved in the abortive drone strike in August 2018 that exploded at a public event that was meant to kill Maduro, his wife Celia Flores and various top military commanders. It also leads to the conclusion that Washington was involved in the Operation Gideon of 2020 that had as its goal the kidnapping of Maduro. Bolton’s book also hints at U.S. involvement in the 2018 assassination attempt, which he describes as “hilarious.” Shortly after the attempt, Trump demanded that Bolton “get it done” – “it” meaning the removal of Maduro. “This is the fifth time I’ve asked for it,” he added.   Terror squad Esper’s memoir also reveals that senior U.S. officials often spoke frankly and candidly about carrying out waves of terror attacks on Venezuelan civilian infrastructure, a disclosure that sheds new light on a number of highly suspicious explosions, fires, blackouts and other mishaps inside Venezuela – events that the Maduro administration has long blamed on the United States. Western media, however, routinely dismissed these allegations as conspiracy theories. Esper alleges that on June 9, 2020, O’Brien proposed a military strike on a coastal port that handled much of the country’s oil imports and exports. “The means could be either an air strike or the use of Navy SEALs,” he said. The effect would be to “further disrupt their energy supplies and provoke more unrest.” According to Esper, the group rejected the plan in favor of a coordinated cyberattack on critical Venezuelan infrastructure instead. However, ten days later, the U.S. government (including Esper himself) agreed to what he called the development of “kinetic and nonkinetic options, both overt and [REDACTED], that could disrupt Venezuela’s oil and arms shipments. Options would need to include actions that would have a material impact on key industrial and other high-value targets.” Just weeks after this decision, former U.S. Marine and CIA agent Matthew Heath was arrested outside Venezuela’s largest oil refining complex. When apprehended, Heath was carrying a submachine gun, a grenade launcher, four blocks of C4 explosives, a satellite phone, stacks of U.S. dollars and detailed information about the complex. Both the U.S. government and U.S. media have largely ignored Heath’s trial for terrorism and arms trafficking, strongly suggesting that he was indeed caught in the act while on “official business.”   The Beto O’Rourke of Venezuela While Trump was publicly singing Guaidó’s praises, endorsing him as the true leader of a free Venezuela, behind closed doors, he said exactly the opposite. According to Esper, Trump thought Guaidó was a remarkably “weak” politician, especially compared to the “strong” and “tough” Maduro. Trump commented on the fact that Guaidó’s wife, Fabiana Rosales, did not even wear a wedding ring, another sign of weakness, according to the president. In fact, Esper says, “Trump seemed more impressed by Rosales than her husband,” always making time to speak to her rather than him, and treating her very warmly. The 73-year-old president commented that the 27-year-old Rosales looked “very young” and attractive. Bolton’s book also mentions that Trump quickly soured on Guaidó but remained intensely interested in his wife. After multiple failed coups, Trump reportedly took to calling him “the Beto O’Rourke of Venezuela” – suggesting that he saw Guaidó as someone who talked a good game but had no substance or support behind him. Trump, right, meets with Fabiana Rosales, left, wife of Juan Guaido in the Oval Office, March 27, 2019. Susan Walsh | AP Trump’s judgment appears to have been better than that of those around him. After a series of failed coups and embezzlement scandals, what support Guaidó had appears to have withered away, with some polls showing only 4% of the Venezuelan public backing him. As the population suffers, Guaidó continues to live a life of extreme luxury, mostly from Venezuelan funds confiscated by the U.S. “At this point, Juan Guaidó is nothing other than a joke in Venezuela,” Ellner told MintPress, adding: I say that not only because he is totally discredited among the Venezuelan people, but because leaders of the hard-line faction of the opposition have distanced themselves from him, and of course even more so in the case of the other half of the organized opposition, which favors dialogue with Maduro. Sequera agreed, calling Guaidó the “frontman of a criminal operation that is stealing our own goods.”   Financial terrorism and invading Africa The Trump administration also tightened the noose around Venezuela’s economy by intensifying the Obama administration’s sanctions. Companies found to be in breach of the U.S. economic blockade could be shut down, fined, and their executives threatened with decades in prison. The result was a collapse in the Venezuelan economy and huge shortages of goods. A United Nations Special Rapporteur who visited the country likened the Trump administration’s actions to a medieval siege, estimated that over 100,000 Venezuelans had been killed as a result, and recommended the UN investigate the U.S. for crimes against humanity. Esper claims that as Venezuela and Iran tried to find ways of trading with each other to prevent their economies collapsing and to prevent mass deaths, his team “looked for ways to shut those activities down.” One of these methods was to arrest and kidnap Venezuelan businessman and diplomat Alex Saab, who was traveling between the two countries to secure a trade deal. On U.S. orders, Saab was arrested after his plane stopped off in Cabo Verde, an island nation off the west coast of Africa. Saab was detained and is now being held hostage in Florida. In November, MintPress traveled to Caracas to speak to Saab’s wife Camila. The detention of Saab – who was traveling on official business using a diplomatic passport – was a major violation of international law. Esper reveals that the Trump administration was paranoid that Russia, a Venezuelan ally, would stage a special operations mission to rescue Saab. As a precaution, the Department of Defense immediately ordered the U.S. fleet in the Mediterranean Sea be deployed to Cabo Verde – including thousands of marines. A mural of Alex Saab that reads in Spanish Free Alex Saab. They havent been able to bend him, in Caracas. Ariana Cubillos | AP Thus, the U.S. would be effectively invading Cabo Verde under the pretext that Russia might try to free the diplomat they had kidnapped. Esper and others put a stop to this plan at the 11th hour, but the U.S. continues to hold Saab captive to this day. By the time of the Saab affair, Bolton had been kicked out of the White House. But his account of U.S. sanctions against Venezuela tells a similar story (although he uses much more sadistic language than does Esper). In Bolton’s view, “we had Maduro by the windpipe and needed to constrict it.” “We began devising steps to take immediately against Maduro’s regime, and also Cuba,” he explained, “Oil sanctions were a natural choice, but why not declare Venezuela a ‘state sponsor of terrorism,’ something I first suggested on October 1, 2018, and also return Cuba to the list after Obama had removed it?” he asked, thereby inadvertently conceding that the State Sponsors of Terrorism list has nothing to do with terrorism and is merely a list of governments the U.S. wants to overthrow. As Bolton – a much more openly cold-blooded person than Esper – states, sanctions are not about justice, but about “using America’s massive economic power to advance our national interests.”   What comes after ‘sociopath’? Throughout his account, Esper portrays himself as a long-suffering but loyal bureaucrat who was trying to do the best thing for his country while surrounded by fools and loose cannons. While he considered quitting in protest, even knowing he would be treated as a “hero” for doing so, he decided to persevere as “it was the right thing to do for our country.” “My soldiers don’t get to quit when the going gets tough, so I won’t either,” he added. Indeed, at some points, Esper presents himself as a veritable saint, claiming that, “[o]n more than one occasion, Leah would say to me, ‘As your wife, please quit. As an American citizen, please stay.’” Despite his best intentions, Esper still comes off as a sociopath attempting to intimidate the world into submission. Throughout the book, he reveals how he had to constantly quash Trump’s desire to end endless wars and pursue peace with adversaries. Trump himself proposed a complete withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and South Korea, nations where U.S. forces have been stationed for nearly 20 and 70 years respectively. This, for Esper, was “outlandish.” He explained to Trump that, “[w]ithout [the U.S. occupation], we would squander the leverage that a continued U.S. military presence and the threat of force gave us.” Esper was also “disgusted” by Trump’s proposition to meet with the Taliban for peace talks that could have ended the war. According to Esper, the entire team was against ending the occupation, stating: ​​As the president went around the room, we each tried to dissuade him in different ways. I recommended against it, reminding him that ‘the Taliban have the blood of American service members on their hands, not to mention their role in the death of nearly three thousand civilians killed on our own soil on 9/11.’ Esper refrained from noting that none of the 9/11 hijackers were Afghans and most came from U.S. ally Saudi Arabia. Trump was also reportedly highly skeptical of the need to flood Ukraine with weapons, questioning why the United States had to support such a corrupt administration as Zelensky’s and asking why Germany or other European nations could not do so if it were so imperative. To Esper’s relief, the hawks in the room were able to win the day on that issue as well. MintPress also spoke with Joe Emersberger, co-author of the book “Extraordinary Threat: The U.S. Empire, the Media, and Twenty Years of Coup Attempts in Venezuela.” In Emersberger’s opinion, there is “absolutely no basis for doubting the truth of the excerpts from Esper that have been so widely cited.” As he explained: Esper is not ‘confessing’ to anything that could bring legal trouble for himself or other U.S. officials. The U.S. has imposed murderous and utterly criminal sanctions on Venezuela in broad daylight, flaunting its extreme impunity. Esper speaks with [the] calm candor of a hitman who has already cut a rock-solid deal with prosecutors and fears nothing. Trump was far from an anti-war activist, however, and was committed to regime change in Venezuela, whatever the cost. The billionaire president reportedly saw it as a massive money-spinner and was obsessed with gaining control over Venezuela’s vast oil fields, something Esper saw as gauche. Esper was also committed to overthrowing Maduro, but only in “the right way, the smart way.” Esper, left, breifs the press about US counter-narcotics operation around Venezula, April 1, 2020, next to Gen. Mark Milley. Alex Brandon | AP According to Emersberger, Trump ignorantly assumed Maduro would be an easy target, something a bully like Trump could not resist, especially the prospect of direct looting of its oil. By the time he realized otherwise, he and his gang were locked into a cycle of escalation that Biden has essentially maintained, backtracking only slightly due to fallout from the war in Ukraine. While Esper was no dove, others in Trump’s inner circle appear to have delighted in cruelty. Esper claims that the president’s senior policy advisor, Stephen Miller, argued that U.S. forces in the Middle East should cut off the heads of enemy forces, smear them in pig’s blood (which Muslims consider to be unholy), and display them in public as a means of psychological warfare.   Yesper Esper’s new book also makes a number of other sensational claims about what went on in the White House behind closed doors. Among them is that Trump was furious at the George Floyd protests in Washington, asking General Milley why he would not simply shoot them all in the legs as he had asked. Trump demanded 10,000 troops in the streets of the nation’s capital in order to “restore order.” Trump also reportedly discussed sending 250,000 troops to the Mexican border and firing missiles into Mexico in order to destroy cartel-run drug labs. “We could just shoot some Patriot missiles and take out the labs quietly…no one would know it was us,” he insisted. Trump, for his part, has rejected the comments about shooting protesters in the leg, although he refused to comment on the Mexico missiles idea. “Mark Esper was a stiff who was desperate not to lose his job,” Trump retorted. “He was a lightweight and a figurehead, and I realized it very early on.” Trump went on to say that Esper was a “RINO [Republican in name only] incapable of leading” and that he called him “Yesper” – a nickname suggesting that he saw him as a spineless yes man. While the revelations about Mexico and the George Floyd Protests have received significant attention in corporate media, such is the bipartisan consensus in Washington on Venezuela that carrying out wars, regime-change operations, terrorist attacks and assassination attempts against an elected foreign head of state has been ignored. When it comes to the U.S. empire, everyone, it seems, is on the same page. Feature photo | Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks during military ceremonies, Saturday, June 13, 2020, in West Point, N.Y. John Minchillo | AP Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.org, The Guardian, Salon, The Grayzone, Jacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams. The post Mark Esper’s Tell-Some Reveals US Plans for War and Terror Against Venezuela appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Inside Stories, News, Top Story, A Sacred Oath: Memoirs of a Secretary of Defense During Extraordinary Times, Donald Trump, Mark Esper, operation gideon, Regime Change, Venezuela]

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[l] at 5/23/22 12:53pm
PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY (Scheerpost) — The United States, as the near unanimous vote to provide nearly $40 billion in aid to Ukraine illustrates, is trapped in the death spiral of unchecked militarism. No high speed trains. No universal health care. No viable Covid relief program. No respite from 8.3 percent inflation. No infrastructure programs to repair decaying roads and bridges, which require $41.8 billion to fix the 43,586 structurally deficient bridges, on average 68 years old. No forgiveness of $1.7 trillion in student debt. No addressing income inequality. No program to feed the 17 million children who go to bed each night hungry. No rational gun control or curbing of the epidemic of nihilistic violence and mass shootings. No help for the 100,000 Americans who die each year of drug overdoses. No minimum wage of $15 an hour to counter 44 years of wage stagnation. No respite from gas prices that are projected to hit $6 a gallon. The permanent war economy, implanted since the end of World War II, has destroyed the private economy, bankrupted the nation, and squandered trillions of dollars of taxpayer money. The monopolization of capital by the military has driven the US debt to $30 trillion, $ 6 trillion more than the US GDP of $ 24 trillion. Servicing this debt costs $300 billion a year. We spent more on the military, $ 813 billion for fiscal year 2023, than the next nine countries, including China and Russia, combined. We are paying a heavy social, political, and economic cost for our militarism. Washington watches passively as the U.S. rots, morally, politically, economically, and physically, while China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, and other countries extract themselves from the tyranny of the U.S. dollar and the international Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a messaging network banks and other financial institutions use to send and receive information, such as money transfer instructions. Once the U.S. dollar is no longer the world’s reserve currency, once there is an alternative to SWIFT, it will precipitate an internal economic collapse. It will force the immediate contraction of the U.S. empire shuttering most of its nearly 800 overseas military installations. It will signal the death of Pax Americana. Democrat or Republican. It does not matter. War is the raison d’état of the state. Extravagant military expenditures are justified in the name of “national security.” The nearly $40 billion allocated for Ukraine, most of it going into the hands of weapons manufacturers such as Raytheon Technologies, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing, is only the beginning. Military strategists, who say the war will be long and protracted, are talking about infusions of $4 or $5 billion in military aid a month to Ukraine. We face existential threats. But these do not count. The proposed budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in fiscal year 2023 is $10.675 billion. The proposed budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is $11.881 billion. Ukraine alone gets more than double that amount. Pandemics and the climate emergency are afterthoughts. War is all that matters. This is a recipe for collective suicide. There were three restraints to the avarice and bloodlust of the permanent war economy that no longer exist. The first was the old liberal wing of the Democratic Party, led by politicians such as Senator George McGovern, Senator Eugene McCarthy, and Senator J. William Fulbright, who wrote The Pentagon Propaganda Machine. The self-identified progressives, a pitiful minority, in Congress today, from Barbara Lee, who was the single vote in the House and the Senate opposing a broad, open-ended authorization allowing the president to wage war in Afghanistan or anywhere else, to Ilhan Omar now dutifully line up to fund the latest proxy war. The second restraint was an independent media and academia, including journalists such as I.F Stone and Neil Sheehan along with scholars such as Seymour Melman, author of The Permanent War Economy and Pentagon Capitalism: The Political Economy of War. Third, and perhaps most important, was an organized anti-war movement, led by religious leaders such as Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr. and Phil and Dan Berrigan as well as groups such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). They understood that unchecked militarism was a fatal disease. None of these opposition forces, which did not reverse the permanent war economy but curbed its excesses, now exist. The two ruling parties have been bought by corporations, especially military contractors. The press is anemic and obsequious to the war industry. Propagandists for permanent war, largely from right-wing think tanks lavishly funded by the war industry, along with former military and intelligence officials, are exclusively quoted or interviewed as military experts. NBC’s “Meet the Press” aired a segment May 13 where officials from Center for a New American Security (CNAS) simulated what a war with China over Taiwan might look like. The co-founder of CNAS, Michèle Flournoy, who appeared in the “Meet the Press” war games segment and was considered by Biden to run the Pentagon, wrote in 2020 in Foreign Affairs that the U.S. needs to develop “the capability to credibly threaten to sink all of China’s military vessels, submarines and merchant ships in the South China Sea within 72 hours.” The handful of anti-militarists and critics of empire from the left, such as Noam Chomsky, and the right, such as Ron Paul, have been declared persona non grata by a compliant media. The liberal class has retreated into boutique activism where issues of class, capitalism and militarism are jettisoned for “cancel culture,” multiculturalism and identity politics. Liberals are cheerleading the war in Ukraine. At least the inception of the war with Iraq saw them join significant street protests. Ukraine is embraced as the latest crusade for freedom and democracy against the new Hitler. There is little hope, I fear, of rolling back or restraining the disasters being orchestrated on a national and global level.  The neoconservatives and liberal interventionists chant in unison for war. Biden has appointed these war mongers, whose attitude to nuclear war is terrifyingly cavalier, to run the Pentagon, the National Security Council, and the State Department. Since all we do is war, all proposed solutions are military. This military adventurism accelerates the decline, as the defeat in Vietnam and the squandering of $8 trillion in the futile wars in the Middle East illustrate. War and sanctions, it is believed, will cripple Russia, rich in gas and natural resources. War, or the threat of war, will curb the growing economic and military clout of China. These are demented and dangerous fantasies, perpetrated by a ruling class that has severed itself from reality. No longer able to salvage their own society and economy, they seek to destroy those of their global competitors, especially Russia and China. Once the militarists cripple Russia, the plan goes, they will focus military aggression on the Indo-Pacific, dominating what Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, referring to the Pacific, called “the American Sea.” You cannot talk about war without talking about markets. The U.S., whose growth rate has fallen to below 2 percent, while China’s growth rate is 8.1 percent, has turned to military aggression to bolster its sagging economy. If the U.S. can sever Russian gas supplies to Europe, it will force Europeans to buy from the United States. U.S. firms, at the same time, would be happy to replace the Chinese Communist Party, even if they must do it through the threat of war, to open unfettered access to Chinese markets. War, if it did break out with China, would devastate the Chinese, American, and global economies, destroying free trade between countries as in World War I. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Washington is desperately trying to build military and economic alliances to ward off a rising China, whose economy is expected by 2028 to overtake that of the United States, according to the UK’s Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR). The White House has said Biden’s current visit to Asia is about sending a “powerful message” to Beijing and others about what the world could look like if democracies “stand together to shape the rules of the road.” The Biden administration has invited South Korea and Japan to attend the NATO summit in Madrid. But fewer and fewer nations, even among European allies, are willing to be dominated by the United States. Washington’s veneer of democracy and supposed respect for human rights and civil liberties is so badly tarnished as to be irrecoverable. Its economic decline, with China’s manufacturing 70 percent higher than that of the U.S., is irreversible. War is a desperate Hail Mary, one employed by dying empires throughout history with catastrophic consequences. “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable,” Thucydides noted in the History of the Peloponnesian War. A key component to the sustenance of the permanent war state was the creation of the All-Volunteer Force. Without conscripts, the burden of fighting wars falls to the poor, the working class, and military families. This All-Volunteer Force allows the children of the middle class, who led the Vietnam anti-war movement, to avoid service. It protects the military from internal revolts, carried out by troops during the Vietnam War, which jeopardized the cohesion of the armed forces. The All-Volunteer Force, by limiting the pool of available troops, also makes the global ambitions of the militarists impossible. Desperate to maintain or increase troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military instituted the stop-loss policy that arbitrarily extended active-duty contracts. Its slang term was the backdoor draft. The effort to bolster the number of troops by hiring private military contractors, as well, had a negligible effect. Increased troop levels would not have won the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but the tiny percentage of those willing to serve in the military (only 7 percent of the U.S. population are veterans) is an unacknowledged Achilles heel for the militarists. “As a consequence, the problem of too much war and too few soldiers eludes serious scrutiny,” writes historian and retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich in After the Apocalypse: America’s Role in a World Transformed. “Expectations of technology bridging that gap provide an excuse to avoid asking the most fundamental questions: Does the United States possess the military wherewithal to oblige adversaries to endorse its claim of being history’s indispensable nation? And if the answer is no, as the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq suggest, wouldn’t it make sense for Washington to temper its ambitions accordingly?” This question, as Bacevich points out, is “anathema.” The military strategists work from the supposition that the coming wars won’t look anything like past wars. They invest in imaginary theories of future wars that ignore the lessons of the past, ensuring more fiascos. The political class is as self-deluded as the generals. It refuses to accept the emergence of a multi-polar world and the palpable decline of American power. It speaks in the outdated language of American exceptionalism and triumphalism, believing it has the right to impose its will as the leader of the “free world.” In his 1992 Defense Planning Guidance memorandum, U.S. Under Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz argued that the U.S. must ensure no rival superpower again arises. The U.S. should project its military strength to dominate a unipolar world in perpetuity. On February 19, 1998, on NBC’s “Today Show”, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright gave the Democratic version of this doctrine of unipolarity. “If we have to use force it is because we are Americans; we are the indispensable nation,” she said. “We stand tall, and we see further than other countries into the future.” This demented vision of unrivaled U.S. global supremacy, not to mention unrivaled goodness and virtue, blinds the establishment Republicans and Democrats. The military strikes they casually used to assert the doctrine of unipolarity, especially in the Middle East, swiftly spawned jihadist terror and prolonged warfare. None of them saw it coming until the hijacked jets slammed into the World Trade Center twin towers. That they cling to this absurd hallucination is the triumph of hope over experience. There is a deep loathing among the public for these elitist Ivy League architects of American imperialism. Imperialism was tolerated when it was able to project power abroad and produce rising living standards at home. It was tolerated when it restrained itself to covert interventions in countries such as Iran, Guatemala, and Indonesia. It went off the rails in Vietnam. The military defeats that followed accompanied a steady decline in living standards, wage stagnation, a crumbling infrastructure and eventually a series of economic policies and trade deals, orchestrated by the same ruling class, which deindustrialized and impoverished the country. The establishment oligarchs, now united in the Democratic Party, distrust Donald Trump. He commits the heresy of questioning the sanctity of the American empire. Trump derided the invasion of Iraq as a “big, fat mistake.” He promised “to keep us out of endless war.” Trump was repeatedly questioned about his relationship with Vladimir Putin. Putin was “a killer,” one interviewer told him. “There are a lot of killers,” Trump retorted. “You think our country’s so innocent?” Trump dared to speak a truth that was to be forever unspoken, the militarists had sold out the American people. Noam Chomsky took some heat for pointing out, correctly, that Trump is the “one statesman” who has laid out a “sensible” proposition to resolve the Russia-Ukraine crisis. The proposed solution included “facilitating negotiations instead of undermining them and moving toward establishing some kind of accommodation in Europe…in which there are no military alliances but just mutual accommodation.” Trump is too unfocused and mercurial to offer serious policy solutions. He did set a timetable to withdraw from Afghanistan, but he also ratcheted up the economic war against Venezuela and reinstituted crushing sanctions against Cuba and Iran, which the Obama administration had ended. He increased the military budget. He apparently flirted with carrying out a missile strike on Mexico to “destroy the drug labs.” But he acknowledges a distaste for imperial mismanagement that resonates with the public, one that has every right to loath the smug mandarins that plunge us into one war after another. Trump lies like he breathes. But so do they. The 57 Republicans who refused to support the $40 billion aid package to Ukraine, along with many of the 19 bills that included an earlier $13.6 billion in aid for Ukraine, come out of the kooky conspiratorial world of Trump. They, like Trump, repeat this heresy. They too are attacked and censored. But the longer Biden and the ruling class continue to pour resources into war at our expense, the more these proto fascists, already set to wipe out Democratic gains in the House and the Senate this fall, will be ascendant. Marjorie Taylor Greene, during the debate on the aid package to Ukraine, which most members were not given time to closely examine, said: “$40 billion dollars but there’s no baby formula for American mothers and babies.” “An unknown amount of money to the CIA and Ukraine supplemental bill but there’s no formula for American babies,” she added. “Stop funding regime change and money laundering scams. A US politician covers up their crimes in countries like Ukraine.” Democrat Jamie Raskin immediately attacked Greene for parroting the propaganda of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Greene, like Trump, spoke a truth that resonates with a beleaguered public. The opposition to permanent war should have come from the tiny progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which unfortunately sold out to the craven Democratic Party leadership to save their political careers. Greene is demented, but Raskin and the Democrats peddle their own brand of lunacy. We are going to pay a very steep price for this burlesque. Feature photo | Original illustration by Mr. Fish Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of show The Chris Hedges Report. The post Chris Hedges: No Way Out but War appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Insights, American imperialism, Chris Hedges, Democratic Party, permanent war, Russia]

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[l] at 5/23/22 11:30am
JENIN, OCCUPIED PALESTINE – Israels announcement that it will not pursue an investigation into the killing of famed Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was not surprising. The specific reasons it gave to justify the decision make little difference. However, one thing is certain: It is highly unlikely that the killing of a journalist like Shireen Abu Akleh was the decision of a lone soldier or a commander on the ground. Abu Akleh was well known and well respected. She was clearly identifiable as a non-combatant and a journalist who posed no threat to Israeli forces. She had been in similar situations before and knew how to take the necessary precautions, including wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest. She had to be shot by a well-trained sniper, and their identity must be known to the Israeli authorities. There had to have been an order or, at the minimum, approval given by the highest levels of the Israeli defense apparatus, as high as the minister of defense or even the prime minister, before the sniper could execute this assassination. Then, in a pretty transparent attempt to cover up the assassination, Israel pretended to want to conduct an investigation and demanded that the Palestinian Authority, which conducted the autopsy, hand over the bullet that killed Abu Akleh. Quoting an Israeli military official, The Times of Israel reported that [t]he Israeli military has identified a soldiers rifle that may have killed Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. However, it continues to claim that it cannot be certain unless the Palestinians turn over the bullet for analysis. The attempt to deceive is ever-so-obvious in this statement. Since it had to have been a sniper who aimed and then took the shot, there can be no doubt who pulled the trigger.   Palestinian militants? The British paper The Guardian recently wrote, Abu Aqleh [sic] was killed during an arrest raid by an Israeli commando unit on Palestinian militants. Statements like this demonstrate the larger problem. The Israeli commando raids have no justification and are responsible for countless deaths of Palestinian civilians. Framing Palestinian fighters – defenders of their camp, their city and their people – as militants, and the Israeli invaders as commandos, immediately places the blame on the Palestinians and justifies the Israeli attack, thus justifying every Israeli raid. Palestinian youth aim weapons at occupying Israeli troops in Jenin, May 13, 2022. Majdi Mohammed | AP This framing, typical in the media, allows the constant, never-ending killing of young Palestinians by Israel to go on uninterrupted. It begs the question: How many Palestinians need to die before the reporting is honest and Israel is forced to stop the killing? Every so often, an event causes people to lift their heads and acknowledge that Israel went too far and that maybe something needs to be done. When Shireen Abu Akleh was murdered, there was a moment like that. When, a few days after the killing, her funeral procession was brutally attacked by Israeli forces, that was another such moment. But these moments are few and far between. And these moments, even when they do come, do not last very long and yield no real results. Sometimes a letter is sent by a member of U.S. Congress; sometimes a few statements are made demanding an investigation into what took place. Then people move on and forget, and the flow of Palestinian blood – mostly young, promising men – continues unabated. The roll of names of young Palestinians killed by Israel is too long to list; and, besides, by the time you try to write it down, more are added. The ages vary, but many are under 21. The images of weeping parents and siblings – sometimes a wife and a child, if they were old enough to marry – continue to flow as though this were some unavoidable, unpreventable curse. In an open and frank interview I recently conducted with veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, he speaks of his frustration with the Israeli media and the Israeli audiences that consume it. The media doesnt want to report, and the consumers dont want to know, Levy passionately exclaimed.   Toeing the line When the Israeli press report on a killing, they never fail to toe the government line, so the Palestinian is always a terrorist or part of a violent riot. He or they, as the case may be, had to be dealt with, and the courageous Israeli fighters did so. From time to time, to demonstrate just how professional the Israeli forces are, they are shown in action. Images are shown of these forces entering a refugee camp, which, as of late, they have often been doing, particularly in the northern part of the West Bank. Israel brings in several battalions of commando units, Shabak secret-police units, or anti-terrorist forces, all heavily armed and wearing the best communication and protection equipment in the world, and equipped with unlimited amounts of ammunition. Israeli forces also have the best-trained medics, the finest first-aid capabilities, and helicopters ready to evacuate an injured soldier speedily. Once evacuated, an injured Israeli soldier receives the finest medical care in modern, well-equipped facilities. Israeli forces raid a home in Jenin, May 13, 2022, the day of Abu Aklehs funeral. Majdi Mohammed | AP All of this to face a few young Palestinians armed with little more than M-16s. The Palestinians have no helmets, no bulletproof vests, possess limited amounts of ammunition, and risk a very high possibility of getting injured or killed. A Palestinian wounded in battle does not have access to the same level of emergency medical care as the Israeli forces. Not even remotely. Palestinian ambulances, if they can even make it to the scene, are poorly equipped, and medical facilities are far and are rarely equipped well enough to deal with severe injuries.   Life goes on On the Israeli side, life goes on as though nothing significant happened. Watching the news makes Israeli society numb. Clashes, Palestinians killed, the coalition government facing yet another crisis, Netanyahu may or may not be close to returning to the prime ministers chair; who knows. From time to time, an Israeli settler or an officer is killed, their name is mentioned in the news, and people cry for a few days and forget. Settlements are being built – so many thousands in the Naqab, thousands more in east Jerusalem – and people of Msafer Yota in the South Hebron Hills are being forced off of their lands, but this is all normal, nothing to worry about. Israelis travel overseas for vacation and go out to cafes and restaurants new ones open daily. One has to try them all. Feature photo | Mourners carry the casket of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during her funeral in Jerusalems Old City, May 13, 2022. Mahmoud Illean | AP Miko Peled is MintPress News contributing writer, published author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. His latest books areThe Generals Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, and Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five. The post The Assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh: Who Gave the Order? appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Insights, What's Hot, autopsy, investigation, Israel, Palestine, Shireen Abu Akleh]

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[l] at 5/20/22 1:44pm
WASHINGTON – The Washington Post revealed Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s highly controversial “Disinformation Governance Board,” launched with much fanfare just three weeks earlier, was to close, and that its director, Nina Jankowicz former fellow at the quasi-state Wilson Center think tank, and Ukrainian foreign ministry communications adviser – had resigned. The exclusive report, authored by Taylor Lorenz, went to enormous efforts to frame the Board’s dissolution as resulting from egregious sabotage by right-wing activists, who engaged in “coordinated online attacks” on its “well-known, “well-regarded” chief, subjecting her to an “unrelenting barrage of harassment,” which served to “derail” the Biden administration’s benevolent efforts to tackle the “urgent and important issue” of disinformation. In reality, public backlash against the Board, which erupted immediately following its official launch on April 27, was wide-ranging, and anything but partisan or personal. Prominent rights groups and lawmakers expressed grave concerns about its constitutionality and the obvious risk of its serving as a state censorship mechanism, with many comparisons drawn to the infamous Ministry of Truth conjured by George Orwell in “1984.” Many legitimate, vital criticisms of Jankowicz were also raised, including her history of slandering independent news outlets, such as The Grayzone, as “Russian disinformation”; frenzied attacks on WikiLeaks and its imprisoned founder, Julian Assange; and enthusiastic advocacy on behalf of former MI6 spy Christopher Steele, author of the utterly discredited “Trump-Russia” dossier that produced countless wholly fictitious stories in the mainstream media, many of which have since been significantly rowed back or retracted outright. While in Kiev, Jankowicz hosted the YouTube channel of U.K. and U.S. government-funded “fact checker” StopFake, which has endlessly whitewashed the issue of widespread fascism in Ukraine. Jankowicz herself is directly implicated in this shameful, misleading output. In January 2017, she presented an on-camera report extolling the virtues of four national paramilitary units, including the openly neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, linked to serious human rights abuses and brutal war crimes. Lorenz’s friendship with Jankowicz notwithstanding, it’s rather extraordinary that one of America’s leading newspapers – which in 2017 adopted the slogan “democracy dies in darkness,” inspired by famous quotes in defense of the First Amendment, and condemning official secrecy – is lamenting the demise of a shadowy government unit concerned with determining what constitutes “fake news, let alone was so enthusiastically supportive of such an entity’s existence in the first place.   “Intentionally false and defamatory” Despite Jankowicz’s professional activities and public statements providing such ample fodder to critics, even her most vocal detractors overlooked her résumé’s most troubling aspect – namely, that she serves on the advisory board of Open Information Partnership (OIP), a British Foreign Office psychological warfare operation. Details on when this role began, what it entails, and the remuneration she receives, if any, aren’t clear. It’s also a position that has been barely promoted, the only public reference to it online today being contained in Jankowicz’s Pulitzer Center biography. Then again, rather ironically given the organization’s name, OIP is itself markedly opaque. Jankowiczs Pulitzer Center biography touts her myriad posts pushing government propaganda OIP’s spartan official website sparingly styles the endeavor as a “diverse network” of “investigative journalists, charities, think tanks, academics, NGOs, activists, and fact checkers, active in over 20 countries,” which since February 2019 has “been standing firm against the rising tide of disinformation – in the news, on social media and across our public discourse – which we believe to be an existential threat to democracy.” Little further elucidation of OIP’s activities and objectives is offered, but its founding “Partners” provide cause for concern. They include NATO propaganda offshoot The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab; and Zinc Network, a British communications agency managing covert psyops campaigns – many explicitly targeting Muslims – the world over for a variety of clients, including the U.K. Home Office, U.S. intelligence cutout USAID, and the Pentagon. Controversial U.S. and U.K. government-funded investigative website Bellingcat – a prominent disseminator, amplifier and validator of Western national security propaganda, which counts numerous individuals with military and intelligence backgrounds among its contributors – was also one of OIP’s founders, training journalists overseas under its auspices for two years from launch. OIPs own website touts its connections to the British Foreign Office If those names aren’t sufficient to raise significant suspicions about OIP, the effort’s sinister true nature is amply underlined by a trove of leaked Foreign Office documents reviewed by MintPress News. These incriminating papers reveal that OIP is the “flagship” component of a wider cloak-and-dagger effort to “weaken the Russian state’s influence” in Moscow’s “near abroad” the constellation of countries comprising the former Soviet Union, Warsaw Pact, and Yugoslavia – bankrolled to the tune of over $100 million by London from 2017 onwards. OIP alone received a tenth of that total in its first two years of operation to “use audience-centric communications to undermine the credibility of disinformation sources for specific target audiences” in the region and construct the “diverse network” referred to on the organization’s website. Excerpts from leaked British Foreign Office files related to OIP Members of this nexus are provided training in “best practice in exposing and countering disinformation” across a range of disciplines, from “open source research through to viral video production and digital targeting as well as cyber security, libel and data compliance.” Participating entities then increase the “pace, scale and quality” of their output and more optimally target audiences “vulnerable” to Russian propaganda in tandem via “campaign co-creation…[linking] the organisations across borders.” Which would be all well and good, except the leaked files make abundantly clear that OIP isn’t actually concerned with countering “fake news” at all but is, in reality, energized by a desire to conceal facts and bothersome perspectives the British state doesn’t want in the public domain, via manipulation, distortion, and lies. Take, for instance, the following passage in one document, which laments without irony that one of the key barriers to combating Russian “disinformation” is that “certain Kremlin-backed narratives are factually true [emphasis added].” “Responding to inconvenient truths, as opposed to pure propaganda, is naturally more problematic,” the file explained. Consider too the footsoldiers deployed by OIP to “respond” to such “inconvenient truths. One leaked file offers appraisals of 56 organizations identified by the Foreign Office as potential network members, including OIP founder Bellingcat. Eliot Higgins’ much-venerated crack squad of laptop jockeys was judged to be “somewhat discredited, both by spreading disinformation and by being willing to produce reports for anyone willing to pay.” Even harsher words were reserved for Tallinn-based fact-checker Propastop, which was found to have “ties to both the Estonian government and neo-fascist groups.” “Propastop has been involved in inciting violence against Estonia’s Russian minority,” the appraisal damningly ruled. “Its reporting is widely considered to lack credibility and they have published a number of intentionally false and defamatory articles about Russian media outlets.” Meanwhile, prospective network member International Centre for Defence and Security was found to be “funded by and politically linked to the Estonian state, specifically the Ministry of Defence, giving the appearance of independence without being so.” “It is more respectable than Propastop, and is not linked to the far right, though it reflects the hawkish nationalism of the Estonian government,” its appraisal concluded. Despite these condemnations, both organizations – among many other mooted members about which significant reservations were privately raised became part of OIP’s network, granting them Foreign Office financing, support and promotion and ostensibly placing their output and operations under the guidance of Jankowicz.   “Russian interference” Given this composition, it was perhaps unsurprisingly well-understood internally that OIP “[being] interpreted as a UK-sponsored disinformation or ‘troll factory’” was a significant risk. To mitigate this hazard, Zinc Network pledged to “position the project externally as being within the established and accepted sector of media development and pluralism and fact checking” [emphasis added]. Which no doubt accounts for all the lofty references to defending democracy on OIP’s website today. Public details on OIPs composition and financing The leaked documents contain numerous troubling examples of OIP at work. For example, in Ukraine, it trained 12 online influencers “to counter Kremlin-backed messaging through innovative editorial strategies, audience segmentation, and production models,” helping their “compelling content” reach “millions of people.” In Russia and Central Asia, a network of YouTubers was secretly paid to create videos promoting “democratic values”; “project communications” were carefully concealed to ensure the network’s existence, and London’s role in managing it was kept “confidential. Meanwhile, in the Baltic states, online personalities received unadvertised “personal brand strategy informed by individual target audience analysis, growth strategies for their chosen social media platform, and digital marketing and campaign training.” Quite clearly, far from fostering independent citizen journalism, these initiatives were pure astroturfing, the creation of a hand-picked clandestine nexus of effective British agents helped by OIP to generate slick propaganda – reading scripts effectively prepared by the Foreign Office – which was then amplified globally by the organization’s network members. There are obvious echoes in this of the U.S. National Security Council giving direct briefings to Tik Tok stars on Washingtons “strategic goals” in the Ukraine conflict. Underlining this interpretation further, Zinc Network boasts of maintaining its influencer networks “over extended periods of time, enabling us to deliver both long-term strategic messaging to audiences, but also to conduct multi-layered ‘rapid response’ communications following key events.” One such “key” event cited was an April 2018 protest in Moscow against restrictions on the use of messaging app Telegram. Zinc was “able to activate a range of content within 12 hours” of the demonstration beginning. It’s almost inconceivable that at least some of this output didn’t worm its way into the Western media, which gave the upheaval almost blanket coverage. If so, domestic audiences would have been totally unaware that it was in fact funded and co-produced by London. Still, that’s an open question as is the extent to which OIP has influenced the outcome of elections “taking place in countries of particular interest” [emphasis added] to the Foreign Office, one of the organization’s key objectives. Network members are trained in “identifying key trends and flashpoints in activity or narratives” during campaigns and to “intensify” their propaganda output as polling day nears. In the May 2019 North Macedonian presidential vote – which pitted pro-European Union, pro-NATO candidate Stevo Pendarovski against Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, a more pro-Russian figure – OIP’s founding members, including Bellingcat, were flown into the country, providing two weeks’ intensive training to a local media outlet. Pendarovski prevailed, although only after the first round of voting produced a virtual tie. Did OIP help push him over the line? Whatever the truth of the matter, it can only be considered a perverse irony that in July 2020, Bellingcat published a report on alleged “Russian interference” in North Macedonia ahead of the country’s parliamentary election. OIP partners were actively involved in attempting to influence the outcome of elections in Macedonia In November of that year, Moldova had a presidential vote of its own, which saw similar candidates square off – the pro-Russian incumbent Igor Dodon and pro-Western upstart Maia Sandu. The latter prevailed, an upset that the mainstream media acknowledged came as a surprise. OIP member MEMO 98, a Slovakia-based election monitor, released an in-depth study of the election thereafter, attributing Sandu’s shock win to her social media skills. OIP ranks Moldova as inhabiting “the most vital space” in its network, owing to the region being purportedly “subsumed almost entirely within Russia’s sphere of influence.” Accordingly, two Chisinau-based organizations, the Association of Independent Press and Newsmaker, are OIP members. MEMO 98 could have been instrumental in “identifying key trends and flashpoints in activity or narratives” over the election campaign, its findings informing “compelling content” to be broadcast via the pair and a more comprehensive OIP network locally and internationally, in support of Sandu’s candidacy.   To be continued? Keeping the internal workings of OIP as closely guarded from the outside world as possible was of paramount importance to the Foreign Office. A section on “risk management” strategies for the project in one document deemed it “vital” that OIP’s head office have a dedicated security team, “resourced with qualified personnel,” including “former military and security services” operatives. All employees and network members are “subject to national security vetting,” with the operation based “in a nondescript building that avoids attention,” precise coordinates unknown. The location of its headquarters is not advertised or known; all windows are “tinted from external view”; strict “access controls” – including “reinforced airlocked doors,” CCTV, and a “segregated meeting room” for “sensitive briefings” – are also in place. A similarly intense veil of secrecy shrouded the DHS Disinformation Governance Board. Having launched the DGB without any clarity whatsoever regarding its functions, responsibilities, and how and whether it would be regulated or subject to democratic oversight, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas responded to the initial wave of censure by offering reassurances that the unit would have no operational capabilities, and absolutely would not monitor or police U.S. citizens’ statements on- or off-line, instead simply accumulating “best practices” for counter-disinformation. Such promises inevitably did little to inspire confidence there quite obviously seems little purpose or sense in creating a new division of a federal executive department that has no operational powers, or at least won’t at a later date. And indeed the CIA and NSA are similarly prohibited by law from domestic activities – yet both routinely flout this crucial restriction without compunction or consequence. Subsequently, the DHS issued a factsheet promising that the Board would merely keep track of black propaganda spread by “foreign states such as Russia, China, and Iran,” adding that the Department was “deeply committed to doing all of its work in a way that protects Americans freedom of speech, civil rights, civil liberties, and privacy.” Of course, numerous other Western state and quasi-state anti-disinformation efforts – which serve as establishment censorship mechanisms, validating establishment news organizations while blacklisting and maligning alternative U.S.-based media, including MintPress – claim to be similarly committed to those principles. Such as Open Information Partnership, for example, a particularly blatant example of the emergent, aggressive trend toward direct state diktat over what’s true and false, and what citizens are allowed to know. As such, it’s incumbent to ask whether the organization represented a blueprint for the Disinformation Governance Board; whether Jankowicz’s role in it was a factor in her recruitment by the DHS; and whether apologetic obituaries published by The Washington Post and The New York Times – which falsely claimed the Board’s cessation was influenced by “disinformation” – are a reflection of how both outlets stood to materially benefit from its operation. The body’s rapid, unceremonious termination represents a not insignificant victory for people power: concerned citizens, independent journalists and researchers led the charge in sounding the alarm. However, there is little reason to believe the threat has been permanently vanquished. In fact, that the public was able to successfully challenge the warm welcome extended to Jankowicz by the majority of mainstream pundits and pressure officials to scuttle the venture has no doubt reinforced the necessity of the Board’s mission. Feature photo | MintPress News Kit Klarenberg is an investigative journalist and MintPresss News contributor exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions. His work has previously appeared in The Cradle, Declassified UK, and Grayzone. Follow him on Twitter @KitKlarenberg. The post From UK Troll Farms to Covert Psyops: The Troubling Past of Nina Jankowicz appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: National, Top Story, British Foreign Office, Disinformation Governance Board, Nina Jankowicz, Open Information Partnership, Propaganda, troll farm]

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[l] at 5/20/22 10:09am
The MintPress podcast “The Watchdog,” hosted by British-Iraqi hip hop artist Lowkey, closely examines organizations about which it is in the public interest to know – including intelligence, lobby, and special interest groups influencing policies that infringe on free speech and target dissent. The Watchdog goes against the grain by casting a light on stories largely ignored by the mainstream, corporate media. In the twenty-ninth installment of “The Watchdog” podcast, Lowkey speaks to Todd E. Pierce about the global reach of the U.S. empire and its totalitarian ambitions to control the entire planet. Todd is a retired U.S. Army officer and defense attorney whose experiences serving at the front line of empire moved him to become a defender of its victims. Towards the end of his military service, he volunteered to become a defense attorney for three prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Previously a neoconservative cold warrior, Pierce joined the military at an early age and served in the first Gulf War. Yet after being exposed to the realities of neoconservative doctrine, his faith in the project began to waver. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the U.S. victory in Iraq, American war planners were giddy with excitement and dreamed of a world where they had “full spectrum dominance.” It was at this point that top neoconservatives like Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby began to outline their plans for total world domination. As Pierce told Lowkey, their position was essentially: The world now is subject to our control and we would not tolerate any country having the abilityto cause us to hesitate in our decision making, even for legitimate grievances. It’s totalitarian. It is a totalitarian doctrine that we tried to impose on the world. And it is still our doctrine. Inside the U.S. as well, they saw little need for the façade of democracy and developed their “unitary executive theory,” a notion Pierce described as “the idea that the U.S. president can do anything he or she wishes to do. It is no less than that: it’s a dictatorship.” Unlike many in the country, Pierce became more radical as he got older and increasingly came to oppose the empire he served for years. Today, Pierce is a searing critic of U.S. human rights discourse, claiming that Washington’s actions around the world have “made a mockery” of the phrase. From protecting torturers to defending human rights-abusing allies like Saudi Arabia, the U.S. has fundamentally undermined its own position. As he has argued, “Everything that we have done since 9/11 is wrong.” Todd E. Pierce served with the 349th Psychological Operations Company and the 205th Infantry Brigade as a senior NCO. In 2008, he was assigned to the Office of the Chief Defense Counsel. An American lawyer, military historian, former army computer technician, and former Judge Advocate General Defense Attorney, he volunteered to defend Guantanamo Bay inmates, describing the legal theory underpinning the detention camp as an attack on the Constitution. Lowkey is a British-Iraqi hip-hop artist, academic and political campaigner. As a musician, he has collaborated with the Arctic Monkeys, Wretch 32, Immortal Technique and Akala. He is a patron of Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Racial Justice Network and The Peace and Justice Project, founded by Jeremy Corbyn. He has spoken and performed on platforms from the Oxford Union to the Royal Albert Hall and Glastonbury. His latest album, Soundtrack To The Struggle 2, featured Noam Chomsky and Frankie Boyle and has been streamed millions of times. The post Guantanamo Bay and the US Global Empire with Former Cold Warrior Todd E. Pierce appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: News, Podcasts, Top Story, Guantanamo Bay, Lowkey, Todd E. Pierce, US empire]

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[l] at 5/18/22 10:21am
  Filmed during the attack and in the days following the ceasefire, the documentary tells the story of how Gaza’s armed resistance groups outwitted the vastly superior Israeli military and established their ability to intervene against Israeli ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods like Sheikh Jarrah and provocations at the al-Aqsa compound in occupied East Jerusalem. “The Palestinian military capabilities are not highly sophisticated and destructive, but it becomes so effective when it’s used by Palestinian smart youths who believe in their rights and freedom,” a masked al-Qassam commander says. The documentary features intimate interviews with survivors, many of whom lost family members in the Israeli bombardment. Among them is Omar Abu al-Ouf, who lost 22 family members in the bombing of his family’s house in al-Remal, Gaza’s main thoroughfare. “The first missile came down on us in the street with no prior warning or call,” he recounted. Among those killed was Omar’s father, Dr. Ayman Abu al-Ouf, one of the most senior physicians in all of Gaza. Others, like 11-year-old Amal Ramzi Muhammed Nasir, fled amid the bombardment to take shelter in United Nations-run schools. “We were trying to sleep. At exactly 1 a.m., there were sounds of explosions and airstrikes nearby. The house was shaking due to the intensity of the explosions.” Men carry a child killed when Israeli airstrikes targeted an apartment complex in Gaza on May 16, 2021. Photo | AP Having escaped to a school, Nasir and her family returned after the ceasefire to find their homes in ruin. “We arrived and saw that our neighborhood that housed us our entire lives, our shelter, completely leveled to the ground,” she recalled. “Every single house was damaged and bombed.” Jawad Mahdi, owner of the al-Jalaa tower, described Israel destroying the place he and his family lived for 25 years: The building collapsed, and it took 25 years worth of memories, a place we lived in for 25 years, with my children, grandchildren, neighbors, and friends. Imagine building a house brick by brick, piece by piece, living in your home with your knowledge and dreams. Suddenly, you find yourself out of this house. An indescribable tragedy – being kicked out of your own home in an instant, a matter of seconds, even a minute, under nonexistent, illogical, and unethical reasons. As for future confrontations with the Israeli military, the al-Qassam commander sees them as inevitable as long as the occupation remains: “The Israeli occupation experienced our military capabilities in the last aggression on the Gaza Strip and the whole world saw it. And we still have more important capabilities in the shadow.” He believes that armed resistance presents a viable path to liberation: The lessons learned from the last aggression on the Gaza Strip is that Israel is an occupation state that could be defeated. It’s not a firm state that has been depicted by the Israeli Zionist propaganda machine. Palestinians can get their liberation and retrieve their rights and freedom. Feature photo  | A Palestinian child sits atop the rubble of homes destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, May 21, 2021. Khalil Hamra | AP Dan Cohen is the Washington DC correspondent for Behind The Headlines. He has produced widely distributed video reports and print dispatches from across Israel-Palestine. He tweets at @DanCohen3000. The post New documentary trailer: Gaza Fights Back appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Foreign Affairs, News, Top Story, Dan Cohen, documentary, film, Gaza Fights Back, Israel, Palestine, trailer]

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[l] at 5/17/22 1:48pm
OCCUPIED EAST JERUSALEM — On April 29, Inès Abdel Razek woke up to 80 new Twitter followers. “These accounts were following the exact same people that were tweeting about Palestine, but from France or Francophone accounts that work on Palestine,” Razek said of her new followers. The advocacy director of Rābet, the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy’s digital platform, became wary of the issue after Abier Khateb, a grants manager at Open Society Foundations, reported mass followings as well. Razek told MintPress News that she began individually reporting each account as fake but kept her own account open — lest she let the alleged bots win. But after a few days, Razek made her profile private. At the peak of the mass following, Razek had accumulated 400 fake followers. From the end of April through the first few weeks of May, more than 40 pro-Palestine Twitter accounts reported mass followings. Digital-rights experts say acquiring huge amounts of fake followers triggers Twitters algorithm and can lead to the tech giant suspending an account, effectively censoring users by forcing them to make their accounts private. These accounts included those belonging to human rights and activist organizations Adalah, Combatants for Peace, Breaking the Silence, and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights. They also included news publications and journalists, like The Palestine Chronicle, Ali Abunimah and Hind Al-Eryani; and politicians, such as Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Kingdom. Twitter did not respond to MintPress inquiries on the source of the suspicious accounts. Dr. Marc Owen Jones, an assistant professor at Hamad bin Khalifa University, conducted an analysis that found more than 1,150 fake accounts. Twitter deleted approximately 1,090 of these accounts, according to Jones. His analysis determined that the average account-creation time was one to three per minute, suggesting these accounts were created using an automated process. The profiles were in various languages, including French, Spanish, English and German, but usually had Arabic bios. They often had strange names — like Noble Betty Thomas — and zero followers. “They had clearly made-up names,” Sarah Leah Whitson, who also experienced a large influx of new followers, told MintPress. “The vast majority of them had Israeli names and Israeli addresses. Some of them had made-up Arab names, which were mangled. Its clear that theyre [using] stolen images of people.” In response to the bulk followings, software developer Daniel Easterman created a free script to automatically report and block hundreds of these bots for users. Easterman said the spamming problem has a censorship effect by forcing users to make their accounts private. “This means they wont be able to distribute their messages widely as they would normally,” Easterman told MintPress News. Another area of particular concern is how a flood of fake followers may cause Twitter to shut down an account. “When you see such a dramatic increase in followers, its usually somebody manipulating the system for commercial gain,” Easterman said. “So that could trigger Twitter to automatically flag that as suspicious activity and suspend the activist’s account.” Using Twitter to target human rights defenders and journalists isn’t unusual. In 2017, journalist Iona Craig and others who report on Yemen were spammed with thousands of fake followers. Many speculated the culprits were state entities belonging to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The reason behind this particular mass following campaign remains unknown. Jones hypothesized it’s acting as a form of social media suppression, writing on Twitter: Some suggest its a means to degrade the algorithmic quality of a Twitter account so that it possibly gets suspended; some suggest its others trying to boost popularity of an account. When its unsolicited, as in this case, I tend to think its more of a targeting operation. I am naturally cynical, but most people who get a sudden influx of fake followers feel unnerved and uncomfortable. If that fact is widely known, it functions as a tool of surveillance and potentially intimidation (e.g., you are being watched). It also makes many people mute their accounts for a bit which has a censorship effect. Razek, Whitson, and others told MintPress that the flood of fake followers appears to be diminishing for them. However, a new operation has emerged. In the past week, Jones found around 2,800 fake accounts following pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist accounts who have recently been tweeting on the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu-Akleh. “This network is likely the same as the one found at [the] end of April, although now it is active,” Jones wrote on Twitter. The accounts have between 0 to 20 followers, with the majority of bios written in English and simply stating the account location, which is Israel. Most accounts don’t have a banner picture and the profile pictures have purportedly been swiped from real people. According to Jones, the accounts have begun liking and retweeting posts, without any real partisan regularity: they like both pro- and anti-Palestinian subject matter and follow both pro-Zionist and pro-Palestinian accounts but appear to target the pro-Palestinian side more. Accounts targeted include The Jerusalem Post; the government of Israel’s official state account; activist organization Jewish Voice for Peace; the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement; Israeli journalist Ilan Pappe; and former Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi. Again, the reason for the bulk followers remains unclear. “Those who get followed understandably find it intimidating, as if a form of surveillance or a technique to try and degrade [the] quality of an account with low-quality follows,” Jones wrote on Twitter. “The fact remains, these are clearly fake accounts and ruin the experience of Twitter.”   censorship of Palestine, an ongoing problem Palestinian digital-rights experts have long decried the increasing censorship of Palestinian content online. During Israel’s assault on Gaza and the upticks in Israeli attacks at Al-Aqsa Compound and in Sheikh Jarrah in May 2021, Palestinian activists reported social media companies were removing their content on Israeli violence and ethnic cleansing for violating community guidelines. The social media censorship didn’t stop when tensions died down over the summer, though. Last month, social media users in Jordan said their posts related to Israeli violence at Al-Aqsa were taken down and their accounts blocked. Additionally, accounts belonging to Palestinian news publications covering the violence in occupied East Jerusalem and at Al-Aqsa were deactivated by Facebook. In their recent monthly report on social media violations, Palestinian NGO Sada Social stated the deletion of Palestinian content “is in line with and in response to Israeli requests to tighten the screws on Palestinians and their media.” Palestinian-American model Bella Hadid also accused Instagram of shadow-banning (having content viewership limited) her pro-Palestinian content during Ramadan. Razek suggested the swarm of fake followers on Twitter may be an extension of Instagram’s alleged shadow-banning. “The purpose is to pollute our algorithms and make our accounts less visible. So in the way that Instagram is shadow-banning some content, this could be a way that Twitter shadow-bans our content,” she said. While the identities behind the fake followers haven’t been revealed, many have pointed to Israel. The Israeli government’s targeting of Palestinian digital content is well-documented. According to 7amleh – The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, the Israeli Ministry of Justice Cyber Unit sends content-removal requests aimed at Palestinian content to social media companies such as Facebook, Google, and YouTube. The Justice Ministry has boasted these corporations comply with 95% of their requests. And Israeli governmental organizations and NGOs also encourage their citizens to flag Palestinian content for removal.   Attacking free speech Tech billionaire Elon Musk’s pending purchase of Twitter came with a promise of securing free speech on the digital platform. “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” the self-declared free-speech advocate said in a statement about his Twitter deal. While digital-rights experts like Jones are wary of Musk’s potential Twitter takeover, Whitson, who’s experienced targeted attacks, harassment, and censorship threats for decades for speaking out against Israeli abuses, views the buyout positively.  For the executive director of nonprofit Democracy for the Arab World (DAWN), the risk of corporate censorship is a bigger issue than online hate speech. Whitson said: I’m hopeful that Elon Musk will be true to his word to protect and promote free speech and to end concerted efforts to target and cancel speech that we dont like. Seeing how Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have launched systematic efforts to silence pro-Palestine activist voices, Im very wary of corporate moderators deciding what speech is and isn’t acceptable. Whitson doesn’t agree the bots are a form of censorship, but she does see them as an assault on free speech. “Its a form of targeted harassment and bullying,” she said. “Its a targeted attack on people who are speaking freely, including journalists and human rights activists.” Feature photo | MintPress News | AP Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News. The post Censoring Palestine: Swarms of Israeli Bots Are Crippling Pro-Palestinian Twitter Accounts appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Foreign Affairs, Top Story, Algorithm, bots, Censorship, Israel, Palestine, Twitter]

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[l] at 5/17/22 10:03am
On May 16, the Biden administration announced new measures to “increase support for the Cuban people.” They included easing travel restrictions and helping Cuban-Americans support and connect with their families. They mark a step forward but a baby step, given that most U.S. sanctions on Cuba remain in place. Also in place is a ridiculous Biden administration policy of trying to isolate Cuba, as well as Nicaragua and Venezuela, from the rest of the hemisphere by excluding them from the upcoming Summit of the Americas that will take place in June in Los Angeles. This is the first time since its inaugural gathering in 1994 that the event, which is held every three years, will take place on U.S. soil. But rather than bringing the Western Hemisphere together, the Biden administration seems intent on pulling it apart by threatening to exclude three nations that are certainly part of the Americas. For months, the Biden administration has been hinting that these governments would be excluded. So far, they have not been invited to any of the preparatory meetings and the Summit itself is now less than a month away. While former White House press secretary Jen Psaki and State Department spokesman Ned Price have repeated that “no decisions” have been made, Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols said in an interview on Colombian TV that countries that “do not respect democracy are not going to receive invitations.” Biden’s plan to pick and choose which countries can attend the Summit has set off regional fireworks. Unlike in the past, when the U.S. had an easier time imposing its will on Latin America, nowadays there is a fierce sense of independence, especially with a resurgence of progressive governments. Another factor is China. While the U.S. still has a major economic presence, China has surpassed the U.S. as the number one trading partner, giving Latin American countries more freedom to defy the United States or at least stake out a middle ground between the two superpowers. The hemispheric reaction to the exclusion of three regional states is a reflection of that independence, even among small Caribbean nations. In fact, the first words of defiance came from members of the 15-nation Caribbean Community, or Caricom, which threatened to boycott the Summit. Then came regional heavyweight, Mexican President Manuel López Obrador, who stunned and delighted people around the continent when he announced that, if all countries were not invited, he would not attend. The presidents of Bolivia and Honduras soon followed with similar statements. The Biden administration has put itself in a bind. Either it backs down and issues the invitations, tossing red meat to right-wing U.S. politicians like Senator Marco Rubio for being “soft on communism,” or it stands firm and risks sinking the Summit and U.S. influence in the region. Biden’s failure at regional diplomacy is all the more inexplicable given the lesson he should have learned as vice president when Barack Obama faced a similar dilemma. That was 2015, when, after two decades of excluding Cuba from these Summits, the countries of the region put down their collective feet and demanded that Cuba be invited. Obama had to decide whether to skip the meeting and lose influence in Latin America, or go and contend with the domestic fallout. He decided to go. Cristobal Marquez, owner of Cristobals, the restaurant where Michelle and Barak Obama had lunch during their visit to Cuba in 2016, shows the book made by White House photographer Pete Souza, in Havana, Cuba. Ramon Espinosa | AP I remember that Summit vividly because I was among the bevy of journalists jostling to get a front seat when President Barack Obama would be forced to greet Cuba’s President Raúl Castro, who came into power after his brother Fidel Castro stepped down. The momentous handshake, the first contact between leaders of the two countries in decades, was the high point of the summit. Obama was not only obligated to shake Castro’s hand, he also had to listen to a long history lesson. Raúl Castro’s speech was a no-holds-barred recounting of past U.S. attacks on Cuba—including the 1901 Platt Amendment that made Cuba a virtual U.S. protectorate, U.S. support for Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s, the disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and the scandalous U.S. prison in Guantanamo. But Castro was also gracious to President Obama, saying he was not to blame for this legacy and calling him an “honest man” of humble origins. The meeting marked a new era between the U.S. and Cuba, as the two nations began to normalize relations. It was a win-win, with more trade, more cultural exchanges, more resources for the Cuban people, and fewer Cubans migrating to the United States. The handshake led to an actual visit by Obama to Havana, a trip so memorable that it still brings big smiles to the faces of Cubans on the island. Then came Donald Trump, who skipped the next Summit of the Americas and imposed draconian new sanctions that left the Cuban economy in tatters, especially once COVID hit and dried up the tourist industry. Until recently, Biden has been following Trump’s slash-and-burn policies that have led to tremendous shortages and a new migration crisis, instead of reverting to Obama’s win-win policy of engagement. The May 16 measures to expand flights to Cuba and resume family reunifications are helpful, but not enough to mark a real change in policy—especially if Biden insists on making the Summit a “limited-invite only.” Biden needs to move quickly. He should invite all the nations of the Americas to the Summit. He should shake the hands of every head of state and, more importantly, engage in serious discussions on burning hemispheric issues such as the brutal economic recession caused by the pandemic, climate change that is affecting food supplies, and the terrifying gun violence–all of which are fueling the migration crisis. Otherwise, Biden’s #RoadtotheSummit, which is the Summit’s Twitter handle, will only lead to a dead end. Feature photo | President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden wave to reporters before boarding Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., May 17, 2022. Gemunu Amarasinghe | AP Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK. She is the author of ten books, including three books on Cuba—No Free Lunch: Food and Revolution in Cuba, The Greening of the Revolution, and Talking About Revolution. She is a member of the Steering Committee of ACERE (Alliance for Cuba Engagement and Respect). The post Biden’s Boycott of Cuba Is “A Failure at Regional Diplomacy” appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Foreign Affairs, Insights, Cuba, Joe Biden, Summit of the Americas, United States]

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[l] at 5/14/22 10:17am
JERUSALEM – As I write these words, the world is trying to make sense of the brutal assassination of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was targeted by Israeli forces while covering yet another Israeli assault on Jenin. Furthermore, Israeli forces have now attacked the funeral procession leading Shireen to her final resting place. One wonders why is anyone surprised. How often have we seen innocent lives taken? How often have we seen the Israeli military attack funeral processions? And yet, for reasons that perhaps cannot be explained, awe, sadness, and despair have descended upon the world with this particular killing. This particular targeted killing of a journalist – not the first and sadly, probably not the last – touched us all. And the response of the Zionist establishment in occupied Jerusalem, as well as in Washington, is cold and full of excuses. Israeli police attacks mourners carrying the casket of Shireen Abu Akleh during her funeral, May 13, 2022. Maya Levin | AP On the same day the funeral procession of Shireen was taking place in Jerusalem, a memorial procession was taking place in the ancient city of Lyd. This procession was to commemorate the murder of Musa Hassuna.  It was a year ago in Lyd, as settler gangs were assaulting Palestinians in Lyd, that Musa Hassuna was murdered. This procession, besides being a memorial to the killing, was also a reminder that the Israeli authorities decided to close the case against the only suspects who were on the scene and who fired their weapons at the same place and the same time as Musa was killed. Sources in Lyd say that the Israeli minister of interior called the local DA to demand that they close the case on grounds of self-defense. Of course, we are all well aware that Musa and Shireen, who were murdered one year apart, were not the only victims of Zionist violence. They are joined by countless others who, without cause or trial, were taken from their loved ones, from their people, and turned into martyrs for the cause. Sure enough, once again we are forced to look at reality in the face and accept that no one will save Palestine but us. No one else can free Palestine, no one can save Palestinians from the long, violent, heartless arm of the Zionist apartheid regime. Only a unity of purpose and an uncompromising pro-Palestinian, pro-justice, pro-liberation agenda can save Palestine and its people from bloodshed and destruction. As it happens, I had just witnessed precisely such unity, albeit on a small scale. Anyone looking for an agenda on Palestine that is both progressive and unifying should have been in New York City in early May of 2022. Al-Awda New York held its “Rising to Return conference at the People’s Forum in New York City on Mother’s Day weekend this year. The energy, the speakers, the volunteers, and even the vendors all provided an atmosphere of unity of purpose and unity of cause – the cause being the liberation of Palestine as well as the total rejection of Zionism and the Zionist apartheid state.   Signs of unity Sitting side by side under posters displaying Che Guevara and T-shirts displaying the image of Thomas Sankara, as well as other fighters for justice, were Palestinians, American Jews, communists, secular and religious people, women wearing hijab, and ultra-orthodox rabbis. All were there to speak and listen but mostly to demonstrate support for the liberation of Palestine and the end to the apartheid regime in Palestine. Mourners gather at the hospital where the body Shireen Abu Akleh was taken to her final resting place, May 13, 2022. Mahmoud Illean | AP Contrary to the common misconception regarding the pro-Palestinian camp, a clear and uncompromising message regarding Palestine does have the capacity to unite people of different backgrounds, faiths, and even political affiliations. One is hard-pressed to think of any other issue on which all of these groups could find common ground. Yet Al-Awda New York – with its message of a free, decolonized Palestine – managed to do just that. The misconception is that in order to present the Palestinian case, in order to achieve the goals of those of seek to free Palestine, we must go slow. “We must first crawl before we walk and run,” we are told. In other words, in order to achieve the liberation of Palestine, we must tread lightly so as not to upset anyone. This was never true and it is not true today.   Who is a Jew? Too many people think that Jewish people who are orthodox and dress as ultra-orthodox are associated with settlers and right-wing Israeli politics. However, at the Al-Awda conference and in many, many other pro-Palestinian spaces we see ultra-orthodox Jewish people carrying Palestinian flags and calling for the “peaceful dismantlement of the Zionist state.” So the question that needs to be asked is which one of these groups – the racist, violent Settlers or the peace- and tolerance-promoting Jews – represents Judaism? Revered rabbis from Jerusalem, London and New York have for decades demanded an end to the Zionist state and the liberation of Palestine and the Palestinian people. Young Yeshiva students in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Me’a Sha’arim, as well as in cities around the world, proudly carry the Palestinian flag as they march side by side with Palestinians. So, clearly, the Zionist Jewish settlers may dress as orthodox Jews but in fact, they are violating the most sacred tenets of the Jewish faith.   Opposition The opposition to the cause of justice has always been fierce and, in the case of Palestine, the Zionists have learned from other oppressors and refined their methods. This means that the struggle for justice and liberation in Palestine is challenging and demanding, and we who stand on the side of justice and liberation have to work harder and smarter than those who had to fight in other arenas. We need to reclaim Palestine by teaching the world that what they wrongly refer to as Israel is Occupied Palestine. And that a glorious history was cut out from the curriculum and therefore they dont know about the long impressive history of this land, which sits at a crucial crossroads uniting Asia, Africa, and Europe. Palestinians carry pictures of Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 11, 2022. Nasser Nasser | AP We need to teach the world that whatever the Zionists had told them was a lie, and then we must be there and in no uncertain terms provide the truth. I was asked once in an interview what I miss about Israel. “This is not Israel,” I replied, “It is Palestine.” The interviewer was astonished: “How can you say that?” he asked me. “It was Palestine, it is Palestine and it will always be Palestine,” I responded. If we act without compromise it will be liberated. Feature photo | Protesters hold candles and a photo of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Haifa, Israel, May 11, 2022. Ariel Schalit | AP Miko Peled is MintPress News contributing writer, published author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. His latest books areThe Generals Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, and Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five. The post Will Shireen Abu Akleh’s Murder Mark a Turning Point in the Liberation of Palestine? appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Insights, News, Top Story, Al-Jazeera, Israel, Journalist, Palestine, Shireen Abu Akleh]

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[l] at 5/11/22 10:37pm
DeMENLO PARK, CA On April 4, plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit brought against Facebook over its data-sharing practices following the eruption of the Cambridge Analytica scandal filed a fresh motion, charging that the social media giant deliberately obstructed discovery of information revealing the scale of its malfeasance. It’s the latest development in a wide-ranging controversy that began in the first months of 2017 and shows little sign of abating. In brief, Cambridge Analytica exploited a Facebook loophole to harvest the personal data of up to 50 million Americans, in order to manipulate voters on behalf of a number of right-wing candidates potentially including Donald Trump and political campaigns in the U.S. and elsewhere. Since then, the company and its parent, SCL Group, have folded, with official investigations into their activities conducted in several countries, while Facebook has been fined a record $5 billion by the Federal Trade Commission for egregious breaches of user confidentiality. The entire dispute raised serious public concerns about online privacy and the malign influence of behavioral advertising and microtargeting, which endure to this day. In September 2020, Cambridge Analytica’s former CEO, Alexander Nix, was disqualified from serving as a U.K. company director for seven years for offering unethical services, including “bribery or honey-trap stings, voter disengagement campaigns, obtaining information to discredit political opponents and spreading information anonymously in political campaigns.” By contrast, one senior SCL staffer seemingly pivotal to many of those unethical practices – although they deny it has been unaffected by the scandal’s fallout. In fact, they have profited and prospered immensely in its wake. One week prior to Cambridge Analytica’s closure on May 1, 2018, Gaby van den Berg – who, among other things, created SCL’s patented, DARPA-approved “Behavioral Dynamics Methodology,” which analyzes and profiles particular target audiences in order to identify optimal strategies for influencing their perceptions and actions founded a new company in London, Emic Consulting. Ever since, she has taught Cambridge Analytica-style information warfare techniques to militaries the world over. This undated photo is one of the few published online believed to show Gaby van den Berg, center, in Muscat, Oman For example, the Canadian armed forces spent vast sums on Emic’s services in 2019 and 2020. Its intelligence branch went on to be embroiled in a string of high-profile scandals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, harassing citizens with bizarre psychological operations and mining social media profiles for data without users’ approval, provoking outcry. The findings of a subsequent inquiry into the unit’s cloak-and-dagger activities were absolutely damning. While Emic was unmentioned, it borders on inconceivable the tactics so contentiously deployed weren’t influenced by the firm’s tutelage.   “Advantage of positioning” It appears that van den Berg is involved in other cloak-and-dagger efforts to surreptitiously influence unwitting target audiences. Leaked files reviewed by MintPress name her as a key staffer on a secret psychological warfare effort in Syria, funded by the British Foreign Office and delivered by shadowy communications firm Global Strategy Network. The company was founded by MI6 veteran Richard Barrett, who led the agency’s counter-terror operations before and after 9/11, a period in which British intelligence became intimately implicated in Washington’s monstrous extraordinary-rendition program. Questions abound about his complicity in the CIA’s torture of terror suspects as a result. According to its Foreign Office submissions, Global Strategy began operating in Syria from “the earliest days” of Western attempts to destabilize the government of Bashar al-Assad, by convincing Syrians, Western citizens and foreign states that the Free Syrian Army was a legitimate, moderate alternative, while flooding international media with pro-opposition propaganda. The company boasted that its “wildly impactful” informational output had influenced perceptions the world over, having been seen by “many hundreds of millions of people and attracting comment as far as the UN Security Council.” By Global Strategy’s reckoning, its success is attributable to “programming that is not designed on day one and delivered ‘come what may,’ but instead is rapidly iterated and re-deployed as the situation on-the-ground and our adversaries change.” Referencing the military and intelligence concept of infiltrating an enemy’s “OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) Loop,” Global Strategy spoke of “getting inside” the decision-making processes of the Assad government and extremist groups in Syria, “to make good decisions faster” than their opponents did, “be strategically proactive and tactically reactive,” and “achieve an advantage of positioning.” . Key to this process is Global Strategy’s extensive use of innovative in-house technology. For example, it has created “Daeshboard,” which provides analysis of terrorist group communications, and draws heavily on the company’s “historical and ongoing access” to “closed communication groups” on Telegram, Rocket.Chat and other ostensibly encrypted platforms. By tracking these groups’ public statements and the manner in which their “themes change over time and geographically,” Global Strategy pinpoints “emerging trends” in extremist propaganda, “and how to stifle them.” A cited example of this capability was northeast Nigeria in September 2019, after Boko Haram’s private chat channels indicated the terror group intended to target Christians. . Daeshboard enabled Global Strategy “to identify and visualize how this threat was taking shape” before Boko Haram duly began executing Christians three months later, in turn altering its propaganda messaging “on a weekly basis” to promote religious tolerance, “thereby getting ahead of [Boko Haram’s] efforts to provoke sectarian conflict.” All of which might be well and good, but as we shall soon see, the company has the avowed ability to do this with far less positive motivations in other contexts, and target innocent everyday people in the process. Daeshboard operates in tandem with Murmurate, “social listening” software enabling Global Strategy to monitor online conversations “trending geographically,” which provides insight into how target audiences react to certain messaging, how responses and discussions diverge in different regions of a given country, and “how digital audiences are connected to each other.”   “Creative war approaches” It would be entirely unsurprising if van den Berg played a role in the creation of these resources, and indeed ExTrac – a big data platform combining “real-time attack and communications data with artificial intelligence,” and providing “actionable insights” on the communications of violent extremist groups for use by counter-terror and “countering violent extremism” (CVE) “policymakers and practitioners” – launched by Global Strategy March 2021. That same month, van den Berg was one of two “experts” who led an online discussion convened by NATO’s Riga-based Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence. Among the topics under consideration were, “What are the limitations of big data to understand [sic] our audiences?” and “Can social listening predict behaviors?” Evidently, van den Berg has an intense professional interest in the precise disciplines Global Strategy has harnessed. The reference to social listening predicting behaviors is particularly tantalizing too, given this is precisely what Cambridge Analytica’s “psychographic” techniques attempted to achieve, although apparently with little success. Perhaps given the failure of the company’s methods, van den Berg is investigating new means of achieving the same intrusive objective. In any event, what ExTrac’s classified client reports contain is anyone’s guess, although it’s likely highly sensitive: “Access is granted on a case-by-case basis via subscriptions,” its website’s footer notes, underlining the platform’s exclusivity and secrecy. Strikingly though, repeated reference to the Facebook activities of extremist actors, and their audiences, is made in ExTrac’s publicly-available threat assessments. In one such report, extremist activity on the social network is mentioned in the same passage as private discussions conducted through Telegram and “illicit offline networks and covert communications,” strongly suggesting it’s not purely “open” Facebook content that ExTrac scrutinizes. Furthering this interpretation, listed directly alongside van den Berg in the leaked Global Strategy files is Charlie Winter, ExTrac’s research director, who runs the initiative alongside nameless “former intelligence personnel.” A long-time academic investigator of extremist groups, his PhD – which examined how “contemporary militant groups cultivate creative approaches to governance and war” online – was directly funded by Facebook. . The social network moreover financed his five-year spell as a research fellow at London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, through its Online Civil Courage Initiative, as did the U.K. Home Office and U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Declassified emails reveal he has given in-person briefings on ISIS propaganda to representatives of the latter. Winter’s tenure at the Centre led him to write a book, “The Terrorist Image,” which examined 20,000 images “collected from the Islamic State’s covert networks online.” Its content speaks to extensive knowledge of the internal workings of elite ISIS propaganda units and their private discussions via various chat platforms on the part of the author, including the Facebook-owned WhatsApp. . All this raises the obvious question of whether Global Strategy directly or indirectly accesses Facebook user data, and weaponizes it in the exact manner of Cambridge Analytica, with the assistance of van den Berg, an individual centrally connected to that firm and its malicious methods of mass manipulation. Notably, both companies, and Emic, have ignored repeated requests for clarity from MintPress.   “Aggressive commercial organization” If private Facebook data is being exploited by Global Strategy for counter-terror purposes, one might argue the ends justify the means, as such intrusion undermines barbarous extremist groups, prevents further radicalization, and potentially averts future atrocities. However, Global Strategy’s clandestine crosshairs aren’t solely trained on extremists and their supporters. Over the course of its Syrian operations, it avowedly used Murmurate to collect information on online discussions between target audiences in the U.K., including Syrian refugees, which was then fed back to the Foreign Office. Such indiscriminate infringement highlights a wider failing of CVE programs: they are founded on the flawed, unsupported axiom that literally anyone exposed to extremist propaganda in any way represents a prospective terror threat, therefore effectively pre-criminalizing countless innocent people – overwhelmingly Muslims – and making them targets for manipulation and surveillance. Given the ease and fluidity with which memes travel on social media, a great many users may inadvertently and involuntarily become part of an extremist group’s “audience,” and thus included in Global Strategy’s sweeping dragnet. Without elucidation on how ExTrac categorizes an extremist “audience”, or indeed even what constitutes “extremist”, we have no way of knowing how sweeping its data collection is. It may be incumbent to note though that the UK government has previously designated distrust of the mainstream media, and belief in “conspiracy theories” and criticism of the government, particularly in the field of foreign policy, as signifiers of potential extremist radicalization. The Department of Homeland Security has also published official guidance leveling much the same charges. Even if ExTrac is merely hoovering up their public information and communications, law-abiding individuals are unlikely to acquiesce to such data being secretly collected and analyzed by a sinister state-funded propaganda merchant run by intelligence operatives, let alone the fruits of this research being sold on to unknown actors for profit, then used for uncertain ends. That techniques originally honed for use in war to effect “behavior change” in enemy targets were trained on citizens was a core component of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. ExTrac unambiguously represents a tool influenced by military and intelligence techniques adapted for commercial purposes, with unsuspecting civilians in the firing line. In March 2020, the domain Daeshboard.net was registered using WhoisGuard, which shields a registrant’s identity. It expired one year later, although today a Google search for the website turns up ExTrac’s customer login page, implying the two are either one and the same, or that the latter is a technologically evolved version of the former, now opened up for wider usage by the private sector and state entities. On top of its record-breaking $5 billion FTC fine, Facebook still faces further major penalties elsewhere due to its lackadaisical approach to protecting user data. Once harvested by Cambridge Analytica – among a great many others – the company had no way of knowing where that data ended up or the purposes to which it was put. There is little indication Facebook takes privacy any more seriously today, but a hitherto unexplored question is whether controls are in place to prevent individuals such as Charlie Winter from sharing sensitive insights into its platform and users with others. . Winter’s cloak-and-dagger operations in Syria, which placed him in such close quarters with van den Berg, were conducted concurrently to his researching extremists’ use of social media, at Facebook’s invitation and with its financial sponsorship. The social network is cited by Global Strategy as a key conduit for its anti-regime, anti-ISIS propaganda. During this time, Winter was also an “expert” adviser to another covert Foreign Office endeavor, which targeted Lebanon’s refugee camps with anti-extremist messaging. Winter’s Facebook work, and resultant insider knowledge, may well have been one of the factors that led to his recruitment particularly in the latter instance, given that one element of the campaign was the creation of a private Facebook group for camp inhabitants to discuss local issues, a group that was “closely monitored” by the contractor delivering the project, unbeknownst to those using it. At the very least, his multiple simultaneous roles represent a massive conflict of interest. Both Foreign Office operations were conducted under the auspices of London’s Counter-Daesh Communications Cell. A scathing internal Whitehall review of the Cell’s efforts in Syria, not intended for public consumption, found they were “poorly planned, probably illegal and cost lives.” Syrians employed by contractors, such as Global Strategy, were killed by the extremist groups they were targeting. The extent of the bloodshed was substantial. One operator “suffered losses of core staff that damaged the organization quite fundamentally.” Another was condemned as “an aggressive commercial organization,” which took “personal and political” risks, and endangered its employees by “[going] too far.” It’s uncertain whether either description refers to Global Strategy, but that the firm was entangled at all in what was a clearly dangerous and possibly criminal conspiracy means it is particularly vital that Facebook clarify whether it was aware of Winter’s involvement in it, whether its relationship with him endures to this day, and of course whether their connection one way or another grants ExTrac admission to privileged private user information without user knowledge or consent. What’s abundantly clear, though, is that for all the public outcry, official probes and hearings, financial penalties, apologies and proposed regulation, Facebook remains the world’s foremost surveillance tool, weaponized in all manner of malevolent ways by any number of hostile elements, the extent of which the public will likely never know. And the same unaccountable individuals are using the same methods to do so, with the support and financial backing of Western governments, and the compliance of Facebook itself. Feature photo | Noah Berger | AP Kit Klarenberg is an investigative journalist and MintPresss News contributor exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions. His work has previously appeared in The Cradle, Declassified UK, and Grayzone. Follow him on Twitter @KitKlarenberg. The post Cambridge Analytica Reborn? Private Spy Agency Weaponizes Facebook Again appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, National, Top Story, Cambridge Analytica, ExTrac, Facebook, Gaby van den Berg, Global Strategy, military intelligence, SCL Group]

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[l] at 5/10/22 1:11pm
WASHINGTON — Last week, Rep. Shontel Brown defeated Nina Turner in an Ohio Democratic primary race for the second time in nine months. Turner had been endorsed by progressive Squad member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and is a vocal critic of Israel. Her loss is largely seen as a win for the Israel lobby and specifically the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In December, AIPAC launched two political action committees (PACs) as a way to be “more effective in fulfilling [their] mission in the current political environment,” according to a statement published by the group on social media. In the less than six months since it was established, AIPAC’s PAC has delivered $6 million to hundreds of candidates, becoming the biggest pro-Israel PAC in the United States, while its super-PAC, the United Democracy Project (UDP), has raised nearly $16 million in contributions. Since AIPAC’s PAC operates as a traditional PAC, it can only spend $5,000 per candidate, but its super-PAC can spend unlimited amounts of money. AIPAC said in a statement about its fundraising: Our goal is to make America’s friendship with Israel so robust, so certain, so broadly based, and so dependable that even the deep divisions of American politics can never imperil that relationship and the ability of the Jewish state to defend itself. Flush with cash, AIPAC appears to be a heavyweight in this year’s midterm elections as it goes after progressives and floods its preferred candidates with millions.   AIPAC exposing itself AIPAC congratulated Rep. Brown on her election victory, writing that it’s proud to stand with “pro-Israel progressive leaders running against anti-Israel candidates.” Endorsed by AIPAC, Brown received significant financial backing from the organization. According to campaign tracker OpenSecrets, Brown received $83,171 from AIPAC’s super-PAC, UDP; and nearly $270,000 from its regular PAC, according to the Federal Election Commission. UDP also spent nearly $200,000 against Brown’s opponent, Turner. UDP spokesman Patrick Dorton told Jewish Insider about the PAC’s election season plans: We intend to be active in a significant number of races where there is a clear difference between a candidate who supports a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and a candidate that does not or who may seek to undermine that relationship. Turner was targeted by the lobby for supporting conditioning aid to Israel and standing in solidarity with Palestine on Twitter. AIPAC has also had its hand in several other key races across the country. The group has been actively involved in the Texas race between Jessica Cisneros and Rep. Henry Cuellar, as well as Pennsylvanias fight between Rep. Summer Lee and Steve Irwin. According to FEC filings, AIPAC has spent over $1 million against Rep. Lee and a combined total of more than $600,000 from both its PAC and super-PAC for Irwin. “American politics, and to a great extent American society as a whole, has been taken over by big money,” historian Walter L. Hixson, told MintPress News. The author of “Israels Armor: The Israel Lobby and the First Generation of the Palestine Conflict” added, “The United States has really become a plutocracy.” AIPAC’s regular PAC must disclose its donor list, but the super-PAC isn’t required to reveal contributors’ identities. Both PACs’ donors are a mix of real estate and finance moguls, but there are some notable contributors. Israeli-American media tycoon Haim Saban contributed the largest amount to UDP, with a donation of $1 million, but he isn’t the only company head funneling pro-Israel campaign contributions. The CEOs of several firms have also donated to the PACs. Ballet-flat brand Tieks co-founder and CEO Kfir Gavrieli gave $5,000 to AIPAC’s PAC. The founder, CEO, and president of Tasty Brands, David Horowitz, pumped $50,000 into UDP. Jimmy Haber, CEO of BLT Restaurant Group, donated $5,000 to the regular PAC. Fernando Szew, CEO of MarVista Entertainment, which was acquired by Fox in December, contributed $3,500 to AIPAC’s PAC. Grant F. Smith, the director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy (IRmep), sees these donor disclosures as an opportunity for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to more strategically target the Israel lobby. “AIPAC has really exposed itself here and provided a fairly wide-open arena for people who dont like their programs to start talking about their donors in ways that have never been possible before,” Smith said. Yet with these significant political contributions comes significant political sway. Megadonor Saban has had a strong foothold in politics for decades. In 2002, he gave $13 million to the Brookings Institution to establish the Saban Center for Middle East Policy (now the Center for Middle East Policy). The center’s founding director, Martin Indyk, openly supported the invasion of Iraq in 2002. Saban’s money has also kept former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in line with regard to Israel. “The donations by Israel partisans have managed to keep almost every elected representative in Israels pocket with almost no exceptions,” Alison Weir, American journalist and founder of research institute If Americans Knew, told MintPress. AIPACs list of Israel lobby backed candidates AIPAC’s PACs aren’t backed just by CEO investors, but also by the organization itself. AIPAC’s own employees have channeled more than $80,000 into its regular PAC. Within that sum, AIPAC President Betsy Korn poured $10,000 into the regular PAC through her company, BVision Sportsmedia.   Where is Israel? UDP has spent $1 million on campaign ads in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Ohio, so far. Yet while UDP’s stated mission is championing Israel, the PAC has left it out of its political advertising. Instead, they’ve focused their messaging in other ways — either painting progressives like Lee and Turner as the source of Democratic Party division or highlighting the political achievements of their selected candidates. Smith suggested two possibilities for why Israel isn’t front and center despite clearly dictating the PACs’ agendas. “Israel is an increasingly unpopular brand,” Smith said of the Democratic Party’s priorities, emphasizing the recent swath of human rights organizations labeling Israel as an apartheid state. The other reason is tradition. AIPAC has been advising pro-Israel PACs on their donations for decades and helped start these committees. A 1986 memo from AIPAC’s then-Assistant Director of Political Affairs Elizabeth Schrayer detailed AIPAC’s political scheming. In the document, Schrayer encouraged these PACs to donate to specific candidates outside of the PACs’ states. Additionally, out of the 30 PACs associated with AIPAC, only four mentioned Israel in their name — another covert tactic. “[AIPAC] has always been deceptive about the true nature of the political action committees they helped form in the eighties,” Smith said.   AIPAC’s growing disconnect AIPAC received widespread criticism for endorsing 109 of the 147 Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results following the Jan. 6 insurrection at Capitol Hill. For Hixson, this development is telling because it underscores the growing divide among American Jews. “AIPAC is becoming increasingly viewed as the Republican wing of the lobby,” he said. Since its creation, a core tenet of AIPAC has been its bipartisanship, but Hixson believes AIPAC is moving farther and farther away from its original doctrine explaining: AIPAC hasn’t cut off funding to Democrats who will take a pro-Israel line, but the fact that they support the far right and have identified so closely with [former President Donald] Trump is a significant change because it encourages these splits in a liberal, Jewish so-called community. Hillary Clinton feasts with media mogul, and Israel lobby mega donor, Haim Saban, left. Polling suggests American Jews are becoming more critical of Israel, with a quarter considering it an apartheid state. Democratic voters are also taking a harsher position on Israel, with a majority supporting sanctions over Israel’s settlement activity and more than 40% believing the U.S. should withhold aid to Israel.  A University of Maryland poll also found that fewer than one percent of Democratic respondents view Israel as the U.S.’ first or second most important ally. According to Smith, AIPAC has always purported to be the unified voice of the American Jewish community, but that self-proclaimed title isn’t true. During the joint IRmep and American Educational Institute “Israel’s Influence: Good or Bad for America?” 2016 conference, Smith debunked the lobby’s false narrative “that Americans who are Jewish are all Israel affinity organization members who support lobbying from these groups.” According to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey on Jewish identity, 82% of American Jews aren’t members of Israel lobbying organizations. Smith accordingly asked at the conference: So who does the lobby really represent? Well, the views and concerns of mega donors, for sure; the views and concerns of a relatively small group of boards of directors and top officials; and of course the Israeli government, with which many are in direct and ongoing consultation. With Jewish and Democratic voters becoming less concerned with the alliance between the U.S. and Israel, the gap between representative and constituent appears to be widening. As Weir put it: It’s a contest between the elites that fund candidates and the grassroots that often want something different. So were seeing that the elites — almost all of whom are pro-Israel — will continue giving huge amounts of money to candidates and buying a lot of candidates that way. Feature photo | MintPress News | AP Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News. The post Eyeing Midterms, AIPAC Throws Its Weight and Money Around Washington appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, National, News, AIPAC, Israel Lobby, Midterm Elections, Progressives]

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[l] at 5/10/22 1:11pm
WASHINGTON — Last week, Rep. Shontel Brown defeated Nina Turner in an Ohio Democratic primary race for the second time in nine months. Turner had been endorsed by progressive Squad member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and is a vocal critic of Israel. Her loss is largely seen as a win for the Israel lobby and specifically the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In December, AIPAC launched two political action committees (PACs) as a way to be “more effective in fulfilling [their] mission in the current political environment,” according to a statement published by the group on social media. In the less than six months since it was established, AIPAC’s PAC has delivered $6 million to hundreds of candidates, becoming the biggest pro-Israel PAC in the United States, while its super-PAC, the United Democracy Project (UDP), has raised nearly $16 million in contributions. Since AIPAC’s PAC operates as a traditional PAC, it can only spend $5,000 per candidate, but its super-PAC can spend unlimited amounts of money. AIPAC said in a statement about its fundraising: Our goal is to make America’s friendship with Israel so robust, so certain, so broadly based, and so dependable that even the deep divisions of American politics can never imperil that relationship and the ability of the Jewish state to defend itself. Flush with cash, AIPAC appears to be a heavyweight in this year’s midterm elections as it goes after progressives and floods its preferred candidates with millions.   AIPAC exposing itself AIPAC congratulated Rep. Brown on her election victory, writing that it’s proud to stand with “pro-Israel progressive leaders running against anti-Israel candidates.” Endorsed by AIPAC, Brown received significant financial backing from the organization. According to campaign tracker OpenSecrets, Brown received $83,171 from AIPAC’s super-PAC, UDP; and nearly $270,000 from its regular PAC, according to the Federal Election Commission. UDP also spent nearly $200,000 against Brown’s opponent, Turner. UDP spokesman Patrick Dorton told Jewish Insider about the PAC’s election season plans: We intend to be active in a significant number of races where there is a clear difference between a candidate who supports a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and a candidate that does not or who may seek to undermine that relationship. Turner was targeted by the lobby for supporting conditioning aid to Israel and standing in solidarity with Palestine on Twitter. AIPAC has also had its hand in several other key races across the country. The group has been actively involved in the Texas race between Jessica Cisneros and Rep. Henry Cuellar, as well as Pennsylvanias fight between Rep. Summer Lee and Steve Irwin. According to FEC filings, AIPAC has spent over $1 million against Rep. Lee and a combined total of more than $600,000 from both its PAC and super-PAC for Irwin. “American politics, and to a great extent American society as a whole, has been taken over by big money,” historian Walter L. Hixson, told MintPress News. The author of “Israels Armor: The Israel Lobby and the First Generation of the Palestine Conflict” added, “The United States has really become a plutocracy.” AIPAC’s regular PAC must disclose its donor list, but the super-PAC isn’t required to reveal contributors’ identities. Both PACs’ donors are a mix of real estate and finance moguls, but there are some notable contributors. Israeli-American media tycoon Haim Saban contributed the largest amount to UDP, with a donation of $1 million, but he isn’t the only company head funneling pro-Israel campaign contributions. The CEOs of several firms have also donated to the PACs. Ballet-flat brand Tieks co-founder and CEO Kfir Gavrieli gave $5,000 to AIPAC’s PAC. The founder, CEO, and president of Tasty Brands, David Horowitz, pumped $50,000 into UDP. Jimmy Haber, CEO of BLT Restaurant Group, donated $5,000 to the regular PAC. Fernando Szew, CEO of MarVista Entertainment, which was acquired by Fox in December, contributed $3,500 to AIPAC’s PAC. Grant F. Smith, the director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy (IRmep), sees these donor disclosures as an opportunity for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to more strategically target the Israel lobby. “AIPAC has really exposed itself here and provided a fairly wide-open arena for people who dont like their programs to start talking about their donors in ways that have never been possible before,” Smith said. Yet with these significant political contributions comes significant political sway. Megadonor Saban has had a strong foothold in politics for decades. In 2002, he gave $13 million to the Brookings Institution to establish the Saban Center for Middle East Policy (now the Center for Middle East Policy). The center’s founding director, Martin Indyk, openly supported the invasion of Iraq in 2002. Saban’s money has also kept former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in line with regard to Israel. “The donations by Israel partisans have managed to keep almost every elected representative in Israels pocket with almost no exceptions,” Alison Weir, American journalist and founder of research institute If Americans Knew, told MintPress. AIPACs list of Israel lobby backed candidates AIPAC’s PACs aren’t backed just by CEO investors, but also by the organization itself. AIPAC’s own employees have channeled more than $80,000 into its regular PAC. Within that sum, AIPAC President Betsy Korn poured $10,000 into the regular PAC through her company, BVision Sportsmedia.   Where is Israel? UDP has spent $1 million on campaign ads in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Ohio, so far. Yet while UDP’s stated mission is championing Israel, the PAC has left it out of its political advertising. Instead, they’ve focused their messaging in other ways — either painting progressives like Lee and Turner as the source of Democratic Party division or highlighting the political achievements of their selected candidates. Smith suggested two possibilities for why Israel isn’t front and center despite clearly dictating the PACs’ agendas. “Israel is an increasingly unpopular brand,” Smith said of the Democratic Party’s priorities, emphasizing the recent swath of human rights organizations labeling Israel as an apartheid state. The other reason is tradition. AIPAC has been advising pro-Israel PACs on their donations for decades and helped start these committees. A 1986 memo from AIPAC’s then-Assistant Director of Political Affairs Elizabeth Schrayer detailed AIPAC’s political scheming. In the document, Schrayer encouraged these PACs to donate to specific candidates outside of the PACs’ states. Additionally, out of the 30 PACs associated with AIPAC, only four mentioned Israel in their name — another covert tactic. “[AIPAC] has always been deceptive about the true nature of the political action committees they helped form in the eighties,” Smith said.   AIPAC’s growing disconnect AIPAC received widespread criticism for endorsing 109 of the 147 Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results following the Jan. 6 insurrection at Capitol Hill. For Hixson, this development is telling because it underscores the growing divide among American Jews. “AIPAC is becoming increasingly viewed as the Republican wing of the lobby,” he said. Since its creation, a core tenet of AIPAC has been its bipartisanship, but Hixson believes AIPAC is moving farther and farther away from its original doctrine explaining: AIPAC hasn’t cut off funding to Democrats who will take a pro-Israel line, but the fact that they support the far right and have identified so closely with [former President Donald] Trump is a significant change because it encourages these splits in a liberal, Jewish so-called community. Hillary Clinton feasts with media mogul, and Israel lobby mega donor, Haim Saban, left. Polling suggests American Jews are becoming more critical of Israel, with a quarter considering it an apartheid state. Democratic voters are also taking a harsher position on Israel, with a majority supporting sanctions over Israel’s settlement activity and more than 40% believing the U.S. should withhold aid to Israel.  A University of Maryland poll also found that fewer than one percent of Democratic respondents view Israel as the U.S.’ first or second most important ally. According to Smith, AIPAC has always purported to be the unified voice of the American Jewish community, but that self-proclaimed title isn’t true. During the joint IRmep and American Educational Institute “Israel’s Influence: Good or Bad for America?” 2016 conference, Smith debunked the lobby’s false narrative “that Americans who are Jewish are all Israel affinity organization members who support lobbying from these groups.” According to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey on Jewish identity, 82% of American Jews aren’t members of Israel lobbying organizations. Smith accordingly asked at the conference: So who does the lobby really represent? Well, the views and concerns of mega donors, for sure; the views and concerns of a relatively small group of boards of directors and top officials; and of course the Israeli government, with which many are in direct and ongoing consultation. With Jewish and Democratic voters becoming less concerned with the alliance between the U.S. and Israel, the gap between representative and constituent appears to be widening. As Weir put it: It’s a contest between the elites that fund candidates and the grassroots that often want something different. So were seeing that the elites — almost all of whom are pro-Israel — will continue giving huge amounts of money to candidates and buying a lot of candidates that way. Feature photo | MintPress News | AP Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News. The post As the Midterms Approach, AIPAC Throws Its Weight and Money Around Washington appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, National, News, Top Story, AIPAC, Israel Lobby, Midterm Elections, Progressives]

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[l] at 5/9/22 12:18pm
PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY (Scheerpost) — The Democratic Party – which had 50 years to write Roe v Wade into law with Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama in full control of the White House and Congress at the inception of their presidencies – is banking its electoral strategy around the expected Supreme Court decision to lift the judicial prohibition on the ability of states to enact laws restricting or banning abortions. I doubt it will work. The Democratic Party’s hypocrisy and duplicity is the fertilizer for Christian fascism. Its exclusive focus on the culture wars and identity politics at the expense of economic, political, and social justice fueled a right-wing backlash and stoked the bigotry, racism, and sexism it sought to curtail. Its opting for image over substance, including its repeated failure to secure the right to abortion, left the Democrats distrusted and reviled. The Biden administration invited Amazon Labor Union president Christian Smalls and union workers from Starbucks and other organizations to the White House at the same time it re-awarded a $10 billion contract to the union-busting Amazon and the National Security Agency (NSA) for cloud computing. The NSA contract is one of 26 federal cloud computing contracts Amazon has with the U.S. Army and Air Force, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of the Interior, and the Census Bureau. Withholding the federal contracts until Amazon permitted free and open union organizing would be a powerful stand on behalf of workers, still waiting for the $15 minimum wage Joe Biden promised as a candidate. But behind the walls of the Democratic Party’s Potemkin village stands the billionaire class. Democrats have failed to address the structural injustices that turned America into an oligarchic state, where the obscenely rich squabble like children in a sandbox over multibillion-dollar toys. The longer this game of political theater continues, the worse things will get. The Christian fascists have coalesced in cult-like fashion around Donald Trump. They are bankrolled by the most retrograde forces of capitalism. The capitalists permit the stupidities of the Christian fascists and their self-destructive social and cultural wars. In exchange, the billionaire class gets corporate monopolies, union busting, privatized state, and municipal services, including public education, revoked government regulations, especially environmental regulation, and can engage in a virtual tax boycott. The war industry loves the Christian fascists who turn every conflict from Iraq to Ukraine into a holy crusade to crush the latest iteration of Satan. The Christian fascists believe military power, and the “manly” virtues that come with it, are blessed by God, Jesus, and the Virgin Mary. No military budget is too big. No war waged by America is evil. These Christian fascists make up perhaps 30 percent of the electorate, roughly equivalent to the percentage of Americans who believe abortion is murder. They are organized, committed to a vision, however perverse, and awash in money. John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, mediocre jurists and Federalist Society ideologues who carry the banner of Christian fascism, control the Supreme Court. Establishment Republicans and Democrats, like George Armstrong Custer on Last Stand Hill, have circled the wagons around the Democratic Party in a desperate bid to prevent Trump, or a Trump mini-me, from returning to the White House. They, and their allies in Silicon Valley, are using algorithms and overt de-platforming to censor critics from the left and the right, foolishly turning figures like Trump, Alex Jones, and Marjorie Taylor Greene into martyrs. This is not a battle over democracy, but the spoils of power waged by billionaires against billionaires. No one intends to dismantle the corporate state. The ruling class in both parties told lies about NAFTA, trade deals, “reforming” welfare, abolishing financial regulations, austerity, the Iraq war, and neoliberalism that did far more damage to the American public than any lie told by Trump. The reptilian slime oozes out of every pore of these politicians, from Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to Biden, who backed the 1976 Hyde Amendment banning federal funding of abortions and in 1982 voted to support a constitutional amendment that would allow states to overturn Roe v Wade. Their hypocrisy is not lost on the public, even with their armies of consultants, pollsters, courtiers in the press, public relations teams and advertising agencies. Marjorie Taylor Greene is clueless and unhinged. She claims Hillary Clinton was involved in a child mutilation and a pedophilia ring and several high-profile school shootings were staged. But weaponized, like Trump, she is a political cruise missile aimed straight at the heart of the discredited centers of traditional power. Hate is the fuel of American politics. No one votes for who they want. They vote against those they hate. Black and brown marginal communities have suffered worse assaults than the white working class, but they have been defanged politically with militarized police that function as internal armies of occupation. The erosion of due process, the world’s largest prison system and the stripping away of all rights, including often voting rights because of felony convictions, as well as a loss of access to most social services and jobs, reduced them to a subsistence level on the lowest rung of America’s caste system. They are also the primary targets of Republican-sponsored voter suppression and redistricting. The glue holding this Christianized fascism together is not prayer, although we will get a lot of that, but war. War is the raison d’être of all systems of totalitarianism. War justifies a constant search for internal enemies. It is used to revoke basic civil liberties and impose censorship. War demonizes those in the Middle East, Russia, or China, who are blamed for the economic and social debacles that inevitably get worse. War diverts the rage engendered by a dysfunctional state towards immigrants, people of color, feminists, liberals, artists, anyone who does not identify as a heterosexual, the press, antifa, Jews, Muslims, Russians, or Asians. Take your pick. It is a bigot’s smorgasbord. Every item on the menu is fair game. I spent two years with the Christian right reporting and researching my book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. These Christian fascists have never hidden their agenda or their desire to create a “Christian” nation, any more than Adolf Hitler hid his demented vision for Germany in Mein Kampf. They prey, like all fascists, on the despair of their followers. They paint gruesome portraits of the end times when the longed-for obliteration of non-believers presages the glorious return of Jesus Christ. The battle at Armageddon, they believe, will be launched from the Antichrist’s worldwide headquarters in Babylon once the Jews again have control of Israel. The closer we get to Armageddon, the giddier they become. These people believe this stuff, as they believe in QAnon or the election fraud that supposedly put Biden in office. They are convinced that a demonic, secular-humanist ideology propagated by the media, the United Nations, elite universities, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, the Trilateral Commission along with the US State Department and major foundations are seeking to destroy them. Violence is embraced as a cleansing agent, a key component of any fascist movement. The Christian fascists do not fear nuclear war. They welcome it. The insane provocations of Russia by the Biden administration, including the decision to provide $33 billion in assistance to Ukraine, target ten Russian generals for assassination and pass on to Ukraine the intelligence to sink the Moskva, the guided missile cruiser that was the flagship of the Russian Black Sea fleet, supercharges the ideology of the Christian right. The marriage of the war industry, determined to make war forever, with the Christian fascists yearning for the apocalypse is terrifying.  Biden is sleepwalking us into a war with Russia and perhaps China. The Christian fascists will accelerate the bloodlust. The political deformities we have spawned are not unique. They are the product of a society and government that no longer functions on behalf of the citizenry, one that has been seized by a tiny cabal, in our case corporate, to serve its exclusive interests. The airy promises politicians make, including the announcement by candidate Barack Obama that the first thing he would do in office was sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which during his eight years as president he never got around to doing, are worthless. The scheduled vote next week in the Senate on a bill asserting that abortions are legal in the United States, which is expected to be blocked by the Republican’s use of the filibuster, a Senate procedural rule that requires 60 votes to advance most legislation in the 100-member chamber, is another empty gesture. We saw the consequences of this dysfunction in Weimar Germany and Yugoslavia, a conflict I covered for The New York Times. Political stagnation and economic misery breeds rage, despair, and cynicism. It gives rise to demagogues, charlatans, and con artists. Hatred drives political discourse. Violence is the primary form of communication. Vengeance is the highest good. War is the chief occupation of the state. It is the vulnerable and weak who pay. Feature photo | Original illustration by Mr. Fish Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of show The Chris Hedges Report. The post Chris Hedges: Jesus, Endless War, and the Rise of American Fascism appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Insights, National, Top Story, Abortion, Chris Hedges, Christian Nationalism, fascism, Roe v. Wade, Supreme Court]

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[l] at 5/9/22 11:18am
I’m Mnar Adley, founder, and editor-in-chief of MintPress News and director of our new video project “Behind the Headlines.” I have an urgent appeal to make to everyone who cares not only for our first amendment but for the future of our planet. Independent, watchdog journalism that holds the military class accountable is under threat. With the war in Ukraine raging on and corporate media outlets pushing a pro-NATO agenda – we’ve entered war time and having access to alternative information to the war machine is crucial to preventing escalation. We are now facing the very real threat of nuclear war. We’re experiencing censorship unlike anything we’ve faced before, and MintPress and other antiwar media have been facing 5 years of algorithmic shadowbanning by Big Tech. In the last month alone, independent antiwar journalists have been targeted in organized smear campaigns, de-platformed, given “state affiliated” labels on their accounts, and even outright purged off of social media platforms. Youtube has deleted hundreds of thousands of historical videos from prominent antiwar journalists and activists including Abby Martin, Chris Hedges, and Lee Camp, and is demonetizing political content everywhere in an effort to defund antiwar efforts. Our very own Gofundme fundraisers were taken down without reason or an opportunity to appeal. What this amounts to is little more than a modern-day book burning. The work of the most important dissenting voices of our time is being discredited. Division is being sowed and any information that challenges the corporate and military establishment’s agenda is censored. Meanwhile, the bank accounts of executives at Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are being filled at a record pace. For the last several years, MintPress has been at the forefront of sounding the alarm about the deep state working with silicon valley tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Twitter to control your news feed and ensure that any alternative narrative is algorithmically disappeared. But we’re not backing down because the future of our planet and the prosperity of peace and justice depends on our reporting. This is why I consulted with anti-censorship, pro-free press, and human rights experts on our nonprofit board– including Mickey Huff, president of the Media Freedom Foundation and the director of Project Censored; FBI whistleblower, Coleen Rowley; and international human rights attorney, Todd Pierce– to create a new video reporting project called Behind The Headlines. To help us build this project we will need your support. We need to raise $400,000 in the next year, so we’re creating our first phase fundraiser to be stated for $200,000. Join us here: We’re LIVE on Indiegogo!  Our goal is to create a video platform that is a 100% people-funded non-profit with the most important dissenting names in independent media that have felt the brunt of this censorship campaign. We’re working with Political Comedian Lee Camp and filmmaker and investigative journalist Dan Cohen. In addition to the Behind the Headlines board, we also have an esteemed board of advisors, including John Pilger, Abby Martin, Miko Peled, Ollie Vargas, and Dr. Ramzy Baroud. Lee Camp follows a long line of political comedians from George Carlin to Bill Hicks ……. We’re giving him a platform with full editorial freedom to write and produce his own political comedy show. Lee Camp’s shows are like a form of investigative comedy. They give the audience something to think about regarding key issues of the day that are often either distorted in the establishment press or ignored altogether. Given the many challenges we face from the climate crisis to war and the global pandemic, it’s important to laugh when and how we can, otherwise, we’d just have to wail and cry. Lee blends wit and dark humor with quality reporting that is truly a call to action. Dan Cohen is a jack of all trades. He’s an investigative journalist based in Washington DC reporting from the belly of the beast. He’s currently working on several guerilla-style documentaries where he traveled to the heart of conflicts targeted by U.S. imperialism and corporate pillaging– the first is a three-part series about a revolution in formation in Haiti. Another is about the failures of the peace accord in Colombia. Another covers the resistance movement in Gaza and Israel’s temple movement and plans to destroy al-Aqsa Mosque as part of an end of times prophecy. All of these issues can be traced in some manner back to U.S. empire and efforts to create and maintain instability around the world. In addition to documentaries and written investigations, Dan is also leading our video investigative series called Behind The Headlines. He has already exposed the murky connections between corporate media, the Pentagon, the Biden administration, and much more. For far too long, some of America’s most talented journalists have been forced to turn to foreign state media to produce watchdog journalism after being ousted and ostracized from U.S. mainstream media outlets. Those outlets have utterly failed the public and specialize in producing fast food news that is sensationalized, divisive, and wor as a mouthpiece for the two-party duopoly, weapons manufacturers like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, and hawkish think NATO-funded think tanks. We don’t have watchdog media anymore, we have extremist corporate media lapdogs beating the drums of war and acting as stenographers for the government. We can’t rely on the legacy media in our own countries to tell us what’s really happening at home and around the world, and we shouldn’t have to rely on foreign state media outlets to fill in those holes. Instead, we must create our own. The truth is we can’t continue to wait for the oligarchy to give us a media that represents “we the people.” It’s time that we unite on a broader front of non-partisanship that holds the elite accountable – in the spirit that journalism was intended by our First Amendment – to revive the fourth estate and create our very own media that goes Behind The Headlines. It’s time that we put our money where our mouth is because our First Amendment and its free press, and free speech principles are on life support. But to help us build this project we will need your support. We need to raise $400,000 in the next year, so we’re creating our first phase fundraiser to be stated for $200,000. This two-month campaign will support: Lee Camp’s new weekly political comedy show ‘The Most Censored News with Lee Camp’ Production of four documentaries by Dan Cohen: Endgame Apocalypse: Inside Israel’s Temple Mount movement and its plans to destroy al-Aqsa Mosque [Trailer coming soon] Israel’s May 2021 assault on Gaza and the armed resistance that won the war [Trailer coming soon] Inside Colombia’s narco-state and plot between the DEA and the Colombian government to plunge the country into a state of civil war A three-part series on Haiti’s rising resistance movement against neoliberalism and occupation and how the U.S. is trying to quash it A monthly Behind The Headlines Report, an investigative video project with Dan Cohen covering the military-industrial complex, how propaganda works and much more. Weekly Video Podcast interview series with Mnar Adley The funds for this campaign will help us cover all the production and editing costs, social media, and travel costs associated with creating high-quality video content and documentaries. In addition to this, the funds will help us cover the costs of launching our website. I hope you’ll join us today on Indiegogo!    Mnar Adley Director of Behind The Headlines and MintPress News    The post Say No To Censorship: Here’s How We’re Rebuilding Alternative Media  appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Top Story, Behind the Headlines, Censorship, Dan Cohen, fundraiser, Lee Camp, MintPress News]

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[l] at 5/9/22 11:17am
RESTON, VIRGINIA (CODEPINK) On May 4th, General Dynamics held its annual shareholder meeting. This meeting took place virtually, possibly in response to last year when shareholders were able to directly engage with the General Dynamics Board and ask how they justify the destruction and death their weapons cause. CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin was able to use her shareholder question last year to ask CEO Phoebe Novakovic how she justifies making $21 million a year while, years earlier, a 2,000 lb. General Dynamics bomb hit a Yemeni marketplace and killed 97 civilians (including 25 children). This year’s shareholder meeting was completely online, with only audio broadcasted and no video shared, no chat function, and a question submission box that was disabled halfway through the meeting. This platform allowed General Dynamics to speed through the 24-minute meeting with no pushback, criticism, or engagement from the shareholder attendees and this approach extended to the proposals section. During this section, there was a very notable proposal introduced by the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, NY requesting that the General Dynamics Board of Directors prepare a human rights report. The proposal points out that General Dynamics’ products and services are used by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, and U.S. government agencies at the U.S.-Mexico border. As General Dynamics’ weapons are used in war crimes and human rights violations against Yemenis, Palestinians, asylum-seekers, and beyond, this proposal rightfully calls for General Dynamics to develop and provide transparency on their process to address and remedy the “actual and potential human rights impacts associated with high-risk products and services.” General Dynamics roundly rejected this proposal and unanimously recommended a vote against it. They stated that they already have a “rational and principled” human rights strategy never mind that their strategy includes no commitment to addressing the human rights impacts of their lethal weapons. As Danaka Katovich lays out in her recent Jacobin Article, a 2019 Amnesty International report found that General Dynamics did not even measure up to its human rights due diligence responsibilities. General Dynamics added that not only was this proposal unnecessary, but it was also harmful and would “undermine shareholder value” by attempting to “embed radical skepticism toward U.S. foreign policy.” In the shareholder meeting itself, CEO Novakovic stated that “we have supported the U.S. government’s foreign policy, and we will continue to do that if that is at odds with anyone else’s view, that is something you should take up with your Representative. But that is not appropriate to ask at this meeting.” General Dynamics’ response to this human rights proposal painted a clear picture: a corporation that is just doing its job by supporting the policies and needs of the U.S. government. However, the lobbying practices of General Dynamics and other top defense contractors paint a different picture. General Dynamics is part of a proud defense contractor tradition of spending millions of dollars each year on lobbying to shape U.S. policy. And, as Open Secrets points out, this strategy pays off. Weapons manufacturers have spent more than $2.6 billion on lobbying in the past two decades, and have been rewarded with “half of the $14 trillion allocated to the Department of Defense (DOD) during that time.” For every $1 Lockheed Martin spent on lobbying in 2020, they received $5,803 from DOD contracts. General Dynamics’ claim that their “North Star is the law and policy of the U.S. government” fails to mention that they spend millions annually to shape U.S. law and policy to their benefit. While defense contractors like General Dynamics hide behind the guise of supposedly impenetrable U.S. foreign policy, they have already spent almost $2.9 million on lobbying efforts in the first quarter of this year alone. It’s time to stop buying the lie that corporate accountability for war crimes and human rights violations is really an attempt to “embed radical skepticism toward U.S. foreign policy.” Defense contractors like General Dynamics may hide behind the veneer of serving the U.S. government, but they ultimately only care about selling weapons and making substantial profits and they shape our legislation towards that goal. It is against their self-interest to provide transparency around their human rights practices, because the more weapons they sell, the better and they don’t care who they sell them to. That is why now is a critical time to focus on pulling money away from these weapon-manufacturing corporate behemoths. Divesting money from weapons manufacturers, whether that is through divesting your church, university, or city budget, not only pulls financial resources from these death-dealing corporations but also demonstrates to them that there are dissenting communities across the U.S. who do not believe their lies about “just doing their jobs.” Pushing your Congressional representative to divest from war by refusing to take campaign contributions from weapons manufacturers is another powerful way to disrupt weapon manufacturers’ manipulation of U.S. policy for their own profit. Militarized violence across the world in Ukraine, Yemen, Myanmar, Somalia and beyond is overwhelming and so is the immense profit that weapons manufacturers are making from this violence. But we all have more power than we think, and an important first step for building a demilitarized future is pulling away money and power from these weapons manufacturers. Feature photo | Upriseri Shea Leibow is passionate about anti-war, anti-imperialist, and climate justice movement-building. They received their bachelor’s degree in the Study of Women & Gender and Environmental Science & Policy from Smith College in 2020. Shea has worked on campaigns related to environmental justice, food access, and nuclear weapons abolition. They also have a background in research, and were a Next Leader with the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies prior to coming to CODEPINK. Shea is based in Chicago, IL and is a National Organizer with the Divest from the War Machine and CODEPINK Congress campaigns. The post General Dynamics Calls Critics “Radical Skeptics” for Undermining US Foreign Policy appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Insights, National, News, General Dynamics, Human Rights, Medea Benjamin, U.S. foreign policy]

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[l] at 5/6/22 12:35pm
JERUSALEM, OCCUPIED PALESTINE – On the wall of the courtyard at “The Citadel” in Beit Sahour is a mural of great Palestinian figures, both women and men. Many of them are dead; those who still live spent time in prison and are prohibited from living in their homeland. And yet Palestinians are constantly demanded to answer the question, “Where is the Palestinian Nelson Mandela?” “My Nelson Mandela is dead,” my long-time friend Baha Hilo answered, as this question was posed to him by visitors at the “Citadel.” The Palestinian Mandelas are dead and buried, or sometimes buried alive in Israeli prisons with long sentences that in some ways are like a death sentence. The figures on the mural at the citadel include women who were part of the armed struggle, like Dalal Al-Mughrabi, Laila Khaled, Zakia Shamout. There are cartoonist Naji Al-Ali, who created Handala and was assassinated; the great writer Ghassan Kanafani, brutally murdered by Israel; the poet Ibrahim Touqan; the poet Abdel Raheem Mahmoud, who was also assassinated; Nizar El-Banat, who was murdered by the Palestinian Authority, an arm of the Zionist occupation; and Basel Al-Araj, a writer and fighter who was killed by Israeli forces. All Palestinians who are part of a long story of struggle. If we insist on bringing up the South African struggle against aparthied, then we would be better to ask Israelis, and perhaps even some Jewish people around the world, “Where is your Ruth First?” Ruth First was a major figure in the fight to bring down the South African apartheid regime and on the 17th of August, 1982 she was killed by a letter bomb. Her assassination is believed to have been the work of the South African security agencies.  One would also ask, “Where is the Israeli Albie Sachs?” His work to free South Africans from apartheid brought the South African security agents to place a bomb in his car on April 7, 1988. The explosion blew up his car and he lost an arm and the sight of one eye. After Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa, he appointed Sachs to serve on the newly established Constitutional Court. As a Constitutional Court judge, Justice Sachs was the chief architect of the post-apartheid constitution of 1996. We should also ask, “Where is the Israeli Joe Slovo?” Slovo was chief of staff of uMkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC). He served on the revolutionary council of the ANC and was the first white member of the ANCs national executive. All three were Jewish and white and they paid heavily for their commitment to justice and their fight for a free South Africa.  Still, people never ask this of Israelis and other Jewish Zionists, because it is much easier to demand an explanation from the victims than to hold the perpetrators accountable.    A strategy “What is your strategy for liberation?” is another question posed to Palestinians. This is a lot like asking the prisoners in a maximum-security prison what their strategy is for escape. One may assume that prisoners think of little else and strategize on ways to escape or at least get parole, but the question remains ridiculous because the power of the system that holds them is immense and its control over them and their actions is practically absolute. Palestinians live in a sophisticated prison called “Israel” and, like inmates in a prison, they dream of liberation, even as they do their best to live and exist under the brutal regime imposed upon them. Rarely, if ever, do we hear people ask Israelis, “What is your strategy for peace, equality and justice?” If the question were posed, the answer would be: “There is none.” This is because Israel is interested in neither peace, justice nor equality. Destruction of Palestine was the strategy all along and from the very beginning, the rest of the world was either complicit or just standing by and allowing the destruction to take place. A man hides his head from Israeli tear gas while holding a photo of Mandela during a protest Nabi Saleh. Nasser Nasser | AP   Keeping the hope The way to liberate the Palestinians from Israel requires replacing the apartheid regime known as “Israel” with a free, democratic Palestine – and not expecting that Israel itself will allow Palestinians to be free. Israel isnt just the perpetrator of the crime, it is, in and of itself, the crime. The existence of Apartheid Israel is the crime. So it is up to those of us on the outside, who are not bound by the rules of apartheid, to make every effort to dismantle this system of oppression known as “Israel.” The possibility of this taking place, however, is not something that necessarily inspires hope, because it demands a struggle against forces that seem to be invincible. People like to “find hope” in the most absurd places. Representations of normalization, the “peace, and dialogue industry,” have been instrumental in creating the ridiculous sense of hope that is based not on a realistic understanding of what must be done, but on a myth of an Israel that will allow the Palestinian people to establish a state one day – a state that will be governed by “good Palestinians” who refrain from violence and “unrealistic demands” like the return of the refugees, full equality, and the dismantling of the Zionist colonialist system. Israel and its allies know that they have to be vigilant and that even the slightest crack in their wall of lies and misinformation can lead to the collapse of the Zionist regime. This is why in the U.S. they have a presence in every town and city, in school boards and small city councils; they have a presence in the churches and they have a presence on college campuses.  The Zionist campaign is vicious and relentless because the Zionists know that once a crack is made in their line of defense a line that is made of deception, falsehoods, and fabrication – they will fall, never to rise again. Forcing that wall of deception to fall is the task that must be undertaken by people of conscience working for justice and peace. We must formulate a strategy to dismantle the wall and the system that built it. Feature photo | People walk past a mural of former South African President Nelson Mandela in Katlehong, south of Johannesburg, South Africa. Themba Hadebe | AP Miko Peled is MintPress News contributing writer, published author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. His latest books areThe Generals Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, and Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five. The post My Nelson Mandela is Dead appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, apartheid, Israel, Nelson Mandela, Palestinians]

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[l] at 5/6/22 12:35pm
JERUSALEM, OCCUPIED PALESTINE – On the wall of the courtyard at “The Citadel” in Beit Sahour is a mural of great Palestinian figures, both women and men. Many of them are dead; those who still live spent time in prison and are prohibited from living in their homeland. And yet Palestinians are constantly demanded to answer the question, “Where is the Palestinian Nelson Mandela?” “My Nelson Mandela is dead,” my long-time friend Baha Hilo answered, as this question was posed to him by visitors at the “Citadel.” The Palestinian Mandelas are dead and buried, or sometimes buried alive in Israeli prisons with long sentences that in some ways are like a death sentence. The figures on the mural at the citadel include women who were part of the armed struggle, like Dalal Al-Mughrabi, Laila Khaled, Zakia Shamout. There are cartoonist Naji Al-Ali, who created Handala and was assassinated; the great writer Ghassan Kanafani, brutally murderd by Israel; the poet Ibrahim Touqan; the poet Abdel Raheem Mahmoud, who was also assasinated; Nizar El-Banat, who was murdered by the Palestinian Authority, an arm of the Zionist occupation; and Basel Al-Araj, a writer and fighter who was killed by Israeli forces. All Palestinians who are part of a long story of struggle. If we insist on bringing up the South African struggle against aparthied, then we would be better to ask Israelis, and perhaps even some Jewish people around the world, “Where is your Ruth First?” Ruth First was a major figure in the fight to bring down the South African apartheid regime and on the 17th of August, 1982 she was killed by a letter bomb. Her assasination is believed to have been the work of the South African security agencies.  One would also ask, “Where is the Israeli Albie Sachs?” His work to free South Africans from aparthied brought the South African security agents to place a bomb in his car on April 7, 1988. The explosion blew up his car and he lost an arm and the sight of one eye. After Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa, he appointed Sachs to serve on the newly established Constitutional Court. As a Constitutional Court judge, Justice Sachs was the chief architect of the post-apartheid constitution of 1996. We should also ask, “Where is the Israeli Joe Slovo?” Slovo was chief of staff of uMkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC). He served on the revolutionary council of the ANC and was the first white member of the ANCs national executive. All three were Jewish and white and they paid heavily for their commitment to justice and their fight for a free South Africa.  Still people never ask this of Israelis and other Jewish Zionists, because it is much easier to demand an explanation from the victims than to hold the perpetrators accountable.  A strategy “What is your strategy for liberation?” is another question posed to Palestinians. This is a lot like asking the prisoners in a maximum security prison what their strategy is for escape. One may assume that prisoners think of little else and strategize on ways to escape or at least get a parole, but the question remains ridiculous because the power of the system that holds them is immense and its control over them and their actions is practically absolute. Palestinians live in a sophisticated prison called “Israel” and, like inmates in a prison, they dream of liberation, even as they do their best to live and exist under the brutal regime imposed upon them. Rarely, if ever, do we hear people ask Israelis, “What is your strategy for peace, equality and justice?” If the question were posed, the answer would be: “There is none.” This is because Israel is interested in neither peace, justice nor equality. Destruction of Palestine was the strategy all along and from the very beginning the rest of the world was either complicit or just standing by and allowing the destruction to take place. Keeping the hope The way to liberate the Palestinians from Israel requires replacing the aparthied regime known as “Israel” with a free, democratic Palestine – and not expecting that Israel itself will allow Palestinians to be free. Israel isnt just the perpetrator of the crime, it is, in and of itself, the crime. The existence of Apartheid Israel is the crime. So it is up to those of us on the outside, who are not bound by the rules of apartheid, to make every effort to dismantle this system of oppression known as “Israel.” The possibility of this taking place, however, is not something that necessarily inspires hope, because it demands a struggle against forces that seem to be invincible. People like to “find hope” in the most absurd places. Representations of normalization, the “peace and dialogue industry,” have been instrumental in creating the ridiculous sense of hope that is based not on a realistic understanding of what must be done, but on a myth of an Israel that will allow the Palestinian people to estblish a state one day – a state that will be governed by “good Palestinians” who refrain from violence and “unrealistic demands” like the return of the refugees, full equality, and the dismantling of the Zionist colonialist system. Israel and its allies know that they have to be vigilant and that even the slightest crack in their wall of lies and misinformation can lead to the collaps of the Zionist regime. This is why in the U.S. they have a presence in every town and city, in school boards and small city councils; they have a presence in the churches and they have a presence on college campuses.    The Zionist campaign is vicious and relentless becasue the Zionists know that once a crack is made in their line of defense a line that is made of deception, falsehoods and fabrication – they will fall, never to rise again. Forcing that wall of deception to fall is the task that must be undertaken by people of conscience working for justice and peace. We must formulate a strategy to dismantle the wall and the system that built it. The post My Nelson Mandela is Dead appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs]

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[l] at 5/4/22 5:11pm
RICHMOND, VIRGINIA  — In 2018, the Virginia Coalition for Human Rights (VCHR) successfully stopped the state from adopting textbook edits made by the Institute for Curriculum Services (ICS), a pro-Israel “educational” institution. The ICS promotes itself as improving the accuracy of K-12 instruction on Judaism and Jewish history in the United States. Yet, backed by the Israel lobby, its strategy appears more in line with advocating a Zionist narrative than enhancing education. Today, ICS boasts that it has helped better public education in all 50 states and impacted 11 million students across the country. With this in mind, MintPress News uncovered how ICS is twisting the truth about Israel in U.S. schools.   The fight in Virginia In January 2018, Virginia activist Jeanne Trabulsi attended a Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) webinar featuring ICS. During the event, ICS Director Aliza Craimer Elias spoke about the nonprofit’s activity, specifically how it works with Jewish Community Relations Councils (JCRCs) to send revision requests to textbook review committees. Following the webcast, the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy (IRmep) sent a request to Virginia’s Department of Education, under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, for all documents submitted by ICS, JCPA and JCRCs. IRmep found that ICS-proposed edits were sent to the Virginia Department of Education on behalf of the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond and the JCRCs of Greater Washington, Richmond, and Tidewater. Requested ICS changes to public school textbooks included: Replace settlers with communities, occupation with control of, wall with security fence, “occupied territories” with “captured areas,” and militant with terrorist. Discourage students from conducting open internet research, and instead recommend the Anti-Defamation League’s website and the JewishVirtualLibrary.org. Delete all references to Palestinian Territories. Change maps to recognize Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, instead of classifying these areas as occupied. An excerpt from an ICS Review of Pearson World History and Geography 1500 to Present An excerpt from an ICS Review of National Geographic World Cultures and Geography ICS targeted 12 textbooks published by the National Geographic Society, Prentice Hall, Five Ponds Press, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill for revision. With these revelations, VCHR sent a letter to the Virginia Department of Education and the above publishers requesting that they not incorporate ICS edits. To VCHR’s knowledge, no ICS-sought changes were made to the textbooks during the 2018 review cycle.   ICS tactics In March, Trabulsi presented VCHR’s victory against ICS at the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and IRmep’s annual Israel Lobby Conference. “VCHR is of the opinion that ICS is not a true education outfit. It’s a public affairs and advocacy group,” Trabulsi said during her talk. ICS operates as a nonproft under the 501(c)(3) status of San Francisco’s JCRC and is a grantee of the Schusterman Family Foundation, which also supports the American Israel Education Foundation, an American Israel Public Affairs Committee charity organizing congressional visits to Israel. In addition to textbook revisions, ICS also hosts teacher training. Currently, 90 U.S. cities have hosted ICS workshops with over 6,000 teachers have participated. Trabulsi attended their flagship course entitled “Teaching the History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict Using Primary Sources.” She described their teaching methods during the conference: [T]hey are highly selective about what documents they do include in their teaching modules. If you didn’t know the story of the Arab world and Israel, you’d think they’re pretty good. I remember one student remarking that the Israelis have offered peace to the Arabs so many times, what else could the Arabs possibly want? The ICS boasts of reaching school districts in all 50 states The primary sources ICS uses for this module include The Jewish State (1896), The First Arab Congress (1913), Hussein-McMahon Correspondence (1915), and The Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916), and The Balfour Declaration (1917). Trabulsi told MintPress that ICS doesn’t use primary sources that may alter the narrative they wish to set, such as the White Paper of 1939, a policy paper by the British government rejecting the establishment of a Jewish state in historic Palestine. “VCHR believes that ICS is enmeshed with and funded by Israel affinity groups that drive their pro-Israel advocacy. We believe that this results in biased and inaccurate textbooks and teacher training,” Trabulsi said at the conference.   ICS involvement in textbooks across the US MintPress sent freedom of information requests to the education departments or boards of all 50 states and the District of Columbia asking for all materials sent by ICS, JCPA, JCRCs, or Jewish federations during curriculum and textbook review processes. Nineteen states responded that textbook and curriculum decisions are made at the local district level, so information on recommended changes is not available. Fourteen states said none of the aforementioned organizations contacted them regarding proposing textbook edits. Eleven states and D.C. did not respond by the time of writing. However, the states of California, New Mexico, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Kentucky provided information on correspondence they had with ICS, their state Jewish federations, and JCRCs. ICS revisions in Kentucky focused on adding references to ancient Israel and the Holocaust in the content. The Jewish Federation of New Mexico sent their state’s education department an ICS review of social studies standards — advocating “Nation of Israel” be changed to “State of Israel.” In South Carolina, ICS reviews of a textbook from National Geographic Learning and Cengage Learning detailed adding references to acts of Palestinian terrorism. In California, where ICS is based, JPAC, JCRCs of San Francisco and Sacramento, and the Jewish Federations of Greater Los Angeles and the Desert sent the state’s education department proposed revisions made by ICS. In their cover letter, the organizations commended California for accepting previous ICS edits. ICS reviewed the textbooks from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Pearson Scott Foresman and Prentice-Hall, McGraw-Hill, Teachers Curriculum Institute, Studies Weekly, National Geographic Learning, Discovery Education, Pearson Prentice Hall, and First Choice Educational Publishing. ICS proposed edits include: Delete mentions of “Palestine” and the “West Bank.” Change “Palestine” to “Judah,” the ancient Israelite kingdom. Add “Mandate” and “Region” to references of Palestine. Delete reference to “Palestinian cultural heritage.” Change “Jews settled there” to “Jews joined those [Jews] already there.” Delete reference to Israel capturing the West Bank in 1967. In Louisiana, the North Louisiana Jewish Federation, Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans and the Jewish Federation of Baton Rouge sent a letter to the state’s Department of Education on behalf of ICS recommending ICS revisions to content published by the American Book Company, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, Studies Weekly, Edmentum, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Brown University’s The Choices Program. ICS changes to these texts include: Delete “rightfully” from sentence “The Arabs believed Israel had stolen land that rightfully belonged to Palestinian Arabs.” Delete mentions of Israel “seizing territory” from Arab nations. Add information describing Palestinian President Yasser Arafat as “directing countless terrorist attacks against Israelis.” Delete student exercise to “[w]rite an unbiased essay that explores all sides of the issue of West Bank settlements.” Delete mentions of “The Green Line,” “The wall,” and “Land lost by the wall” on maps. Delete reason for Arab states rejecting the UN partition plan. Add “Mandate” to references of Palestine Delete mentions of “historic Palestine” and mentions of Palestine as a “land” or “country.” Add references to acts of Palestinian terrorism Place liberation of Palestine in quotes Delete “natives of Palestine” in definition of Palestinians Delete references to Palestinians inhabiting the land for thousands of years. Add information describing Zionism as a movement for Jewish self-determination. Add Israel retaliates in “self-defense” to Palestinian attacks. Delete sentence “Israel disproportionately uses the bulk of the water from those aquifers [in the Occupied West Bank] for its population.” Mention “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.” Delete mention of Israel being” accused of many human rights abuses against Palestinians in the territories it occupies…[and] treating its Arab-Israeli citizens as inferior to its Jewish citizens” and replace it with “Israeli Arabs, who are Israeli citizens, have the same full legal rights as Israeli Jews.” Erasing the existence of Palestine and the indigenous identity of Palestinians was a common theme in ICS revisions. “They relabeled maps and they deleted all references to Palestine. You can call it Mandatory Palestine, but you can never call it Palestine,” Trabulsi said during the Israel Lobby conference. “They want to change the word Palestine to Palestinian. The reasoning is there is no state of Palestine, nor has there ever been.” ICS, JCPA, and the Jewish Federations of North America did not respond to MintPress’ requests for comment.   The Israel agenda in schools – and progressive pushback ICS isn’t the only pro-Israel organization attempting to shape the narrative on Israel-Palestine in American education. Left-wing activists accused the final adoption of the California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum of being “white-washed” and “watered down” following opposition by pro-Israel groups. The Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate initiative is involved in thousands of schools across the U.S. and encourages these institutions to use ADL resources. Pro-Israel groups also continuously go after Palestinian and solidarity activists on college campuses across the country. Yet progressive movements are fighting back. In 2018, the Texas Coalition for Human Rights (TCHR) successfully got the state’s board of education to change curriculum standards related to Palestine-Israel. The following main changes were approved: “[E]xplain how Arab rejection of the state of Israel has led to ongoing conflict” changed to “discuss factors contributing to the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the rejection of the existence of the state of Israel by the Arab League and a majority of Arab nations.” “[E]xplain how developments in Islam influenced law and government in the Muslim world such as secularism, nationalism, and fundamentalism” changed to “explain how geopolitical and religious influences have impacted law and government in the Muslim world.” A factsheet released by the VCHR pushing back against some of the ICS more egregious demands In November 2018, the Texas Board of Education heard public comments on its decision to update the school curriculum. TCHR testified in favor of changing the curriculum while Jewish community center Shalom Austin, the Jewish Community Relations Council, Jewish Federations in Texas, Bnai Brith International, and Truth in Texas Textbooks all testified in favor of keeping the current standards. TCHR activist Alex McDonald understands that more needs to be done in fixing the U.S. faulty school curriculum and ensuring accuracy, especially when it comes to Palestine. “The goal is to stifle the conversation and the criticism,” McDonald told MintPress News. “And ICS is just one small part of the brainwashing.” Feature photo | Children from the Greater MetroWest Day School hold Israeli flags during a march in a New York parade. Craig Ruttle | AP Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News. The post Institute for Curriculum Services: How an Israel Lobby Group Infiltrated US Education appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, National, News, Top Story, ICS, Institute for Curriculum Services, Israel, textbook, United States, Virginia Coalition for Human Rights]

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[l] at 5/3/22 10:59am
 Israel is once again attacking the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Israeli forces storming the ancient religious complex fired tear gas and rubber bullets, seriously injuring hundreds and killing at least one person. The latest series of attacks is the most consequential since those in May last year, events that led to the Israeli military killing hundreds of Palestinians, injuring thousands, and forcing tens of thousands to flee their houses. “What is happening at Al-Aqsa right now is more dangerous than at any other time in the past,” Dr. Ramzy Baroud told Lowkey today. Dr. Baroud is a journalist and editor of The Palestine Chronicle, as well as a non-resident senior research fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs. He is the author of six books, including “Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak Out,” co-written with Professor Ilan Pappé. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam. Israel’s latest attack – timed as it was to coincide with the holy month of Ramadan – has drawn opprobrium from across the world. Yet most Western corporate media have whitewashed the violence as mere “clashes,” rather than the systematic destruction of an ancient place of worship. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett insisted that his nation was acting in good faith and that he was trying to preserve peace and dignity for both Israelis and Palestinians. Baroud was far from convinced, telling Lowkey: The fact is Bennett himself is a liar. He speaks about Palestinian dignity, and yet a few years ago, he would take part in killing many Arabs and have no problem with that. Where is the dignity of killing people and having no problem with that? Where is the dignity in stealing Palestinian land, annexing their territories, and depriving them of basic medications, access to hospitals, food and schools?” Baroud noted that a majority of Israelis now consider themselves to be “right-wing” – a position that would be analogous to “far-right” or “ultranationalist” in other countries. Support for the extremist Temple Mount Movement – a group that advocates for the destruction of Muslim sites of worship and their replacement with Jewish ones – is at an all-time high. On the other hand, there is some reason to think positively. Israeli actions at the al-Aqsa Mosque have united Palestinians as never before, Baroud claims. Divisions among classes, political parties and religious sects have lessened, and the nation is more determined than ever to resist. The MintPress podcast, “The Watchdog,” hosted by British-Iraqi hip hop artist Lowkey, closely examines organizations about which it is in the public interest to know – including intelligence, lobby and special interest groups influencing policies that infringe on free speech and target dissent. The Watchdog goes against the grain by casting a light on stories largely ignored by the mainstream, corporate media. Lowkey is a British-Iraqi hip-hop artist, academic and political campaigner. As a musician, he has collaborated with the Arctic Monkeys, Wretch 32, Immortal Technique and Akala. He is a patron of Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Racial Justice Network and The Peace and Justice Project, founded by Jeremy Corbyn. He has spoken and performed on platforms from the Oxford Union to the Royal Albert Hall and Glastonbury. His latest album, Soundtrack To The Struggle 2, featured Noam Chomsky and Frankie Boyle and has been streamed millions of times. The post Jerusalem: Al-Aqsa in the Snipers Scope, with Lowkey and Dr. Ramzy Baroud appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Podcasts, Top Story, Al-Aqsa, Israel, Lowkey, Palestine, Ramzy Baroud]

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[l] at 5/3/22 10:40am
 When I was in college in Dayton, Ohio in the late 1980s, radical students such as myself became quickly acquainted with the book Fire from the Mountain by Omar Cabezas. This book was in fact a bible of sorts for young people excited about the story of rag-tag guerillas in Central America fighting at impossible odds against U.S.-backed dictatorships and death squads. In the case of Nicaragua, the Sandinista guerillas actually triumphed in 1979, ousting the infamous dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza – a regime the U.S. Marines had helped install by force in 1934. David had slain Goliath, and Omar Cabezas, a leading Sandinista fighter, told the exhilarating story in a manner that was entertaining, relatable, and often humorous. By the time I came across Fire from the Mountain, first published in 1982, the Sandinistas were fighting again – this time against Somoza’s former National Guardsmen, whom the CIA had organized into a counter-revolutionary terrorist group known as the Contras. Meanwhile, guerillas in both El Salvador and Guatemala were facing off with brutal death squads that the U.S. was backing to keep those countries’ right-wing dictatorships in place. Cabezas’s book was just as relevant as the day it was written, and my friends and I loved it. Bored with college and my buttoned-up life, I dreamed of being a guerilla like Omar Cabezas. While I never really pursued this dream, I did take a month off from college in 1987 to go to Ocotal, Nicaragua to do reforestation work with the Nicaragua Network. That experience was enough to get me hooked on the high of revolution and in particular the Sandinista Revolution. I was not alone. Thousands of North Americans and Europeans flocked to Nicaragua in the 1980s to support the Revolution against Reagan’s brutal Contra War, and to live vicariously through the Nicaraguans who were living a romantic life of struggle we could only dream of. But with the change of decades from the 1980s to the 1990s, many of those whose lives were changed by their experiences in Nicaragua quickly forgot what they had learned. By 1990, the guerillas in El Salvador and Guatemala, weary from years of struggle, put down their arms in exchange for peace accords that brought little change to these terribly inequitable societies. In Nicaragua, voters were coerced by the U.S. government’s explicit threats of more war and economic sanctions into reluctantly voting the Sandinistas out of office. And then, the unthinkable happened. The Soviet Union, without a shot being fired, fell. On Christmas day, l991, the crimson flag with the golden hammer and sickle was brought down from the Kremlin for the last time, never to be raised again. The age of Revolution was over, or so many of us thought. Meanwhile, my cohort graduated from college, and, for the most part, went about our humdrum lives working for the man, raising families, and forgetting about the glories of armed insurrection. Thousands of copies of Fire from the Mountain were put away, gathering dust on bookshelves or ending up in the bargain section of used bookstores. Having been raised a devout Roman Catholic, I am hard-wired to be a true believer. For me, therefore, it was not easy to put away my loyalty to Nicaragua and the Sandinistas. I continued to travel to Nicaragua and hope for a Sandinista return. And – after 16 long years in which one corrupt, neo-liberal government after another took office in Nicaragua, bleeding the country by a thousand cuts – the Sandinistas, and their leader Daniel Ortega were voted back into office. The Revolution had risen again! Omar Cabezas, pictured right, is shown in an FSLN uniform circa the 1980s However, by this time, many in the U.S. didn’t care anymore. To the extent people still paid any attention at all to Nicaragua, they simply couldn’t get excited about the boring things to which the Sandinistas now down from the mountains without the fatigues and AK-47s that had made our collective hearts pound now turned their attention. Instead of fighting dictators or counterrevolutionaries, the Sandinistas just built roads and hospitals and bridges; electrified a country left half in the dark by their predecessors; reinstated the free education and health care they had instituted in the 1980s but the neo-liberal governments had destroyed. In other words, they just made the lives of average Nicaraguans much better, and much happier. Yawn. To the extent Nicaraguans are now interviewed, even on programs like DemocracyNow!, they are always people critical of the Sandinista government. Many times, they are disgruntled Sandinistas, like Dora Maria Telles, who now make a career bad-mouthing their former comrades like Daniel Ortega. For years, I wondered about Omar Cabezas, the Sandinista guerilla who turned us on to the dream of revolution in the first place. Where was he now? Did he still support the Sandinistas and Daniel? Why arent the media talking to people like him? Upon every trip to Nicaragua, I inquired about Cabezas and asked whether I could meet him. For whatever reason, no one was able to help me. Then, in the fall of 2021, my query finally received a positive response. While at a late dinner with some comrades, I again inquired about Omar Cabezas, fully expecting a non-committal answer at best. But no. Quickly, a young Nicaraguan named Sergio spoke up and said that he knows Cabezas and that he could arrange for me to meet him. The very next day, I was off in the bed of a pick-up truck (just like the ones we rode around in the Nicaragua of the 1980s) to see him with Ben Rubinstein and a small MintPress News video crew. Daniel Kovalik teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and is the author of “The Plot to Overthrow Venezuela: How the US is Orchestrating a Coup for Oil.” The post Fire from the Mountain: In Search of Omar Cabezas appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Top Story, Daniel Kovalik, Fire from the Mountain, interview, Nicaragua, Omar Cabezas, Sandinista]

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[l] at 5/2/22 10:40am
OCCUPIED EAST JERUSALEM, PALESTINE — On the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, at least 42 Palestinians were injured when Israeli police raided al-Aqsa Mosque Compound in occupied East Jerusalem, the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said. With nearly 300 Palestininians injured in the last two weeks at al-Aqsa compound, this year’s Ramadan in Palestine has been marked by bloodshed once again.  Since the start of Ramadan on April 2, human rights organizations have monitored a significant increase in violence against Palestinians. Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq has documented a worrying trend “in killings, excessive use of force, settler colonial violence, attacks on holy sites and worshippers, and collective punishment measures against Palestinians, including widespread raids, arbitrary arrests, and movement restrictions.”  According to Al-Haq’s information, the Israeli army has killed 17 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank in April. Since Al-Haq’s publication, Israeli forces fatally shot 18-year-old Ahmad Fathi Masad in the head during a raid on the Jenin refugee camp this week.    Uptick in religious violations Israeli police raids on al-Aqsa compound have become routine this month, with the PRCS noting the majority of injuries were to the upper areas of the body. Israeli forces have used rubber-coated steel bullets, tear gas, pepper spray and stun grenades against Palestinian worshippers at al-Aqsa.  In recent weeks, Israeli forces have also broken the iconic stained-glass windows of al-Qibli Mosque, the main mosque in the compound, and have attacked Palestinian journalists, children, women and the elderly at the holy site. Palestinian Authority (PA) Minister for Religious Endowments Sheikh Hatem al-Bakri told MintPress News that Israel’s actions at al-Aqsa compound are in violation of international regulations, UNESCO resolutions and religious traditions.  In 2016, UNESCO, the UN’s world heritage organization, adopted a resolution decrying Israeli violations at al-Aqsa including restricting access to Muslim worship and storming of the compound by Israeli forces and extremists.  “Israel is not respecting religious treaties at all, instead using their privilege of power to enact these policies,” al-Bakri said, emphasizing how the Jordanian Ministry of Waqf has full jurisdiction over the holy site. “And because of our weaknesses, we cannot run any military confrontation with Israel. We have to just witness whats happening.” Israeli police are not the only ones violating the sanctity of al-Aqsa. This month, the Jewish festival of Passover coincided with Ramadan. Jewish extremists used the holiday season to storm the compound and pray at the site more frequently. On April 17, Israeli forces shut Ibrahimi Mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron to Muslim worshippers for two days. That following Tuesday, hundreds of Jewish settlers stormed the mosque to perform Talmudic rituals in celebration of Passover. The Israeli army also erected military barricades surrounding the area of the mosque to facilitate the settlers’ movement. The director of the mosque, Ghassan Al-Rajabi, said the closure was a continuation of “Zionist authorities attempts to dominate and occupy the mosque. In 1994, Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Muslim worshippers at Ibrahimi Mosque during Ramadan. Following the massacre, Israel divided the holy site into Muslim and Jewish sections, with Muslim access cut to 40%. Last year, Israel authorities initiated excavation works at the mosque in order to install an elevator there. A Palestinian petition against the settler project was rejected by Israel’s Supreme Court on the grounds the elevator’s purpose is to ensure greater disability access. However, Palestinans stress the plan isn’t humanitarian in its purpose, instead giving cover for an attempt to confiscate land and further Judaize the mosque.  Sheikh al-Bakri, who is also a preacher at Ibrahimi Mosque, said Israel’s tightened security measures around the religious site suggest a more sinister intention. “Israel has been trying to control that site through converting it from a place for worshipers to a military zone,” al-Bakri said. “All of the events that have been happening around that site make us believe that Israel is trying to turn the Muslim praying side into a synagogue.” April saw an escalation against Palestinian Muslim and Christian worship as well. According to documentation from the Jerusalem Governorate, on April 23 Israeli forces prevented hundreds of Palestinian Christians from reaching the Church of Holy Sepulcher to celebrate the “Holy Fire” ceremony on the eve of Orthodox Easter. Minister al-Bakri said Israeli violations against some mosques in Jerusalem have occurred this Ramadan, but emphasized the main offenses against Islam have been at the al-Aqsa and Ibrahimi mosques.  “If Israel is violating these two big sites, then they can violate every site in the country,” al-Bakri said. “And we keep saying that if Israel is violating al-Aqsa, its violating every single Palestinian.”   Israel seeking a religious war  As the end of Ramadan nears, Israeli police have banned non-Muslims from entering al-Aqsa compound for the last ten days of Ramadan. According to Jerusalem Governorate statistics, about 3,670 Jewish settlers invaded al-Aqsa Compound during the Passover holiday. Amid the spike in Jews praying at the site, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid asserted Israel is committed to maintaining the status quo at al-Aqsa Compound.  “Muslims pray on the Temple Mount [what Israel calls al-Aqsa Compound], non-Muslims only visit. There is no change, there will be no change,” Lapid said during a press conference.  Yet Jordan, which has custodianship over the site, disagreed. The Jordanian Foreign Ministry warned in a statement that Israel is taking “targeted steps to change the historical and legal situation in the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” specifically condemning Israeli forces for raiding the area and allowing Jews to pray at al-Aqsa Compound.  Jewish extremists often argue that denying Jewish prayer at al-Aqsa Compound is an obstruction of freedom of worship, given the area is deemed the holiest site in Judaism.   “Al-Aqsa is only for Muslims,” PA Deputy Governor of Jerusalem Abdullah Siam told MintPress News, in response to accusations of religious discrimination. He suggested the current status quo has pushed Israel to take the site through force.  Al-Bakri also agreed that al-Aqsa is strictly for Muslim worship.  But Jewish extremists who spout claims of religious discrimination ignore the stark political element at play, Israeli journalist and activist Haggai Matar said. “[T]here are no equals in Israel-Palestine,” Matar wrote in +972 Magazine. “[I]t is Israel that has created a system of apartheid wherein … Jewish supremacy over Palestinians is guaranteed, maintained, and entrenched by law and by force.” Just before the start of Ramadan, Israeli parliament member and leader of the far-right Jewish Power Party Itamar Ben-Gvir toured al-Aqsa Compound, escorted by police. This wasn’t his first incursion, and Minister al-Bakri said such provocative, politically-charged tours are how the Israeli government attempts to stabilize its fragile coalition. “Through these practices, [the government is] trying to get political acquisitions,” al-Bakri said. “The government of [Prime Minister] Naftali Bennett is weak, and in order for them to keep going, they have to encourage settlers to do more raids so as to win from that situation.” Yet ultimately, Israel’s ongoing violations against Muslim worship, al-Bakri said, are “leading the area to a religious war between Islam and Judaism.” “We always say that our main problem is not with Judaism as a religion, but with the occupation,” al-Bakri said. “Although Israel has been using Judaism to shape its occupation.”   Ramadan violence on repeat As they were last year, tensions in Palestine have been at a maximum high during Ramadan.  In May 2021, violence erupted into a war between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic faction governing Gaza. Israel’s 10-day assault on the besieged Gaza Strip left 256 Palestinians dead, including 66 children. Media pundits and experts have feared this Ramadan may reach last year’s deadly levels.  For Minister al-Bakri, the atmosphere in Palestine is always volatile during Ramadan because Israel encourages a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. “Three months ago, Israel started talking in the media about a potential escalation, while the Palestinians hoped for a quiet month,” al-Bakri said, highlighting the number of Palestinians killed recently as meeting Israeli predictions. “Israel has been preparing the area for a potential problem by repeating these crisis slogans.” Younes Arar, director of international and public relations and media for the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Colonization and Wall Resistance Commission, suggested the large number of Palestinians flocking to Jerusalem during Ramadan is part of why the holy month is a tense time — emphasizing how the restrictions on freedom of movement add to the provocations. “Israel uses this month to humiliate Palestinians, as much as they can,” Arar said. “Especially at the doors of al-Aqsa Mosque, knowing how much this situation is sensitive for Palestinians.” Feature photo | Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News. The post As Ramadan Ends, Israeli Provocations Seem Aimed at a Religious War appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, International, Israel, Palestine, Ramadan]

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