Archive | January 4th, 2014

Britain’s Guardian newspaper laments I$raHell war criminal Ariel Sharon


Gilad Atzmon writes:

In a uniquely dishonest piece, the Guardian newspaper’s Jonathan Freedland paid a tribute today to Israel’s veteran prime minister, Ariel Sharon.

According to Freedland, Sharon, “as one of Israel’s founders… had the credibility to give up occupied territory – and even to face the demons of 1948”. Freedland speculates also that “Sharon’s final mission might well have been peace”. This is indeed a big statement, but how does Freedland support his creative historical account?

Jonathan Freedland

Jonathan Freedland, Guardian and Jewish Chronicle columnist and BBC presenter

“Sharon’s final act,” says Freedland, “was to dismantle some of the very settlements he had sponsored. In 2005 he ordered Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, seized in the 1967 war in which Sharon had been a crucial, if maverick, commander.”

Aside from the fact that Freedland falls short of reminding his readers about Sharon’s colossal war crimes, he actually completely distorts the political narrative that led Sharon to the 2005 unilateral disengagement from Gaza.

Did Sharon have a plan to reconcile with the Palestinians and to address their plight or their right to return to their land? Not at all. We do not have any evidence of Sharon’s remorse. The logic behind Sharon’s disengagement is simple and on the verge of banal. Sharon knew very well that if Israel insisted on maintaining itself as the “Jewish state”, it would have to rid itself immediately of Arabs. Sharon was becoming aware of the possible implications of the Palestinian “demographic bomb”. The Palestinians were becoming a majority in areas controlled by Israel.

Ridding Israel of the highly populated Gaza Strip was a perfect start. In a single political and territorial move, Sharon freed Israel of 1.5 million Palestinians and liberated Israel of increasingly complex security issues. Sharon was a pragmatic politician, he’s always been one and his disengagement wasn’t at all an attempt to “face the demons of 1948”, as Freedland suggests. It was a Judaeo-centric attempt to maintain the Jewishness of the Jewish state.

Freedland’s biased inclinations continue till the end of today’s piece: “an intriguing habit of Sharon’s was to refer to places in Israel by their original, Arabic names – thereby acknowledging the truth that usually lies buried beneath the soil”. Is this right? Did Sharon really pay tribute to the eradicated Palestinian civilization by uttering some words in Arabic? Not at all. Sharon was born in the British Mandate of Palestine. He was raised in a country scattered with Palestinian villages and cities. Sharon and Israelis of his generation tended to pepper their Hebrew with a few Arabic words because such an act filled their existence with an authentic sense of belonging and a bond to an imaginary soil. I hope in that context the laughable Freedland doesn’t also think when Israelis eat falafel they try to express empathy towards six million Palestinian refugees. After all, falafel also belongs to Palestine.

Freedland probably waited for Ariel Sharon to die in order to spread his preposterous reading of history, just to make sure that the “immortal Sharon” would not bounce back and dismiss this gross interpretation as complete nonsense.

The only remaining question is why the Guardian, once a respected paper, is publishing such low quality hasbara drivel? Is it really the Guardian of the truth or has it become the Guardian of Zion?

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Inconsistencies and Unanswered Questions: The Risks of Trusting the Snowden Story

Global Research

Last June, Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian revealed that Edward Snowden was the NSA insider behind “one of the most significant leaks in US political history.” Snowden explained his motivations through Greenwald by saying, “There are more important things than money…. harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.”

Such altruistic motivations were welcome news at the time but have come into question recently given that only a tiny fraction of the documents have been released nearly a year after Snowden started working with Greenwald. Perhaps more importantly, billionaire Pierre Omidyar is funding Greenwald’s slow release of those documents. It is worth noting that Omidyar’s Paypal Corporation has links to the NSA.

It was originally reported that the number of documents Snowden had stolen was in the thousands. Today, however, that number is said to be nearly two million. This calls into question Snowden’s early statement, as reported by Greenwald, that he “carefully evaluated every single document to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest.” The huge, new number also reveals that less than one tenth of one percent of the documents (only about 900) have actually been released to the public.

How could Snowden have “carefully evaluated every single” one of what is now being said to be nearly two million documents? He only worked for Booz Allen Hamilton for a few months. According to NSA Director Keith Alexander, Snowden also worked directly for NSA for twelve months prior to that, which is interesting. But still, that would require carefully evaluating thousands of documents a day during that entire time. Didn’t he have a job apart from that?

Journalist Margie Burns asked some good questions back in June that have not yet been answered. She wondered about the 29-year old Snowden who had been a U.S. Army Special Forces recruit, a covert CIA operative, and an NSA employee in various capacities, all in just a few, short years. Burns asked “How, exactly, did Snowden get his series of NSA jobs? Did he apply through regular channels? Was it through someone he knew? Who recommended him? Who were his references for a string of six-figure, high-level security jobs? Are there any safeguards in place so that red flags go up when a subcontractor jumps from job to job, especially in high-level clearance positions?”

Five months later, journalists Mark Ames and Yasha Levine investigated some of the businesses in which Greenwald’s benefactor Omidyar had invested. They found that the actual practices of those businesses were considerably less humanitarian than the outward appearance of Omidyar’s ventures often portray. The result was that Omidyar took down references to at least one of those businesses from his website.

sauron eye

In December, whistleblower Sibel Edmonds broke the news that Omidyar‘s Paypal Corporation was implicated in the as-yet-unreleased NSA documents from Snowden. Moreover, Edmonds had allegedly been contacted by an NSA official who alleged that “a deal was made in early June, 2013 between the journalists involved in this recent NSA scandal and U.S. government officials, which was then sealed by secrecy and nondisclosure agreements by all parties involved.”

It would appear that Snowden’s whistleblowing has been co-opted by private corporate interests. Are those involved with privatization of the stolen documents also colluding with government agencies to frame and direct national discussions on domestic spying and other serious matters?

The possibilities are endless, it seems. Presenting documents at a measured rate could be a way to acclimate citizens to painful realities without stirring the public into a panic or a unified response that might actually threaten the status quo. And considering that the number of documents has somehow grown from only thousands to nearly two million, it seems possible that those in control could release practically anything, thereby controlling national dialogue on many topics.

We live in an age of information war. It does not serve the public interest well to ignore that fact at any time based on pre-conceived notions of what corporations, governments or journalists are capable of. Let’s hope that Greenwald, who has done some good work revealing government misconduct, will immediately release all of the stolen documents, speak to the claims of an alleged deal made with government officials, and admit the risks with regard to Omidyar and his Paypal colleagues.

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Inside I$raHell’s Apartheid State


Journalist Max Blumenthal’s latest book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel has been one of the most controversial and enlightening books of 2013. It’s a fearless, no holds barred take on life in Israel and the brutal occupation of Palestine. Needless t0 say, not all have been happy with Blumenthal’s take on Israeli culture and politics. I recently caught up with Max to discuss his new book and the backlash he’s received from the pro-Israel coterie. -JF

Joshua Frank: Max, seems your latest book Goliath has really caused a stir among right-wing Zionists and other liberal defenders of Israel, like your Nation colleague Eric Alterman. What’s all the fuss about?

Max Blumenthal: Goliath is the first on-the ground, journalistic portrait of the real Israel that has been whitewashed and covered up by the mainstream American media. The book reveals a society overrun with extremism, with open racism emitting from the highest levels of government, inspiring anti-Arab and anti-African riots from the West Bank to Tel Aviv while the siege of Gaza deepens. Many of the pivotal events I detailed at length through background research and first-hand reporting were buried or ignored by the New York Times and have scarcely been examined even in progressive American media.

The atmosphere I captured in the pages of Goliath is the one that veteran Israelis from Uri Avnery to former Maariv editor Amnon Danker to former Haaretz editor-in-chief David Landau have described in no uncertain terms as fascistic. Through the experience of almost a year on the ground in Israel-Palestine, I was able to capture the feeling of the atmosphere they described and to bring it to life on the pages of my book. Obviously, pro-Israel zealots were not terribly happy about this.

There was also the fact that I did not write Goliath with concern for Israel’s anguished “soul,” or with any abiding belief in the absolute necessity of a Jewish state; that I did not advance the fantastical notion that the Israel that exists behind the 1949 Armistice Lines is a vibrant democracy. And I refused to pay lip service to the idea that the Palestinians were partially at fault for their own dispossession — that “both sides” were responsible for the crisis. This is what you are expected to do if you wish to cater to Jewish-American opinion from a liberal perspective. I refused to take this approach not only because I reject the Zionist narrative but because it is deeply dishonest and actually requires intellectual contortions about the present and the willfull distortion of the past. That my book managed to gain traction despite my rejection of the established liberal Zionist narrative framework was another reason so many viewed it as threatening.

I presented Israel without sentimentalism or nostalgia, painting a portrait of a state that controls all people between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea under a regime of ethnic separation with no national borders. Some of those who have grown accustomed to the hackeneyed liberal Zionist narrative found my factual portrayal of Israeli society deeply discomfiting. And neocon types were absolutely infuriated that I was able to generate publicity and attention. But of all those who have attempted to destroy my book, none have been able to challenge it on its merits or disprove any substantial facts in it. None


JF: What is it about criticism of Israel that creates such a fervor?

MB: If Zionism had succeeded in building a democratic state that enjoyed normal relations with its neighbors, the international hasbara apparatus that exists to crush criticism of Israel and propagandize on behalf the Jewish state would be superfluous. Unfortunately, this was never the point of the Zionist movement. Israel is the product of a settler-colonial project that requires perpetual campaign of violent demographic engineering against the wishes of the indigenous Palestinian population. The project continues before our very eyes in the Negev Desert, the South Hebron Hills, and along the electrified walls of the Gaza ghetto. Unless you are some kind of bellicose nationalist, there is not much about it to be proud of.

In the post-Oslo Israel that I bring to life on the pages of Goliath, Jewish Israeli society has doubled down on its anachronistic settler-colonial project, entering what could be described as the “neo-Zionist” era. With no hope of achieving international legitimacy and little desire to do so, Israel must call on its partisans across the globe to crush political opposition by all means necessary.

The looming terminal stage of Zionism will be marked by crusades to crush the free speech rights of citizens inside Israel and across the West — to restrict their very ability to organize for the rights of Palestinians. Former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren reflected the increasingly anti-democratic undercurrent of pro-Israel advocacy when he took to Politico to call on Congress to pass laws illegalizing Palestine solidarity activism and punishing Americans for protesting Israeli officials in public forums. 11 students at UC-Irvine have already faced a criminal prosecution for protesting Oren for literally two minuntes during a public event. So the campaign to block me from discussing my book at venues across the United States was of a part with the McCarthyite tactics that form the heart of today’s pro-Israel playbook.

JF: The Obama administration, and in particular Secretary of State John Kerry, are set to present a “framework agreement” to jumpstart new Israel/Palestine peace negotiations. What can we expect to come from this?

MB: We can’t expect much, at least in the sense that Kerry has made the Palestinian Authority an offer it can’t accept. The details of Kerry’s plan are slowly leaking out, and they amount to transforming the already ghettoized West Bank into another Gaza Strip. Kerry is advancing Netanyahu’s main demands, including the erection of a gigantic wall along the Jordanian border that would imprison Palestinians from the east while the Israeli separation wall confines them from the west. Israeli Army Radio has reported that “the Palestinians will be imprisoned between the two fences” – that is the actual language the network used. Additionally, the US will authorize Israel to patrol the West Bank’s airspace with drones on a 24/7 basis as it already does with the Gaza Strip. Israeli troops will be allowed to maintain a presence on the Palestinian border with Jordan for an indefinite period, but even this is not enough for the Israelis. Israel’s Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon is leading a chorus of outrage from cabinet level officials who demand that Israel receive near-permanent control of the Jordan Valley – that’s where much of the West Bank’s arable land is. And the younger, up-and-coming legislators from Netanyahu’s party – the future of Likud – may soon introduce proposals in the Knesset to annex the Jordan Valley.

General John Allen, the retired former commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has helped devise the arrangements that will consolidate Israel’s control over the West Bank. It is safe to assume that the plan will be a major boon to US and Israeli private security contractors, who will supply the “early warning” systems that will spy on the Palestinians permanently confined to this dystopic, Gazafied Panopticon. Unsurprisingly, Kerry has not faced a single tough question about his plan from the American media. Instead, he was recently hailedby Jeffrey Goldberg for his “uncomplicated affection for the promise of Zionism.”

JF: In Goliath you write a lot about realities on the ground in Israel. What were some of the more surprising ones you discovered?

MB: There was no particular incident or event that I was not prepared for when I began the fieldwork for the book. What shocked me was the degree to which Israel was able to fuse Western-style neo-liberalism so seamlessly with settler-colonial apartheid. In Goliath, I described drinking at a bar in a hip neighborhood in Tel Aviv, staring at the nearby luxury “ghost tower” inhabited by wealthy American Jews like Marty Peretz, and listening to fusion jazz emanate from an adjacent club with my t-shirt still saturated in the residue of teargas from the demonstration against the separation wall I attended earlier in the day. That is when it became clear to me how much the Tel Aviv bubble required the Iron Wall.

I am filled with memories like this. In one instance, I was sitting in a macrobiotic/vegan restaurant in central Jerusalem with a French tourist who was staying at my flat during the summer of 2010. The tourist grabbed a French-Israeli magazine on a nearby table, flipped to a random page, and began translating an article to me about the dangers Jewish women could face if they dated Arab men – how the Arab male would charm you before he took you captive in his village and beat you into submission. The feeling of having a Jim Crow-style tract read to me in a French accent while I noshed on a quinoa, tempeh and kale platter in a restaurant packed with vegan settlers summed up the whole experience of Israel for me. I was living life in a tech-savvy, gay-friendly apartheid state where oiled up soldier girls in skimpy bikinis tanned themselves to an orange hue on balmy beaches a few kilometers up the coast from a besieged ghetto filled with food insecure refugees. Each day I spent in Israel, I was staring straight at the West’s most vulgar image of itself.

JF: Norman Finkelstein has written about Israel’s vulgar image and the exploitation of the Holocaust, which you expand on in Goliath. Can you talk a little about what this means, exactly? 

MB: The state of Israel demands the near-total participation of its Jewish citizenry in the project of controlling and dominating Palestinians. This is not a particularly appealing endeavor, especially for the youth who are forced to conscript in the military at age 18. So the military must find ways to help young people overcome their natural skepticism about army life, while the main institutions of the Jewish state work to cultivate unanimous reverence for the military. Thus an occupying, neocolonial, nuclearized army has been re-branded as the last line of defense against Jewish extermination, with soldier boys and girls just out of high school marched into the West Bank to dominate the angry Arabs cast as the spiritual heirs of Nazi Germany. Without intense indoctrination, an Israeli soldier might fall into a personal crisis the moment he has to rip a Palestinian adolescent from his bed and drags him to a dank cell in the middle of the night. Of course, many do, and wind up offering harrowing testimonies to groups like Breaking the Silence. But the truly frightening thing is that so many do not. They return to daily life without any impulse towards critical reflection.

The cradle-to-grave process of indoctrination has helped provide Israelis with more than the motivation to participate in army life. It has allowed them the psychological space they need to accept and justify the vast desert internment camps the state has constructed for African asylum seekers deemed a demographic threat and identified by numbers, not names; the concrete separation wall erected to prevent what Netanyahu called “demographic spillover,” and, of course, the existence of the Gaza ghetto. The depressing impact of Holocaust exploitation in Israeli life was reflected in a recent poll in which 57.2 percent of Israeli Jews declared support for the idea that “the main lesson of the Holocaust is that we can only rely on ourselves and must not to hesitate to use force without taking the opinion of other nations into consideration.”

JF: How is this perpetuated in the Israeli school system?

MB: The Israeli school system is intimately linked to the military, and in an unprecedented way since Netanyahu’s election in 2009. In Goliath, I documented how Jewish Israeli children have been indoctrinated into the culture of militarism and fear as early as age four, describing how pre-schoolers in the city of Holon were lined up before a chalkboard and forced to ponder the following question: “Who wants to kill us?” I detailed a high school field trip in which teens were taken to an army base to shoot at simulated targets wearing Palestinian kuffiyehs. And I explained the role of the Holocaust in all of this, writing about the trips that 25% of Israeli high schoolers have taken to Auschwitz a year before they enter the military.

These Holocaust tours, called “The March of the Living,” are explicitly designed by the Israeli Ministry of Education to produce more nationalistic attitudes among Jewish youth and a more favorable impression of the army. In his devastating documentary about the exploitation of anti-Semitism, Defamation, the Israeli filmmaker Yoav Shamir accompanied a group of Israeli students to Auschwitz. He showed how after a week of unrelenting indoctrination, the students were reduced to tears of rage, with some declaring that they wanted to go out and find some Nazis to kill. Of course, the Nazis are all dead, or maybe a few of them had their brains frozen in cryogenics labs somewhere in the jungles of Paraguay. So all that is left to do is lash out at those explicitly designated by Netanyahu and other societal leaders as the Nazis’ heirs: the Palestinians.

JF: Let’s go back to Eric Alterman for a minute. In a interview you say you knew he’d freak out about the book. How’d you know? 

MB: I knew that the initial impulse of pro-Israel writers would be to willfully ignore my boook if they could not poke any significant holes in the facts I introduced, and they have proven that they couldn’t. Having spent time around The Nation, I was aware of Eric Alterman’s reputation as a kind of pro-Israel enforcer, and also someone who was full of shpilkes, almost to a comical degree. He seemed like the perfect candidate to break the boycott on Goliath. So when I learned that Alterman was getting exercised about Goliath’s publication, I made sure he got a note from my publisher informing him that I was eager for his opinion. And I told my publishers to send copies to pro-Israel writers like Liel Liebowitz of Tablet, to Commentary, and to Sohrab Ahmari, a neocon book reviewer for the Wall Street Journal. I was operating on the assumption that these characters would revert to type with just a little prompting.

Like clockwork, Alterman returned with a vitriolic, error laden attack on my book in The Nation that was immediately torn to shreds by everyone from Ali Gharib to Chip Manekin to Corey Robin to Phan Nguyen. Alterman must be a serious glutton for punishment, because he followed up with eight more blundering attacks on me, each more embarrassing then the next. He also participated in a smear campaign against me outside The Nation that relied on warmongering neocons to promote his attacks. As for the others, Ahmari publicly boasted that he threw the review copies of my books in the trash rather than review them, while Liebowitz called my book “a work of fiction” after confirming its most devastating sections as accurate – “generally factually accurate,” as Alterman said of the book. If I ever meet Alterman, I hope I have a box of chocolates on me. It is the least I can do to thank him for his role in getting my book to a second printing.

JF: What other backlash has ensued as a result of Goliath? 

MB: I was informed that a local chapter of AIPAC demanded that the Dallas Council on World Affairs cancel the talk they were hosting for me. A far-right Islamophobic, anti-gay group called the Florida Family Association attempted to shut down a Council on American Islamic Relations banquet I was keynoting. Alan Dershowitz denounced me as “anti-American” and basically condemned my parents for conceiving me. The Free Beacon attacked my parents for hosting a book party at their home for me, trying to pressure the Clintons cut all ties with my father, who had worked in the Clinton White House. Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith commissioned a comprehensively false smear piece about my book and my father’s relationship to the Clintons. John Podhoretz (who hasaccused me of “sucking the cocks of Jew killers”) and red diaper neocon Ron Radosh attempted to pressure the New America Foundation into canceling my talk at their offices in DC. The pro-Israel group StandWithUs attempted to force a community center to cancel an American Muslims for Palestine event I participated in, labeling me and other speakers “extremists” in their letter to the center. Finally, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, just named me the 9th biggest anti-Semite of 2013. Like so many other Jews, I strive to be at the top of my field, so I was really disappointed to find myself so low on this Islamophobic outfit’s blacklist. Next year, I promise to try harder and aim for number one.

JF: Were these the type of reactions you expected would happen for reporting on Israel as you saw it?

MB: Once the Zionist freakout began, the sub-mental smears were predictable. As I said, if they could make a positive case for the Jewish state, they would do so. But they can’t. And so they are left with nothing but risible propaganda and McCarthyite tactics. I suppose it was an honor that John Podhoretz, the son of the man who smeared Hannah Arendt for writing Eichmann in Jerusalem, wound up labeling Goliath,“the year’s most disgusting book.”

Though mainstream media has yet to acknowledge the existence of Goliath, the book has received extremely favorable reviews from unexpected quarters. Most notably, James Fallows, the Atlantic Magazine’s editor-in-chief, returned with a vigorous defense of my work after attending my talk at the New America Foundation and actually reading Goliath. Fallows dared to take an objective look at my journalism and this is the conclusion he came to:

“Blumenthal has made a sobering prima facie case that there are extreme forces to be aware of, and reckoned with more fully that American discourse usually does. And, very importantly, his doing so is no more ‘anti-Israel,’ let alone anti-Semitic, than The Shame of the Cities and The Jungle and The Grapes of Wrath were anti-American for pointing out extremes and abuses in American society.”

Finally, the response to my book across the country has been nothing short of incredible. With absolutely no mainstream coverage, sizable, extremely energized crowds in cities across America have appeared almost spontaneously to hear me discuss my work. The audiences are diverse, with people of all ages, including hardcore activists and new faces who are generally curious about the issue, but they are all united in their disgust at the repression both inside Israel-Palestine and in the US. Something is happening out there and I truly believe a tipping point is approaching. At the very least, we can conclude that the gatekeepers are rapidly weakening.

As long as the status quo in Israel-Palestine persists, all of the trends detailed in Goliath will intensify. And since 1967, the US has been the primary guarantor of the status quo. So when I speak to audiences around the country, I encourage them to give up all hope on their elected representatives and societal elites doing anything decent or courageous to challenge Israeli apartheid. After all, these are the same people who have enabled apartheid to retrench itself across this country, either by actively driving inequality or through cynical negotiations with the corporate forces behind it. If Americans want to see genuine change in the Holy Land, they can participate in grassroots, Palestinian-led campaigns like the BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanction) movement. This movement is growing rapidly and sending shockwaves through the pro-Israel establishment. And that’s a very good thing considering that Palestinians may have few effective tactics left to resist a project aimed at their absolute dispossession.

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The Bête Noire of the French Establishment



French mainstream media and politicians are starting off the New Year with a shared resolution for 2014: permanently muzzle a Franco-African comedian who is getting to be too popular among young people.

In between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, no less than the President of the Republic, François Hollande, while visiting Saudi Arabia on (very big) business, said his government must find a way to ban performances by the comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, as called for by French Interior Minister, Manuel Valls.

The leader of the conservative opposition party, UMP, Jean-François Copé, immediately chimed in with his “total support” for silencing the unmanageable entertainer.

In the unanimous media chorus, the weekly Nouvel Observateur editorialized that Dieudonné is “already dead”, washed up, finished. Editors publicly disputed whether it was a better tactic to try to jail him for “incitement to racial hatred”, close his shows on grounds of a potential “threat to public order”, or put pressure on municipalities by threatening cultural subsidies with cuts if they allow him to perform.

The goal of national police boss Manuel Valls is clear, but the powers that be are groping for the method.

The dismissive cliché heard repeatedly is that “nobody laughs at Dieudonné any more”.

In reality, the opposite is true. And that is the problem. On his recent tour of French cities, videos show large, packed theaters roaring with laughter at their favorite humorist.  He has popularized a simple gesture, which he calls the “quenelle”. It is being imitated by young people all over France.  It simply and obviously means, we are fed up.

To invent a pretext for destroying Dieudonné, the leading Jewish organizations CRIF (Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France, the French AIPAC) and LICRA (Ligue internationale contre le racisme et l’antisémitisme, which enjoys special privileges under French law) have come up with a fantasy to brand Dieudonné and his followers as “Nazis”.  The quenelle is all too obviously a vulgar gesture roughly meaning “up yours”, with one hand placed at the top of the other arm pointing down to signify “how far up” this is to be.

But for the CRIF and LICRA, the quenelle is “a Nazi salute in reverse”.  (You can never be too “vigilant” when looking for the hidden Hitler.)

As someone has remarked, a “Nazi salute in reverse” might as well be considered anti-Nazi.  If indeed it had anything to do with Heil Hitler.  Which it clearly does not.

But world media are taking up this claim, at least pointing out that “some consider the quenelle to be a Nazi salute in reverse”.  Never mind that those who use it have no doubt about what it means:  F— the system!

But to what extent are the CRIF and LICRA “the system”?

France needs all the laughter it can get

French industry is vanishing, with factory shutdowns week after week.  Taxes on low income citizens are going up, to save the banks and the euro. Disillusion with the European Union is growing.  EU rules exclude any serious effort to improve the French economy. Meanwhile, politicians on the left and the right continue their empty speeches, full of clichés about “human rights” – largely as an excuse to go to war in the Middle East or rant against China and Russia. The approval rating of President Hollande has sunk to 15%.  However people vote, they get the same policies, made in EU.

Why then are the ruling politicians focusing their wrath on “the most talented humorist of his generation” (as his colleagues acknowledge, even when denouncing him)?

The short answer is probably that Dieudonné’s surging popularity among young people illustrates a growing generation gap.  Dieudonné has turned laughter against the entire political establishment.  This has led to a torrent of abuse and vows to shut down his shows, ruin him financially and even put him in jail.  The abuse also provides a setting for physical attacks against him.  A few days ago, his assistant Jacky Sigaux was physically attacked in broad daylight by several masked men in front of the city hall of the 19th arrondissement – just opposite the Buttes Chaumont Park. He has lodged a complaint.

But how much protection is to be expected from a government whose Interior Minister, Manuel Valls – in charge of police – has vowed to seek ways to silence Dieudonné?

The story is significant but is almost certain to be badly reported outside France – just as it is badly reported inside France, the source of almost all foreign reports.  In translation, a bit of garbling and falsehoods add to the confusion.

Why Do They Hate Him?

Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala was born in a Paris suburb nearly 48 years ago. His mother was white, from Brittany, his father was African, from Cameroun.  This should make him a poster child for the “multiculturalism” the ideologically dominant left claims to promote.  And during the first part of his career, teaming up with his Jewish friend, Elie Simoun, he was just that: campaigning against racism, focusing his criticism on the National Front and even running for office against an NF candidate in the dormitory town of Dreux, some sixty miles West of Paris, where he lives. Like the best humorists, Dieudonné always targeted current events, with a warmth and dignity unusual in the profession. His career flourished, he played in movies, was a guest on television, branched out on his own.  A great observer, he excels at relatively subtle imitations of various personality types and ethnic groups from Africans to Chinese.

Ten years ago, on December 1, 2003, as guest on a TV show appropriately called “You Can’t Please Everybody”, dedicated to current events, Dieudonné came on stage roughly disguised as “a convert to Zionist extremism” advising others to get ahead by “joining the American-Israeli Axis of Good”. This was in the first year of the US assault on Iraq, which France’s refusal to join had led Washington to rechristen what it calls “French fries” (Belgian, actually) as “Freedom fries”.  A relatively mild attack on George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” seemed totally in the mood of the times. The sketch ended with a brief salute, “Isra-heil”.  This was far from being vintage Dieudonné, but nevertheless, the popular humorist was at the time enthusiastically embraced by other performers while the studio audience gave him a standing ovation.

Then the protests started coming in, especially concerning the final gesture seen as likening Israel to Nazi Germany.

“Anti-Semitism!” was the cry, although the target was Israel (and the United States as allies in the Middle East). Calls multiplied to ban his shows, to sue him, to destroy his career.  Dieudonné attempted to justify his sketch as not targeting Jews as such, but, unlike others before him, would not apologize for an offense he did not believe he had committed.  Why no protests from Africans he had made fun of? Or Muslims? Or Chinese? Why should a single community react with such fury?

Thus began a decade of escalation.  LICRA began a long series of lawsuits against him (“incitement to racial hatred”), at first losing, but keeping up the pressure.  Instead of backing down, Dieudonné went farther in his criticism of “Zionism” after each attack.  Meanwhile, Dieudonné was gradually excluded from television appearances and treated as a pariah by mainstream media.  It is only the recent internet profusion of images showing young people making the quenelle sign that has moved the establishment to conclude that a direct attack would be more effective than trying to ignore him.

The Ideological Background

To begin to understand the meaning of the Dieudonné affair, it is necessary to grasp the ideological context.  For reasons too complex to review here, the French left – the left that once was primarily concerned with the welfare of the working class, with social equality, opposition to aggressive war, freedom of speech – has virtually collapsed.  The right has won the decisive economic battle, with the triumph of policies favoring monetary stability and the interests of international investment capital (“neo-liberalism”).  As a consolation prize, the left enjoys a certain ideological dominance, based on anti-racism, anti-nationalism and devotion to the European Union – even to the hypothetical “social Europe” that daily recedes into the cemetery of lost dreams. In fact, this ideology fits perfectly with a globalization geared to the requirements of international finance capital.

In the absence of any serious socio-economic left, France has sunk into a sort of “Identity Politics”, which both praises multiculturalism and reacts vehemently against “communitarianism”, that is, the assertion of any unwelcome ethnic particularisms. But some ethnic particularisms are less welcome than others.  The Muslim veil was first banned in schools, and demands to ban it in adult society grow.  The naqib and burka, while rare, have been legally banned. Disputes erupt over Halal foods in cafeterias, prayers in the street, while cartoons regularly lampoon Islam. Whatever one may think of this, the fight against communitarianism can be seen by some as directed against one particular community. Meanwhile, French leaders have been leading the cry for wars in Muslim countries from Libya to Syria, while insisting on devotion to Israel.

Meanwhile, another community is the object of constant solicitude. In the last twenty years, while religious faith and political commitment have declined drastically, the Holocaust, called the Shoah in France, has gradually become a sort of State Religion.  Schools commemorate the Shoah annually, it increasingly dominates historical consciousness, which in other areas is declining along with many humanistic studies.  In particular, of all the events in France’s long history, the only one protected by law is the Shoah.  The so-called Gayssot Law bans any questioning of the history of the Shoah, an altogether unprecedented interference with freedom of speech. Moreover, certain organizations, such as LICRA, have been granted the privilege of suing individuals on the basis of “incitement to racial hatred” (very broadly and unevenly interpreted) with the possibility of collecting damages on behalf of the “injured community”. In practice, these laws are used primarily to prosecute alleged “anti-Semitism” or “negationism” concerning the Shoah. Even though they frequently are thrown out of court, such lawsuits constitute harassment and intimidation.  France is the rare country where the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement against Israeli settlement practices can also be attacked as “incitement to racial hatred”.

The violence-prone Jewish Defense League, outlawed in the United States and even in Israel, is known for smashing books shops or beating up isolated, even elderly, individuals.  When identified, flight to Israel is a good way out.  The victims of the JDL fail to inspire anything close to the massive public indignation aroused when a Jewish person falls victim to wanton violence. Meanwhile, politicians flock to the annual dinner of the CRIF with the same zeal that in the United States they flock to the dinner of AIPAC – not so much for campaign funds as to demonstrate their correct sentiments.

France has the largest Jewish population in Western Europe, which actually largely escaped the deportation during German occupation that expelled Jewish immigrants to concentration camps. In addition to an old, established Jewish population, there are many newcomers from North Africa.  All this adds up to a very dynamic, successful population, numerous in the more visible and popular professions (journalism, show business, as well as science and medicine, among others).

Of all French parties, the Socialist Party (especially via the Israeli Labor Party of Shimon Peres in the Socialist International) has the closest historic ties with Israel.  In the 1950s, when France was fighting against the Algerian national liberation movement, the French government (via Peres) contributed to the Israeli project of building nuclear weapons.  Today it is not the Labor Party that rules Israel, but the far right.  Hollande’s recent cozy trip to Benjamin Netanyahu showed that the rightward drift of policy in Israel has done nothing to strain relations – which seem closer than ever.

Yet this Jewish community is very small compared to the large number of Arab immigrants from North Africa or black immigrants from France’s former colonies in Africa.  Several years ago, a leading Socialist Party intellectual, Pascal Boniface, cautiously warned party leaders that their heavy bias in favor of the Jewish community could eventually cause electoral problems. This statement in a political assessment document caused an uproar which nearly cost him his career.

But the fact remains: it is not hard for French people of Arab or African background to feel that the “communitarianism” that really has clout is the Jewish community.

The Political Uses of the Holocaust

Norman Finkelstein showed some time ago that the Holocaust can be exploited for less than noble purposes: such as extorting funds from Swiss banks.  However, in France the situation is very different.  No doubt, constant reminders of the Shoah serve as a sort of protection for Israel from the hostility aroused by its treatment of the Palestinians.  But the religion of the Holocaust has another, deeper political impact with no direct relation to the fate of the Jews.

More than anything else, Auschwitz has been interpreted as the symbol of what nationalism leads to. Reference to Auschwitz has served to give a bad conscience to Europe, and notably to the French, considering that their relatively small role in the matter was the result of military defeat and occupation by Nazi Germany. Bernard-Henri Lévy, the writer whose influence has grown to grotesque proportions in recent years (he led President Sarkozy into war against Libya), began his career as ideologue by claiming that “fascism” is the genuine “French ideology”.  Guilt, guilt, guilt.  By placing Auschwitz as the most significant event of recent history, various writers and speakers justify by default the growing power of the European Union as necessary replacement for Europe’s inherently “bad” nations.  Never again Auschwitz!  Dissolve the nation-states into a technical bureaucracy, free of the emotional influence of citizens who might vote incorrectly.  Do you feel French?  Or German? You should feel guilty about it – because of Auschwitz.

Europeans are less and less enthusiastic about the EU as it ruins their economies and robs them of all democratic power over the economy.  They can vote for gay marriage, but not for the slightest Keynesian measure, much less socialism.  Nevertheless, guilt about the past is supposed to keep them loyal to the European dream.

Dieudonné’s fans, judging from photographs, appear to be predominantly young men, fewer women, mostly between the ages of twenty and thirty.  They were born two full generations after the end of World War II. They have spent their lives hearing about the Shoah. Over 300 Paris schools bear a plaque commemorating the tragic fate of Jewish children deported to Nazi concentration camps.  What can be the effect of all this? For many who were born long after these terrible events, it seems that everyone is supposed to feel guilty – if not for what they didn’t do, for what they supposedly might do if they had a chance.

When Dieudonné transformed an old semi-racist “tropical” song, Chaud Cacao, into Shoah Ananas, the tune is taken up en masse by Dieudonné fans.  I venture to think that they are not making fun of the real Shoah, but rather of the constant reminders of events that are supposed to make them feel guilty, insignificant and powerless.  Much of this generation is sick of hearing about the period 1933-1945, while their own future is dim.

Nobody Knows When to Stop

Last Sunday, a famous football player of Afro-Belgian origin, Nicolas Anelka, who plays in the UK, made a quenelle sign after scoring a goal – in solidarity with this friend Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala. With this simple and basically insignificant gesture, the uproar soared to new heights.

In the French parliament, Meyer Habib represents “overseas French” – some 4,000 Israelis of French origin.  On Monday he twittered: “Anelka’s quenelle is intolerable! I will introduce a bill to punish this new Nazi salute practiced by anti-Semites.”

France has adopted laws to “punish anti-Semitism”.  The result is the opposite.  Such measures simply tend to confirm the old notion that “the Jews run the country” and contribute to growing anti-Semitism.  When French youth see a Franco-Israeli attempt to outlaw a simple gesture, when the Jewish community moves to ban their favorite humorist, anti-Semitism can only grow even more rapidly.

Yet in this escalation, the relationship of forces is very uneven.  A humorist has words as his weapons, and fans who may disperse when the going gets rough.  On the other side is the dominant ideology, and the power of the State.

In this sort of clash, civic peace depends on the wisdom of those with most power to show restraint.  If they fail to do so, this can be a game with no winners.

Posted in FranceComments Off on The Bête Noire of the French Establishment

Apple’s Top Crimes of 2013


Recently Cult of Mac, a website dedicated to all things Apple from the fan’s perspective, published a piece titled “The Biggest Apple Stories of 2013.” In it, the author recounts the product and software highlights, sales, profit, and hires for the world’s largest company. The piece is a toast to capitalist greed and the smarmy, self-righteousness of the kings of Silicon Valley. Notably, other important Apple stories, listed below, were not on this list.

The Environmental & Social Horrors of Mining for its Supply Chain

In July protests at several Apple Stores were organized by Friends of the Earth to spotlight the implications of mining tin in Indonesia. Tin is used for soldering Apple products. Miners have been injured and killed, the silt run-off from mines poses a threat to coral and sea life, and the deforestation that follows increased mining causes acidification of soil, damaging the region’s small farms and rural communities.

Income Inequality & Gentrification

In recent months protesters in the San Francisco have targeted the private corporate busses used by Apple, Google, and Facebook to ferry their affluent, gentrifying employees to and fro Silicon Valley. Protesters call attention to the role tech companies play in driving up housing prices, and the consequential purging of middle and low income residents from the area. They are also upset that these private coaches have been using the city’s Muni stops for free, while others have pointed out that privatized transport for a huge pool of regional workers undermines public transportation.

Tax Dodging

Apple continues to come under fire in the US and the UK for its tax dodging scheme, cleverly nicknamed “iDodge Tax” by Irish comedian Mark Thomas. In June Thomas led 50 people in a protest outside of Apple’s London flagship store against the corporation’s use of Ireland as a tax shelter. Protesters pointed out that one of Apple’s holding companies, Apple Sales International, paid only 0.0135 percent in tax on its $74 billion in earnings in 2012. Thomas noted that schemes such as these have contributed to the economic austerity gripping Europe.

A few weeks later more than 60 protesters crowded a Chicago Apple Store to draw attention to the same issue, pointing out that low-income Chicago residents pay more percentage-wise in tax than does the world’s most valuable company. Like their UK counterparts, they drew a connection between the use of tax shelters and the nationwide defunding of education and human services. Chicago in particular has been hit hard this last year with school closings and teacher layoffs.

As Eileen Appelbaum pointed out on CounterPunch back in May, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook is pushing a corporate tax reform measure that would even further lighten Apple’s already low US tax liability.

iBeacon is Watching You

iBeacon, a new feature in iOS 7 that Apple claims acts as a “personal shopper,” went live in early December. The app guides i-device toting Apple Store customers to products, and updates employees on customer orders. The app uses push technology to let iPhone customers know if they are eligible for an upgrade while they browse in the store.

The technology is poised to be deployed by retailers all over the world, requiring only an iPad or iPhone with iOS 7 to serve as an iBeacon device within a store. TechCrunch reports that as many as 190 million iOS devices are iBeacon-ready, and this number will swell to over 250 million soon. An Android version is in development.

The scale of this consumerist technology is unsettling, as is its surveillance function. While Apple has taken a public stance against the widespread digital surveillance of the PRISM program, despite its historical compliance with it, the company clearly has no moral qualms about using surveillance technology for its own profit.

Fueling the “Apple Picking” Phenomenon

Last year Apple spent $1 billion on advertising—a small investment given its brand is valued at over $98 billion–making it the most valuable brand in the world. The iPhone, with its high price point and value as a status symbol, is a lucrative theft target. A stolen iPhone can fetch as much as $200 domestically and far more overseas. Mobile security firm Lookout estimates that the annual value of lost and stolen smartphones is $30 billion.

The Federal Communications Committee reported that 1.6 million Americans were robbed of a digital handheld device (smartphone or tablet) in 2012. Statistics from around the country reveal that most of those were Apple iPhones, and that the iPhone fuels the trend. In Washington, D.C. between the release of the iPhone in 2007 and 2011, thefts of mobile phones increased by 54 percent. In both San Francisco and New York City the rise in thefts of handheld devices has caused a spike in the crime rate, which is otherwise trending downward. In San Francisco, where nearly half of the population owns an iPhone, half of all thefts in 2012 involved a smartphone, while nationally the rate is one third. In London this year about half of mobile phones stolen were iPhones.

Law enforcement officials nationwide, lead by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, began this year advocating for a “kill switch” that would render a stolen phone unusable. Apple responded by building into iOS 7 a feature that does just that. While this might stem the tide of thefts, this feature does nothing to address the root of the problem—the rampant global income and wealth inequality generated by global corporations like Apple.

Sucking Los Angeles Schools Dry to the Tune of $1 Billion

Apple announced in June that it had signed a $30 million contract to supply iPads to all 650,000 students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The largest public school system in the nation, LAUSD planned at the time to equip every student, teacher, and administrator with a device by 2015. The school board voted unanimously in favor of the project, which would ultimately cost the district $1 billion.

Apple’s press release quoted board member Jaime Aquino as saying they chose the iPad because it was the cheapest tablet option, coming equipped with the Pearson Common Core System of Courses, Apple’s iWork, iLife, and iTunes software, and other educational software.

The iPads themselves will cost $500 million at $678 per device, with the other $500 million allocated to expenses like installing wireless networks at each school. The program will be paid for with long-term construction bonds, and the district plans to use the devices to not only implement the Common Core curriculum, but also for upcoming state standardized tests.

However, since the initial celebratory rollout at the start of the school year, the Los Angeles Times has run a series of articles detailing a range of problems with the program, including the questionable use of long-term construction bonds to pay for the project, and students unlocking the devices for other uses and leaving them at home. In the first month 71 iPads went missing, and by mid October the district had begun recalling them from some campuses.

The LA Times also revealed that the $1 billion plan had hidden costs, like an additional $100 per device for software updates until the district reaches the $400 million purchase mark with Apple, and an additional $38 million, as yet approved, for the purchase of keyboards.

Yet, despite the problems, and teacher, parent, and union dissent, the board approved the second phase of the project in November. LAUSD will spend $135 million more for the purchase of another 70,000 iPads, as well as MacBook laptops for all students and teachers at the district’s 7 high schools.

Public dissent seems to have had some impact on the costly plan, as the school board voted in late December to reduce the number of iPads planned for the next rollout, saving the district $25 million. Further, a school board oversight committee has asked for more evidence justifying the necessity of iPads for state testing.

With programs such as these Apple’s iPad has cornered the education market. There are 10 million iPads in schools around the world today, accounting for nearly all of educational tablets shipped during the first half of 2013. LA Times reporter Steve Lopez pointed out in April, prior to the finalization of the deal spearheaded by LAUSD schools superintendent John Deasy, that “people with ties to tech companies were among the major donors to a political action committee that supports Deasy-friendly school board candidates,” including a $250,000 donation from “the parent corporation of a company that sells tablet computers designed for schools,” and a $200,000 gift from “a group headed by the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs.” Politically oriented donations such as these seem to be paying off for Apple, which according to a November study by IDG has seen its tablet shipments increase by nearly 50 percent since 2012.

Ongoing Labor Abuses in China

While Apple might have joined the Fair Labor Association in 2012 and may have carried out audits at some Foxconn facilities, the horrific labor abuses that plague Apple’s Chinese supply chain continue unabated. Reports from Hong Kong based SACOM (Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior), China Labor Watch, and the newly formed “New Generation of Migrant Workers Concern Programme” detail systemic labor violations at eleven Chinese Apple suppliers.

These reports detail similar problems across suppliers, including very low pay, excessive and forced overtime, up to 14 hour shifts and 100 hour work weeks, standing for 11 hours at a time, increased use of insecure dispatch laborers, employment of underage and forced student workers, a military-style of management with prohibitions on bathroom breaks and inadequate lunch breaks, and unsafe work environments.

Placing the blame for these conditions squarely on Apple, SACOM reported, “The rampant labor rights violations at Foxlink, Pegatron and Wintek are rooted in the rush purchasing practices and failure of effective monitoring by Apple. The excessive overtime, the use of dispatch labor and harsh management practices are the results, directly and indirectly, of the short delivery time demanded by Apple before it launches new products. Furthermore, all the three factories have longstanding business relationships with Apple. The problems reveal that Apple does not care about the systematic violations at its suppliers.”

Despite its cooperation with FLA and promise to allow workers to form democratic unions, in January over 1,000 workers struck at Foxconn in Fengcheng, Jiangxi Province. They demanded increased wages and a dignified work environment, noting they earn only $209 USD per week, which is not considered a living wage in the region and does not allow for the support of a dependent. They also called for better safety equipment and a higher standard of living in dormitories, as soldering workers are not equipped with fresh masks with enough frequency, and they lack access to hot water in dorm bathrooms, forcing them to limit showering to only once per week.

In May a study by “The New Generation of Migrant Workers Concern Programme” found that Foxconn’s promise to allow workers to unionize was nothing but a PR sham, as workers had not been educated about China’s Trade Union Law, and half had not been notified of their legal right to vote for union leadership, nor of their right to run for office. They also found that most workers mistook employment at Foxconn for membership in the union, and that 95 percent of those interviewed didn’t know if they really were union members. Troublingly, they also found that workers who called in complaints on a union hotline had experienced retaliation from managers, and that complaints had not been resolved.

Another report released by SACOM in May stated that at keyboard supplier Sunrex Computer 169 workers were poisoned by contaminated drinking water between the months of May and September 2012. A drinking fountain had been connected to a sewage draining system for the spray-painting department, causing workers who drank the water to suffer dizziness and fatigue, weakened immunity, abdominal pain, and disordered liver function. Though they require continued treatment the factory is refusing to pay for it, denying responsibility for their illness.

In July China Labor Watch released a blistering report on labor conditions at three Pegatron facilities, including the one in Shanghai where the as yet released lower-cost iPhone 5C was in production. The researchers found through undercover investigation problems consistent with other factories in Apple’s Chinese supply chain. They also found 10,000 underage and student workers out of 70,000 employees across the three sites who are not given the protections for minor workers required by Chinese labor law, are paid less than the average worker, and are forced to work by their schools and pay fees to the school.

In September China Labor Watch released another report detailing similar conditions at a the US owned Jabil supplier in Wuxi where the plastic back for the iPhone 5C is produced. They found through an undercover investigation and interviews with 80 workers that the 30,000 employees who share one cafeteria are left with only 5 minutes to eat after traversing the campus and passing through multiple security check points. Given the low wage they receive, even two combined salaries are insufficient for raising a child in the area.

In late November SACOM released a report detailing unsafe and sickening work conditions at Biel Crystal’s Huizhou factory, which supplies 60 percent of the glass used in Apple products. In addition to the typical labor violations, SACOM also found troubling safety and health hazards. Though workers rely on noxious and flammable chemicals the researchers found no fire escapes, nor accessible fire extinguishers. Workers had not received fire safety training, and had not been informed of the potential dangers of working with chemicals, some of which were mislabeled.

Some workers were poisoned due to high levels of acetone vapor in the factory, and some suffered eye injuries due to lack of safety googles. According to the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, when not handled properly in unventilated environments acetone can be highly dangerous, causing irritation of the nose, throat, lungs, and eyes, as well as headaches, light-headedness, confusion, increased heart rate, nausea and vomiting, and even fainting and coma. Workers at this factory suffered crippled limbs in addition to serious bodily injuries. In response to the report Apple thanked SACOM for engaging with the supplier but did not acknowledge responsibility or take any action.

Most recently in December, China Labor Watch announced that three Pegatron Shanghai workers had died after working through peak production periods. Shi Zhaokun, just 15 years old when he succumbed to pneumonia at Shanghai Shuguang Hospital, was in good health when he passed the company’s physical examination upon his hiring in September. Between then and his death on October 9 he worked 12 hours per day on Apple product lines.

Indeed, 2013 was a big year for Apple.

Posted in USA, CampaignsComments Off on Apple’s Top Crimes of 2013

End Human Rights Violation, Release Dirar Abu Sisi

End Human Rights Violation, Release Dirar Abu Sisi 
Take Action | Sign Petition: 

The abduction and detention of Dirar Abu Sisi highlights Israel’s routine violation of human rights and international law. It is yet another example of complicity of a European country in Israel’s crime and persecution of Palestinians.
44 year old Dirar Abu Sisi is a Palestinian who was residing with his Ukrainian wife Veronika Abu Sisi in Ukraine until he was kidnapped and sent to the occupying state of Israel on the 18th of February 2011.
Since his kidnapping, he has remained incarcerated in Israeli prisons under extremely poor conditions; he is now suffering from debilitating health conditions and psychological trauma. He has endured torture, humiliation and inhumane treatment from Israeli prison authorities. Israeli authoritiesare also preventing his Ukrainian wife and children from visiting or speaking to him.
According to Abu Sisi, Arab and Western security services conspired in his abduction. Although he was kidnapped from Ukraine, the Ukrainian government refuses to admit the incident took place on its soil so as to evade any responsibility.
UFree Network and other human rights organisations publicised Abu Sisi plight and once again we campaign on his behalf after two and half years in an  illegal detantion and with full sielnce from the international community and mnajor human rights organisations. In addition, politicians and elected members of the European Parliament remain indifferent and unwilling to issue any support, let alone statements regarding his kidnapping and incarceration.
Israel has clearly violated the security and sovereignty of Ukraine. Such a serious, illegal and immoral act requires a bold and serious response so that Israel knows there is a price for breeching international law, violating sovereignty and breeching human rights.
At the least, Israel must begin with immediate release of Abu Sisi in addition to compensating him and his family for the inhumane treatment he received from Israeli officials. If Israel’s actions go unpunished Israel will be emboldened further to breech international law and violate sovereignty to continue its ongoing repression of Palestinians.
Various documented reports confirmed that Ukraine was complicit in the kidnapping of Abu Sisi. It covered up the kidnapping and concealed police reports which investigated the incident. Israel’s actions would not be possible without the direct assistance from Ukrainian authorities. Ukrainian newspapers revealed that Ukrainian and Jordanian intelligence assisted Israel in kidnapping Abu sisi.
In recognition of the gross violation of human rights and international law, we the undersigned call on EU parliament including and its political leadership to the following:
  • The EU must investigate this conspiracy and demand transparency from the Ukrainian government on the matter.
  • It must take measures to protect its own Palestinian citizens (residing in Europe) from abduction and incarceration by Israeli authorities.
  • Pressure Israel to immediately release Dirar Abu Sisi and compensate him and his family.
  • Ensure that Israel fully respects Human Rights charters and International agreements.
  • Reveal the identity of all those who were part of this conspiracy and violations of national sovereignty.
We must demonstrate respect for our values of human dignity, liberty, democracy and the rule of law. Such values underpin the Treaty of Lisbon and the European Human Rights Convention as well as EU’s economic treaty with Israel. 
Israel and the EU are economically wedded and as such must abide by the terms of the trade agreement. Their actions are direct violation of its obligations under the treaty and as such should be reviewed. 
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Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZI, Human RightsComments Off on End Human Rights Violation, Release Dirar Abu Sisi

Democracy under attack in South Korea


Statement from the newly formed Solidarity Network for Democracy in Korea

South Korean President Park Geun-hye with U.S. President Barrack Obama. The right-wing, repressive Park Geun-hye administration has received the full backing of the U.S. government

The following appeal was issued by the newly formed Solidarity Network for Democracy in Korea. The ANSWER Coalition encourages all of its supporters to sign the petition referenced below.

Hard-won democracy is under a serious attack under Park Geun-hye administration, which has been in power only less than one year.

Especially, interference and surveillance by the Korean National Intelligence Services have increased, and government repression of the social movement has intensified. And then there is Lee Seok-ki’s case pending in court as the prime example. While there may be different opinions and perspectives about the Unified Progressive Party, I hope you will agree with us that the attack on the UPP in and of itself has been a strategic “divide and conquer” move to weaken the progressive movement by the government. If the government is successful in banning the UPP, there will be more severe attacks on democracy, and without people’s resistance, the progressive social movement of South Korea will suffer great setbacks.

Although the news media has been really quiet about Lee Seok-ki, his trial is now ongoing and will be decided by the end of January. It has been revealed in the trial that the prosecution’s key evidence, the transcript of the audio recordings, contained 272 “errors” in the original version that was leaked to the media and was the basis for the indictment.

The Task Force against State Repression is now urgently collecting petitions/letters to the presiding judge (the Honorable Kim Jong-Woon) in the case urging a fair trial.

As people living in the U.S. who are concerned about democracy in South Korea, some of us plan to create the “Solidarity Network for Democracy in Korea (Sol-Net Korea)” so that we can work with the progressive movement in South Korea in more timely fashion, issuing needed statements, circulating petitions, op-eds, and publicizing the people’s dire struggles against government repression of democracy. The conscientious people in the United States have played an important solidarity role in disseminating truthful news to the international communities, providing and increasing public pressure on the South Korean government, and encouraging people in South Korea by standing by them in spirit.

Now, you are cordially invited to:

1) Join the Sol-Net Korea –> if you are interested, please send an email to, your name, city and country, and email address for our listserv;

2) Sign these two petitions to the Honoroble Kim Jong-Woon

Avaaz Petition or 

Google Petition form

3) Please send this statement to your friends, comrades, and colleagues and help spread the words to the conscientious people in the United States

Thank you!


Minhee Kang

Solidarity Network for Democracy in Korea (Sol-Net Korea)

Posted in South KoreaComments Off on Democracy under attack in South Korea

‘The U.S. says it wants to help us but maintains an unjust blockade


Interview with Elián González Brotons

Elián González

Original interview by Ecuadorian newspaper El Telégrafo, and posted on Juventud Rebelde. A CubaNews translation, edited by Walter Lippmann.

He was seen sharing with everyone, having his picture taken, laughing, telling stories undisturbed by the media siege, in parades, in presentations, debates; just as any other Cuban, one among the 300 that represented the country at the 18th World Festival of Youth and Students.

Elián González Brotons attended the festival. He was the child whose return to Cuba, over 13 years ago, opened an unprecedented chapter in the history of the struggle of the Cuban people who took to the streets to get him returned to his father and homeland.

During those days of celebration and discussion, El Telégrafo, the dean of the Ecuadorian newspapers, interviewed him. JR shares the interview with its readers.

It is a dialogue that brings us closer to this 20-year-old who is humble, private, with a down-to-earth way of thinking and acting, and is always very sensitive about Cuba.

Last Tuesday, during the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, the presidents of the United States, Barack Obama, and of Cuba, Raul Castro, shook hands. Would you comment on that?

“I do not know what his intentions were (of Obama); if it was just some double standard or plain protocol. I wish that handshake would change history. This is Obama’s last term and why not be the president who changed history, who lifted the blockade against Cuba, who ended wars, who freed the Five Heroes [Cubans imprisoned in the U.S.]thus living up to his Nobel Peace Prize.”

“Of course we wish that handshake had been real, a friendly gesture, a gesture of solidarity with the Cuban people on the basis of mutual respect and for our sovereignty.”

This is your first trip outside Cuba since you returned. Why did it take you so long?

“Yes, this is my first trip because we know that imperialism makes every effort to damage the integrity of the Revolution, to hurt our people and make us suffer. There was also fear of retaliation, fear of actions against me, so I had not been allowed to travel abroad and also I was very young. Now that I’m older and I was coming to a brotherly country, we felt certain that nothing would happen in Ecuador. It was time for me to go out and tell the world how I feel, what my thoughts are and my support for the Cuban Revolution, for Fidel and for the progressive movements that are emerging.”

Since this the first time you are outside Cuba, how do you feel surrounded by all this media attention? How is the situation in your country?

“In Cuba I’m not overwhelmed as much; overwhelmed in the sense that they let me live as an ordinary young guy. What happens is that in Cuba everyone wants to meet me, make friends, because I became part of their lives.”

“Here too, the people of Ecuador have been very warm and supportive. I had no idea how big the struggle had been, but here I have realized that people around the world joined in the struggle for returning me to my father. I thought my story was not well-known, but it is. It’s something the Americans gave me, they made me famous and sometimes, I’d like to go unnoticed. But it is also my obligation and duty to be nice to anyone who comes to see me, to treat them kindly and to assist them in any way I can, because the international community took up this struggle and supported me.”

How is your life in Cuba? You are studying Industrial Engineering, in Matanzas where you live. Why did you choose this profession?

“I am just an ordinary young guy; I go to school in the morning, I attend classes, I go to parties, listen to music, I practice sports, I go out with my family. My life is very normal. I chose this profession because in Cuba a restructuring of the economy is being carried out following the Guidelines of the Party. Although we are blockaded, we try to push development forward. That is precisely what this profession is about: managerial techniques in order to make processes more effective, more efficient and to achieve better results with the smallest possible amount of resources. Also you learn to manage quality and human resources.”

“I thought it was the most suitable profession to respond to what the Revolution needs, to what our country needs today: a change in our economic policy to continue improving our economic model. I’m two years away from graduating; it is a five-year program.”

How do you view the reforms that are being implemented in Cuba?

“These were necessary reforms. Changes have been introduced to restructure our economy, in order to make it more productive. New openings are in place; the number of self-employed people is growing, the number of agricultural cooperatives is growing. All this has been done to promote the development of the economy in Cuba.”

“There have also been changes in immigration policy and other sectors. They are very positive changes that have been well-received by the people, because they are aimed at improving our situation. The road ahead is hard; it is difficult to sustain an economy being such a small country, a country without great resources except for the most valuable one: our human resources.”

“Although we are blockaded, we always come out ahead. These policies are aimed at solving problems of the population. The United States says it wants to help the Cuban people, but it maintains an unjust blockade, a series of laws only to harass us and cause economic problems.”

How did you get involved in politics? Do you see yourself replacing any of the leaders of your country?

“If that comes to pass, I would undertake it with great pride. But that is not what I want. I do not want any leadership job or anything like that.  I want my life to be as quiet as possible, but if that is what is needed of me, I’d be willing to do it.”

“Young Cubans have always been ready: just as Fidel and Raúl, when young, were able to see on which side their duty was, not where life could be better. … I am now a member of the Young Communist League.”

Many Cubans live in the United States. You could have stayed there, but did the opposite. You returned to Cuba. Are you aware of what this means?

“I believe I’m a positive symbol. I’ve had the opportunity to talk with Cubans who live in Miami and who admire me; they believe I made the right decision. They went to Miami because of the economic problems caused by the blockade. If the United States passed a law so that all Ecuadorians who step on U.S. soil could stay, and after a year were given citizenship, just imagine how many Ecuadorians would go. As Martí said, ‘I saw the monster and know its entrails.’ U.S. soil is no better than the Ecuadorian soil; here a Citizen Revolution is taking place for the benefit of the people.”

We recall the image of the child crying, under pressure, and who had lost his mother in an attempt to reach the United States. How do you remember her?

“I think she was somehow manipulated by her partner of the time; he was a criminal, a low-life. I remember he even abused her.”

“I do not have a very clear view of the circumstances, I was very small. But maybe she was forced by him. I remember her as a good mother who gave me the love I needed. About her wish to go to the U.S., I’m sure she never had anything against the Cuban Revolution or the leadership of the people; her wish was to improve her economic situation which was a result of the blockade and the unfair laws imposed on us.”

“But greater than the suffering I could have experienced is that of the children of the Five Heroes. My thing was over in just one year, they have been 15 in this battle.”

Reprinted from Liberation News

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Korean conspiracy trial


The fate of democracy

Lee Seok-ki of the Unified Progressive Party

By Gregory Elich

Originally posted on Counterpunch.

It made worldwide news when Lee Seok-ki, representative in the South Korean National Assembly, was arrested on charges of treason. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) fed media outlets with a transcript of a meeting that Lee attended, which appeared to reveal plans by the Unified Progressive Party to take up arms against the South Korean government in the event of war with the north.

The release of the transcript came at the height of national protests against interference by the NIS in the national election of December 2012. The Unified Progressive Party (UPP) was at the forefront of the anti-NIS demonstrations, and the furor that resulted over the accusations against Lee and the UPP succeeded in stifling mass protests.

In a sense, Lee Seok-ki and his six co-defendants have been tried twice; first in a trial by media, in which inflammatory news accounts based on one-sided details and misinformation provided by the NIS convinced a majority of South Koreans that Lee was guilty as charged.

It appears that the second trial, now underway in a Suwon district court, may yield a quite different result, based on the unravelling of the prosecution’s case.

The two main charges against Lee Seok-ki are conspiracy to take up arms against the government and violation of the National Security Law, which makes it illegal to praise or show sympathy for North Korea. Liberally applied, the law has often been used to suppress dissent and punish political actions that are wholly unrelated to North Korea.

The prosecution’s chief witness is an informer who was paid by the NIS to spy on the UPP. The centerpiece of the case is the set of recordings the informer made at two party meetings he attended in May, 2013.

The informer testified that these meetings were attended by members of a secret subgroup of the UPP named the Revolutionary Organization (RO). Claiming to be a former member of the RO, the witness said he had engaged in “anti-state activities.” Straining credulity, the informer asserted that RO members told him “there was only one leader – Kim Il Sung, and that Lee Seok-ki is the representative of South Korea.” Never mind that Kim Il Sung had long been dead by the time this conversation was alleged to have taken place.

The very existence of the RO is open to question. The UPP declares that there is no Revolutionary Organization, and the entire concept is a concoction of the NIS in order to smear the party. The UPP has maintained from the first that the NIS deliberately manipulated the transcript in order to misrepresent the actual words that had been spoken at the May meetings.

Indeed, there is ample cause for skepticism concerning the reliability of the transcripts. The prosecution submitted 46 audio recordings from various meetings as evidence. Once the recordings were in the hands of the judge, the prosecution reworked the transcriptions in order to produce more accurate results. The transcripts from the May meetings alone contained a total of 272 corrections made to the initial versions the NIS had leaked to the press and which formed the basis for the indictment of Lee and his six co-defendants. More than half of the errors came in the text of Lee Seok-ki’s speech on May 12.

Whether the original inaccuracies could be termed “errors” is another matter. It would be naïve to imagine that it was just happenstance that incorrect wording tended to paint a damning picture of Lee. The inflammatory words inserted into the first transcript caused widespread outrage, providing the pretext for the NIS to raid the homes and offices of the UPP, arrest several of its members, and launch an effort to ban the party.

Consider what a different impression is made by the creative rewording provided in the first transcript. In the first version, the phrase “carrying out holy war” is attributed to Lee, but the recording shows he actually said “carrying out promotion.” Similarly, “oppositional struggle” and the “the subject of this war” in the first transcript contrast with Lee’s recorded words, “antiwar struggle” and “struggle against war,” respectively. Lee’s reference to the Jeol-du-san Catholic Martyr’s Shrine appeared in the first transcript as “shrine for decisive battle.”

Was it an unintentional mishap that the first transcript had Lee announcing “war preparation,” rather than his actual words “specific preparation”? Can it really be said that Lee was calling for an armed uprising when the first transcript’s phrase “Let us carry out decisive war” was shown to be “Let us decide”?

The NIS claims that its dodgy transcript was due to “faulty audio quality and static interference,” but it surely is no accident that the nature of the errors made it more likely that Lee and his co-defendants would be indicted and the UPP defamed.

Many of the audio files the prosecution submitted as evidence were copies. “Much of the original audio files have been deleted,” the defense team pointed out, “so it raises questions about whether or not the copies are the same as the originals. Even if the witness verifies the integrity of the evidence, it cannot be said that its authenticity has been established.”

The prosecution contended that co-defendants Hong Sun-seok and Lee Sang-ho made more than 1,700 calls to suspected RO members during the year and a half preceding the May meetings. The defense countered, “There is no objective evidence to show that the people they spoke with are RO members and no one knows the contents of their conversations.” The defense also questioned the likelihood that members of an underground organization would use cell phones to communicate.

Actions by the NIS may have given the prosecution an unfair advantage in the conspiracy trial. The NIS conducted a series of raids on the homes and offices of the UPP and affiliated organizations, and in the November 14 raid on one group, the NIS confiscated a secure digital card containing the defense team’s legal strategy. Two weeks later, the NIS contacted the defense team and announced that it would remove the seals on the card and told them to come. A defense team member reports, “After removing the seal, they didn’t immediately return it, but connected it to a computer and posted the materials on the screen; then took pictures of the documents with a digital camera.” The defense team protested that the materials were for defense counsels only and dealt with the conspiracy trial, “but the agents continued to take photos.”

The NIS claims that it deleted the photos on the camera in front of the defense team, but data recovery software can retrieve deleted digital photos. Screen recording software could also have been installed on the computer. There was nothing to stop the NIS from capturing that information if it chose to do so. The behavior of the NIS throughout the entire affair does not inspire confidence in that organization’s good will. The defense called the actions by the NIS “a complete violation of the defendants’ right to defense and the rights of the defense counsels that could lead to the dismissal of the charges.”

In a further violation of the rights of defense, Lee Seok-ki is kept under constant CCTV surveillance and was not allowed access to counsel except in the presence of the prosecution.

Much of the government’s case relies upon the strength of the paid informer’s testimony, and cross-examination by the defense has demolished his credibility. The defense contended that the informer’s deposition was prewritten by the NIS and did not represent his actual testimony. According to records, the deposition lasted 3 hours and 25 minutes, followed by 25 minutes of review and questions. The defense argued that it was not possible to write 97 pages of deposition in such a short time and review and sign 142 pages of a report in 25 minutes. The defense questioned the informer: “Did the NIS agents prewrite the deposition?”

The informer admitted, “They did prewrite it.” The deposition the prosecution attributed to the informer in fact represents the words of the NIS. In reply to the question of the time being too short to handle the volume of material, the informer replied: “I was familiar with the content, so I speed-read it just to check for any errors.” Nevertheless, it was the NIS that supplied that content.

Nor has the informer’s testimony inspired confidence. The conclusion by the witness that the May 12 meeting was held by the Revolutionary Organization was based solely on his judgment that security was tight. There was no other indication that a secret group was meeting. If strict security is sufficient evidence of a secret revolutionary group, then one encounters such groups with each trip to the airport.

One of the main features of the informer’s testimony was the term “single line double tracking,” describing the organization’s internal security structure. The witness assumed the RO had adopted this approach based on what he had read of past national security cases. He merely extrapolated from those unrelated cases.

The witness frequently changed his testimony. Initially, the informer claimed that Lee Seok-ki announced that it was “time to prepare for revolution, a decisive moment.” During cross-examination, the witness admitted that Lee had never uttered those words.

There is even a lack of evidence for the name “Revolutionary Organization.” The defense asked the witness, “You testified that when you first joined RO, you had ‘probably heard’ the name RO from someone named Do. What did you mean ‘probably’?” The informant answered, “At the NIS, they asked if the organization name is RO and I said ‘probably RO’.” In other words, it was the NIS that supplied the name Revolutionary Organization to the informer.

The witness also admitted that his earlier testimony that the RO had four regional branches was his assumption and, despite having claimed that he heard the RO platform, he had in fact never heard it. The witness repeatedly reversed himself and acknowledged that a large portion of his earlier testimony was based on his assumptions.

The informer also conceded that his testimony regarding the structure of the RO was based on his experience and in watching the breakout groups at the May 12 meeting. He had no direct knowledge of the structure of the RO. The informant testified to the existence of an RO central committee. Asked by the judge if he had heard from anyone directly regarding its existence, the witness answered, “I never heard from anyone directly. When I heard that Wang-jae-san is a ‘shabby organization without a central committee,’ I thought it’s possible that we have one.” He assumed the existence of a central committee merely because the activists seemed well-organized.

In a preposterous statement, the witness said that he could tell who is an RO member merely by looking at the person. Indeed, the only evidence the prosecution had to offer that the RO even existed was the testimony of the informant, and that was was proving an embarrassment.

In the assessment of lead defense attorney Kim Chil-jun, “The informant assumed the role of a NIS contractor and collaborated with the NIS to actively meet people and entrap them to say certain things. Rather than provide objective and truthful information on an actual situation, he infiltrated for the purpose of investigation, choreographed the situation, and then submitted that as evidence. After drafting an exaggerated activity report, he then immediately submitted that to the NIS.”

In regard to the evidence the NIS claimed to have on the RO, Kim observes, “It has been revealed that they were all either based on the imagination of the informant or fiction based on his knowledge of other high-profile national security cases.” As for the existence of the RO, “There is no evidence beyond the testimony of the government informant. Even what might be considered evidence is either contradictory or absurd.”

Based only on a few words, Kim said, “The government informant basically imagined this entire scenario.” No resolutions came from the breakout sessions on May 12, nor could the informer know what was being said at the six other sessions taking place simultaneously with the one he attended. There is no evidence of decisions being taken to launch a rebellion. Asked whether there was any discussion following the breakout sessions on a plan of action or a resolution, the government informant replied, “No, I don’t remember.”

The defense will begin presenting its case in January, when it plans to reveal additional information about the extent of fabrication in the government’s case. It is expected that within the next few weeks, the judge will make a determination on the admissibility of the recordings as evidence, and a negative decision would deal another blow to the prosecution case.

At this point, the prosecution has failed to offer evidence to substantiate the charge of conspiracy. The National Security Law, however, is so open to varying interpretations that a conviction on that charge cannot be ruled out. The government is counting on a conviction on at least one charge in order to strengthen the motion it filed with the Constitutional Court for the abolition of the Unified Progressive Party. The Ministry of Justice also plans to try to remove the six UPP members in the National Assembly from office. A successful outcome in either endeavor would trigger wider efforts.

In a growing wave of government repression that includes widespread attacks on unions, the conspiracy trial is an opening salvo in a campaign to remove progressive forces from the political scene. The Ministry of Justice has announced plans to get legislation passed that would grant it authority to disband what it terms “anti-state” groups. “The UPP is just the tip of the iceberg,” one Justice Ministry official revealed, and there are many individuals and groups that the government wants to target.

The fate of democracy in South Korea hangs in the balance. The Right is resorting to the practices of the era of dictatorship, when oppositionists were routinely red baited and repression was used to stifle dissent. An acquittal of the defendants at the conspiracy trial and the failure of the government’s motion to abolish the UPP would foil efforts to delegitimize participation by progressive forces in the political process, and mark a great victory in the Korean people’s defense of democracy.

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Police Open Fire on Striking Garment Workers


In Cambodia, ‘appalling use of extreme lethal force’ marks second day of clashes

– Andrea Germanos

Five people were reportedly killed after police opened fire on striking garment workers in Cambodia’s capital on Friday.

Police used “prolonged” live ammunition against striking garment workers in Cambodia. (Photo: LICADHO)Workers from hundreds of the country’s garment factories demonstrated in Phnom Penh’s Canadia Industrial Park, home to dozens of factories that make clothing for well-known western brands including H&M and Puma, demanding a doubling of the minimum wage, currently set at $80 a month.

According to local human rights watchdog group Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), security forces shot live ammunition directly at civilians, and used tear gas and grenades, leaving 21 injured in addition to the five killed.

“The use of live ammunition was prolonged and no efforts appear to have been made to prevent death and serious injury,” according to a statement from the group.

“We condemn this appalling use of extreme lethal force by security forces,” said Naly Pilorge, LICADHO Director. “Security forces must now put an immediate end to the use of live ammunition against civilians and ensure that all those injured are safely transported to hospital without delay.”

The violence marked a second day of clashes between garment workers and police. During the police crackdown on Thursday, rights groups say police detained and violently beat workers, union leaders and monks.

“These latest horrific developments demonstrate why authorities can no longer afford to ignore the social problems and poor living conditions facing workers in Cambodia today,” said Moeun Tola, head of the labor program at the Phnom Penh-based Community Legal Education Centre.

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