Archive | July 16th, 2018

Under Massive Pressure, Trump Backpedals on Russia “Meddling”

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Speaking at the White House Tuesday, US President Donald Trumpattempted to walk back statements he made just 24 hours earlier at his summit in Helsinki, Finland with Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he questioned claims by US intelligence agencies that the Russian government “meddled” in the 2016 election.

Trump’s about-face followed a full-court press campaign by all US media outlets, the US intelligence agencies, the Democrats, and leading figures in the Republican Party, who demanded that he reaffirm the US government’s confrontational stance toward the world’s second most powerful nuclear power.

In the weeks leading up to Trump’s meeting with Putin, the Democrats treated him like an invincible colossus. It was impossible, they said, to seriously oppose his reactionary Supreme Court nominee, and nothing could be done to hold him to account for his criminal policy of breaking up refugee families, which was called child torture by the United Nations.

In fact, the Senate had just voted with overwhelming bipartisan support to approve his massive Pentagon budget increase, which included provisions for keeping open the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and allowing the fascistic demagogue to proceed with his unprecedented military parade in Washington.

But the moment Trump did something that cut across a central pillar of American foreign policy, the Democrats and the media ferociously sprang into action.

Trump’s questioning of the unproven narrative of the intelligence agencies was met with absolute hysteria and the implication that anyone failing to hold their unsubstantiated allegations as incontestable is nothing but a Russian agent.

In the post-World War II period, even within the tradition of American cold war liberalism, the activities of the FBI and CIA were always treated with extreme skepticism: as enormous and real threats to the survival of American democracy.

For nearly half a century, it was noted, J. Edgar Hoover ran a police state-within-a-state through the FBI. The FBI and CIA, functioning as a law unto themselves, spied on and blackmailed American political figures, carried out coups around the world and were widely believed to have been involved in the assassination of an American president.

The Watergate scandal, the Church Commission of the 1970s and the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, not to mention the intelligence agencies’ role in fabricating the “evidence” of weapons of mass destruction ahead of the invasion of Iraq, their criminal mass domestic surveillance and their role in drone murder, made clear that these are criminal organizations, willing to use any means to expand their own power at the expense of democracy.

But now, these organizations have been elevated by the media into America’s quintessential guardians, and their word declared to be the gospel truth. Any discussion of their role in torture, domestic spying and drone assassinations has been shelved.

Trump was denounced as a traitor, in language that seemed to invite a military coup. His conduct was squarely declared “unacceptable” and he was, so to speak “shown the instruments.” The warning last year by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer,

“You take on the intelligence community—they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” was demonstrated in practice.

Faced with implacable and universal pressure from within the political and media establishment, as well as the military and intelligence apparatus, Trump was forced to beat a retreat.

This entire sordid episode expresses the degree to which there is overwhelming institutional commitment within the US ruling elite for conflict with Russia, if necessary to the point of nuclear war. This war drive, which aims at the transformation of Russia into what would be for all intents and purposes a colony of American imperialism, has become an unchallengeable pillar of American foreign policy. Trump can commit any violation of human rights, can traduce constitutional norms at will, but he may not question this axial precept of American politics.

The universality with which this argument is accepted within the US political establishment makes clear, as the World Socialist Web Site has long insisted, that there exists no constituency for democracy within the American ruling elite.

It likewise vindicates the assessment by the WSWS that the fundamental dispute between Trump and the Democrats centers on foreign policy. What cannot be allowed is any divergence from what are seen as the key strategic interests of US imperialism.

In other words, the Democrats’ opposition to Trump is entirely from the right. On domestic issues, the Democrats are effectively in alliance with Trump. They support his tax cuts, his attacks on social spending, and, with minor caveats, his reactionary social and immigration policies. They distinguish themselves from Trump only in that they identify unconditionally with the US intelligence apparatus, and are more directly ruthless in the pursuit of US geopolitical interests, as opposed to Trump’s more transactional focus on economics.

The various factions of the ruling elite, in other words, are fighting out their differences through the method of the palace coup, of reactionary intrigue within the state. But one voice has not been heard in this ferocious, right-wing faction fight: that of the working class.

In addressing the crisis that has erupted within the state as the result of the coming to power of Donald Trump, the working class must bring its own methods to bear: those of the class struggle, animated by the socialist perspective of the International Committee of the Fourth International. Only through these means can the ruling class’s drive to war and dictatorship be averted.

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Russiagate: A CIA Concocted Hoax. Trump Knows It.

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No Russian interference in America’s political process occurred in 2016, earlier, or is being cooked up for the nation’s November midterm elections.

Trump knows it and said so in Helsinki. When asked if he holds Russia accountable for anything, he said:

“I hold both countries responsible (for dismal bilateral relations). I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we’ve all been foolish…And I think we’re all to blame.”

Regarding election meddling, he said:

“There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it. And people are being brought out to the fore. So far that I know, virtually none of it related to the campaign. And they’re going to have to try really hard to find somebody that did relate to the campaign.”

“My people came to me and some others…(T)hey think it’s Russia…President Putin…said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I dont see any reason why it would be.”

“…President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

Trump is wrong about most things, not this. No evidence, nothing, proves Russian meddling in the US political process.

If it existed, it would have been revealed long ago. It never was and never will be because there’s nothing credible to reveal, Big Lies alone.

Trump’s above remarks were in Helsinki. In response to a raging Russophobic firestorm of criticism back home, he backtracked from his above comments, saying he misspoke abroad.

He accepts the intelligence community’s claim about Russian US election meddling – knowing it didn’t occur.

Russiagate was cooked up by Obama’s thuggish Russophobic CIA director John Brennan, media keeping the Big Lie alive.

DNC/John Podesta emails were leaked, not hacked – an indisputable fact media scoundrels suppress to their disgrace.

Former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray earlier explained that

“(t)he source of these emails and leaks has nothing to do with Russia at all,” adding:

“I discovered what the source was when I attended the Sam Adam’s whistleblower award in Washington.”

“The source of these emails (came) from within official circles in Washington DC. You should look to Washington, not to Moscow.”

“WikiLeaks has never published any material received from the Russian government or from any proxy of the Russian government. It’s simply a completely untrue claim designed to divert attention from the content of the material” and its true source.

The Big Lie alone matters when it’s the official narrative. The Russian meddling hoax and mythical Kremlin threat to US security are central to maintaining adversarial relations with America’s key invented enemy.

It’s vital to unjustifiably justifying the nation’s global empire of bases, its outrageous amount of military spending, its belligerence toward all sovereign independent states, its endless wars of aggression, its scorn for world peace and stability, its neoliberal harshness to pay for it all, along with transferring the nation’s wealth from ordinary people to its privileged class.

America’s deeply corrupted political process is far too debauched to fix, rigged to serve wealth, power and privilege exclusively, at war on humanity at home and abroad.

It’s a tyrannical plutocracy and oligarchy, a police state, not a democracy, a cesspool of criminality, inequity and injustice, run by sinister dark forces – monied interests and bipartisan self-serving political scoundrels, wicked beyond redemption, threatening humanity’s survival.

Today is the most perilous time in world history. What’s going on should terrify everyone everywhere.

Washington’s rage for global dominance, its military madness, its unparalleled recklessness, threatens world peace, stability, and survival.

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http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html

Featured image is from The Hacker News.

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Russian-Croatian Soft Power Bond Grows Stronger

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Agrokor might be the core component of the alliance that will extend far beyond the World Cup

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Sometimes the eyes don’t lie and what people see in front them is actually what’s happening, which in this case is the extremely unlikely partners of Russia and Croatia entering into a soft power alliance with one another that will extend far beyond the World Cup.

It would be an exercise in futility to deny that Russia and Croatia aren’t in a soft power alliance with one another after the fawning coverage that the host country’s media outlets lavished on the second-place finisher’s President, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, despite her past work as the Croatian Ambassador to the US and NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy. Sports are supposed to be apolitical so a simple explanation would be that the Russians were just very excited about rooting for the underdog, one which some of them regard as “fellow Slavs”, and that Kolinda’s charm offensive was successful in wooing them to her country’s side. Nevertheless, whether as part of an intentional extension of informal policy or coincidental to the aforesaid, it can’t be overlooked that this Russian-assisted public relations offensive in support of Croatia dovetails perfectly with Moscow’s new policy towards Zagreb.

Russia’s been making outreaches to this strategically positioned Balkan state and Three Seas Initiative member for the past two years, presumably encouraged by the influential “progressive” faction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that’s been successful in advancing their country’s fast-moving rapprochements with non-traditional partners such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan. Croatia, despite its World War II-era fascist past and the glorification of this dark period by some of its leaders, isn’t judged for it any more than Turkey is for its so-called “Neo-Ottoman” vision, which is to say that it’s a non-factor influencing the course of this bilateral relationship. There are understandably some who might object to the pure pragmatism of this approach, but it’s evidently the most flexible strategy to apply in responding to the twists and turns of the emerging Multipolar World Order and being in the best possible position to shape them.

Geopolitical considerations are still very important for influencing foreign policy, but no longer in the same way as before in all cases, such as concerning Russian-Croatian relations. Without any tangible interests in a given state, it essentially loses all strategic value because its territory is deprived of any practical significance for the outreaching party, which is why one needs to understand exactly what it is that’s driving the Russian-Croatian rapprochement and possibly even the two sides’ soft power alliance. For starters, Kolinda’s former US and NATO past isn’t seen as a problem but an opportunity, with Russia believing that it could influence her to utilize those same connections as part of its backchannel diplomatic efforts for sanctions relief. Relatedly, her highly regarded status in Western circles makes her public embrace of President Putin and Russia all the more important for improving both of their images, too.

Still, openly courting the archrival of Russia’s Serbian ally solely out of hope that it could facilitate informal inter-elite communication and potential rewards would be much too narrow-minded of a strategy that’s completely out of character for Moscow’s diplomatic professionals, which is why there’s obviously more to it than just that. Unbeknownst to most people outside of the Balkans and the Western academic community that focuses on that region, Russian banks just secured 47% control of the bankrupt Agrokor food & retail enterprise that’s the biggest company in the Balkans following extended and recently concluded negotiations over its future. This has in turn given Russia a massive physical stake in the real-sector economic activities of the region, potentially making Agrokor altogether more important for its Balkan strategy than even the Russian-owned Serbian energy companies that the Kremlin had previously depended on for influence.

Naturally, it wouldn’t be surprising for Russia to want to “rehabilitate” the reputation of such a significant newfound partner, hence what might have been the strategic calculations that possibly contributed to the month-long public relations blitz surrounding Kolinda and Croatia. Another motivating factor might have also been that Russians are looking for a safer holiday alternative to replace Egypt and Montenegro, the first of which is a well-known terrorist target and the second is becoming increasingly hostile to Russia ever since it joined NATO in spite of that country’s impressive tourist & real estate investments there. Croatia, by comparison, is now seen by most Russians as a friendly country eager to return the hospitality that was provided to them during the World Cup, and it wouldn’t be surprising if tourist companies begin promoting it as the next main destination to be discovered.

Having discussed the most important factors contributing to the Russian-Croatian soft power alliance, it’s now possible to understand it in its proper context instead of as the stand-along political anomaly that it would otherwise be interpreted as. Although grand geopolitical motivations related to “balancing” the Three Seas Initiative through Croatian-facilitated diplomatic means and more local interests dealing with a new holiday destination for Russian tourists are important, the most pivotal one is the influence that the Agrokor settlement had on these two countries’ relations, which transformed them from being simply about symbolic gestures to acquiring a solid strategic basis that extends throughout the entire Balkans. Russia’s old Serbian ally will always have a role in Moscow’s regional policy by virtue of historical inertia and geography, but the country’s new privileged partner for the 21st century might just end up being its Croatian rival.

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India: The Assault on Scholar and Social Activist Swami Agnivesh

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The International Movement for a Just World (JUST) is shocked to learn that the prominent Indian social activist, Swami Agnivesh, was assaulted on the 17th of July 2018 in the Pakur area of Jharkhand State while leaving a hotel where he had participated in an event.

The assassins are allegedly from the youth wing of the BJP, the ruling party. They had torn his clothes and hurled abuses at Agnivesh. They were angry that the activist had made a statement defending the consumption of beef. In recent months, the consumption of beef in a society where the cow is venerated has become a volatile issue with cases reported of Muslims being killed because they had eaten the meat of the animal even within the confines of their homes.       

The BJP has denied that its youth workers were involved in the Agnivesh assault. One hopes that a fair and unbiased investigation will be carried out by the authorities. The culprits should be severely punished according to the law. 

It is a shame that intolerance and aggressive bigotry of this sort is gathering momentum in parts of India. It has been facilitated according to certain sources by the increasing legitimization of a narrow notion of religious identity which in a sense is a travesty of the universalism and inclusiveness of the Hindu faith. Those who wield power and influence in politics and religion should not lend credibility to such gross misinterpretations of the sacred beliefs of the majority of the populace. 

Swami Agnivesh is one of those few Indians who has always sought to combat bigotry and hatred propagated in the name of religion, any religion.  He has adopted principled positions on major controversies in his country with courage and integrity for many decades. A multi-religious, multi-cultural democracy should eulogise – not assault – such individuals. 

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Featured image is from The Indian Express.

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Africa: Contradictions between Regional Security and Imperialist Interventions

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Assessing the 31st Ordinary African Union Summit in Mauritania

  

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Featured image: French President Emmanual Macron meets with African leaders at AU summit in Mauritania, July 2, 2018

On July 1-2, 2018, the 31st Ordinary Summit of the African Union (AU)was held in the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott under the theme of “Winning the Fight against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation.”

This gathering took place amid the burgeoning challenges facing the African continent involving the efforts to realize a meaningful peace process in the Republic of South Sudan, an ongoing independence movement to liberate the Western Sahara from Moroccan occupation, gender equality and end to violence against women, the recently-announced African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the role of imperialism as it relates to the question of national and regional security.

An Elusive Peace in South Sudan

Several days prior to the convening of the AU Summit, a peace agreement was signed in Khartoum, Republic of Sudan, bringing together President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Reik Machar. For over three years, the government  and ruling party, Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in Juba, has been split leading to the declaration of the SPLM in Opposition (SPLM-IO) headed by Machar.

Under the June 23 deal which was designed to go into effect on June 27, Machar is to be reinstated as Vice President of South Sudan. Nonetheless, just hours after the ceasefire was scheduled to begin there were reports of violations from both the SPLM and the SPLM (I-O). 

During the week of July 16 the United Nations Security Council imposed an arms embargo against Juba. Nonetheless, neighboring head-of-state President Yoweri Museveni has called for the lifting of sanctions by European states on South Sudan. Museveni made this statement while he met with a visiting official delegation from Britain which included the Minister of State for the Armed Forces Mark Lancaster. 

Despite these promising developments, other opposition groups within South Sudan have complained of not being consulted by the two main tendencies, SPLM and SPLM (I-O). The South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA) has stated that it is awaiting the governance agreement that was scheduled to go into effect on July 17. Meanwhile the SPLM Leaders Former Political Detainees (SPLM—FPD) is calling for greater AU involvement in the discussions expressing distrust over what they claim to be the lack of transparency in the process being primarily led by the East African Inter-regional Authority on Development (IGAD). 

Western Sahara: The Quest for National Independence

A major anti-colonial struggle being waged by the Polisario Front and the Sahwari Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which is recognized by the AU, has become a more complicated situation in light of the readmission of the Kingdom of Morocco in 2017. Morocco had remained outside the former Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the AU for more than three decades due to its support for the liberation of the people in this former Spanish colony which has been occupied for over 40 years by the neighboring monarchy. 

According to a report on the AU Summit in Mauritania published by the Journal of Cameroon, it says:

“The African Union has renewed its resolve to seek more engagement with the United Nations to resolve the unresolved question of the Western Sahara, a territory under Moroccan control. In a communiqué at the end of the 31st AU Heads of State Summit in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott on Monday, the 54-member continental body said its members have agreed to support ongoing efforts led by the UN to broker a lasting and mutually agreeable solution to the decades-old crisis.”

This same article continues in regard to the AU position noting the regional body is:

“encouraging parties to the crisis to demonstrate flexibility and resume talks without preconditions as the only way to addressing the protracted controversy surrounding the destiny of the enclave, which straddles Morocco in the north and Mauritania in the south. Emerging from several hours of talks on the issue, AU leaders agreed that the UN’s role will be crucial drawing up the details that would form the basis of a durable compromise between the protagonists to the conflict, which is one of Africa’s forgotten crises.”

Gender Equality and the AU

A joint session of the preliminary meetings of the 31st Ordinary summit was held on June 30 between current AU Chairperson President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and European Union (EU) Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica of Croatia. Kagame, who heads the Central and East African state with the largest representation of women within the parliamentary system than any other country in the world, noted that women can contribute far more to society when they are empowered. 

During the “Women in Power” symposium the Rwandan leader said:

 “Women can deliver more when they are enjoying their full rights. But with men and women working together using their talents to the maximum the effect is not just additive, it multiplies.  All of society benefits. The sum is indeed much greater than the parts.”

Kagame continued by emphasizing:

“Despite the goodwill, substantial problems remain in the way of women’s whether cultural, legal and economic empowerment. There are important policy changes to advocate for and that will always be important and must continue to be a priority as will be discussed today.”

Nonetheless, the burning question today related to AU-EU relations center around the so-called “migration crisis.” Millions of Africans are fleeing the continuing imperialist war in Libya and other regions of the continent attempting to travel across the Mediterranean into southern, eastern and central Europe. African women are adversely impacted by this dislocation and displacement through violence, human trafficking and deaths.

Thousands have died annually since 2014 while the influx of large numbers of Africans and Asians in the European states has pushed to the fore right-wing, neo-fascist elements some of whom have increased their presence in parliamentary bodies as well as becoming ruling parties in the governments of Hungary and Italy. In response to this phenomenon of the backlash against migration from the Global South, EU leaders are advancing programs designed to encourage people to either remain in Africa or be repatriated. 

Such projects are inherently flawed since they do not address the underlying historical exploitation and national oppression through colonialism and neo-colonialism. Africa remains dependent upon European and North American capitalist regimes where terms of trade, commodity prices and military policy leave the continent at an extreme disadvantage. 

Economic turmoil prompted by the destruction of the Libyan state in 2011, the proliferation of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), the undermining of the international energy and strategic minerals markets and the refusal of the imperialists to open up the United Nations Security Council to permanent status for AU governments, illustrates the glaring dubious character of EU foreign policy. Despite the platitudes of EU leaders, their statements ring hollow when the overall character of relations is objectively assessed.

Free Trade and Regional Security: The Irreconcilable Contradictions

As leader of the AU, Rwandan President Kagame has motivated the adoption and ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). More AU states are signing the AfCFTA and taking the initiative to their legislatures for implementation.

The economic plan would theoretically combine a $US3 trillion in gross domestic product (GDP) constituting the sum total of goods and services within the AU. The program is designed to eliminate tariffs in inter-African trade facilitating the uninhibited movement of resources across the continent. 

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the agreement in Mauritania during the summit while encouraging his counterpart in the West African state of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, to follow suit. Buhari’s hesitation it is said derives from the trepidation among Nigerian industry fearing an undermining of their financial status both domestically and internationally. Nigeria and South Africa have the two largest economies within the AU and any effective free trade area requires their full participation.

Ironically the AU summit was visited by French President Emmanuel Macron who spoke to the members of the G5 Sahel Regional Force nations including Mauritania, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad. These former colonies of Paris came together in 2014 under the guise of fighting terrorism carried out by Islamist rebels across these states.

G5 Sahel Regional Force map

Attacks on a French military installation in Mali at Sevare along with two other locations, and in southeast Niger, resulting in the deaths of 10 soldiers, highlighted the precarious security situation leading up to the Mauritania AU summit. France admits to having at least 4,500 troops in the Sahel region ostensibly to enhance security.

What are often not discussed are the interests of France and the U.S. within these West African nations. Both AFRICOM and French military forces are escalating their occupations creating further uncertainty among the civilian populations. The British government of Teresa May is also entering the fray assisting French and U.S. forces with surveillance drones and helicopters. 

However, the military interventions of Paris, London and Washington are not acts of charity by any means. These policies reflect the degree of underdevelopment in post-colonial Africa. The imperialists are in the region to secure the natural resources including uranium and oil. 

The pretext of fighting Islamists cannot be taken at face value in that these same elements were deployed by the EU member-states and Washington in Libya during the overthrow of the government of former leader the late Col. Muammar Gaddafi. Syria has been a focus of destabilization utilizing certain Islamist groups that are armed and trained by western governments. 

A free trade zone in order for it to reach its full potential must be secured by the African governments themselves. It would not be rationale for the AU member-states to rely on the imperialist governments to supply them with security assistance without continuing their neo-colonial policies which are the antithesis of genuine economic development and regional sovereignty.

Undoubtedly the ruling classes of Western Europe and North America understand this dilemma quite well. African states should know that the economic renaissance of the continent cannot reach its fruition at the behest of the same imperialist nations which continue to benefit from their systematic underdevelopment and dependency. 

Consequently, until the AU makes the decisive turn inward breaking its subservient ties to imperialism there will be the inevitable instability and impoverishment. Any military program aimed at sustainable security requires the formation of an All-African military force which bans the construction of bases, drone stations and open monitoring of its territories by the Pentagon and NATO forces. 

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Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of Pan-African News Wire. He is a frequent contributor to Global Research.

All images in this article are from the author.

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No Nerve Agents Found – The OPCW Interim Report on Douma

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In terms of suffering caused, there is often not, in fact, much to choose between dismembering and burning people alive with high explosives, shredding them with shrapnel, and choking them with poison gas. Modern ‘conventional’ weapons can be far more cruel and devastating than, for example, chlorine gas. But chemical weapons, prohibited by international law, are extremely potent in allowing Western ‘humanitarians’ to justify ‘intervention’ in response to crimes – real, hyped or imagined – that the West has itself far surpassed using more respectable forms of mass murder.

Noam Chomsky has observed that

‘propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state’.

This is certainly true for social control at home, but propaganda also allows nominally democratic states to wield their military bludgeons abroad in much the same way as totalitarian states.

Thus, in April, it happened again: the entire corporate media system rose up with instant certainty to damn an enemy state for crimes against humanity on April 7, in Douma, Syria.

This was not acceptable death by bomb and bullet; this was a nerve gas attack. The villainous agent on every journalist’s lips: sarin, a highly toxic synthetic organophosphorus compound that has no smell or taste, but which quickly kills through asphyxiation.

As we discussed at the time, there was no question that this was a repetition of the fake justification for war to secure non-existent Iraqi WMDs, or to prevent a fictional Libyan massacre in Benghazi. Instead, the Guardian editors insisted that this certainly was ‘a chemical gas attack, orchestrated by Bashar al-Assad, that left dead children foaming at the mouth’. From the safety of his Guardian office, assistant editor Simon Tisdall hammered the drum for a war that risked even nuclear confrontation:

‘It means destroying Assad’s combat planes, bombers, helicopters and ground facilities from the air. It means challenging Assad’s and Russia’s control of Syrian airspace. It means taking out Iranian military bases and batteries in Syria if they are used to prosecute the war.’

By contrast, Scott Ritter – a former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq who understands the issues – was more cautious:

‘The bottom line, however, is that the United States is threatening to go to war in Syria over allegations of chemical weapons usage for which no factual evidence has been provided. This act is occurring even as the possibility remains that verifiable forensic investigations would, at a minimum, confirm the presence of chemical weapons…’

No matter, on April 14, three days after Ritter’s article appeared, the US, UK and France attacked Syria in response to the unproven allegations.

Robert Fisk of the Independent visited Douma and spoke to a senior doctor who works in the clinic where victims of the alleged chemical attack had been brought for treatment. Dr Rahaibani told Fisk what had happened that night:

‘I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night – but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.’

When Fisk’s report wasn’t ignored, it was sneeringly dismissed. A headline in The Times read:

‘Critics leap on reporter Robert Fisk’s failure to find signs of gas attack’

The Times, which is no stranger to controversy, suggested that there were big question marks over Fisk’s record:

‘Fisk is no stranger to controversy.’

 No Organophosphates Found

On 6 July 2018, the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), issued an interim report on the FFM’s investigation regarding the allegations of chemical weapons use in Douma. The passage that jumped out of the report:

‘No organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products were detected, either in the environmental samples or in plasma samples from the alleged casualties.’

No sarin! But is it possible that any nerve agents had degraded and disappeared before OPCW investigators reached the site? An April 17, Guardian article had reported:

‘The OPCW has been racing against the clock to collect samples from the site of the attack, a three-storey house in Douma, in which scores of people died in a basement. Jerry Smith, who helped supervise the OPCW-led withdrawal of much of Syria’s sarin stockpile in 2013, said samples of nerve agent rapidly degrade in normal environmental conditions… The Russian military and Syrian officers have had access to the house since last Thursday, raising fears that the site may have been tampered with. However, Smith said it was likely that residual samples of nerve agent would remain for at least another week, even after an attempted clean-up.’

The OPCW later commented:

‘On 21 April 2018, after security concerns had been addressed, the FFM team conducted its first visit to one of the alleged sites of interest, and it was deemed an acceptable risk to enter Douma…’

In other words, OPCW’s race ‘against the clock’ appeared to have been successful. Charles Shoebridge a former Scotland Yard detective and counter terrorism intelligence officer, observed:

‘if OPCW find no traces, likely not due to any inspection delay’

Before we examine ‘MSM’ reaction to the OPCW report, particularly to the failure to find ‘organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products’, let’s look at their initial reaction to claims of a nerve agent attack on April 7.

Initial Response – ‘Those Symptoms Don’t Come From Chlorine’

CNN reported on April 14:

‘Senior US officials expressed confidence Saturday that both chlorine and sarin gas were used in Syria’s alleged chemical weapons attack on the Damascus enclave of Douma last week…’

CNN cited reports ‘from media, nongovernmental organizations and other open sources’ that ‘point to miosis – constricted pupils – convulsions and disruptions to central nervous systems. Those symptoms don’t come from chlorine. They come from nerve agents… It’s a much more efficient weapon, unfortunately, the way the regime has been using it, and it’s resulted in higher deaths, it resulted in terrible pictures.’

The Financial Times cited Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer of the UK’s chemical biological radiological and nuclear regiment (see here on his credibility as an impartial source):

‘There’s no doubt this was a major chemical weapons attack. The big question is whether it was chlorine or sarin. I am favouring a mix of the two.’ (David Bond and Rebecca Collard, ‘Experts say gas attack proof will take weeks: Civil war. Douma Inspectors are struggling to access site of alleged atrocity as Assad’s troops move in,’ Financial Times, 12 April 2018)

A Telegraph article opened with this harrowing line:

‘The victims were found exactly where they had been when the gas hit. Their silent killer had given little warning.’

This clearly suggested a very powerful nerve agent, as the article explained:

‘Medics on the ground reported smelling a chlorine-like substance, but said the patients’ symptoms and the large death toll pointed to a more noxious substance such as nerve agent sarin.

‘”The number of casualties is so high and that’s not typical for chlorine,” said Dr Ahmad Tarakji, president of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), which assists hospitals in Eastern Ghouta. “Unfortunately, because of a lack of resources, we can’t take blood samples.”‘

The claims did indeed suggest something much more powerful than chlorine, as The Daily Mail made clear in a report also citing de Bretton-Gordon:

‘If it was chlorine, they could have escaped. But they died after just taking a few steps.’ (Vanessa Allen, ‘Little girl left foaming at the mouth by horrific gas attack,’ Daily Mail, 16 April 2018)

The Mail cited an ‘activist’ making the same point:

‘Ibrahim Reyhani, a White Helmet civil defence volunteer, said anyone who touched the bodies started getting sick, and said he believed a mixture of sarin and chlorine had been used.

‘He told the Sunday Times: “If it’s just chlorine, if you smell it you can escape. But sarin you breathe and it kills you.”

The Telegraph published an op-ed by de Bretton-Gordon:

‘There have been a number of chlorine attacks, but it would appear that chlorine, although outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention, is below the threshold for the UK and France to strike.

‘Saturday’s attack, with so many deaths and casualties, looks possibly to be a mixture of chlorine and the nerve agent sarin, and this atrocity must surely stretch above their threshold for action.’

It is worth reiterating again – as media responses to the OPCW’s latest report, conspicuously, have not – that chlorine was not a sufficiently deadly agent to cause either the claimed level of carnage or the claimed level of Western moral outrage. In 2015, Barack Obama noted: ‘Chlorine itself, historically, has not been listed as a chemical weapon.’

Charles Shoebridge commented:

‘while headlines of chemical weapons are undoubtedly dramatic, the relatively low lethality of chlorine makes it an ineffective – and therefore arguably also unlikely – choice of weapon…

‘Indeed, given the low toxicity of the allegedly small amounts used and the unpleasant bleach smell that always betrays chlorine’s presence, in most instances people could avoid being killed by simply walking away – another indication of its near uselessness as a weapon. Perhaps the only way it could be tactically effective is if used to drive people from trenches or bunkers to allow them to then be killed with bombs and bullets – but again, the amounts of chlorine needed would be far more than is alleged, and the accuracy needed to target in this way is unlikely to be achieved using unguided rockets as alleged this week in east Ghouta, or by dropping a “barrel bomb” from a helicopter.’

Chlorine gas was not included in the list of Syrian chemical weapons reported to the OPCW. It is an unsophisticated weapon that could also be deployed by ‘rebel’ forces and to which they have had access. The OPCW reported in August 2016: ‘Chlorine is available to all parties in the Syrian Arab Republic.’

A Guardian leader also linked the alleged attack in Douma to sarin:

‘Dozens of civilians in the Douma district were killed by Syrian government chemical attacks on Saturday.’

It continued:

‘This is not the first time this has happened. Since the use of sarin at Khan al-Assal in 2013 there have been dozens of chemical attacks by the regime.’

Peter Hitchens commented on the Guardian’s coverage in the Mail on Sunday:

‘Here is the Guardian, on 9th April 2018: “Aid workers and medics described apocalyptic scenes in the besieged city of Douma, where at least 42 people have died from what appears to be a chemical attack, as they scrambled to save the survivors of the latest atrocity in Syria…

‘”Doctors said the symptoms had been consistent with exposure to an organophosphorus substance.”‘

Hitchens asked:

‘Which doctors? Note the absence of named, checkable sources in a story written some distance from Damascus. This was typical of almost all western media reports of the episode at the time.’

Hitchens observed that OPCW had found no traces of organophosphates but that ‘The quoted “doctors”, being unidentified, cannot now be approached to ask for their response to this.’

Responding To OPCW’s July 6 Report

The skwawkbox website noted that the BBC had covered, and distorted, OPCW’s July 6 report. A BBC headline read:

‘Syria attack was chlorine gas – watchdog

‘The deadly attack in Douma in April left dozens of civilians dead and caused and international outcry.’

This was complete invention. As skwawkbox commented: ‘the OPCW report emphatically does notsay that chlorine gas was used‘. The report actually said:

‘Along with explosive residues, various chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples from two sites, for which there is full chain of custody. Work by the team to establish the significance of these results is on-going. The FFM team will continue its work to draw final conclusions.’ (Our emphasis)

Chlorinated organic chemicals are extremely common, found in degreasers, cleaning solutions, paint thinners, pesticides, resins, glues, and many other mixing and thinning solutions. The BBC amended the article, which later read:

‘The report said two samples from gas cylinders recovered at the scene tested positive for chlorine.’

Skwawkbox commented again:

‘This is a classic example of a technically-correct claim that is completely misleading.

‘The [OPCW] report does note the presence of chlorine in some samples tested from the cylinders – but not chlorine gas or the residues that would be expected from its reaction with other substances…

‘The relevant page of the OPCW’s full report states that no ‘relevant chemicals’ were found from a swab inside the opening of one cylinder:

‘In debris and on other items around the cylinder, chlorine compounds were found – but these are common compounds that would be unlikely to be formed simply by chlorine reacting with something on site.’

In similar vein, Alec Luhn, the Telegraph’s Russia correspondent, tweeted:

‘The April chemical attack in Douma was caused by chlorine gas, the OPCW says. Or it was completely staged, if you still believe the Russian authorities’

Sharmine Narwani, a writer, commentator and analyst covering Middle East geopolitics, replied brusquely but accurately:

‘No, the OPCW didn’t say that. It found traces of chlorine on the scene, which it would find in your house or office or water supply too, if sampled. Try actual #journalism.’

OffGuardian noted several headlines covering OPCW’s findings. Reuters reported:

‘Chemical weapons agency finds “chlorinated” chemicals in Syria’s Douma’

The Independent wrote:

‘Syrian conflict: Chlorine used in Douma attack that left dozens of civilians dead, chemical weapons watchdog finds’

As Off-Guardian noted, the headlines should have read: No nerve agents found.

Remarkably, these rare mentions aside, the OPCW interim report has been ignored by most major newspapers and media, including the Guardian.

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Manufacturing the Drones Above Gaza

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Photographers Daniel Tepper and Vittoria Mentasti joined forces to investigate the manufacture and use of drones by Israel – and beyond

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“Talking to people in Gaza, you realise how much the drones are burrowed into their daily lives,” says Daniel Tepper, an American photographer who has been researching and documenting the production and militarisation of drones in Israel since the 2014 conflict in Gaza.

In Arabic, unmanned aircrafts are referred to as ‘zenana’, local slang for the buzzing of a mosquito; in English ‘drones’ take their name from the male honeybee, and the monotonous hum it makes in flight. The Israeli military pioneered the use of drones in combat, employing the technology during the 1982 Lebanon War, and since then people in Gaza have become accustomed to the insidious noise of drones, sounding so close “they could reside beside us”, as Dr. Atef Abu Saifwrites in his first-hand account of the 2014 conflict, The Drone Eats With Me.

“It’s like it wants to join us for the evening and has pulled up an invisible chair,” he adds.

Despite this familiarity, what’s most scary about the drones is the fact it’s always unclear why they’re out – if they’re doing surveillance, if they’re armed, or if they’re about to strike. During the summer of 2014 the people of Gaza lived under constant surveillance, so much so you couldn’t distinguish a star or a satellite from a drone at night, says Vittoria Mentasti, an Italian photographer who experienced the conflict while reporting on it. According to Hamushim, a human rights group based in Gaza, drone warfare was responsible for almost a third of the 1543 civilian casualties in the 2014 war.

“The use of drones ensures a state of fear that perpetuates war,” says Mentasti, who has been working with Tepper to document drones and their use in Gaza. “All people in Gaza now suffer from the traumatic experience of war and the lack of any illusion of safety makes it impossible to heal from trauma.”

An employee of the Israeli aerospace manufacturer, Aeronatuics Defense Systems, carries an Orbiter 2 UAV after a flight demonstration for foreign buyers in southern Israel, near the border with Gaza. © Vittoria Mentasti and Daniel Tepper

Keen to find out more, Mentasti and Tepper joined forces in 2015 to photograph Israeli weapons conventions, and through this work gained access to the factories that manufacture drones. Israeli companies are a top global exporter of UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles], accounting for over 60% of all international sales since 1985. The industry reportedly made $4.62 billion between 2005 to 2012, mostly from foreign sales.

Mentasti and Tepper found that, paradoxically, the fully-automated drones are put together piece-by-piece by hand by skilled technicians.

“It’s like putting together a model aeroplane,” says Tepper, who adds that the factories they work in are there to sell as much as they are to produce, with the drones displayed next to promotional videos.

Visiting the factories, Tepper and Mentasti also found that many of the people and businesses associated with manufacturing UAVs believes they are humanitarian weapons, as they help reduce military and civilian casualties.

“They certainly believe they’re doing the right thing,” says Tepper.

In 2016, the duo decided to travel to Gaza and photograph the survivors of Israeli drone strikes. Travelling from Italy, Tepper came across a small infrared camera in an Apple store in Torino, made by a manufacturer that sells similar cameras for use on UAVs. He and Mentasti decided to use this camera on the project, to give an idea of what UAV operators see from their bases while remotely manning the machines.

“With infrared images, people on the ground look like insects, like little white spots running along the ground,” he says. “We don’t really feel anything from that. It’s graphic and removed like a video game. There’s no emotional pull when you see that kind of imagery.”

“We always envisioned this project to be multifaceted,” he adds. “Whatever situation we found ourselves in, we thought about what best way to express what we wanted to say.”

And what they wanted to say encompasses much more than Israel and its use of drones alone, he adds.

“It was about looking at the technology, and saying that what’s happening in Gaza is what’s happening when nations like the US, France, the UK, all these first-world nations, are using their drones all over the world.”

Ground control stations, used to pilot large drones, built inside of camouflaged shipping containers at Israel Aeronautic Industries’ main facility, near Ben Gurion Airport, Israel. Israel Aeronautic Industries (IAI) was founded in 1953 and the state-owned company is the largest aerospace and defense manufacturer in Israel. IAI has produced fighter jets, missiles, and spacecraft for domestic and international clients and is the largest manufacturer of UAV systems in Israel. This hangar is used as a showroom, exhibiting the many UAVs and related systems produced by the company.
 © Vittoria Mentasti and Daniel Tepper

The Orbiter mini UAV inside the Aeronautics Defense Systems factory in Yavne, Israel. This highly autonomous UAV can locate and track moving targets while piloting itself along a patrol route without any minimal human control. The Orbiter is flown by military forces in over 30 countries including Mexico, Ireland, and Poland.

 The company displayed a new version of the Orbiter at the Paris Air show that includes 2.2kg warhead – turning the system into a loitering munition – essentially a kamikaze drone. These types of drones can remain above a target longer than any cruise missile and are also recoverable if the strike is aborted. The drone’s warhead is designed to detonate above a target showering an area 50 meters in diameter with shrapnel. © Vittoria Mentasti and Daniel Tepper

Inside a hangar at Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) main facility, near Ben Gurion Airport, Israel. Founded in 1953, the state-owned company is the largest aerospace and defence manufacturer in the country. IAI has produced fighter jets, missiles, and spacecraft for domestic and international clients and is the largest manufacturer of UAV systems in Israel.

 This hangar is used as a showroom, exhibiting the many UAVs and related systems produced by the company. The small vehicle on the right is a scale-model of the Naval Rotary Unmanned Air Vehicle – a helicopter drone used for naval ISR missions. © Vittoria Mentasti and Daniel Tepper

Yavne, Israel – A flight simulator inside the Tactical Robotic factory © Vittoria Mentasti and Daniel Tepper

Gaza City – A warhead from an Israeli missile that failed to detonate and was recovered by a Palestinian explosive ordinance disposal unit after the 2014 war, also known as Operation Protective Edge. The warhead is encased by a fragmentation jacket composed of thousands of tiny, metal cubes. It is most likely from a LAHAT missile, which is manufactured by Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) and can be fired from tanks, ships, helicopters, and UAVs © Vittoria Mentasti and Daniel Tepper

Al-Faraheen, Gaza © Vittoria Mentasti and Daniel Tepper

© Vittoria Mentasti and Daniel Tepper

Ibrahim al-Remahi shows where he was injured in a drone strike that killed three of his children and wounded other members of his family during the 2014 war, in Wadi as-Salqa, Gaza Strip. “I evacuated my house with my family and I went with my sons to pray. We finished and suddenly the drone missile targeted us directly – the type of missile that has the small metal cubes. I received one cube on my neck and beside my liver here. And then there is my son who got killed directly in front of my eyes and the other he got injured with his nerves and he started to bleed a lot. After the missile targeted us I look around to see what’s happened. I realised that my first son got killed and the other is still bleeding and suddenly I realised that also I’m bleeding. So I start to put my hand on the parts that bleed and after that there was another rocket that hit my two daughters. The other missile targeted us and killed the sisters completely. After that I just saw myself in the ambulance and I spent more than 20 days in the hospital. I had a surgery in my stomach because of the shrapnel. I didn’t see my family that got buried because I woke up after 20 days.” Ibrahim al-Remahi. © Vittoria Mentasti and Daniel Tepper

Inside the home of Helmi Abu Toha, which was targeted by multiple airstrikes during the 2014 war, in Gaza City. Before the airstrikes, Abu-Toha’s neighbour received a call from an Israeli agent telling him to warn the Abu-Toha family to evacuate their house immediately. Hearing his neighbour’s shouting, Abu-Toha began moving his family out of their home when the building was hit with a small munition that exploded on the roof. This tactic, first employed by the Israeli Air Force and later adopted by the United States, is known as a ‘roof knocking’. It is used to warn those inside a targeted building to evacuate before the next strike, which is usually much more destructive. The warning shot is probably fired by a drone in most cases. Abu-Toha and his family managed to escape before the building was hit again. A bomb penetrated through four floors and ended up in the basement without exploding. The Israeli Air Force sometimes drops inert, concrete filled bombs in an effort to reduce collateral damage. Abu-Toha’s building sustained significant damage and a small food market the family ran out of the first floor was destroyed. They do not know why the building was targeted. “It’s so amazing in any moment this house could be targeted again. Any way, any clashes, when they break the ceasefire for sure I will evacuate my house because I will not feel safe anymore in this house…I just would like to know why they targeted our house. What’s the goal for targeting my house?” Helmi Abu Toha
. © Vittoria Mentasti and Daniel Tepper

© Vittoria Mentasti and Daniel Tepper

Shuja’iyya, Gaza – Eslam Shamali stands amid the rubble of her destroyed home. Eslam’s brother was a Hamas commander who died during the 2014 war, houses owned by their family were destroyed by the Israeli military during heavy fighting in their neighbourhood. © Vittoria Mentasti and Daniel Tepper

Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZI, GazaComments Off on Manufacturing the Drones Above Gaza

Nazi Minister: Nazi Jets Should Drop Bombs Over the Heads of Gaza Children

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Nazi Naftali Bennett

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Featured image: Nazi Education Minister, Naftali Bennett [Solidarity with Palestine Walter Herrman/Facebook]

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennet has insisted that Israeli warplanes should drop bombs over the heads of Palestinian children flying kites into the Nazi state, Ynet Net News reported.

During the meeting of the Nazi Security Cabinet on Sunday, which convened to discuss the latest Nazi attacks on the besieged Gaza Strip, Bennet said:

“Why not shoot anyone who launches aerial weapons at our communities, and at the cells?

“There is no legal impediment. Why shoot next to them and not directly at them? These are terrorists for all intents and purposes.”

When the Nazi Army Chief of Staff Nazi Gadi Eisenkot responded, saying:

“I don’t think shooting teens and children – who are sometimes the ones launching the balloons and kites – is right.”

He also asked Nazi Bennet:

“Are you proposing to drop a bomb from a plane on incendiary balloon and kite cells?”

Nazi Bennett stressed that the Nazi army should do this, pushing the army chief to say:

“I disagree with you. It’s against my operational and moral positions.”

Most of the Palestinians who fly the kites during the Great March of Return, which started on 30 March, are children.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, UKComments Off on Nazi Minister: Nazi Jets Should Drop Bombs Over the Heads of Gaza Children

Whither Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism?

Ibn SaudI and Ibn Wahhab

By James M. Dorsey

Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman could well dash expectations that he is gunning for a break with Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism rather than a shaving off of the rough edges of Wahhabi ideology that has been woven into the kingdom’s fabric since its founding more than 80 years ago.

Prince Muhammad has fuelled expectations by fostering Islamic scholars who advocate a revision of Wahhabism as well as by lifting a ban on women’s driving and creating space for entertainment, including music, theatre, film and, for conservatives, controversial sports events like wrestling.

The expectations were reinforced by the fact that King Salman and Prince Muhammad have called into question the degree to which the rule of the Al Sauds remains dependent on religious legitimisation following the crown prince’s power grab that moved the kingdom from consensual family to two-man rule in which the monarch and his son’s legitimacy is anchored in their image as reformers.

Prince Muhammad has subjugated the kingdom’s ultra-conservative religious leaders through a combination of intimidation, coercion and exploitation of religious dogma particular to a Saudi strain of ultra-conservatism that stipulates that Muslims should obey their ruler even if he is unjust.

To cement his power, Prince Muhammad has in the past year marginalised establishment religious scholars, detained critics and neutralised members of the elite by arresting relatives, prominent businessmen and officials, and stripping them of much of their assets.

In doing so, Prince Muhammad has subjugated the kingdom’s ultra-conservative religious leaders through a combination of intimidation, coercion and exploitation of religious dogma particular to a Saudi strain of ultra-conservatism that stipulates that Muslims should obey their ruler even if he is unjust. Islam “dictates that we should obey and hear the ruler”, Prince Muhammad said.

In an optimistic projection of Prince Muhammad’s changes, Saudi researcher Eman Alhussein argued that the crown prince’s embrace of more free-thinking scholars has encouraged the emergence of more “enlightened sheikhs”, allowed some ultra-conservatives to rethink their positions, enabled a greater diversity of opinion and fundamentally altered the standing of members of the religious establishment. She says:

The conflicting and different opinions presented by these scholars helps demolish the aura of “holiness” some of them enjoyed for years… The supposed holiness of religious scholars has elevated them beyond the point where they can be questioned or criticised. Ending this immunity will allow the population to regain trust in their own reasoning, refrain from being fully reliant on scholarly justifications, and bring scholars back to Earth.

The crown prince’s approach also involves a combination of rewriting the kingdom’s religious-political history rather than owning up to responsibility and suppression of religious and secular voices who link religious and social change to political reform.

Some Saudi scholars argue that the degree of change in the kingdom will depend on the range of opinion among religious scholars. They suggest that change will occur when scholars are divided and stall when they speak with one voice. The wide range of opinion among Islamic scholars coupled with Prince Muhammad’s autocratic approach would appear, according to the argument of these scholars, to largely give him a free hand. Reality, however, suggests there may be other limits.

Prince Mohammed is unlikely to pull off a break with the Wahhabi religious establishment because the clerics have proved to be resilient and have displayed a great capacity to adapt to transitions and vagaries of power… The crown prince’s public denunciations of extremist ideas and promises to promote moderate Islam have been interpreted as a renewed desire to break with Wahhabism. A closer reading shows that Prince Muhammad primarily condemns the Muslim Brotherhood and jihadists and exonerates Wahhabism,” said Nabil Mouline, a historian of Saudi religious scholars and the monarchy.

Mouline went on to say that

the historical pact between the monarchy and the religious establishment has never been seriously challenged. It has been reinterpreted and redesigned during times of transition or crisis to better reflect changing power relations and enable partners to deal with challenges efficiently.

Predicting that Wahhabism would likely remain a pillar of the kingdom in the medium term, Mouline cautioned that “any confrontation between the children of Saud and the heirs of Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab will be destructive for both”.

Prince Muhammad has indeed in word and deed indicated that his reforms may not entail a clean break with Wahhabism and has been ambiguous about the degree of social change that he envisions.

He has yet to say a clear word about lifting Saudi Arabia’s system of male guardianship that gives male relatives control of women’s lives. Asked about guardianship, Prince Muhammad noted that “we want to move on it and figure out a way to treat this that doesn’t harm families and doesn’t harm the culture”.

Similarly, there is no indication that gender segregation in restaurants and other public places will be formally lifted any time soon. “Today, Saudi women still have not received their full rights. There are rights stipulated in Islam that they still don’t have. We have come a very long way and have a short way to go,” Prince Muhammad said.

Multiple incidents that illustrate contradictory attitudes in government policy as well as among the public suggest that liberalisation and the restructuring of the elite’s relationship to Wahhabism could be a process that has only just begun. The incidents, moreover, suggest that Prince Muhammad’s top-down approach may rest on shaky ground.

Prince Muhammad last month sacked Ahmad al-Khatib, the head of the entertainment authority he had established, after a controversial Russian circus performance in Riyadh, which included women wearing “indecent clothes”, sparked online protests.

Complaints of creeping immorality have in the last year returned the religious police, who has been barred by Prince Muhammad from making arrests or questioning people, to caution unrelated men and women from mixing.

The police, officially known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, said in a statement in 2017 that it was starting “to develop and strengthen fieldwork”. It said its officers would have a greater presence on “occasions that require it”, such as school holidays.

Saudi sports authorities in April shut down a female fitness centre in Riyadhover a contentious promotional video that appeared to show a woman in figure-hugging workout attire. “We are not going to tolerate this,” Saudi sports authority chief Turki al-Sheikh tweeted as he ordered that the centre’s license be withdrawn.

Saudi beauty queen withdrew last December from a Miss Arab World contestafter being attacked and threatened online.

Holders of tickets for a concert in Jeddah by Egyptian pop sensation Tamer Hosny were surprised to receive vouchers warning that “no dancing or swaying”would be allowed at the event. “No dancing or swaying in a concert! It’s like putting ice under the sun and asking it not to melt,” quipped a critic on Twitter.

While women celebrated last month’s lifting of the ban, many appeared apprehensive after activists who had campaign for an end to the ban were arrested calling into question Muhammad’s concept of liberalisation.

Shireen al-Rifaie, a female television presenter, was believed to have fled the kingdom in June after the General Commission for Audio-Visual Media said she was being investigated for wearing “indecent” clothes during a report on the lifting of the driving ban for women. Al-Rifaie’s abaya, the garment that fully cloaks a woman’s body, was blown open as she was filming on a street a report on what the lifting of the ban meant for women.

While women celebrated last month’s lifting of the ban, many appeared apprehensive after activists who had campaign for an end to the ban were arrested calling into question Muhammad’s concept of liberalisation. Many said they would stay off the streets and monitor reactions.

Police in Mecca said barely two weeks after the lifting of the ban that they were hunting for arsonists who had torched a woman’s car. Salma al-Sherif, a 31-year-old cashier, said the men were “opposed to women drivers”.

Al-Sherif said she faced abuse from men in her neighbourhood soon after she began driving in a bid to ease her financial pressures. “From the first day of driving I was subjected to insults from men,” she said. Al-Sherif was showered with messages of support on social media once the incident became public.

“While the lack of concerted resistance thus far towards women driving may in part speak to a more progressive and younger Saudi society, it would be remiss to assume that those opposing such policies have disappeared from view altogether,” cautioned Sara Masry, a Middle East analyst who attracted attention in 2015 for her blog detailing her experience as a Saudi woman living in Iran.

In adding speed and drama to the Al Saud’s and the government’s gradual restructuring of their relationship to Wahhabism, Prince Muhammad was building on a process that had been started in 2003 by then Crown Prince Abdullah.

At the time, Prince Abdullah organised the kingdom’s first national dialogue conference that brought together 30 religious scholars representing Wahhabi and non-Wahhabi Sunnis, Sufis, Ismaili and Shias.

Remarkably, the Wahhabi representatives did not include prominent members of the kingdom’s official religious establishment. Moreover, the presence of non-Wahhabis challenged Wahhabism’s principle of takfir, or excommunication of those deemed to be apostates or non-Muslims, that they often apply to Sufis and Shias.

The conference adopted a charter that countered Wahhabi exclusivity by recognising the kingdom’s intellectual and religious diversity and countering the principle of sadd al-dhara’i (the blocking of the means), a pillar of Wahhabismthat stipulates that actions that could lead to the committing of a sin should be prohibited. Sadd al-dhara’i served as a justification for the ban on women’s driving.

Saudi Arabia scholar Stephane Lacroix sounded at the time a cautionary note that remains valid today. He said:

It… seems that part of the ruling elite now acknowledges the necessity for a revision of Wahhabism. It has indeed become clear that only such a move would permit the creation of a true Saudi nation, based on the modern and inclusive value of citizenship – a reality still missing and much needed in times of crisis. However, the sticking point is that this ideological shift must go hand in hand with a radical reformulation of old political alliances both at home and abroad. And therein lies the problem.

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Hasbara Is Dead. Nazi Effort to “Explain” to the World is Over

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Hasbara Is Dead. Israel’s Effort to “Explain” to the World is Over

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Featured image: Hasbara tag-team of Michael Oren and Martin Indyk (l) discuss the America-Israel relationship on CNN with host Fareed Zakaria, 6/28/2015.

Maybe it was when Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would respond to flaming kites from Gaza with an “iron fist.” Or maybe when 13 senators bucked the Israel lobby to call for an easing of the siege on Gaza. Or maybe when five young American Jewish women walked off their “Birthright” trip saying they needed to see the occupation.

Or maybe it was the election in a New York Democratic congressional primary of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez even after she described Israel’s actions in Gaza as a “massacre.” Or maybe it was the two Israeli government ministers who issued statements justifying the deportation of an American who supports boycott against Israel, with one minister saying,

“This is a Jew who tried to abuse this fact.”

Hasbara has died. The Israeli effort to “explain” its actions to the world– that era is over. Israel has given up trying to explain itself to fair-minded people. Because the fair-minded have all made up their minds; the slaughter in Gaza has seen to that. And Israel doesn’t think they are fair anyway.

No, its explanations are reserved now for the hard-core supporters. The hasbara is pure propaganda, aimed at rallying the base. And everyone else is tuning out.

It didn’t used to be this way. Hasbara was a successful euphemism because Israeli propaganda was treated as being of a higher order, and so got wide pickup in the mainstream press and from American politicians. Even when segments of Europe and the left were against Israel, the Jewish state could count on a generous hearing in the hallways of power. Leading journalists such as Jeffrey Goldberg, Tom Friedman, Wolf Blitzer and Terry Gross were happy to carry water for Israel’s side of any controversy and malign those who questioned it, and Dennis Ross was on NPR morning noon and night.

These days the streetwise are steering clear. Goldberg spent a chummy hour with Ben Rhodes at Politics & Prose on June 15 and didn’t touch the Israel/Palestine topic. “Not one Democrat has defended Israel over Gaza massacre,” was a headline in Electronic Intifada.

Some of this is Trump. Along with Sheldon Adelson, he has made Israel a rightwing cause in the U.S. and compelled any writer/player on the lib-left to support an anti-racist program in which Israel can only be an embarrassment. Jeffrey Goldberg now has a leadership role in the opposition, as Atlantic editor, so he can’t afford the baggage (as he charts his course toward anti-Zionism).

Then there’s Israel’s embrace of apartheid and massacre as its only answer to its constitutional problem, the Palestinians. There is no vision in Israeli leadership, and after four Gaza massacres, everyone knows it. At a July 4th party a guest who used to love Israel admitted it may not be around 30 years from now. Netanyahu is said to harbor the same doubts.

The Jewish defection is key, of course. Jews have a privileged position in the global discourse of Israel, and the Jewish monolith is crumbling. The young Jews of IfNotNow are conducting a full-scale assault on the Jewish establishment. “Israel doesn’t have a public relations crisis; it has a moral crisis,” IfNotNow says (quoting Avrum Burg), while a Jewish leader howls to a synagogue full of older Jews: “Where did we go wrong in our homes and our schools!?”

Rebecca Vilkomerson of the burgeoning group Jewish Voice for Peace observes that everyone from her daughter’s New York public high school to Bette Midler are openly critical of the massacre, even as Israelis endorse it overwhelmingly, and when the New York Times said dozens of Palestinians “died” in protests in Gaza, Judd Apatow had enough.

“Have died.” Shame on you. This is like calling Trump’s lies “factual innacuracies.” Please tell me an intern is running your twitter feed.

The Democratic political establishment is even beginning to steer clear of this mess. Vilkomerson (to the Real News):

I think with the exception of [Chuck] Schumer, no Democrats have been defending Israel’s actions. In fact, quite a number, in fact over a dozen, have spoken out against what Israel has done over the course of the last six weeks. And you contrast that with 2014 [when Israel killed over 2200 in Gaza, including 500 children], when I think it was something like 78 senators signed a statement supporting the Gaza war. So there has been a shift. in terms of Congress and who’s willing to speak out and being able to speak out. And that there’s enough backing from their own constituents to speak out that they’re not going to be punished by AIPAC or other organizations…

This puts the Israeli government in a new position. It is just another rightwing authoritarian country with a story to tell about why change isn’t necessary but force is that talking heads in the U.S. are going to ignore or make fun of.

Hasbara always relied on a passive American press and active advocates for the Israeli line who got airtime. Time was when Michael Oren could go on CNN to say that Palestinians staged fake deaths for sympathy, and even the Atlantic followed suit. When Abba Eban could say that Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, and Palestinians could never live it down. When Alan Dershowitz slammed Jimmy Carter by referencing “Auschwitz borders,” and US presidents talked about Israel’s narrow waist, and a historian coined the word “Pallywood,” and Time Warner executive Gary Ginsberg wrote speeches for Netanyahu, and Jim Clancy lost his job at CNN for accusing pro-Israel activists of practicing “Hasbara.”

Those dynamics have changed. The advocates have become more and more rightwing, and the press corps is less accepting. The New York Times is still on board, with its murderers row of Bret Stephens, Shmuel Rosner and Bari Weiss, but fewer and fewer intelligent people elsewhere are buying Israel’s story. Even David Brooks is getting cold feet, citing Israeli “ethnocentrism” and “segregation.”

The LA Times lately took an uncharacteristically hard line on legislation aimed at circumscribing criticism of Israel on campus.

“Enough already. Not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism,” it wrote.

The Labour Party in Britain has also declined to endorse a definition of anti-Semitism that includes harsh criticism of Zionism, Israel, and its lobby, and after years of sitting on its hands the Episcopal Church is finally moving to end its “complicity” with occupation.

Zionism is becoming an ever more problematic brand, even for erstwhile liberal ZionistsDahlia Scheindlin is talking about a confederated state. So is Bernard Avishai. Publications that once toed the line seem to have had enough of the bullshit, notably The New Yorker. While other writers are considering an idea that cost a Yale chaplain his job during the last slaughter: Israel is fostering anti-Semitism.  Tony Klug told J Street that Israel’s actions are putting world Jewry in a “precarious” position, and Sarah Helm of the Guardian and New York Review of Books wrote,

“Israel’s own increasingly shocking policies towards Palestinians does more to fuel anti semitism than anything.”

Hasbara is today the preserve of the converted: right wingers talking to rightwingers. Settler/author Yossi Klein Halevi lately gave an AIPAC-sponsored talk to a Connecticut synagogue and mentioned the Gaza slaughter just once, and he seemed confounded.

Until the outbreak of violence on Gaza border, [my] plan was to do a book tour in American mosques, and I don’t know where that stands now. The temperature in the American Muslim community now is very high. And we’re going to have to wait for things to cool down at least for a few months before I can revisit that.

He still has hopes of talking to them, though.

I don’t think most Palestinians or Muslims know our narrative.

Ah but that’s the problem. We all know the story too well now, and we’ve had enough.

Posted in ZIO-NAZIComments Off on Hasbara Is Dead. Nazi Effort to “Explain” to the World is Over


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