Archive | December 18th, 2018

Syria: Most territories liberated from terrorists


Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that most of the Syrian territories have been liberated from terrorists after his military’s intervention.

During his speech at the Russian Ministry of Defense, Putin said that while most of the country has been liberated, his country will continue their war against the remaining terrorists in Syria.

Putin’s comments come as his nation’s Ministry of Defense announced that their military have decreased by 96 percent over the last year.

According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, their air force went from launching 100 military flights a day to just four each day.

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US denies giving Turkey ‘green light’ to launch Euphrates offensive

Turkish army soldiers stand guard as Kurdish people wait in a hope to enter Cizre, a town subject to a curfew as part of a controversial operation against Kurdish rebels, on March 22, 2016 in Mardin, for Newroz celebration. Nowruz, the Farsi-language word for ‘New Year’, is an ancient Persian festival, celebrated on the first day of spring, March 21, in Central Asian republics, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan and Iran. / AFP PHOTO / ILYAS AKENGIN

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that US President Donald Trump had responded positively to Turkey’s plans to launch an offensive on the eastern side of the Euphrates River.

When asked on Tuesday whether the Turkish president had made a misstatement, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino said, “Yes.” The United States is focused on reforming the Syrian government and “the international process that gives everyone a chance to live in Syria,” Palladino said.

Last Wednesday, Erdogan announced that the Turkish army was ready to start an offensive against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) on the Euphrates east bank at the earliest opportunity.

Turkey has been claiming that the YPG’s presence near its border threatened its national security.
On January 20, Turkey and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) opposition forces launched Operation Olive Branch in the northern Syrian district of Afrin aimed at “clearing” the YPG and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) from Turkey’s Syrian border.
In March, Ankara announced that Afrin was under the complete control of the Turkish forces.
Turkey and the United States have had tense relations in recent years, in part due to Ankara’s concerns over US support for the YPG, which is viewed by the Turkish authorities as an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization in Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Meanwhile, former YPG official spokesman Rezan Hedo has told Sputnik that Turkey’s possible new military operation in Syrian Manbij region and on the eastern shore of the Euphrates river in Syria could also benefit the Daesh. YPG is a part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and supported by the United States.
According to Hedo, currently, SDF are reporting success in the operation against the Daesh in Deir ez-Zor and tightening the ring around the remaining militants near the Iraqi border and in the Hajin area.
Hedo warned that if the Turkish operation in Manbij starts, SDF will have to send the troops to the different front line, which will give the Daesh an advantage.
US Defense Department spokesperson Cmdr. Sean Robertson has told Sputnik that Turkey’s prospective unilateral military operation in northeast Syria if launched would be unacceptable.
Source: Sputnik

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Corporate Elites’ Malfeasance Is Thwarting Human Rights in Africa


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights turned 70 on December 10. Governments and civil society organizations around the world commemorated the day with a range of activities.

Over the years, the Declaration has been a global beacon for Africans fighting against colonialism and for inclusive economic equality and sustainable development. Its provisions stand as aspirational goals for nations, and standards that nations are duty-bound to uphold and promote.

But what if despite your country’s commitment to uphold these and other fundamental freedoms, every year it was robbed of the financial resources necessary to promote and protect rights?

This is the case for most nations in Africa, where illicit financial flows (IFFs) rob countries of $60-100 billion each year — losses in many countries that exceed foreign direct investments and development assistance. Funds that could be used to secure basic economic and social rights — for example the rights to social security, decent work, and human dignity — are instead held in secret tax havens for the benefit of corporate elites.

In 2015, the African Union’s Economic Commission on Africa releasedIllicit Financial Flows: Report of the High-Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa. The report — generally known as the Mbeki Report after the panel’s chair, former South African President Thabo Mbeki — defines IFFs as “money illegally earned, transferred, or used,” a definition that includes money laundering, tax abuse, and market and regulatory abuse, along with practices that “go against established rules and norms, including legal obligations to pay tax.”

Some 30 percent of IFFs are attributed to criminal activities, and 5 percent to corruption. The panel determined that 65 percent is attributed to commercial or business activity. The most prevalent method of commercial theft is the practice of trade misinvoicing, where companies report export values to the developing country that are far below their actual worth, which results in a reduction in corporate income taxes, customs duties, and value added taxes (VAT).

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and its largest economy, lost $2.2 billion this way in 2014, which according to Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a Washington, DC-based think tank, was equal to 4 percent of total government revenue.

Those resources could have been used for investment in education, in health, or to address the persistent problem of government wage theft. Nearly 30 out of Nigeria’s 36 states are unable to pay their workers on time. According to Working for Peace in North-East Nigeria, a September 2018 report by the Solidarity Center, a US-based international labor organization, medical professionals caring for internally displaced victims of Boko Haram are paid their government wages irregularly, despite the fact that they — along with teachers and civil servants — are targeted and killed by the extremist group.

Ghana loses nearly $1.4 billion a year to IFFs. As monies owed to Ghana left the country, it borrowed $930 million from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

South Africa, one of the most economically unequal countries in the world, reports an average of $7.4 billion per year lost to IFFs from 2010-2014. In a country with 36.3 percent unemployment, where nearly a quarter of people go hungry every day, IFFs can have deadly consequences.

With this type of normalized theft, how can citizens in developing countries secure the global promise of fundamental freedoms?

Combatting IFFs is an African priority, but countries around the world have a role to play.

When the next US Congress convenes, addressing IFFs is an important opportunity. The Mbeki Report notes that the US is a top destination for IFFs, mainly those derived from trade mis-pricing related to oil from Nigeria and Algeria, precious metals from countries in the Southern Africa Customs Union, and cocoa from Cote d’Ivoire,

Despite the acrimony, division, and hyper-partisanship that characterizes politics in Washington today, there are issues where success and progress can be achieved. Combatting IFFs is one such issue. Majorities in both parties claim to support efficiency and efficacious international development spending programs — and what’s more powerful than plugging the resource gap created by IFFs?

The new Congress has an opportunity to consider and advance policies that make corporate ownership and control more transparent, support anti-corruption measures, strengthen African customs and border capacity, and require banks to do their part to eliminate IFFs and support the recovery of stolen assets, so that countries can invest in inclusive economic development that will help guarantee fundamental freedoms for all.

GFI’s President Raymond Baker called IFFs “the ugliest chapter in international affairs since slavery.” The incoming Congress has an opportunity to contribute to ending this chapter and achieving fundamental rights for many in Africa.

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How Bombs Built by Raytheon in Tucson Killed 31 Civilians in Yemen


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In a historic vote, the US Senate passed a resolution on Thursday calling for an end to US military and financial support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen. This represents the first time in US history the Senate has voted to withdraw military forces from an unauthorized war using the War Powers Resolution. The Saudi-led war in Yemen has created what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 14 million of Yemen’s 28 million people on the brink of famine. A remarkable piece in this week’s New York Times Magazine traces how bombs built by Raytheon in Tucson, Arizona, made its way into the Saudi arsenal and then were dropped on Yemeni villages. The article centers on what happened in the remote village of Arhab when US-backed Saudi warplanes carried out a series of bombings on September 10, 2016. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 31 civilians were killed, three of them children; 42 people were injured. We speak to journalist Jeffrey Stern.


AMY GOODMAN: In a historic vote, the US Senate passed a resolution Thursday calling for an end to US military and financial support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen. This represents the first time in US history the Senate has voted to withdraw military forces from an unauthorized war using the War Powers Act. The vote, 56 to 41. But the bill is not expected to pass the House, at least this year. The vote came as peace talks in Sweden resulted in a ceasefire in the strategic port city of Hodeidah that’s scheduled to go into effect at midnight. The Saudi-led war on Yemen has created what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with more than half of Yemen’s 28 million people on the brink of famine. A recent report by Save the Children estimates 85,000 children under the age of 5 have died from acute malnutrition brought on by the war.

We end today’s show looking at a remarkable piece in this week’s New York Times Magazine. It’s headlined “From Arizona to Yemen: The Journey of an American Bomb: When a bomb like this explodes, it doesn’t just kill people; it rearranges them.” The article traces how bombs built by Raytheon in Tucson, Arizona, made its way into the Saudi arsenal and then were dropped on Yemeni villages. The article centers on what happened in the remote village of Arhab when US-backed Saudi warplanes carried out a series of bombings September 10th, 2016 — two months before the 2016 election, Barack Obama still president. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 31 civilians were killed, three of them children, 42 people injured. Remnants of the US-made bombs were found at the site of the attack.

We’re joined now by the journalist who wrote the piece, Jeffrey Stern. He wrote this in partnership with the Pulitzer Center; author of several books, including The Last Thousand: One School’s Promise in a Nation at War.

Jeffrey Stern, welcome to Democracy Now! Lay out what you found. Tell us where this community in Yemen is and what happened to them on that fateful day in September of 2016.

JEFFREY STERN: Hi. Well, it’s good to be with you. Yeah, so this was a district with a few villages. People had come together to build a well for themselves. This was a little bit into the blockade. It was a little bit into the food shortage. And frankly, they needed more water, and they needed their crops to grow more. It’s a very dry area. It’s a volcanic area in northern Yemen. And so people had pooled their resources to try to dig a well. And that’s pretty expensive. These are mostly subsistence farmers, so it was not easy to come up with this kind of capital, but they pulled their resources, and they built a well.

And on the day that the — actually, on the day that the well — that the drill struck water, the planes came. And first it was early in the morning, and a bomb fell and killed about six people and injured more. And then, about five or six hours later, once people had gathered to look for loved ones, to help, to just see what was going on, the planes came back, and they stayed for several hours chasing people down and dropping bombs on them.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain who they were. I mean, this is a beautifully written piece, as well. You actually, Jeff, went there. You went to Yemen, and you went to this community and met the survivors. Tell us who some of them are. Who died? Who survived?

JEFFREY STERN: Yeah, I mean, there was a man who owned a small — he was a small business owner, really. He owned a drill rig. And he was known as a pretty charitable man who would often forgive debts because often people couldn’t afford to pay for a well. And you could dig and not find anything, and it still costs tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars. He was killed. There was a judge, a young judge, who had been working in traffic court, actually, who was essentially burned alive.

There were also a lot of people who survived. And one of the things that we were able to do, the magazine was able to make space for, is to describe what it’s like to try to get treatment for these incredibly traumatic injuries in an incredibly poor country that also is suffering from a blockade. So, fairly basic medical supplies are just unavailable. So, you know, even the people that survived had incredibly tough roads to recovery. And frankly, some of them will never recover. Even those who will remain alive now can’t farm. They can’t use their bodies. It’s hard to get — it’s hard to get prosthetics. It’s hard to get treatment. So, the effect of these bombs, that are designed to create massive — to create casualties in as wide an area as possible, on people who are really unable to get fairly basic medical care, it’s really devastating.

AMY GOODMAN: If you could talk about the connection of this bombing, a Saudi air attack that dropped a US bomb on Yemen back two years ago, to the cholera epidemic, the worst in the world?

JEFFREY STERN: Right. Well, so — and that’s one of the reasons why we chose to focus on this strike. Now, of course, taking one water well offline doesn’t create a cholera epidemic, but the aggregate effect of hitting so much critical infrastructure, including water wells, including water treatment facilities.

The other thing that I think is really critical, that is a little bit overlooked and that I actually hadn’t even thought of until someone mentioned this when I was there, was that if you pool your resources and do something for your community, like dig a well or build a water treatment facility, and this is what happens, you kind of learn your lesson. I mean, you learn that to build a water well for yourself, to build a water sanitation treatment for your community, to build a factory, you’re inviting the planes to come. You’re inviting this kind of, you know, incredible devastation on yourself. And people were terrified and traumatized and, frankly, basically stopped doing this kind of thing, stopped building wells.

So, in the aggregate, what happened is the number of people in acute need of water spiked right around that time. About three weeks after this well was hit, the first cases of cholera were reported. And, of course, within a year, there were a million suspected cases, and it was one of the worst cases of — one of the worst outbreaks of cholera in recorded history.

AMY GOODMAN: And the US military saying — give us their explanation for what they did and why they would strike a community that was trying to put in a well.

JEFFREY STERN: Well, so, the US military is not doing the bombing. The US military has stopped refueling. For a while they were doing aerial refueling for the Saudi military, for the Saudi-backed coalition, which is important because that allows for something called dynamic targeting, which is when the planes go up and they look for things to hit, essentially. They don’t have to necessarily depend on intelligence and plan strikes in advance. So, when you’re able to loiter, you can look for things to hit. And at the time, the US was providing the refueling, which we have since stopped.

The explanation that the Saudi-backed coalition — they have something called a joint incident — a JIAT, which ostensibly investigates some of these strikes and recommends action. They eventually investigated this, came out with a very brief statement that said, in essence, that the water digger looked like it could be a ballistic missile launcher. The explanation, you know, kind of strange credulity — they just — they don’t look that much alike, a water drill and a ballistic missile launcher. There are also — if you hit a ballistic missile launcher, there would be secondary explosions. There’s fuel. And the planes came back and chased people down for several hours.

AMY GOODMAN: A double tap, as you put it, one hit after another, so people who are concerned in the community coming to save those who have been hit the first time, then they get killed.

JEFFREY STERN: Exactly, and especially children. I mean, this is a place where not a lot happens, and kids were curious. And, you know, people ran out of their houses once the sun came up, and started to gather there.

And also, you know, in this case, double tap doesn’t quite do it justice. Human Rights Watch — Priyanka Motaparthy, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, showed up within several weeks of this attack, and she found 12 craters. The people said there was — it felt like more than 20 bombs had fallen. Of course, we don’t know that. We know that at least 12 fell. So, it’s a double tap, kind of, but really it’s one explosion that drew people out and then at least 12 more.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, talk about the bomb. Talk about going to Tucson. Talk about the company that made the bomb.

JEFFREY STERN: So, that was a sort of interesting and kind of a heart-wrenching aspect of this, even after being in Yemen, is that some of the people I talked to at Raytheon really are building — they take pride in what they do. Now, this is not scientific. I did not poll thousands of workers. I talked to two, who we kept anonymous. But they are building not bombs, but the precision guidance systems that are attached to bombs. So, what they are doing, what they believe they’re doing, is taking something that would create a lot of collateral damage and allowing it to create minimal collateral damage. And theoretically — right? — that’s true. I mean, if used correctly, then, supposedly, I mean, you would use a bomb like this, and you could hit what you want to hit and avoid hitting what you don’t want to hit.

The other thing is, they talked about how much pride they take in helping the American war fighter and keeping the American war fighter safe, and actually in keeping themselves safer. Raytheon is a leader in workplace safety, I guess, somewhat ironically.

In this case, though, in the case of foreign sales, you know, we are providing these weapons sometimes to allies that are using them not as they’re designed to be used and perhaps in exactly the opposite way of how they were designed to use. So the idea of using a very precise weapon to minimize civilian casualties only works if you’re trying to minimize civilian casualties.

And, you know, I won’t go as far as saying that the Saudi-backed coalition are deliberately causing a humanitarian catastrophe. I don’t think that’s something that certainly I can know. But at the very least, they’ve been extraordinarily careless. And using these weapons to hit things like water wells, whether they believe it’s a water well or not, has created the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Saudi Arabia going to the State Department through Foreign Military Sales, FMS? We have just 15 seconds.

JEFFREY STERN: Yeah, I mean, we do this with a lot of different countries. The Pentagon works as sort of a broker and helps the foreign countries get what they need. And, you know, often those countries are serving our interest, or at least we believe they do. The State Department rigorously investigates, provides oversight, I should say, to these sales. But we are facilitating this. I mean, we are taking weapons from private contractors and putting them in the hands of the Saudi-backed coalition, which is bombing civilians.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeffrey Stern, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Jeffrey Stern’s latest piece for The New York Times, we will link to, “From Arizona to Yemen: The Journey of an American Bomb.” I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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Texas Speech Pathologist Loses School Job for Refusing to Sign Anti-BDS Oath


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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A Palestinian-American teacher in Austin, Texas, has filed a federal lawsuit for losing her job as a speech pathologist after refusing to sign a pro-Israel oath. Bahia Amawi is an Arabic-speaking child language specialist who had worked for nine years in the Pflugerville Independent School District. But she lost her job last year after she declined to sign a pledge that she, quote, “will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract,” unquote, and that she will not take any action that is, quote, “intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel.”

AMY GOODMAN: Before filing the lawsuit Monday, Bahia Amawi spoke toThe Intercept about what happened to her.

BAHIA AMAWI: The point of boycotting any product that supports Israel is to put pressure on the Israeli government to change its treatment, the inhumane treatment, of the Palestinian people. Having grown up as a Palestinian, I know firsthand the oppression and the struggle that Palestinians face on a daily basis.

You know, I have to set an example for my kids. We’ve got to stand up for what’s the justice and for rights and equal opportunity for everybody and humane conditions. And so, for me, it was an easy decision in that aspect. You know, so I could not sign it. I was forced to depart from my job because I will not sign it, and I cannot return back if I don’t sign it.

I have been here in the States for over 30 years. I’m an American citizen. I follow the law. And so, I have the luxury of having these rights, which many people in other countries do not have. It infringed on all my principles and, on top of that, my right to speech and also right to protest. It’s baffling that they can throw this down our throats, you know, and decide to protect another country’s economy versus protect our constitutional rights.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Last year, Texas became one of 26 states with laws preventing state agencies from contracting with companies or individuals aligned with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. BDS is an international campaign to pressure Israel to comply with international law and respect Palestinian rights. However, its opponents say BDS is a thinly disguised anti-Semitic attempt to debilitate or even destroy Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now! reached out to the Pflugerville Independent School District in Texas, which responded with a statement saying it had, quote, “followed state law, which does not allow school districts to hire a contractor unless the contract contains a written verification that the contractor does not boycott Israel and will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract. The plaintiff did not agree to the contract as written; therefore, it was unable to be executed in accordance with Texas law, ” unquote.

Well, for more, we go to Austin, Texas, where we’re joined by Bahia Amawi. In Chicago, her attorney, Gadeir Abbas, is with us, a senior litigation attorney with CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Bahia. Explain exactly what happened and how you noticed what was in this contract. I mean, you’ve been teaching in this school district — this is a public school, is that right? — for how long?

BAHIA AMAWI: Yes, this is a public school, and I have been contracting with them for around nine years. And every year I get a contract that’s exactly a duplicate of the year before. And this year I got it, as well, the contract, at the initial start of my month, which is August, when school begins. And so I signed the initial contract. It was exactly the same as I sign every year.

But then, later on, a few weeks later, my speech coordinator contacted me and said, “Well, Bahia, we have additional papers this year. This is brand new. And we need people to sign it.” So, when I received the papers, I looked through it. It was about maybe a stack of four sheets of paper with a bunch of new compliances and new codes. They appeared to be normal, job-related issues, like background history, criminal history, you know, equal opportunity employment, until I came across the one that has nothing to do with my job, which is Code 2270.001 of the Texas Government Code. And that one, I was reading it, and it states that currently — the contractor must affirm that it currently does not or will not boycott Israel, and basically, in short, causing any economic harm. So, that’s when I noticed it.

And right away I sent an email immediately, and I stopped even reading the additional codes. And I sent the email to my speech coordinator telling her, “Listen, I cannot sign this. This is against my principles, against my constitutional rights. And it’s also against my moral and ethical values, considering that I am a Palestinian American and I have family that actually live in the Occupied Territories, so it affects me personally, as well.” So, it affects me in both ways — as an American citizen and as a Palestinian American, too.

She was kind enough. We have a really good relationship with her. And I’ve known — like I said, I’ve known everybody for nine years, so I have a really good relationship with everybody at the school district. And she tried to — ”Let me see if I can go around it.” After two weeks, she returned back to me and apologized and said, “I’m really sorry, Bahia, but they said they will not pay you if you do not sign this part of the new compliances.” And so I kind of had to, you know, forcefully leave at that moment and couldn’t return.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Bahia Amawi, now, were you aware that this law had been passed in Texas at all? Had you heard anything in the media about it? And why did you decide then that you needed to seek an attorney’s help in challenging this?

BAHIA AMAWI: I did not. I was not aware that this law was passed. I’ve heard of it in other states, but I did not know it passed in Texas. It kind of went under — you know, undetected, I think. It wasn’t something they advertised or talked about much in the media. And I’m not a social media person, so I’m not always online. I have four kids, so I’m very busy with them, so I don’t go on Facebook or look up things or anything. So, I really had no awareness of this new law being passed.

And when I saw it, it just was unfair in so many ways. It just was — just did not make sense. It was baffling to me and shocking that my position as a speech therapist, helping kids with their speech and, you know, developing with their communication in the elementary school, effects any economic harm on Israel. So, to me, just nothing made sense at all of this. And it was a violation of everything, violation of my First — my freedom of speech, right to protest, my constitutional right. And so, it was actually a no-brainer. I knew that I had to do something about it. And I didn’t want this to grow into something more, which it can possibly, you know, and affect everybody, including my kids when they go to the universities. Who knows if they ask us, you know, in a state university if they have to sign it before registering for classes? You know, it may grow into something more. And I knew I had to do something about it.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to look a little more closely at the language contained in the contract. It asks our guest, Bahia Amawi, to sign a pledge that she does not currently boycott Israel and that she will, quote, “not boycott Israel during the term of the contract.” The contract goes on to explain, “’Boycott Israel’ means refusing to deal with, terminating business activities with, or otherwise taking any action that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations specifically with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israel or in an Israeli-controlled territory, but does not include an action made for ordinary business purposes.”

So, let me bring your lawyer into this conversation, Gadeir Abbas. This is one of 26 states that have passed similar laws. In this case, if Bahia was to simply say to a friend, “I am not going to buy something that is made in the Occupied Territories that Israel is selling in the United States,” this would make her in violation of the law?

GADEIR ABBAS: Yeah. Bahia would be disqualified from working for any school district in the state that’s following this law, simply because she chooses not to buy, for instance, Sabra hummus. So her grocery store decision to not buy Sabra hummus and to buy instead another kind of hummus automatically, under this law, disqualifies her from all public employees — all public employment of all kinds.

And here, Bahia is engaged in core, protected activity that really has a hallowed place in American tradition, from boycotts against British tea, from the Montgomery boycott, from the boycott against apartheid South Africa. Bahia’s actions and choices to spend her money in a particular way are expressive conduct that are protected by the First Amendment. And here, Texas, the state of Texas, is siding with a foreign country’s policy preferences over the needs of Bahia’s students. And let’s remember here, in the final analysis, Bahia’s students are being deprived of their speech pathologist in exchange for accommodating the policy preferences of a foreign country. That’s illegal and objectionable.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, Gadeir Abbas, given that there are 26 states that now have similar laws in place, and legislation that has gotten very little, if any, national attention, it must indicate that there is an intensive lobbying effort going on at the state level, and either by the state of Israel or by lobbying groups employed by groups in defense of the state of Israel. Do you know anything about this lobbying campaign that’s been going on?

GADEIR ABBAS: Well, it’s extremely successful. I mean, in Texas, for example, it passed the Legislature almost unanimously, on a bipartisan basis. And yeah, these bills have passed with relatively little controversy. And it’s only escalated. Congress right now, it’s Ben Cardin, a Democrat, who is pushing to include a criminal version of this state law and the continued resolution that is set to expire on Friday. And so, we might have, by the end of this week, a federal law that criminalizes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and the activity associated with it.

And here, it just goes to show that for some issues — and Israel and Palestine are one of them — that the pro-Palestinian voices, the folks that are advocating for Palestinians to have equal rights, don’t have necessarily an ally in the Democratic Party or the Republican Party and really must look to the activists and the movement for Palestinian rights itself to vindicate these basic rights to speak out in favor of Palestinian rights.

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to turn to Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaking about the anti-BDS legislation last year in May.

GOVGREG ABBOTT: Israel is one of Texas’s largest trading partners. And then, of course, there is the issue about the essential international ally that Israel plays for both the United States and the state of Texas. As a result, any anti-Israel policy is an anti-Texas policy. … Any boycott of Israel is considered to be un-Texan. And Texas is not going to do business with any company that boycotts Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaking about the legislation a year ago. Bahia Amawi, are you an active member of the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement?

BAHIA AMAWI: I am not actually an active member of BDS at all. Just personally, for myself, if I’m aware of a product that is — you know, supports Israel or is made in the country, then I just have a personal — I make a personal choice to avoid it, because I don’t want to support their ongoing occupation and aggression and subhumane treatment of the Palestinians, that’s making me kind of like a silent participant complicit with the whole occupation. So, I actually — I’m not aware of it. I don’t even go through and find out the list of things. I just happen to know about it, or, you know, if somehow I found out, then I just avoid it. But other than that, really, I’m not an active member.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what’s been the reaction of your fellow employees at the school or other teachers, as well, to this, the results of what’s happened to you in this case?

BAHIA AMAWI: Yeah, well, so, when I had to forcefully leave, I notified my co-workers, my co-evaluators. I work on an early childhood team, which are the ones that — usually in association with, and they depend on me to do the Arabic evaluations. So, when I told them, they were kind of shocked, because after nine years, they were like, you know, “Why? What’s happening? What’s changed all of a sudden?” So that’s when I shared with them this new compliance. And they were just disturbed as much as I was, and appalled. And they supported me. And they say, you know, “We understand, and we hope you do pursue and do something about it.” So they were very encouraging and very supportive. And they were hoping that I can return eventually, which is my goal.

I want to be able to go back to work again, because there’s a need for a speech therapist who speaks Arabic to evaluate students who have Arabic as a second language. It is actually beneficial to be a speech therapist with another language, bilingual in another language. There’s such a need all over.

AMY GOODMAN: Gadeir Abbas, is there any reference to any other state, any other country, in this kind of contract that you have to sign, a kind of oath to another country?

GADEIR ABBAS: No, there’s no other country that’s mentioned in the state of Texas law. There’s no other country mentioned in any of these laws in the more than 25 states that have passed them or the executive orders that have been issued by governors. This is only about Israel. And it really is unique in American history to have a law that specifically prevents Americans from boycotting a particular foreign country. I’ve never seen any kind of historical analog to what we’re seeing here.

And the fact of the matter, though, is that free speech rights in the United States are very well protected. And boycott activity, Supreme Court and other courts have held over and over again, is a core expressive action that Bahia and others are welcome and entitled to take. And so, whatever the state of Texas and the governor of Texas believes — obviously, he has cast his lot with Israel rather than Texas citizens like Bahia, who are put in the position of losing their job or advocating for their beliefs — the Constitution is designed, and the Bill of Rights exists, to protect Bahia’s right to protest the policies of Israel in the Occupied Territories as she sees fit.

AMY GOODMAN: Gadeir Abbas, we want to thank you for being with us, senior litigation attorney with CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, representing Bahia Amawi in her lawsuit against the Pflugerville Independent School District and the state of Texas.

When we come back, we’ll be joined by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, who wrote about Bahia’s case in The Intercept. And we’ll talk about these laws around the country. And what is the legal record when they’re challenged in places like, oh, Kansas and Arizona? Are these laws struck down? Stay with us.

Posted in USA, ZIO-NAZIComments Off on Texas Speech Pathologist Loses School Job for Refusing to Sign Anti-BDS Oath

181 Nations Voted to Help Refugees. Only Hungary and US Voted “No.”


The United States was a near global outlier Monday at the United Nations General Assembly in rejecting a framework to bolster international cooperation on refugees.

Only Hungary — headed by far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose administration has been accused of carrying out “a full-frontal assault on migrants and refugees” — joined the US in voting “no” on the Global Compact on Refugees (pdf). One hundred eighty-one nations voted to approve it, while three — the Dominican Republic, Eritrea, and Libya — abstained.

“The US said recently that it backed most of the refugee pact, but not the part aimed at limiting detentions of asylum seekers,” Agence France-Presse reported. The international agreement states: “The development of non-custodial and community-based alternatives to detention, particularly for children, will also be supported.”

As the Washington, DC-based advocacy organization Refugees International explains of the non-binding agreement:

The Compact was developed over the course of two years of consultations among governments, UN agencies, civil society organizations, the private sector, and refugees themselves. At present, around 85 percent of the world’s refugees are hosted by low- and middle-income countries, contributions from wealthy donor governments fall well-short of overall need, and opportunities for refugees to resettle to third countries have actually decreased. The overall goal of the Compact was to establish a more equitable, predictable, and inclusive refugee response framework based on international cooperation.

According to UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, the compact “provides long overdue recognition that countries hosting large numbers of refugees provide a huge service to our shared humanity and sets out ways through which the rest of the world can help share the load.”

As such, the adoption of the document was welcomed by a number of human rights organizations — including International Rescue Committee (IRC), Oxfam, and Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) — who said it has the potential for greatly improving the current refugee system. Key to achieving that is ensuring equity in shouldering the responsibility for hosting refugees, accountability for meeting the goals of the Compact, elevating the voices of refugees themselves in improving the system, and improving the daily lives of refugees.

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2/3 of all refugees come from just 5 countries. Imagine what peace in just one of those countries could mean. @Refugees

“The responsibility for hosting refugees is now primarily shouldered by a few low- and middle-income countries close to war zones,” noted NRC secretary general Jan Egeland. “The most affluent nations are neither receiving refugees nor supporting host nations in any significant way.”

In fact, writes David Miliband, president of the IRC and former UK foreign secretary, “Countries like the United States are getting something close to a free ride.” As Miliband explained further in an op-ed published Monday at the Washington Post:

The Trump administration reduced the number of refugees admitted to the United States under its resettlement program from the historic average of 90,000 a year to only 22,000 in the last fiscal year. The cap for the current fiscal year is only 30,000 refugees.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has repeatedly said we need to “take care of them over there.” But international aid is not keeping pace with the needs of refugee-hosting states. The UN’s study of the financing of crisis-affected states showed a 40 percent shortfall, so the gap between needs and provision is growing every day. That is why the UN’s global compact will only be a game-changer if it galvanizes action in the places and for the people who need help. With governments like the United States in retreat, the private sector and NGOs need to step forward.

Reacting to the “disappointing” vote by the Trump administration at the General Assembly, Refugees International said, “While the vote does not represent a formal withdrawal from the Compact, it does send a signal that the wealthiest country the world intends to abdicate global leadership in working towards the Compact’s objectives.”


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Posted in USAComments Off on 181 Nations Voted to Help Refugees. Only Hungary and US Voted “No.”

Kosovan army ‘the single biggest threat to regional peace and stability’


Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said that Kosovo’s decision to transform its security forces into a defence force “is the single biggest threat to regional peace and stability,” at a press conference alongside EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini in Brussels on Tuesday.

Brnabic also criticised the imposition of tarrifs on goods coming from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well the subsequent 100 percent rate-increase, saying that the stability of the region “has been really shaken to the core.”

Mogherini echoed the prime minister’s criticisms of the tariffs, stating that “this measure is a breach of CEFTA [Central European Free Trade Agreement] and of the spirit of the SAA [Stabilisation and Association Agreement]” and added that “it is in the interest of Kosovo to immediately revoke this decision.”

The parliament of Kosovo voted in favour of forming a standing army on Friday, in a vote that was reportedly boycotted by ethnic Serb members.

Serbia does not recognise Kosovo’s declaration and insists the army would violate a UN resolution which ended Kosovo’s 1998-99 war of independence.

Posted in YugoslaviaComments Off on Kosovan army ‘the single biggest threat to regional peace and stability’

France says ‘not realistic’ for Assad to stay in power


The French Foreign Ministry addressed the recent remarks by the U.S. envoy to Syria about the future of the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

The U.S. envoy to Syria, James Jeffrey, said that the U.S.’ goal is to no longer oust Assad, but to force him to make a political change that will deter him from acting in a similar way in the future.

In response to Jeffrey’s remarks, the French Foreign Ministry said that they will continue their war against Daesh, which is their top priority.

However, they are also seeking an “establishment of the constitutional committee must make it possible to revive a credible and inclusive political process leading to the holding of free, impartial elections under UN supervision. All Syrians, including refugees and internally displaced persons, must be able to choose their own leaders in a neutral environment guaranteed by confidence-building measures.

They would conclude their statement by saying “as Jean-Yves Le Drian has said on several occasions, it is not realistic to imagine Bashar al-Assad staying in power in a reconciled Syria.”

Posted in France, SyriaComments Off on France says ‘not realistic’ for Assad to stay in power

EU must stand up to Trump’s Middle East ‘peace plan’

  • Donald Trump’s decision to move US embassy to Jerusalem was part of paradigm shift (Photo: Hadar).

The prevailing mood among European diplomats dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of despair: the peace process is dead, the two-state solution seems gone, and the United States is taking one detrimental step after another.

Meanwhile, the European Union appears to be stuck on the sidelines.

  • US plan risks excerbating the conflict (Photo:

Yet in fact, Europe’s role has rarely been as important and its responsibility rarely as big as they are now.

For decades, Europe has advocated a two-state solution that would involve the state of Israel and a state of Palestine “living side by side in peace and security”.

The EU has described its achievement as its “fundamental interest” and a “strategic priority”.

Over time, developments on the ground, in particular the expansion of Israeli settlements across the territory of the prospective Palestinian state, have made this solution increasingly impossible.

But as long as the US stood behind the two-state vision together with the rest of the international community, there was some hope.

Paradigm shift

The administration of US president Donald Trump, however, seems bent on shifting the paradigm away from the two-state solution as it was defined under previous US administrations with the EU’s acquiescence and support.

Its long-expected “peace plan” – the purported ‘Deal of the Century’ – is widely expected to downgrade the parameters of the prospective Palestinian entity in terms of its territory and effective sovereignty.

After repeated delays, nobody can tell with certainty when and if at all the plan will be released.

But with an administration that has already shown its determination to upend established norms in a number of areas, the possibility of the plan should be taken seriously.

For the supporters of the Israeli political right who hold key positions in the Trump administration, the president’s term in office is a time-limited opportunity to bring about a maximum policy shift.

Even if we dismiss all the leaks and speculation about the US scheme so far, it is implausible that a plan drafted by Trump’s advisors with a history of connections to and support for Israeli settlements will follow past orthodoxy.

And even if Washington eventually labels the proposed Palestinian entity a “state”, that will not compensate for the likely hollowing out of the two-state solution in substance.

The paradigm shift has already been visible in the stream of measures taken by the Trump administration: green-lighting Israeli settlements, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, defunding the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, ending US aid to Palestinians, and shutting down the Palestinian mission in Washington and the US consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem.

But the ‘peace’ plan would likely codify the new paradigm explicitly.


Doesn’t the US plan deserve some benefit of doubt? After all, previous peace efforts have failed, so some out-of-the-box thinking is warranted.

The problem is that the two-state solution according to past US parameters was already so weighted in Israel’s favour that there is simply no space for further concessions on the Palestinian side that would be compatible with a notion of a sovereign and viable state.

The Palestinian state as foreseen under US presidents from Clinton to Obama would comprise 22 percent of historical Palestine (leaving 78 percent to Israel), divided into two parts (West Bank and Gaza), with land swaps allowing Israel to retain some of its settlements stretching into the West Bank and encircling Jerusalem, and would be non-militarised.

Palestinian refugees in the neighbouring countries would be allowed to resettle into the new Palestinian state, with only a small fraction allowed to return to their or their ancestors’ homes in today’s Israel.

The Palestinian leadership under president Mahmoud Abbas had agreed to such parameters in principle.

However, any further downgrade of the envisaged Palestinian state would turn it into a mere bantustan under effective Israeli control – and is certain to be rejected by Palestinians, just as it would be by any other society in their place.

If the US plan proposes permanent Israeli security control over the West Bank or permanent presence of Israeli settlers (short of giving all Palestinians equal rights in a one-state solution), this would go against fundamental norms of international order that the EU stands for.

Not only would such a plan fail to bring peace, it would exacerbate the conflict and make it even more intractable

Europe’s relevance

German foreign minister Heiko Maas has argued that “where the USA crosses the line, we Europeans must form a counterweight – as difficult as that can be”.

Trump’s Middle East plan is looking to be one such case.

To the extent that Europe still cares about the two-state solution, it must be prepared to firmly reject the Trump plan if, as expected, it does not envisage a sovereign and viable Palestinian state in line with established parameters.

Rather than sit and wait for the plan, the EU or a group of key member states should now restate the agreed EU parameters for the two-state solution that were laid out in July 2014 and declare readiness to support a US plan that meets them and accords with international law.

This will set a clear and non-controversial benchmark, putting the EU in a better position for saying no to the plan if it does not pass the test.

Setting the criteria in advance may be a more effective way of influencing Washington than attempting “dialogue”.

There is a lesson to be learned in this regard from the failure of high-level European engagement to prevent or even moderate Trump’s pull-out from the Iran nuclear deal.

At the same time, the configuration is different: whereas the US’s aim with the Iran deal was to get rid of it, in this case they want to push something new and therefore need international buy-in.

That’s why the European position matters, alongside the stance of key Arab countries.

This is all the more true given that the Palestinians have already made clear they will reject the US plan.

The international response will determine whether the plan will be accepted as a new baseline for peace-making despite the Palestinian opposition or dismissed as a momentary blip.

As a result, the EU’s role is more relevant than under past US administrations when the Palestinians were broadly on board and the EU’s stamp of legitimacy could be taken for granted.

Dead on arrival

In the words of a senior US official recently quoted in Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post, “getting the right reaction is critical” and that’s why it is important to release the plan “at a time when the substance can be accepted by the maximum number of players” – one reason for its repeated postponements.

“You can’t put something out where everybody says, ‘Ah, this is dead on arrival’,” the official said.


If the plan does not meet the EU’s parameters, then this is precisely what the Europeans should aim for.

Rejecting Trump’s plan will not in of itself bring the situation closer to peace.

But it will at least preserve the vision of a fair and peaceful resolution of the conflict and enable a future return to the international consensus around it.

Posted in Middle East, USA, EuropeComments Off on EU must stand up to Trump’s Middle East ‘peace plan’


Embargoed to 0001 Saturday December 01 Home Secretary Sajid Javid during a round table discussion on the Prevent anti-terror scheme, at the Chrisp Street Ideas Store in Poplar, London.

In refusing to seek assurances that the death penalty would not be used on two Islamic State members, the UK abandoned one of its key human rights provisions, says Ben Emmerson.

The Home Secretary Sajid Javid has proved himself to be “unprincipled and unfit to hold one of the great offices of state” after turning the UK’s back on opposing the death penalty, according to an eminent human rights lawyer.

Ben Emmerson QC said that Mr Javid’s decision to provide evidence on two British men, members of the Islamic State, without seeking assurances that they would not be given the death penalty if extradited and convicted by the US, was “immediately and utterly corrosive” to Britain’s reputation on protecting human rights.

El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey were captured by Kurdish forces in Syria in January. Part of a group of British Islamic State members nicknamed the ‘Beatles’, the two men beheaded and tortured a number of British and American hostages, the US believes. Both have now been stripped of their British citizenship.

In a letter to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions in June, Mr Javid said: “I am of the view that there are strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought.”

Speaking at a lecture hosted by the Howard League for Penal Reform, Mr Emmerson referred to Mr Javid’s decision as an “awful action of collaboration with the swivel-eyed hawks of the Trump administration”.

The UK Government has upheld a principled opposition to use of the death penalty for many years and has sought assurances from foreign governments that suspects will not be executed in cases where the UK agrees to provide information or to extradite them.

Mr Emmerson said Britain had been central to the international abolition agenda and that “progress has been slow but undeniable”.

But that “the leadership role proclaimed by the UK in that campaign ground to a resounding shudder when Sajid Javid allowed himself to be badgered, cajoled and seduced” by Mr Sessions “to abandon one of this country’s core human rights provisions”.

A judicial review brought by the mother of El Shafee Elsheikh was heard earlier this year at the high court, with a judgement expected at a later date.

The death penalty was abolished in Britain in 1965.


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