Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

Julian Assange on the threat posed by US-govt backed web evangelists

What a stunning piece. Julian Assange writes the following review in the New York Times on the kind of mundane yet dangerous “debates” sucked up by many in the mainstream media when it comes to the supposedly liberating nature of the internet. When the corporation becomes far more powerful than the state (and they work together):

“The New Digital Age” is a startlingly clear and provocative blueprint for technocratic imperialism, from two of its leading witch doctors, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, who construct a new idiom for United States global power in the 21st century. This idiom reflects the ever closer union between the State Department and Silicon Valley, as personified by Mr. Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, and Mr. Cohen, a former adviser to Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton who is now director of Google Ideas.

The authors met in occupied Baghdad in 2009, when the book was conceived. Strolling among the ruins, the two became excited that consumer technology was transforming a society flattened by United States military occupation. They decided the tech industry could be a powerful agent of American foreign policy.

The book proselytizes the role of technology in reshaping the world’s people and nations into likenesses of the world’s dominant superpower, whether they want to be reshaped or not. The prose is terse, the argument confident and the wisdom — banal. But this isn’t a book designed to be read. It is a major declaration designed to foster alliances.

“The New Digital Age” is, beyond anything else, an attempt by Google to position itself as America’s geopolitical visionary — the one company that can answer the question “Where should America go?” It is not surprising that a respectable cast of the world’s most famous warmongers has been trotted out to give its stamp of approval to this enticement to Western soft power. The acknowledgments give pride of place to Henry Kissinger, who along with Tony Blair and the former C.I.A. director Michael Hayden provided advance praise for the book.

In the book the authors happily take up the white geek’s burden. A liberal sprinkling of convenient, hypothetical dark-skinned worthies appear: Congolese fisherwomen, graphic designers in Botswana, anticorruption activists in San Salvador and illiterate Masai cattle herders in the Serengeti are all obediently summoned to demonstrate the progressive properties of Google phones jacked into the informational supply chain of the Western empire.

The authors offer an expertly banalized version of tomorrow’s world: the gadgetry of decades hence is predicted to be much like what we have right now — only cooler. “Progress” is driven by the inexorable spread of American consumer technology over the surface of the earth. Already, every day, another million or so Google-run mobile devices are activated. Google will interpose itself, and hence the United States government, between the communications of every human being not in China (naughty China). Commodities just become more marvelous; young, urban professionals sleep, work and shop with greater ease and comfort; democracy is insidiously subverted by technologies of surveillance, and control is enthusiastically rebranded as “participation”; and our present world order of systematized domination, intimidation and oppression continues, unmentioned, unafflicted or only faintly perturbed.

The authors are sour about the Egyptian triumph of 2011. They dismiss the Egyptian youth witheringly, claiming that “the mix of activism and arrogance in young people is universal.” Digitally inspired mobs mean revolutions will be “easier to start” but “harder to finish.” Because of the absence of strong leaders, the result, or so Mr. Kissinger tells the authors, will be coalition governments that descend into autocracies. They say there will be “no more springs” (but China is on the ropes).

The authors fantasize about the future of “well resourced” revolutionary groups. A new “crop of consultants” will “use data to build and fine-tune a political figure.”

“His” speeches (the future isn’t all that different) and writing will be fed “through complex feature-extraction and trend-analysis software suites” while “mapping his brain function,” and other “sophisticated diagnostics” will be used to “assess the weak parts of his political repertoire.”

The book mirrors State Department institutional taboos and obsessions. It avoids meaningful criticism of Israel and Saudi Arabia. It pretends, quite extraordinarily, that the Latin American sovereignty movement, which has liberated so many from United States-backed plutocracies and dictatorships over the last 30 years, never happened. Referring instead to the region’s “aging leaders,” the book can’t see Latin America for Cuba. And, of course, the book frets theatrically over Washington’s favorite boogeymen: North Korea and Iran.

I have a very different perspective. The advance of information technology epitomized by Google heralds the death of privacy for most people and shifts the world toward authoritarianism. This is the principal thesis in my book, “Cypherpunks.” But while Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Cohen tell us that the death of privacy will aid governments in “repressive autocracies” in “targeting their citizens,” they also say governments in “open” democracies will see it as “a gift” enabling them to “better respond to citizen and customer concerns.” In reality, the erosion of individual privacy in the West and the attendant centralization of power make abuses inevitable, moving the “good” societies closer to the “bad” ones.

The section on “repressive autocracies” describes, disapprovingly, various repressive surveillance measures: legislation to insert back doors into software to enable spying on citizens, monitoring of social networks and the collection of intelligence on entire populations. All of these are already in widespread use in the United States. In fact, some of those measures — like the push to require every social-network profile to be linked to a real name — were spearheaded by Google itself.

THE writing is on the wall, but the authors cannot see it. They borrow from William Dobson the idea that the media, in an autocracy, “allows for an opposition press as long as regime opponents understand where the unspoken limits are.” But these trends are beginning to emerge in the United States. No one doubts the chilling effects of the investigations into The Associated Press and Fox’s James Rosen. But there has been little analysis of Google’s role in complying with the Rosen subpoena. I have personal experience of these trends.

The Department of Justice admitted in March that it was in its third year of a continuing criminal investigation of WikiLeaks. Court testimony states that its targets include “the founders, owners, or managers of WikiLeaks.” One alleged source, Bradley Manning, faces a 12-week trial beginning tomorrow, with 24 prosecution witnesses expected to testify in secret.

This book is a balefully seminal work in which neither author has the language to see, much less to express, the titanic centralizing evil they are constructing. “What Lockheed Martin was to the 20th century,” they tell us, “technology and cybersecurity companies will be to the 21st.” Without even understanding how, they have updated and seamlessly implemented George Orwell’s prophecy. If you want a vision of the future, imagine Washington-backed Google Glasses strapped onto vacant human faces — forever. Zealots of the cult of consumer technology will find little to inspire them here, not that they ever seem to need it. But this is essential reading for anyone caught up in the struggle for the future, in view of one simple imperative: Know your enemy.

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The last thing Syria needs, or the Middle East, is more Western “engagement”

Stunning Simon Jenkins piece in The Guardian that explains why Western imperialists, of the liberal and conservative kind, just need to butt out of the Middle East:

There could no more dreadful idea than to pour more armaments into the sectarian war now consuming Syria. Yet that is precisely what Britain’s coalition government wants to do. The foreign secretary, William Hague, seemed on Monday to parody his hero Pitt the Younger by demanding “how long must we go on allowing … ?” and “what we want to see is …”. Who is this we? But even Pitt would never be so stupid as to declare war on Syria, which is the only morally sound outcome of Hague’s rhetorical mission creep.

For two years pundits have proclaimed the imminent fall of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. High on Arab spring, they declared he would fall from the logic of history. Or he would fall because western sanctions would bring him down. Or he would fall because the media, as in the novel Scoop, were with the rebels and had decided they would win.

Assad has not fallen. He is still there, locked in the lethal Muslim schism that resurfaced with the demise of the region’s secularist dictators. These have now almost all gone: the shah in Iran, Najibullah in Afghanistan, Saddam in Iraq, Mubarak in Egypt, Gaddafi in Libya. They had faults in abundance, but they succeeded in suppressing religious discord, instilling rudimentary tolerance and keeping the region mostly in order. This was in the west’s interest, and the rulers, like those in the Gulf, were supported accordingly.

Turning turtle and abetting their downfall may yet prove the most disastrous miscalculation of western diplomacy since the rise of fascism. Prior to the Iraq war, Saddam persecuted the Shias, but their shrines were safe and intermarriage was common. After the war, Sunni and Shia are torn asunder, with a death toll of ghastly proportions. Similar agony may soon be visited on the Afghans. Libya’s Tripoli is more unstable now the west has toppled Gaddafi, its fundamentalist guerrillas spreading mayhem south across the Sahara to Algeria, Mali and Nigeria.

These upheavals might have occurred without western intervention. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were largely self-starting. Islamist parties often came to power, because they offered an alternative discipline to the existing regimes. But the west’s sudden zest for “wars of choice”, its meddling in the politics of Pakistan and its sabre-rattling in Iran have created a cause on to which neoconservative Islamism could fasten.

Al-Qaida was in 2000 a tiny group of fanatics. America and Britain have portrayed it as an all-powerful enemy, apparently lurking in support of every anti-secularist rebellion. Cameron calls it “an existential terrorist threat… to inflict the biggest possible amount of damage to our interests and way of life”. Yet stabbings and bombings do not constitute an “existential threat”. The UK is a stronger culture than Cameron appears to believe. There is no threat to its existence, while the chief damage being done to its way of life comes from the incompetence of its government.

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How conservatives view free speech when discussing Israel and war

Let’s not be under any illusion that conservatives who talk about a love of “freedom” (including Rupert Murdoch, for that matter) mean nothing of the sort, but only views that push a pro-US, pro-Israel and pro-war agenda. The Zionist lobby, a long-time fan of bullying opponents, is on-board. Here’s Murdoch’s Australian on the weekend:

A Coalition government would block all federal funds to individuals and institutions who speak out in favour of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.

In a move that has shocked the academic community but won praise from Jewish leaders, foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop has hardened up the Coalition’s policy, saying not only would funds be cut for BDS-related activities, but for any research, educational, or other purpose.

“The Coalition will institute a policy across government that ensures no grants of taxpayers’ funds are provided to individuals or organisations which actively support the BDS campaign,” Ms Bishop told The Weekend Australian.

The policy has alarmed the National Tertiary Education Union, whose president, Jeannie Rae, said it would undermine hard fought-for federal legislation that “protects freedom of intellectual inquiry for university staff and students”.

“One of the traditional roles for universities is to facilitate informed debate about controversial topics,” Ms Rae said.

Even the University of Sydney, which vigorously opposes BDS, was lukewarm, with a spokeswoman declining to comment on “hypothetical” legislation but saying “we defend academics’ right to contribute to public debate”.

The Coalition policy is most immediately directed at Jake Lynch who, along with the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies that he directs, is a vocal supporter of BDS.

Associate Professor Lynch drew the ire of Jewish groups when he rejected a request for help from Israeli academic Dan Avnon, who developed Israel’s only civics curriculum for both Jewish and Arab school students.

Professor Lynch has the backing of Sydney University’s student representative council, which passed a resolution supporting him when officials of the university, to which his centre is attached, disowned the BDS campaign.

Professor Lynch insists the federal government grants he and his centre receive are not used for promoting BDS, but for a wide range of research and education covering many countries.

But Ms Bishop told The Weekend Australian: “It is inappropriate for Associate Professor Lynch to use his role as director of the taxpayer-funded CPACS . . . in support of the anti-Semitic BDS campaign.”

This week Professor Lynch told a student forum the BDS campaign was not anti-Semitic, and said the suggestion was a “cynical smear”.

Professor Lynch described the Coalition’s new policy as “an attempt to silence me by threatening to harm me in my profession”.

“I am being told that I cannot get any government funds for my research, on topics unrelated to BDS, as long as I hold the views I do,” he said.

Australia-Israel and Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein supported the Coalition’s initiative.

“It is obviously inappropriate for publicly funded bodies to engage in BDS against Israel . . . it is the role of government to make this clear,” he said.

Australian conservative are following the lead of censorious types in the US (examples here and here).

Now there’s another disturbing example, sent to my via Melbourne academic Scott Burchill, who wrote to Noam Chomsky and received this reply:

Pretty bad, but the Libs are amateurs.  Here’s an example of Real BDS, from experts.  This is a news item from Science.  A lot of scientists and mathematicians are furious about it, but too intimidated to say anything.

Noam
***

Scientific journals are being asked to help tighten U.S. trade sanctions on Iran. On 30 April, the Dutch publishing behemoth Elsevier of the Netherlands sent a note to its editorial network saying that all U.S. editors and U.S. reviewers must “avoid” handling manuscripts if they include an author employed by the government of Iran. Under a policy that went into effect in March — reflecting changes in a law passed by the U.S. Congress in December — even companies like Elsevier not based in the United States must prevent their U.S. personnel from interacting with the Iranian government.

The sanctions, aimed at punishing Iran for its pursuit of nuclear technology, have been broadened somewhat from previous rules issued by the enforcement agency, the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), a division of the Treasury Department.

According to a treasury official, OFAC has not changed its “general license” policy for journals; it still allows them to publish articles authored by nongovernmental scientists from Iran and other sanctioned countries. The new wrinkle is that OFAC insists that all U.S. citizens, no matter who employs them, comply with the sanctions against papers authored by governmental researchers. That apparently prompted Elsevier to issue a warning to its employees.

Elsevier spokesperson Harald Boersma explained in an e-mail that the new restrictions are expected to affect a small number of papers and that the company had implemented “more specific sanctions … over the past year or two” as a result of U.N. recommendations.

“In recent changes … U.S.-owned scientific and medical journals would violate OFAC regulations if they handle scientific manuscripts where any of the authors are employed by the government of Iran. This includes research departments of nuclear facilities as well as the various oil and gas companies which are deemed to be entities of the Government of Iran. The sanctions do not apply to manuscripts from academic and research institutes and manuscripts originating from non-governmental clinical settings, such as hospitals [or] clinical practices. This means that the sanctions only apply to a very small part of research papers coming out of Iran. Our recent communications with editors were motivated out of concern that U.S. citizens acting as editors of our journals might also be subject to personal liability.”

 In a note to editors (a copy of which was obtained by ScienceInsider), Elsevier gives advice on what a manager should do if he or she can’t find a non-U.S. person to work on a paper that requires special handling: “Please reject the manuscript outright.” According to the note, the rejection should apologize to the submitter and explain that because of U.S. sanctions, “we are unfortunately unable to handle your manuscript.”

OFAC tangled with scientific journals almost a decade ago when it proposed much harsher restrictions on communications from Iran. That led to an organized protest by the American Institute of Physics, the Association of American Publishers, and others, resulting in the current understanding: OFAC permits the exhange of scientific but not government-sponsored communications from Iran.

Several other scientific publishing organizations—including AAAS, the publisher of ScienceInsider—said that they did not see a need to change the way they handle manscripts at present.

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I’m looking at you, liberal/imperial interventionists

Handy lessons that should be observed by all before advocating the bombing of Iran/Syria/Libya/anywhere. Foreign Policy’s Steve Walt:

#1: You frequently find yourself advocating that the United States send troops, drones, weapons, Special Forces, or combat air patrols to some country that you have never visited, whose language(s) you don’t speak, and that you never paid much attention to until bad things started happening there.

#2: You tend to argue that the United States is morally obligated to “do something” rather than just stay out of nasty internecine quarrels in faraway lands. In the global classroom that is our digitized current world, you believe that being a bystander — even thousands of miles away — is as bad as being the bully. So you hardly ever find yourself saying that “we should sit this one out.”

#3: You think globally and speak, um, globally. You are quick to condemn human rights violations by other governments, but American abuses (e.g., torture, rendition, targeted assassinations, Guantánamo, etc.) and those of America’s allies get a pass. You worry privately (and correctly) that aiming your critique homeward might get in the way of a future job.

#4: You are a strong proponent of international law, except when it gets in the way of Doing the Right Thing. Then you emphasize its limitations and explain why the United States doesn’t need to be bound by it in this case.

#5: You belong to the respectful chorus of those who publicly praise the service of anyone in the U.S. military, but you would probably discourage your own progeny from pursuing a military career.

#6. Even if you don’t know very much about military history, logistics, or modern military operations, you are still convinced that military power can achieve complex political objectives at relatively low cost.

#7: To your credit, you have powerful sympathies for anyone opposing a tyrant. Unfortunately, you tend not to ask whether rebels, exiles, and other anti-regime forces are trying to enlist your support by telling you what they think you want to hear. (Two words: Ahmed Chalabi.)

#8. You are convinced that the desire for freedom is hard-wired into human DNA and that Western-style liberal democracy is the only legitimate form of government. Accordingly, you believe that democracy can triumph anywhere — even in deeply divided societies that have never been democratic before — if outsiders provide enough help.

#9. You respect the arguments of those who are skeptical about intervening, but you secretly believe that they don’t really care about saving human lives.

#10. You believe that if the United States does not try to stop a humanitarian outrage, its credibility as an ally will collapse and its moral authority as a defender of human rights will be tarnished, even if there are no vital strategic interests at stake.

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Murdoch and Netanyahu make love so please don’t interrupt

Care to imagine what an editorial meeting is like at Rupert Murdoch’s Australian? No, me neither – “look, over there, a Muslim country the West hasn’t bombed, let’s fix that immediately!” – but there’s a weird obsession over supporting the Israeli government. There’s a direct line from the Israeli PR department to the writers at the Murdoch organ and don’t they milk it for all it’s worth? It’s not about intellectual rigour or facts but blind ideology. From comments about how Palestinians and critics should be grateful for Israel to today three articles that all tackle BDS, Palestine, human rights, anti-Semitism, TERRORISM, ice-cream and pandas.

The word “occupation” is typically absent.

First, a “news story”:

Sydney Peace Foundation head Stuart Rees has lashed out at Julia Gillard for signing the London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism, calling the gesture “childish, thoughtless but easily populist”.

Professor Rees is on the staff of the University of Sydney’s controversial Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, which last year denied a request for co-operation from the only Israeli academic to create a civics curriculum for both Jewish and Arab school students.

The centre cited its support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which explicitly equates Israel with apartheid-era South Africa.

Last month the Prime Minister became the first Australian parliamentarian to sign the London Declaration. “This declaration reminds us that combating anti-Semitism is an active process, not a passive one,” she said. “It demands vigilance. It means remaining alert to new vehicles by which hatred and social poison can be spread.”

Professor Rees originally made his comments in an email responding to comments made by opposition frontbencher Christopher Pyne when he attacked the BDS movement on Friday.

“Activism, boycotts and sometimes sanctions campaigns aren’t always anti-Semitic, but when you target individual businesses because they are Jewish, it is clearly anti-Semitic,” Mr Pyne said in a statement on the declaration, pointing to BDS activity at universities in NSW.

“It is sad that 70 years after the second world war and the discovery of the Holocaust we are still having to defend the right of Jewish people to live in their Jewish homeland in Israel free from this kind of anti-Semitic campaign.”

Professor Rees dismissed his remarks as “the usual childish, thoughtless but easily populist response” in the email, which was obtained by The Australian. “Justice for the Palestinians and indeed security for Israelis deserves more than predicable ‘happy to get on any easy bandwagon’ approach of this politician.”

Asked if his criticisms also applied to Ms Gillard, Professor Rees responded “of course”. “The resort to charges of anti-Semitism regarding the world-wide criticisms of the internationally illegal policies of the government of Israel is an age-old technique to stifle any criticism of blatant human rights abuses,” he said.

Mr Pyne said: “It is disappointing that Professor Rees is the director of the Sydney Peace Foundation and yet also a supporter of the BDS movement that seeks to delegitimise Israel, targets Jewish businesses and prohibits a healthy cultural exchange between universities and in so doing damages the prospects for peace.”

Professor Rees declined to comment yesterday, saying he had just returned from overseas.

And an op-ed by Bruce Loudon, a man who praises Israel for its glorious democracy but just happens to ignore the minor detail of millions of Palestinians under a brutal, Israeli occupation:

There is a fundamental flaw in the argument that forms the centrepiece of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

Israel, supporters of the campaign maintain, is an “apartheid” state where the evils being perpetrated against Palestinians are equivalent to those committed in South Africa in the darkest days of racist oppression. They demand the same international response (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) that, they argue, succeeded in undoing the white regime.

They see successfully labelling Israel in the eyes of the world an “apartheid” state as the key to forcing it to change course.

It’s an argument that has attracted support around the world, not just among those het up by what they ludicrously perceive to be the threat posed by Max Brenner chocolate shops in Australia. Even that most eminent and widely esteemed of scientists, Stephen Hawking, has bowed to Palestinian pressure and decided to boycott a scientific conference in Israel that he was previously happy to visit.

But it is an argument many with first-hand knowledge of South Africa under apartheid rule and Israel today would regard as a cockeyed distortion of historical reality that should be resisted, for the very basis of it is plain wrong: conveniently ignored is the fact that from its inception in 1949 until Nelson Mandela won power for the African National Congress in the 1994 “freedom election”, the policy of apartheid in South Africa involved the oppression of a vast black majority, purely on the basis of race, by a tiny white minority.

Crucially, it involved the creation of a state in which there was no democracy as we know it – one in which political and most other rights were the exclusive preserve of the privileged white minority. The black majority was disenfranchised and subjected to the most outrageous forms of discrimination in every aspect of their lives. They had no representation in the national parliament.

Black lives were regulated simply because people were black. Segregation was ruthlessly enforced. Blacks were allowed to live only in specified, mostly rundown areas. They had to go to separate, backdoor entrances at post offices. They could not go to white hospitals. Marriage and sex across the colour line was barred.

A lunatic system of race classification deemed what people could or could not do. Blacks couldn’t place funeral notices in the same columns as whites in newspapers. Schools were segregated, beaches were for whites only, and blacks were barred from playing sport with whites.

Israel is vastly different; it bears little relation to the madness of apartheid in South Africa. It is, after all, a country in which there is, yes, an overwhelming Jewish majority, but in which Arabs make up 20 per cent of the population. Crucially, where South Africa, under apartheid, was a racial dictatorship, Israel is a vibrant democracy, a country whose declaration of independence at the time of its foundation specifically promised “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture”.

While the black majority in South Africa was for decades disenfranchised, in Israel, every citizen, of whatever faith or ethnic background, has an inalienable right to vote and to speak out, even against Israel’s existence.

There have been Arab members of the Knesset in every parliament since the country’s formation, and while in South Africa discriminatory laws were administered by a race-based white judiciary, in Israel, an Arab judge was part of a Supreme Court bench that convicted a former Israeli president on misconduct charges.

Arab Israelis have served as government ministers, ambassadors for the country in key diplomatic postings abroad, and in top public service and police posts.

Yet Israel is flogged by the BDS campaigners as an “apartheid” state that deserves to be punished and ostracised by the international community in the way South Africa was. Nothing is heard, of course, about the “apartheid” being enforced by Hamas in Gaza, where strict Islamic law is being imposed, with women barred even from running in a local marathon, while schoolchildren are being segregated and forced to wear Islamic dress. There is also silence on the rank discrimination that is enforced in so much of the Arab world. That South Africa, because of its grotesque system of apartheid, was fair game for the sort of campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions that contributed substantially to the ultimate demise of white rule is hard to argue against.

But comparisons between South Africa then, and Israel now, are neither fair nor sustainable. And they certainly do not accord with reality.

The two situations are vastly different, and it is a pity people such as Hawking allow themselves to be persuaded otherwise. Israel is far from perfect. It has many shortcomings. But it is not an “apartheid” state in the sense South Africa was.

It is a vibrant democracy – significantly, the only functioning democracy in the Middle East. And it deserves better than the gross distortion of reality being espoused by BDS campaigners.

And finally an editorial where readers are told to stop picking on Israel and focus on the real menace, Iran (a nation that this peace-loving newspaper has said in the past could deserve to be bombed):

The Sydney Peace Foundation’s stated purpose is “to promote universal human rights and peace with justice” as the building blocks of any civil society. Foundation chairman Stuart Rees, however, has cast a cloud over the organisation’s bona fides by dismissing the London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism as “childish, thoughtless but easily populist”. His condemnation of Julia Gillard and opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne for “cowardice” in signing it almost beggars belief.

The Prime Minister and Mr Pyne are two of more than 125 politicians from 40 countries who have signed the declaration, which is a well-modulated affirmation of “democratic and human values” advocating societies built on respect, combating anti-Semitism and discrimination. As Mr Pyne said last week, it is sad that, 70 years after the Holocaust, it remains necessary to defend the right of Jewish people to live in Israel – the Middle East’s only mature democracy – free of anti-Semitic activities such as the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions campaign.

Professor Rees’s stance, in line with many on the Left, contains a curious anomaly. In recent years, while the Left has become more critical of Israel, its Palestinian opponents have become more jihadist. Israel’s critics also pay little heed to the encroaching influence of Iran, one of the world’s most oppressive and menacing regimes. Late last year, after supporting the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood at the UN, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reiterated his nation’s attitude to Israel when he said any deal that accepted the Jewish state’s existence would leave a “cancerous tumour” forever threatening Middle East security. Such hostile influence further diminishes the prospect of a workable two-state solution. Unfortunately, that prospect has receded since the death of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2004, as the influence of Fatah, the Palestinian faction prepared to negotiate a two-state solution, has been usurped.

Through Sudan and Egypt, Iran has been shipping major new weapons supplies to the Hamas terrorists in Gaza, who have governed there since winning a majority of parliamentary seats in 2006. The rockets and missiles are being stockpiled in anticipation of military conflict with Israel, to be sparked by action over Iran’s nuclear ambitions or the civil war in Iran’s ally, Syria.

Iran also has cemented its influence in the Middle East by arming its other surrogate, Hezbollah, with Iranian-supplied rockets in Lebanon. The evidence is incontrovertible that the Assad regime in Damascus, in close collusion with Iran, is seeking to transfer stockpiles of Fateh-110 missiles, with the capacity to carry a half-tonne warhead more than 300km, to Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon. Such a prospect represents a serious threat to Israel.

Against such a background, the focus of Professor Rees’s “peace” foundation is what he calls “the internationally illegal policies of the government of Israel”. While claiming that Ms Gillard and Mr Pyne “have a lot of serious reflecting and reading to do” and that they should accompany him to Gaza, the professor fails to address the religious fanaticism of Israel’s main opponents. For the head of an organisation ostensibly committed to peace, such bias suggests underlying values that are strangely skewed.

In the real world, away from propaganda for any state or its policies, lies the reality of Israeli actions and the importance of boycotting and challenging this mad normality. Here’s why.

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Consider the devastating effect of nuclear strikes in Iran and Israel

Sober analysis by Nick Turse in TomDispatch that challenges the bellicose war-mongering all too prevalent in the mainstream media:

In those first minutes, they’ll be stunned. Eyes fixed in a thousand-yard stare, nerve endings numbed. They’ll just stand there. Soon, you’ll notice that they are holding their arms out at a 45-degree angle. Your eyes will be drawn to their hands and you’ll think you mind is playing tricks. But it won’t be. Their fingers will start to resemble stalactites, seeming to melt toward the ground. And it won’t be long until the screaming begins. Shrieking. Moaning. Tens of thousands of victims at once. They’ll be standing amid a sea of shattered concrete and glass, a wasteland punctuated by the shells of buildings, orphaned walls, stairways leading nowhere.

This could be Tehran, or what’s left of it, just after an Israeli nuclear strike.

Iranian cities — owing to geography, climate, building construction, and population densities — are particularly vulnerable to nuclear attack, according to a new study, “Nuclear War Between Israel and Iran: Lethality Beyond the Pale,” published in the journal Conflict & Health by researchers from the University of Georgia and Harvard University. It is the first publicly released scientific assessment of what a nuclear attack in the Middle East might actually mean for people in the region.

Its scenarios are staggering.  An Israeli attack on the Iranian capital of Tehran using five 500-kiloton weapons would, the study estimates, kill seven million people — 86% of the population — and leave close to 800,000 wounded.  A strike with five 250-kiloton weapons would kill an estimated 5.6 million and injure 1.6 million, according to predictions made using an advanced software package designed to calculate mass casualties from a nuclear detonation.

Estimates of the civilian toll in other Iranian cities are even more horrendous.  A nuclear assault on the city of Arak, the site of a heavy water plant central to Iran’s nuclear program, would potentially kill 93% of its 424,000 residents.  Three 100-kiloton nuclear weapons hitting the Persian Gulf port of Bandar Abbas would slaughter an estimated 94% of its 468,000 citizens, leaving just 1% of the population uninjured.  A multi-weapon strike on Kermanshah, a Kurdish city with a population of 752,000, would result in an almost unfathomable 99.9% casualty rate. 

Cham Dallas, the director of the Institute for Health Management and Mass Destruction Defense at the University of Georgia and lead author of the study, says that the projections are the most catastrophic he’s seen in more than 30 years analyzing weapons of mass destruction and their potential effects.  “The fatality rates are the highest of any nuke simulation I’ve ever done,” he told me by phone from the nuclear disaster zone in Fukushima, Japan, where he was doing research.  “It’s the perfect storm for high fatality rates.”

Israel has never confirmed or denied possessing nuclear weapons, but is widelyknown to have up to several hundred nuclear warheads in its arsenal.  Iran has no nuclear weapons and its leaders claim that its nuclear program is for peaceful civilian purposes only.  Published reports suggest that American intelligence agencies and Israel’s intelligence service are in agreement: Iran suspended its nuclear weapons development program in 2003. 

Dallas and his colleagues nonetheless ran simulations for potential Iranian nuclear strikes on the Israeli cities of Beer Sheva, Haifa, and Tel Aviv using much smaller 15-kiloton weapons, similar in strength to those dropped by the United States on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.  Their analyses suggest that, in Beer Shiva, half of the population of 209,000 would be killed and one-sixth injured.  Haifa would see similar casualty ratios, including 40,000 trauma victims.  A strike on Tel Aviv with two 15-kiloton weapons would potentially slaughter 17% of the population — nearly 230,000 people.  Close to 150,000 residents would likely be injured. 

These forecasts, like those for Iranian cities, are difficult even for experts to assess.  “Obviously, accurate predictions of casualty and fatality estimates are next to impossible to obtain,” says Dr. Glen Reeves, a longtime consultant on the medical effects of radiation for the Defense Department’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, who was not involved in the research.  “I think their estimates are probably high but not impossibly so.” 

According to Paul Carroll of the Ploughshares Fund, a San Francisco-based foundation that advocates for nuclear disarmament, “the results would be catastrophic” if major Iranian cities were attacked with modern nuclear weapons.  “I don’t see 75% [fatality rates as] being out of the question,” says Carroll, after factoring in the longer-term effects of radiation sickness, burns, and a devastated medical infrastructure. 

According to Dallas and his colleagues, the marked disparity between estimated fatalities in Israel and Iran can be explained by a number of factors.  As a start, Israel is presumed to have extremely powerful nuclear weapons and sophisticated delivery capabilities including long-range Jericho missiles, land-based cruise missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and advanced aircraft with precision targeting technology.   

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How the CIA funds Afghan corruption

Welcome to the insane US-led war in Afghanistan (via New York Times):

For more than a decade, wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghanistan’s president — courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency.

All told, tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the C.I.A. to the office of President Hamid Karzai, according to current and former advisers to the Afghan leader.

“We called it ‘ghost money,’ ” said Khalil Roman, who served as Mr. Karzai’s chief of staff from 2002 until 2005. “It came in secret, and it left in secret.”

The C.I.A., which declined to comment for this article, has long been known to support some relatives and close aides of Mr. Karzai. But the new accounts of off-the-books cash delivered directly to his office show payments on a vaster scale, and with a far greater impact on everyday governing.

Moreover, there is little evidence that the payments bought the influence the C.I.A. sought. Instead, some American officials said, the cash has fueled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington’s exit strategy from Afghanistan.

“The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,” one American official said, “was the United States.”

The United States was not alone in delivering cash to the president. Mr. Karzai acknowledged a few years ago that Iran regularly gave bags of cash to one of his top aides.

At the time, in 2010, American officials jumped on the payments as evidence of an aggressive Iranian campaign to buy influence and poison Afghanistan’s relations with the United States. What they did not say was that the C.I.A. was also plying the presidential palace with cash — and unlike the Iranians, it still is.

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What the Iraq war destroyed for average Iraqis

Riverbend was one of the most prolific and savvy Iraqi bloggers during the 2003 Iraq war. And then, she disappeared, not writing for years.

On the 10th anniversary of the invasion, she’s back with a short and devastating post about her country:

April 9, 2013 marks ten years since the fall of Baghdad. Ten years since the invasion. Since the lives of millions of Iraqis changed forever. It’s difficult to believe. It feels like only yesterday I was sharing day to day activities with the world. I feel obliged today to put my thoughts down on the blog once again, probably for the last time.

In 2003, we were counting our lives in days and weeks. Would we make it to next month? Would we make it through the summer? Some of us did and many of us didn’t. 

Back in 2003, one year seemed like a lifetime ahead. The idiots said, “Things will improve immediately.” The optimists were giving our occupiers a year, or two… The realists said, “Things won’t improve for at least five years.” And the pessimists? The pessimists said, “It will take ten years. It will take a decade.”

Looking back at the last ten years, what have our occupiers and their Iraqi governments given us in ten years? What have our puppets achieved in this last decade? What have we learned?
We learned a lot.
We learned that while life is not fair, death is even less fair- it takes the good people. Even in death you can be unlucky. Lucky ones die a ‘normal’ death… A familiar death of cancer, or a heart-attack, or stroke. Unlucky ones have to be collected in bits and pieces. Their families trying to bury what can be salvaged and scraped off of streets that have seen so much blood, it is a wonder they are not red. 

We learned that you can be floating on a sea of oil, but your people can be destitute. Your city can be an open sewer; your women and children can be eating out of trash dumps and begging for money in foreign lands. 

We learned that justice does not prevail in this day and age. Innocent people are persecuted and executed daily. Some of them in courts, some of them in streets, and some of them in the private torture chambers.

We are learning that corruption is the way to go. You want a passport issued? Pay someone. You want a document ratified? Pay someone. You want someone dead? Pay someone. 

We learned that it’s not that difficult to make billions disappear. 

We are learning that those amenities we took for granted before 2003, you know- the luxuries – electricity, clean water from faucets, walkable streets, safe schools – those are for deserving populations. Those are for people who don’t allow occupiers into their country. 

We’re learning that the biggest fans of the occupation (you know who you are, you traitors) eventually leave abroad. And where do they go? The USA, most likely, with the UK a close second. If I were an American, I’d be outraged. After spending so much money and so many lives, I’d expect the minor Chalabis and Malikis and Hashimis of Iraq to, well, stay in Iraq. Invest in their country. I’d stand in passport control and ask them, “Weren’t you happy when we invaded your country? Weren’t you happy we liberated you? Go back. Go back to the country you’re so happy with because now, you’re free!” 

We’re learning that militias aren’t particular about who they kill. The easiest thing in the world would be to say that Shia militias kill Sunnis and Sunni militias kill Shia, but that’s not the way it works. That’s too simple. 

We’re learning that the leaders don’t make history. Populations don’t make history. Historians don’t write history. News networks do. The Foxes, and CNNs, and BBCs, and Jazeeras of the world make history. They twist and turn things to fit their own private agendas. 

We’re learning that the masks are off. No one is ashamed of the hypocrisy anymore. You can be against one country (like Iran), but empowering them somewhere else (like in Iraq). You can claim to be against religious extremism (like in Afghanistan), but promoting religious extremism somewhere else (like in Iraq and Egypt and Syria). 

Those who didn’t know it in 2003 are learning (much too late) that an occupation is not the portal to freedom and democracy. The occupiers do not have your best interests at heart. 

We are learning that ignorance is the death of civilized societies and that everyone thinks their particular form of fanaticism is acceptable. 

We are learning how easy it is to manipulate populations with their own prejudices and that politics and religion never mix, even if a super-power says they should mix. 

But it wasn’t all a bad education… 

We learned that you sometimes receive kindness  when you least expect it. We learned that people often step outside of the stereotypes we build for them and surprise us. We learned and continue to learn that there is strength in numbers and that Iraqis are not easy to oppress. It is a matter of time… 

And then there are things we’d like to learn…

Ahmed Chalabi, Iyad Allawi, Ibrahim Jaafari, Tarek Al Hashemi and the rest of the vultures, where are they now? Have they crawled back under their rocks in countries like the USA, the UK, etc.? Where will Maliki be in a year or two? Will he return to Iran or take the millions he made off of killing Iraqis and then seek asylum in some European country? Far away from the angry Iraqi masses… 

What about George Bush, Condi, Wolfowitz, and Powell? Will they ever be held accountable for the devastation and the death they wrought in Iraq? Saddam was held accountable for 300,000 Iraqis… Surely someone should be held accountable for the million or so?

Finally, after all is said and done, we shouldn’t forget what this was about – making America safer… And are you safer Americans? If you are, why is it that we hear more and more about attacks on your embassies and diplomats? Why is it that you are constantly warned to not go to this country or that one? Is it better now, ten years down the line? Do you feel safer, with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis out of the way (granted half of them were women and children, but children grow up, right?)?

And what happened to Riverbend and my family? I eventually moved from Syria. I moved before the heavy fighting, before it got ugly. That’s how fortunate I was. I moved to another country nearby, stayed almost a year, and then made another move to a third Arab country with the hope that, this time, it’ll stick until… Until when? Even the pessimists aren’t sure anymore. When will things improve? When will be able to live normally? How long will it take?  

For those of you who are disappointed reality has reared its ugly head again, go to Fox News, I’m sure they have a reportage that will soothe your conscience. 
 
For those of you who have been asking about me and wondering how I have been doing, I thank you. “Lo khuliyet, qulibet…” Which means “If the world were empty of good people, it would end.” I only need to check my emails to know it won’t be ending any time soon. 
31 comments ↪

Lest we forget who led coalition of fools into Iraq

Today, the 10 year anniversary of the disastrous Iraq invasion, is time for reflection, anger and honesty. Too many politicians, journalists and war mongers want to forget. We should not allow it. Medialens is right:

What was truly shocking in March 2003 was that Blair was able to weave this obvious web of deceit and be greeted, not even with whispers of dissent, but with thunderous applause and praise by the political-media ‘club’.

It was this appalling speech that had ‘helped to restore the integrity of parliament’, according to the anti-war Mirror. Blair’s ‘patent sincerity has impressed, banishing his reputation as a fickle politician without convictions’, according to the Independent. And yet, for any rational viewer or reader, the cynicism, and the silence about that cynicism, was jaw-dropping.

Much has been made of different newspapers being ‘for’ and ‘against’ the war in Iraq. But in fact all newspapers and broadcasters failed to raise even the most obvious objections to the case for believing the war was necessary, legal or moral. In March 2003, the way journalists feign fierce dissent while tossing feeble challenges for political executives, fellow ‘club’ members, to swat away, had never been more obvious.

The Iraq war showed how the ‘free press’ is structurally hard-wired not to obstruct US and UK regimes bent on war. The corporate media – entrenched in the irrational and dangerous assumption that it should accept frameworks of debate laid down by ‘mainstream’ political parties – took key illusions seriously. As a result, the fraudulent discussion about Iraqi WMD raged on and on with the real world left far behind.

And this was no passive media ‘failure'; it was an active, resilient determination to promote ‘the view from Downing Street’ and Washington. In 2002 and 2003, hundreds of Media Lens readers and other media activists – including journalists, academics, lawyers and authors – sent many hundreds of rational, referenced emails to newspapers and TV stations. Time and again, their crucial evidence and sources were simply ignored. The idea that coverage of the Iraq war represented a terrible ‘failure’ for the corporate media is an exact reversal of the truth. Iraq was a good example of how these media consistently excel in their structural role as defenders of powerful interests.

The real ‘failure’ was the emergence of undeniable evidence that the media had all along been boosting Bush-Blair lies. But even this would have mattered little in the absence of Iraqi resistance and the vast death toll generated by the US determination to divide and conquer that resistance. If Iraqis had quietly accepted the conquest, the talk would not have been of ‘media failure’ but of ‘humanitarian success’, with all criticism dismissed as ‘carping’. This was indicated very clearly by the BBC’s then political editor Andrew Marr in April 2003, when he commented that the quick ‘fall’ of Baghdad, with Iraqis ‘celebrating’, had put an end to all ‘these slightly tawdry arguments and scandals. That is now history’. (Marr, BBC 1 News at Ten, April 9, 2003)

It is a bitter, even surreal, irony that the media ‘failure’ on Iraq is being lamented by journalists who have since repeated the same performance on LibyaSyriaIsrael-PalestineIranVenezuelaWikiLeaksclimate change, and much else besides.

33 comments ↪

Inside the mind of Hamas leader Khalid Mishal

Australian journalist Paul McGeough travels to Doha, Qatar for Fairfax Media to interview the Hamas head. What follows is a fascinating discussion about the future of Palestine. Read the whole thing. What remains deeply concerning is the apparent desire of Hamas to embrace the failed two-state equation that will never happen in reality with any justice:

The Hamas leader doesn’t like the term, but in coming to that edge, Mishal has been burning bridges. Incredibly, Hamas has quit Damascus. The Syrian capital became the movement’s headquarters in exile after Jordan’s naive new king, Abdullah II, cast out the Hamas gang in 1999. As an Islamist organisation rooted in the then sinister-sounding Muslim Brotherhood, the movement was alert to the possibility that Damascus could turn on it – the Assad regime had done so brutally in 1982, virtually flattening the city of Hama to choke a brotherhood uprising.

But Hamas had nowhere else to go. And locked in its own conflict with Israel, the ruling Assad family saw strategic good sense in giving shelter to what were called the ”rejectionist” Palestinian factions – those who refused to buy in to the Washington-backed peace process.

This Assad-Hamas relationship was a pact between a minority, Shiite-aligned dictatorship and a Sunni resistance movement. It endured despite the re-emergence of the Sunni-Shiite schism in the Muslim world, but it could not survive the Arab Spring, which has embroiled Syria in sectarian chaos, with an estimated 70,000 civilians dying.

As the Hamas leader tells it, even before the first protests erupted in Syria in March 2011, he had urged the mercurial Bashar al-Assad to opt for reforms that might head off any revolt by his own people. ”I alerted him to the likelihood of the Arab Spring coming to Syria,” Mishal says, adding by way of a rebuke to the translator: ”I did not warn him.”

Hamas hung in for another 10 months. But that encounter in which Mishal urged Assad to act pre-emptively, was their last. Over the years, they had met regularly, enjoying each other’s company. ”There were no more meetings,” says Mishal. ”It was clear that we differed in our opinions on what would happen. We wished they would meet the aspirations of their people – regrettably, the Syrian leadership took the other option.

”That made it impossible for us to maintain a presence there – with such brutality and bloodshed. And once we felt our presence was being sought after as a justification for what was happening, we had to leave. [Syrian officials] were demanding that we openly support their policy – they wanted to know why we did not [publicly] express solidarity. We were left with no choice.”

This was bigger than merely offending an embattled dictator, because other powerful parties would take deep offence at Hamas abandoning Assad. Guardedly, Mishal lifts the veil, ever so slightly: ”Our assessment of Syria was a source of disagreement with a number of people.”

Hamas’ abandonment of Syria ”soured” the movement’s relations with Tehran, he confirms. There were ”areas of agreement and disagreement” with Moscow and ”it had an impact on our relations with [the Lebanese Shiite militia] Hezbollah, because our stand on Syria was different to theirs”.

After reports that Tehran had punished Hamas by chopping a funding deal worth an estimated $25 million a month, a movement spokesman in Gaza said Hamas would not do the bidding of the Iranians in any military conflict between Iran and Israel: ”If there’s a war between two powers, Hamas will not be part of such a war.”

During more than six hours of interviews with Fairfax Media in Doha, Mishal sets out the departure from Syria only in terms of needing to be on the right side of history: ”We had to stand with the people, to support their calls for freedom and economic reform … we would never support bloodshed and brutality when the people rise peacefully to demand change.”

Mishal has announced he is quitting as supreme leader of Hamas – his replacement could be confirmed by a vote of the Hamas shura, or top council, any day now. But Fairfax Media was assured, too, that Mishal aspires to a bigger brief, as leader for all Palestinians.
By coincidence, the 74-year-old Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says he will not seek re-election as head of the Palestinian Authority – although it’s not clear if he also intends to relinquish his posts as head of Fatah and of the PLO. There is speculation – read that as hope – in some Palestinian circles and in Israel and Washington that Abbas, jaded as he is, might not follow through on quitting the PA.

Unlike Mishal, Abbas is seen as a moderate, a staunch advocate of non-violent negotiation with Israel who only recently has revealed himself capable of independent or determined action – such as his bid for Palestinian membership of the UN and his faction’s in-principle agreement to join Hamas in a new unity government.

Historically, Hamas has spurned the PLO because of the latter’s renunciation of armed struggle and its recognition of the state of Israel. Hamas and Fatah fought a bloody civil war in 2007 – when a Fatah force failed dismally in a bid to dislodge Hamas from the Gaza Strip, despite arms, funding and co-operation from the US and Israel. Under Israeli occupation, in the case of Fatah in the West Bank, and locked in by Israeli forces, in the case of Hamas in Gaza, the factions have been at daggers-drawn since. But in renewed unity talks sponsored by the new Cairo regime, they have agreed in principle that Hamas will join the PLO.

PLO membership for Hamas would serve as a launch pad for Mishal to seek to head the PLO. Given the enmity between the factions, it comes as no surprise that the latest round of unity negotiations, in Cairo in mid-February, is deadlocked on the issue of election rules that would determine the degree of difficulty for Mishal to take leadership of the PLO.

There’s a question here, too: if Hamas folds itself into the PLO and Mishal makes a bid for the top seat, how does the movement stick to its refusal to abide by previous deals between the PLO and the international community? Some Arab-language media reports speculate that Qatar and others have hit on installing Mishal as leader of the PLO precisely because such an appointment would back him in behind those deals.

7 comments ↪

Democracy Now! interview on Prisoner X and Mossad

I was interviewed on Democracy Now! TV last night about the Prisoner X case, Mossad and Israeli/Australian relations:

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today’s show looking at a scandal gripping Israel and Australia centered on a man once known simply as “Prisoner X,” who was found dead in a maximum security prison in Israel in 2010. Israeli officials said he committed suicide. A gag order was placed on the Israeli media, barring reporters from revealing any information about the prisoner. His identity remained unknown until last week, when the Australian Broadcasting Corporation ran an exposé about the case on their program Foreign Correspondent. The episode began like this.

TREVOR BORMANN: It was a peephole look into a top-secret world, but just enough to grip a nation’s attention and pose disturbing questions. What was the identity of a mysterious prisoner in one of Israel’s toughest jails? And why the secrecy behind his extraordinary incarceration?

UNIDENTIFIED: We shouldn’t be talking about this on the phone.

TREVOR BORMANN: When the media began to ask questions, the state mobilized to push through one of the harshest and most punitive suppression orders conceivable. The only piece of information to emerge since is that this man, housed in a purpose-built, high-tech, suicide-proof prison within a prison, somehow managed to kill himself. There are many inside and outside Israel who remain deeply concerned about the case of Prisoner X.

BILL VAN ESVELD: The old saying, sunlight is the best disinfectant. If there’s no sunlight, we don’t know what happened, and very dirty things could have gone on.

TREVOR BORMANN: Tonight, a special Foreign Correspondent investigation to unmask Prisoner X. It’s a story that cannot be told here in Israel, because the government has threatened to jail anyone who writes about it, anyone who talks about it. The courts have effectively shut down any discussion of this case, because, they argue, this is a case of national security. For the first time, we reveal compelling evidence that Israel’s infamous Prisoner X was a man from suburban Melbourne.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The Australian Broadcasting Corporation went on to identify Prisoner X as Ben Zygier, an Australian-Israeli citizen who was allegedly a member of Mossad. While Israel has now lifted the gag order, much still remains unknown about the case. There were reports that Zygier was one of three Australians who changed their names several times and took out new Australian passports for travel in the Middle East and Europe for their work with Mossad. A Kuwaiti newspaper linked Zygier to the assassination of Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was drugged and suffocated in his hotel room in Dubai months before Prisoner X was arrested.

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his first public comments about Prisoner X.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] We are not like other countries. We are an exemplary democracy and regard the rights of defendants and individual rights no less than any other country. We are also more threatened, more challenged, and therefore we have to ensure the proper operation of our security branches. Therefore, I ask everyone to let the security services continue working quietly, so that we can continue to live in safety and tranquility in the state of Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by two guests. Dan Yakir is chief legal counsel for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. His organization has led the effort in Israel to uncover information about Prisoner X. The Israeli Supreme Court has just today lifted a gag order on the group’s role in the case.

And we’re joined by Antony Loewenstein, who is joining us from Sydney, Australia, via Democracy Now! videostream, an independent journalist and author, co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices.

Antony, let’s begin with you, if you could start off by just laying out what this case is all about, who this man was.

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: In short, this gentleman’s identity was not known, as you said, until last week. We knew a little bit about the case a few years ago when the Israeli press reported that a gentleman had committed suicide in Israeli prison. We knew nothing else. Fast-forward to last week, and the Foreign Correspondent program on local television broke the story, and it’s gone global since.

What essentially has come out in the last week has been a litany of information which really goes to the heart, I think, of what regularly happens between Australia and Israel. On the one hand, what happened to this gentleman, Ben Zygier, is unique. Not that many Israeli Australians die in Israeli prisons, either murdered or suicide. That’s true. But on the other hand, the facilitation by the Australian Jewish establishment and the Australian intelligence services of young Jews to Israel, to live there, to obviously serve in the IDF, and sometimes work for Mossad, is not that unusual. It doesn’t get talked about, the press doesn’t really examine it very often, but it’s not that unusual. And it goes to the heart, in some ways, of what the Jewish Zionist lobby here is about in Australia and indeed in many Western countries, including in your country, the U.S., which is to facilitate and blindly support Israeli security [inaudible]—

AMY GOODMAN: Antony, we’re going to—we’re going to cut off you for one minute, because Dan Yakir has just joined us. And this—because this Israeli Supreme Court decision has just come down, we don’t want to lose him, as he goes off to other interviews. Dan Yakir is the chief legal counsel for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. Dan, can you speak to us about what the Supreme Court has just decided and what information you are going to be releasing now?

DAN YAKIR: It’s only in regard to the proceedings we initiated two years ago. ACRI heard for the first time about Prisoner X in June 2010, six months before his death. And we addressed the attorney general, raising our concern about the prisoner being totally isolated and under complete secrecy. A few days after we heard about his death in mid-December, we filed a motion with the district court to lift the gag order, or at least limit its sweeping scope, to allow publication of some details about the charges brought against him, and especially the concern about how he was found dead in the most protected cell of the prison services. After the district court dismissed our motion, we filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court heard the appeal in February two years ago. But the judges also were—the judges—also the judges on the Supreme Court heard the security services for an hour and a half ex parte. And after that, they told us they were convinced that the whole—that the complete secrecy is justified.

AMY GOODMAN: Dan, if you could step back for a minute and go back and tell us how you learned about this case. You knew about this man, Ben Zygier, in jail before he died, before he, quote, “committed suicide.” Talk about how you knew about it, what alarms you started to raise, and then what happened after you learned he had, quote, “committed suicide.”

DAN YAKIR: In May 2010, there was a short-lived report on an Israeli news site, Ynet, regarding a Prisoner X held in Ayalon Prison in complete isolation, and even the prison guards don’t know his identity and are prohibited from talking to him. After a few hours, this report vanished, and it raised our concerns regarding the rights of the prisoner and the conditions that he is held, but also the complete secrecy around the affair. And we tried to gather some details about it but couldn’t. And that’s why we addressed the attorney general for the first time. Six months later, we got information from a—from a source connected to the media about him being found dead in his cell, and then we filed the motion with the courts.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dan Yakir, can you talk about what precedent there is, if any, for a gag order that was, we are to understand, exceptionally broad? Has there been a precedent for this before in Israel with any prisoner?

DAN YAKIR: There were a few cases in the last couple of years. In all those cases, ACRI either filed motions with the court or approached the attorney general, but they were much—for a much limited period of time, in the case of Anat Kamm, a soldier in the IDF who was charged and convicted of copying hundreds of classified documents, and other cases. In the past, there were a few exceptional cases where prisoners were held under false identity for years. And the most notable one is Dr. Marcus Klingberg, a biologist who was convicted of espionage on behalf of the U.S.S.R., and he was held during most of his years in prison under false identity, and his trial was under complete secrecy.

AMY GOODMAN: Dan, we want to come back to you. We want to play a brief clip of the ABC—that’s Australian Broadcasting Corporation—TV documentary that exposed the identity of Prisoner X. In this, a former Australian intelligence agent, Warren Reed, expresses skepticism about claims that Ben Zygier committed suicide.

WARREN REED: There are lots of ways nowadays where you can pick up the extent to which the person in the cell is sweating, their heartbeat, all sorts of things. I mean, modern technology applied in a cell like that almost totally precludes any possibility of someone like him, sanitized in that way, could hang themselves. I find it almost impossible to believe.

AMY GOODMAN: Warren Reed also indicated the nature of his imprisonment suggested that the case was very sensitive.

WARREN REED: The degree of sanitization of this gentleman, where he was put in Unit 15 in that prison, which was constructed only as one cell, and hermetically sealing him away, in all human terms, even within the prison, from his society, his family, that suggests that it has to be something very, very touchy and very immediate. Otherwise, you wouldn’t go to those lengths.

AMY GOODMAN: That is footage courtesy of ABC TV, Australia’s Foreign Correspondent program. If you could comment on this, Dan Yakir, and also on the allegations that this man, that Ben Zygier, was involved with the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the Hamas official who was killed in Dubai in a hotel room that we all came to see on closed-circuit television?

DAN YAKIR: I have no information in regard of the charges that were brought against him.

AMY GOODMAN: Repeat that.

DAN YAKIR: I have no information in regard to the charges brought against him.

AMY GOODMAN: But in terms of what Warren Reed was saying, the Australian agent, to do with suicide?

DAN YAKIR: Yesterday, the Magistrates Court allowed to publish a part of the decision of the judge that investigated the circumstances of his death. And according to the finding of the judge, it was a suicide, because according to the tapes, the radio, direct cameras, no one entered the cell. And I accept that, though a little bit—another important finding of the investigative judge was that—that prison guards are—should be charged negligently causing his death, and we’re awaiting the decision of the attorney, the state attorney, in regard of charges that will be brought against senior officials of the prison services.

AMY GOODMAN: In a moment we’re going to go back to Antony Loewenstein, who’s in Australia, but the response, Dan Yakir, in Israel? How much support are you getting for exposing what has taken place, what you’re beginning to understand and what you’re revealing?

DAN YAKIR: I hope that this whole affair will be a watershed. I think most of the public, unfortunately, rely on the security services and saying that whatever they deem to be secret is—should be a secret. But I think the tragic result of this whole affair, I hope, will serve as a watershed of raising a positive suspicion against the security services, who have had a—either a conscious or unconscious interest to cover up mishappenings during their operation.

AMY GOODMAN: And how does this compare to treatment of Palestinian prisoners?

DAN YAKIR: Usually, Palestinian prisoners are not held under secret conditions or in isolation, but there was also the case of the engineer, Abu Sisi, from Gaza, who allegedly was kidnapped by the Mossad from a train in Kiev, and charges were brought against him of being involved in the rocket firing on Israel. And at first, the mere fact that he was arrested was under a gag order. After we filed a motion, this was lifted, but his whole trial was also conducted behind closed doors.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you for being with us, Dan Yakir, chief legal counsel for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, as we turn back to Antony Loewenstein, who is the independent journalist and author following the Prisoner X story. The response in Australia, Antony, as you listen to Dan Yakir speaking from Israel?

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: Look, the response by the establishment Jewish community has essentially been virtual silence. When the story broke last week, they have—virtually every Jewish lobby group has said nothing, literally nothing, until yesterday. There was a statement released by the leading Jewish organization in Australia which had a very kind of benign statement saying that we are encouraged by the fact that Israel and Australia will undergo a investigation, which I suspect will be a bit of a whitewash.

The Australian government is embarrassed, because the details of this case remain murky. One of the things that hasn’t been mentioned is that during the Dubai hit on the Hamas operative in 2010, the Australian passports were used and forged for that mission, amongst other countries, as well. And the Australian government publicly at the time was pretty upset about this, as other governments were, as well. But in private, I’ve heard from a variety of sources, that in fact the reality was that this sort of thing is known to happen. Many governments do it, including our own government, my government, the Australian government.

So, officially, the Australian and the Israelis would like this issue to disappear. And one of the things that’s become very clear in Australia in the last week—and indeed this is reflected, I think, in the fact that the Australian Jewish establishment sees its role as endorsing and enforcing what Israel does, whether it’s backing the occupation or supporting a strike on Iran—all those things fit into this narrative, which is young Jews who go to young Jewish schools in Australia—Australia is one of the most pro-Israel countries in the world, along with South Africa and, of course, obviously, the U.S.—that it’s not that surprising this sort of thing has happened. The details are unique, but the facilitation of a gentleman like Ben Zygier to undergo these kind of actions by Mossad is not that unusual. It just doesn’t usually get talked about in the press.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what has been the significance of this case, you think, for Australia, as this news has come out?

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: Well, I think one thing that it’s done—and this has been discussed in the wider press, in the wider media and indeed in many public forums in the last week—has been a lot of Australians are uncomfortable with the fact that an Australian citizen can go to Israel, become an Israeli citizen, join the IDF, undergo some kind of training and potentially work for Mossad and commit acts which, and in any definition, are breaches of international law, whether it’s the assassination of Hamas leaders in Dubai or involved in other strikes against Iranian nuclear scientists. So, many people feel uncomfortable about this.

And one of the things that we do see in Australia, and we see it in the U.S. and many countries, is when Israel, for example, starts a war, whether it’s against Lebanon or Gaza or elsewhere, you see a number of Australian Jewish dual nationals go to Israel to fight in the IDF with those—with the Israeli military. And that sort of thing, I think, makes a lot of Australians uncomfortable—rightly so, in my view. And I think there needs to be a real question here—this is one of the things that’s being talked about in circles, not so much publicly in the Australian Jewish community, but certainly privately and indeed in the wider press—that why does the Australian government feel comfortable facilitating young Jews to move to Israel, potentially commit acts of, arguably, in certain cases, terrorism, or at least breaches of international law, in Gaza or Lebanon or Dubai, wherever Ben Zygier may have been behind it.

AMY GOODMAN: But Antony, isn’t the Australian intelligence now investigating why it was that Ben Zygier came back to Australia and changed his name and his passport several different times?

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: Possibly, Amy, yes. But one of the things that also is involved in this story is that the Australian intelligence services knew what Ben Zygier was doing. One of the things that remains unclear is exactly why the Israelis arrested Ben Zygier and put him in high-security prison. Was it because he was leaking information to the Australian intelligence services? Was he about to break some story to the press? Was there a crisis of conscience? We don’t know. These certainly are allegations that have been talked about here by a number of reliable sources, and indeed in Israel, as well. So, yes, the Australian intelligence services publicly are talking about an investigation, but just like in the U.S., they are incredibly opaque. There is not really any kind of legislative transparency in the way ASIO, which is the intelligence services here, operates. So, as much as we like to think that there would be some kind of investigation which is released publicly, the sad reality is that both Australia and Israel would like this situation to remain as it is today—in other words, very, very close relationship.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much, Antony Loewenstein, for joining us, independent journalist and author, co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices, has been closely following the Prisoner X story from Sydney. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

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Prisoner x scandal should be wake-up call for myopic Zionist establishment

My following investigation appears in New Matilda:

The death of Ben Zygier has exposed Israel’s repressive censorship over national security – and shown how closely Australia works with Israel on military intelligence, writes Antony Loewenstein

The case of Australian and Israeli citizen Ben Zygier and his alleged suicide in an Israeli jail in December 2010 provides an instructive window into the secretive relationship between Canberra and Tel Aviv as well as the dynamics between the Zionist state and friendly Western nations. The death of the former IDF soldier and Mossad agent has triggered a global media storm after last week’s ABC TV’s Foreign Correspondent story revealed the identity of Prisoner X.

But what makes this international intrigue all the more fascinating is not what most of the commentary is obsessing over — the details of Zygier’s life and how he ended up in a high security prison — but the ways in which young Jews are groomed by an Israeli intelligence service to commit acts of terrorism and subterfuge across the world under the guise of protecting national security. It is done with the consent of Western governments and intelligence services, including Australia’s.

New Matilda spoke to a former senior Australian ambassador who says that ASIO and ASIS work hand in glove with the Israeli government, including the assistance of grooming potential spies on Australian soil at universities such as Monash in Melbourne and military academies like Duntroon. Australia long ago outsourced much of its military and intelligence, as well as foreign affairs sovereignty, to Israel and America. “There’s little we [Australia] would not do to please them”, my source says.

The Zygier case has forced Israel’s repressive censorship over national security laws to weaken — it was amusing witnessing Israeli journalists tweeting information about Prisoner X during the broadcast of Foreign Correspondent despite there then being an Israeli gag order on the case — so it’s unsurprising that Israel is so keen to keep details of the story secret. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that he doesn’t believe there should be any sunlight on the actions of his country’s intelligence services in the wake of the Zygier case getting wide coverage.

After all, Zygier was a Mossad agent who may well have been involved, directly or indirectly, in the murder of a Hamas operative, Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, in Dubai, the murder of Iranian nuclear scientists in Iran or the recruitment of members of the Sunni terrorist organisation Jundallah, infamous for attacks inside Iran. All these acts are breaches of international law and none are condemned by the Zionist lobby or leading politicians. What the Jewish communityworries about is the wider society regarding Jews as disloyal to Australia.

New Matilda spoke to a senior Israeli defence correspondent who said that he knew about the identity of Ben Zygier in 2010 at the time of his death but was unable to report it because of the Israeli gag order. He said he thought the Australian and Israeli citizen wasn’t a bad man but simply found himself in above his head. He faulted Israel trying to keep the story secret for so long and believed that the virtual silence of the Australian Jewish community was due to embarrassment and ignorance of the case. Their response may have been co-ordinated with the Israeli embassy. They believed, he argued, that by speaking out they may shine an unwelcome light on Israel, something that goes against their DNA.

Although Israel denies that it tortured Zygier while in custody, it’s clear that international norms were breached during his incarceration due to a lack of legal representation and conditions inside jail. News Limited’s Andrew Bolt argues that critics of Israel always look for the worst in the Zionist state, but Israel is doing a fine job on its own. It’s possible, according to an Israeli journalist, that Australia put Zygier’s life at risk by leaking information about his work with Mossad to the media.

The ignorance about this case expressed by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Foreign Minister Bob Carr stretches credibility because Israeli and Australian intelligence agencies likelyknew all about the actions of Zygier before his death. Furthermore, Australia offered a muted response to the illegal Israeli use of forged passports in 2010 for the purpose of murdering Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh; Israel barely received a rap on the knuckles. Deputy Opposition foreign affairs spokesperson Julie Bishop simply said that Australia also forged passports so Israel was not alone in acting illegally.

It is worth considering the reaction of New Zealand to a similar passport forging incident back in 2004, which led to diplomatic sanctions against Israel. New Zealand’s then Foreign Minister Phil Goff said last week that he was “contacted by the Israeli government at the time asking whether we could reach an arrangement over it”. He wouldn’t budge.

“No go. These people have committed criminal offences in our country and they’ll be treated just like anybody else who commits a criminal offence and that we did not appreciate another country seeking passports to misuse for purposes that frankly are unacceptable which is the assassination of people for their own political purposes.” It is unimaginable that any senior politician in Australia would speak like Goff: “We’re not prepared to see friendly countries act in that sort of criminal way against us.”

The details around Zygier’s life and death remains murky. New Matilda has been told, by somebody who knows the Zygier family well, that two Mossad agents with an Australian connection spoke at his funeral in Melbourne and they said how sad it was that Zygier had “lost his spirit” towards the end of his life. No other information about the funeral is forthcoming.

The complicity of silence around Zygier’s actions within the Zionist establishment — witness the “see no evil, hear no evil” stonewalling by Philip Chester, President of the Zionist Council of Australia, on ABC Radio National Breakfast last Friday — is symptomatic of a mainstream Australian, Jewish community that encourages and facilitates young Jews to visit Israel andidealise its identity. Palestinians are largely absent in this worldview. The occupation is virtually non-existent. Iran, Hamas and Hizbollah are the new Nazis. Building a ghettoised, Zionist state, after centuries of Jews often living in isolation across the world, is an irony lost on far too many people.

What the Zionist lobby and its political and media courtiers don’t want to discuss is their complicity in this affair. They all believe that young Jews have the right to move, fight or spy for Israel, including during wars against Lebanon and Gaza, while Muslims who want to join their brethren in Syria, Lebanon or Palestine are labelled terrorists for doing the same thing.

From a young age, the Zionist schooling system and its associated entities indoctrinate Jews to slavishly back Israel and demonise Arabs. Blindly supporting Israel may seem like a good idea to them but in reality has created a monster from which the insecure Jewish community is unlikely to recover any time soon; growing numbers of young Jews are disillusioned with an occupying Israel and no longer tolerate an Israel lobby that acts as propagandists for Zionism. The death or murder of Ben Zygier should be a wake-up call to Australian Jewry that even its own can be treated shabbily by Israel.

Throughout this whole scandal, the reality of illegally imprisoned Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, countless people without a recognisable face in the international media, is ignored. Israeli state-sanctioned racism against Palestinians is conveniently forgotten when talking about a fresh-faced man from an establishment, Zionist home in Melbourne.

After yet another Zionist brutality emerges in the press, the public image of Israel will take another necessary hit. Once the Zygier story disappears from the headlines, the occupation of Palestinian land will continue and deepen. The Oscar-nominated documentary, The Gatekeepers, interviews six former Shin Bet heads, Israel’s internal security agency, about their work and views on Israel’s future. They’re pessimistic and argue from deep knowledge that an Israeli police state exists in the West Bank.

No amount of covert missions from the likes of Ben Zygier will hide this damning reality.

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