Archive for June, 2018

Ireland to discuss bill banning Israel settlement produce

June 28, 2018

Ireland’s parliament will discuss a bill promoting a ban on Israeli settlement goods next month, after a postponement in January, reported Haaretz.

In a tweet posted yesterday, Irish Senator Frances Black announced “on July 11th, my bill to ban illegal #SettlementGoods is in the Seanad”.

Black added: “We’re close to a historic move for justice in #Palestine, but I need your help! Plz take 2m to ask your TDs & Senators to support the bill.”

The senator also posted a video urging Irish citizens to tell their lawmakers to back the initiative to boycott produce made in Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Haaretz notes that “the discussion at the Irish senate regarding the bill was postponed in January after Ireland’s Ambassador to Israel, Alison Kelly, was summoned for a talk at the Foreign Ministry to clarify the legislative initiative at the demand of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Read: Ireland’s book of condolence for Palestinians killed in Gaza blocked by pro-Israel groups

Kelly told Netanyahu that the Irish government actually opposed the bill, and subsequently informed Rodica Radian-Gordon, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general for Western Europe, “that the bill was not a Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement-linked initiative”.

At the time, slamming the bill, Netanyahu said its sole purpose was to “support the BDS movement and hurt the State of Israel”. The Prime Minister’s Office stated that the bill “backed those who wish to boycott Israel and completely opposes the guiding principles of free trade and justice”.

As recalled by Haaretz, “a group of Israeli activists, among whom were former Knesset members, lawyers, former ambassadors, artists and academics, penned a letter asking Irish lawmakers to support the bill” in January.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180628-ireland-to-discuss-bill-banning-israel-settlement-produce/.

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Pro-Palestine candidate step closer to Congress after New York vote victory

June 29, 2018

The US Democratic Party was sent into shock this week when a 28-year-old former organizer for Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid ousted a party veteran from his perch in Congress on a campaign of social justice, equality and support of the Palestinian people.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the daughter of working-class immigrants, won the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th Congressional District on Tuesday, beating ten-term incumbent Joe Crowley, who was one of the favorites to become the party leader. The result sent shockwaves with politicians and pundits asking what the victory of a progressive social justice campaigner means for incumbents everywhere.

Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign, which connected with grassroots communities and was being run on a platform for social justice and equality, has received plaudits. Some democrats have described her approach as the recipe to get the Democrats back into power.

Ocasio-Cortez’s view on Israel and Palestine also received extensive media attention. The Democratic candidate expressed her support for the Palestinians during the Land Day protests in Gaza in which 135 Palestinians were killed by Israeli occupation forces and a further 13,000 were injured.

“This is a massacre,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.

“I hope my peers have the moral courage to call it such.”

“No state or entity is absolved of mass shootings of protesters. There is no justification. Palestinian people deserve basic human dignity, as anyone else.”

Glenn Greenwald, a pundit with the Intercept, said the tweet got a lot of attention because it’s rare to see someone in mainstream politics talking in “such clear moral terms denouncing the Israeli government’s military aggression in that way”.

Greenwald observed that it was politically suicidal for candidates to take an anti-Israeli position. Successful candidates, he said, needed to demonstrate “unyieldingly loyal to Israel”. Asked by Greenwald if she felt she needed to take such a tough stance against Israel despite the political cost, Ocasio-Cortez said she was compelled to take the position she took regarding Palestine on moral grounds.

“My background is as an educator, an organizer and an activist,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “And I think I was primarily compelled on moral grounds, because I can only imagine if 60 people were shot and killed in Ferguson, or if 60 people were shot in killed in the West Virginia teacher strikes” referring to civil rights and labor rights protests held in the US in recent years.

Ocasio-Cortez noted that her family is Puerto Rican, a US territory “that is granted no rights or civic representation”. “If 60 people were shot in protest of the United States’ negligence in FEMA [The Federal Emergency Management Agency] and kind of keeping us on that island, I couldn’t even imagine if there was silence on that,” she added, referencing the slow federal response to devastation wrought to the island after Hurricane Maria hit last year.

The Democratic candidate also noted the diversity of her congressional district, and said that many Jewish and Muslim constituents had thanked her for the stance she took on Twitter.

“People say in New York City this is political suicide, and so on, but I had a lot of my own constituents thanking me for taking that position,” Ocasio-Cortez continued. “I think that in the same lens that I looked at it, people, I think, are separating the actions and the status of the Palestinians from the greater geopolitics of the area. I think people are starting to just look at the humanitarian state of the Palestinian people through a humanitarian lens.”

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez’s former boss, has also taken similarly hard lines against the Israeli government.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180629-pro-palestine-candidate-step-closer-to-congress-after-new-york-vote-victory/.

Prince William tours Roman ruins in Jordan, meets refugees

June 25, 2018

JERASH, Jordan (AP) — Britain’s Prince William on Monday toured Roman ruins in Jordan, chatted with Syrian refugee children and was greeted by ululating women at a community center for traditional arts and crafts.

At the ruins of Jerash, William stopped in front of an enlarged photo that showed his wife, the former Kate Middleton, as a child, along with her father and younger sister posing against the backdrop of the site. For almost three years in the 1980s, the Middletons lived in Jordan, where Michael Middleton worked for British Airways.

“Need to come back with the family for this shot,” William said as he stood in the same spot where the photo was taken. He pointed at his father-in-law in the photo, saying “Michael’s looking very smart in his flip-flops.”

The visit to Jerash came on the second day of a five-day tour that also takes William to Israel and the Palestinian territories. It’s a high-profile foreign trip for William, second in line to the throne, and comes at a time of widening rifts between Israelis and Palestinians.

Later Monday, he’ll be the first British royal to visit the Holy Land in an official capacity. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict looms large, despite the ceremonial nature of the trip. William, an avid soccer fan, arrived in Jordan on Sunday afternoon, as the England-Panama World Cup match was underway. Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein recorded it for him, and the two watched it later Sunday on a huge TV screen at Hussein’s residence. England thrashed Panama 6-1, advancing to the second round.

Before settling down to soccer, William spoke at a garden reception at the British Embassy, praising Britain’s historic ties with Jordan and the kingdom’s commitment to hosting Syrian and Palestinian refugees.

Over decades, Jordan has taken in waves of refugees, most recently those fleeing civil war in Syria. Jordan hosts about 660,000 registered Syrian refugees, but says the actual number of displaced Syrians in the kingdom is twice as high.

Jordanian government officials on Monday were quoted as saying that Jordan could not absorb more refugees. The comments came as Syrian government forces advanced in southern Syria, near Jordan’s border, leading to more displacement.

During the Jerash tour, William met with dozens of children attending a U.N.-sponsored education program, known as Makani, that serves Syrian refugees as well as Jordanian children from overburdened host communities.

The children greeted the William and the Jordanian crown prince in the amphitheater of Jerash, where they showed off some of their art work, including paintings. One girl painted with her foot. The ruins of Jerash are one of Jordan’s main tourist attractions. William has said the Middletons have fond memories of their time in Jordan, and that Kate was sorry she couldn’t join him on the trip to the kingdom. Kate gave birth in April to the couple’s third child, Louis.

Later Monday, William stopped by a community center, Dar Niemeh, set in a garden in northern Jordan where he was greeted by ululating women in traditional embroidered dresses. The center fosters local arts and crafts, including baking and cooking in a mud oven.

He sipped tea while sitting cross-legged on the ground in a Bedouin-style tent.

US leaving UN’s Human Rights Council, cites anti-Israel bias

June 20, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is leaving the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, which Ambassador Nikki Haley called “an organization that is not worthy of its name.” It’s the latest withdrawal by the Trump administration from an international institution.

Haley said Tuesday the U.S. had given the human rights body “opportunity after opportunity” to make changes. She lambasted the council for “its chronic bias against Israel” and lamented the fact that its membership includes accused human rights abusers such as China, Cuba, Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights,” Haley said. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appearing alongside Haley at the State Department, said there was no doubt that the council once had a “noble vision.”

But today we need to be honest,” Pompeo said. “The Human Rights Council is a poor defender of human rights.” The announcement came just a day after the U.N. human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, denounced the Trump administration for separating migrant children from their parents. But Haley cited longstanding U.S. complaints that the 47-member council is biased against Israel. She had been threatening the pull-out since last year unless the council made changes advocated by the U.S.

“Regrettably, it is now clear that our call for reform was not heeded,” Haley said. Still, she suggested the decision need not be permanent, adding that if the council did adopt reforms, “we would be happy to rejoin it.” She said the withdrawal notwithstanding, the U.S. would continue to defend human rights at the United Nations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office called the U.S. decision “courageous,” calling it “an unequivocal statement that enough is enough.” The move extends a broader Trump administration pattern of stepping back from international agreements and forums under the president’s “America First” policy. Although numerous officials have said repeatedly that “America First does not mean America Alone,” the administration has retreated from multiple multilateral accords and consensuses since it took office.

Since January 2017, it has announced its withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, left the U.N. educational and cultural organization and pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. Other contentious moves have included slapping tariffs on steel and aluminum against key trading partners, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv.

Opposition to the decision from human rights advocates was swift. A group of 12 organizations including Save the Children, Freedom House and the United Nations Association-USA said there were “legitimate concerns” about the council’s shortcomings but that none of them warranted a U.S. exit.

“This decision is counterproductive to American national security and foreign policy interests and will make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world,” the organizations said in a joint statement.

Added Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch: “All Trump seems to care about is defending Israel.” On Twitter, al-Hussein, the U.N. human rights chief, said it was “Disappointing, if not really surprising, news. Given the state of #HumanRights in today’s world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back.”

And the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank close to the Trump administration, defended the move, calling the council “notably incurious about the human rights situations in some of the world’s most oppressive countries.” Brett Schaefer, a senior fellow, pointed out that Trump could have withdrawn immediately after taking office but instead gave the council 18 months to make changes.

Haley has been the driving force behind withdrawing from the human rights body, unprecedented in the 12-year history of the council. No country has ever dropped out voluntarily. Libya was kicked out seven years ago.

The move could reinforce the perception that the Trump administration is seeking to advance Israel’s agenda on the world stage, just as it prepares to unveil its long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan despite Palestinian outrage over the embassy relocation. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, is visiting the Middle East this week as the White House works to lay the groundwork for unveiling the plan.

Israel is the only country in the world whose rights record comes up for discussion at every council session, under “Item 7” on the agenda. Item 7 on “Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories” has been part of the council’s regular business almost as long as it has existed.

The United States’ current term on the council ends next year. Although the U.S. could have remained a non-voting observer on the council, a U.S. official said it was a “complete withdrawal” and that the United States was resigning its seat “effective immediately.” The official wasn’t authorized to comment publicly and insisted on anonymity.

That means the council will be left without one of its traditional defenders of human rights. In recent months, the United States has participated in attempts to pinpoint rights violations in places like South Sudan, Congo and Cambodia.

The U.S. pullout was bound to have ripple effects for at least two countries at the council: China and Israel. The U.S., as at other U.N. organizations, is Israel’s biggest defender. At the rights council, the United States has recently been the most unabashed critic of rights abuses in China — whose growing economic and diplomatic clout has chastened some other would-be critics, rights advocates say.

There are 47 countries in the Human Rights Council, elected by the U.N.’s General Assembly with a specific number of seats allocated for each region of the globe. Members serve for three-year terms and can serve only two terms in a row.

The United States has opted to stay out of the Human Rights Council before: The George W. Bush administration opted against seeking membership when the council was created in 2006. The U.S. joined the body only in 2009 under President Barack Obama.

Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.

Israel opposition leader named head of Jewish Agency

June 24, 2018

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s opposition leader has been appointed chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, a non-governmental organization responsible for bridging Israel and Jewish communities worldwide.

The organization issued a statement Sunday that its board of governors unanimously elected Isaac Herzog, a former Labor Party leader, as its new chairman. Herzog was selected over Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His appointment is seen as a defeat for Netanyahu, but Herzog vowed to work closely with his political rival.

Herzog, who starts Aug. 1, succeeds outgoing chairman, former Soviet political prisoner Natan Sharansky. The Jewish Agency is a non-governmental umbrella organization that works closely with the Israeli government to encouraging Jewish immigration and developing ties with Diaspora communities. It had a $362 million budget in 2018.

Spain confiscates property of Bashar Al-Assad’s uncle

March 15, 2018

The French customs service, in cooperation with its Spanish counterpart, confiscated the property of the current Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s uncle, which amounted to 600 million Euros. Quoting the French newspaper Le Figaro, the Russian news agency Tass reported that around 503 facilities worth 600 million Euros, owned by Rifaat Al-Assad and his relatives in the Spanish city of Marbella, were confiscated.

The agency pointed out that there is also talk about hotels, restaurants and luxury acquisitions.

In April 2017, the Spanish National Judicial Council opened an investigation into the case of money laundering by Rifaat Al-Assad. The Spanish authorities froze the bank accounts of 16 people and 76 institutions associated with the name of Al-Assad’s uncle. It also opened an investigation into his property in Marbella and Puerto Banus towns.

Syrian city at the heart of Spain

Rifaat al-Assad, 80, planned to build a huge housing complex to house Syrians belonging to his sect. He has chosen lands where Spanish spruce and cork trees flourish. These lands occupy one third of Benahavis municipality, located in Malaga province in the southern Andalusia region of Spain. According to the statements of the judge of the Spanish National Court, Rifaat owns some of the most expensive lands in the city that is located on the coasts of Costa del Sol and adjacent to the luxury town of Marbella, which has become a model of extreme luxury, and aspires to build a “Syrian city” with the utmost caution and secrecy.

A decision was made by the Spanish court to seize the properties of Al-Assad, including 16 properties in Marbella and Puerto Banus. In this regard, a Spanish judge revealed that Rifaat Al-Assad had committed himself to continuing the “legal struggle” in this case as he is accused of turning his “real estate machine,” which consists of 3,300 hectares worth 60 million Euros, into a private urban area. The areas controlled by Rifaat Al-Assad have already been registered as areas of public interest, according to the European classification. In addition, the Andalusian government has incorporated these properties within the areas of special protection.

The source of Rifaat Al-Assad’s funds

On the other hand, the Spanish judge confirmed that the main source of Rifaat Al-Assad’s wealth is the money looted from the coffers of the Syrian state provided by his brother Hafez Al-Assad before sending him into exile, and which is estimated at 300 million Euros.

In a similar vein, many people in the Spanish society and those who dealt with him in the business field reported that he was not proficient in negotiating in this area and had his own strategy of non-discipline. In this regard, one of the parties which had negotiated with him in business explained that “it is possible to agree on the first day about a certain price, and he comes the next day to ask you double the amount agreed upon.” These parties also revealed that he followed a relatively austere pattern of consumption in his daily life in Marbella.

In general, a businessman who was surprised by the size of the properties of Rifaat Al-Assad, which includes at least 503 facilities located in Marbella and Puerto Banos, stated that “Rifaat Al-Assad and the businessmen Adnan Khashogg are incomparable, as Rifaat has no friends and I always see him having dinner alone in Puerto Banus, accompanied only by his bodyguard and his driver. The same source added that “the authorities must deal with all the hotel apartments he possesses as individual property.”

In addition to the “amazing real estate machine,” Rifaat Al-Assad owns the Panapola Hotel in Puerto Banus, a 4-Star hotel consisting of 101 apartments and 247 parking spaces. Besides, Al-Assad owns a residential building under the name of Gerry de Albion, in the same sports port in Marbella where he lives.

Moreover, Rifaat Al-Assad owns the parking spaces in Marbella Harbor. Recently, he has sold some of the land for construction in the Milla de Oro area of Marbella, near the Marbella Club Hotel. According to sources familiar with the deal, the sale was made at a price much lower than the prices offered in the market in this area. In addition, Rifaat Al-Assad managed to administer the Beach Club Bar at the Penapola Hotel, the Hollywood Café and other hotel companies based in Puerto Banus, but some of them are now closed due to losses.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180315-spain-confiscates-property-of-bashar-al-assads-uncle/.

Bolivia UN envoy says to Israel: ‘You kill children and women’

May 17, 2018

The Bolivian representative to the United Nations Security Council, Sacha Llorenti, said to Israel “you kill children and women” after reading out the names of the 61 Palestinian victims who were killed by the Israeli soldiers in Gaza earlier this week.

The representative said during an emergency meeting on Tuesday that Gaza has turned into a large prison adding that transferring the US Embassy to Jerusalem has inflamed emotions.

“As a member of the Security Council and in the presence of my dear brother, the ambassador to Palestine; I wish to ask for his forgiveness, and say how sorry I am to the 6 million Palestinian refugees who have lost their homes and today live in camps” he added.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180517-bolivia-un-envoy-says-to-israel-you-kill-children-and-women/.

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