foreign affairs

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United Ireland Referendum Needs to Involve Minority Groups as ‘Balance of Power Sits with Those Left Out of the Conversation’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/06/2024 - 8:09pm in

The island of Ireland is home to hundreds of thousands of citizens who were not born in the United Kingdom or Ireland. This growing community of migrants – many of whom have naturalised as Irish or British – could potentially have a deciding vote in a future border poll; after all, it’s their future too.

Since 2011, over 175,000 people have naturalised as Irish citizens. In the Republic of Ireland one in five people were born outside the UK or Ireland, and the 2021 census in Northern Ireland recognised the highest number of migrant populations normally resident on record at 150,000. Whilst it remains unknown whether or not the right to vote in a border poll will be extended to long-term residents or commonwealth citizens, what is certain is that those who have made Ireland their home and have become dual Irish or British citizens will have a vote. So just what are their views?

Martin Mendes Passarim moved to Ireland from Spain, gaining his Irish citizenship in 2019. For the 36-year-old, a united Ireland is a “decolonisation process” and he will be voting “yes” in any referendum to reunify the island of Ireland.

“Ireland has a lottery ticket that hasn’t been claimed …  a border poll is a great opportunity, I see it as a way of creating a better, more just and progressive country. 

The partitioning of Ireland was a historic mistake that has only brought trouble and division to the island – I don’t think Irish people got anything good out of partition

Martin Mendes Passarim

New York native Debra Savage – a retired former government staffer at the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) – said Brexit was “the tectonic plates drifting … being shackled to the rest of the UK is becoming less attractive the more we go on”. Savage adds that if she was asked which way she would have voted in a border poll ten years ago, her response would have been “it depends”. Now she is “minded” to say yes.

Zimbabwean Human rights activist Sipho Sibanda contends that there are “a lot of positive things we can inherit from a united Ireland” but says that “When it comes to a united Ireland, migrants are not being asked that question, very few are being asked.”

At present the debate surrounding a united Ireland is largely relegated to unionist and nationalist aspirations. Pro-united Ireland campaign groups are strides ahead of their pro-union counterparts in organising large-scale conferences and events, however there is an over-egged emphasis on the participation of unionists while minority groups – some of whom number much larger demographically – have been left largely outside of the conversation. Savage says a border poll will be “won and lost in the middle”. 

Traditional unionists will largely vote to remain in the UK whilst most nationalists are likely to vote for a united Ireland, the balance of power will rest with those who sit outside the traditional two communities of Northern Ireland, and migrant communities will form a considerable percentage of this cohort.

Many of those who have made Ireland their new home hail from countries that have experienced some form of historical oppression – some regions may even still be suffering its effects. Passarim posits this will benefit the pro-unity campaign, suggesting that “people who have been historically oppressed normally have a tendency to relate to each other”. Savage also believes that transitioning to a new “country” would not be as difficult for migrant communities; “we have already moved countries, what’s the difference?”

That doesn’t mean that migrant communities don’t have concerns. Sibanda suggests that there would be “worry and the fear of the unknown”, citing inequalities in the Republic of Ireland and socioeconomic issues such as the housing crisis, “but people do want to embrace the fact that we will be part of the EU.”

Sibanda raises the threat posed by the far right and the topic of inclusion in a united Ireland, “Would it embrace us? Or will we always be the outcasts that get pulled out when things go wrong?” Ireland has a small but increasingly violent far right movement with frequent attacks on facilities earmarked for refugee housing. Over the course of the past 18 months there has been an alarming spike in racially motivated arson, assaults, and riots.

SDLP Councillor Lilian Seenoi-Barr made history in June when she became Northern Ireland’s first black mayor, but she has reportedly received death threats and sustained racist abuse and harassment since the news broke. This bigotry poses a particularly daunting challenge for nationalism and those advocating for a united Ireland; migrant communities could be the hidden kingmakers in a border poll, but to engage they must feel safe.

In looking to the future, Sibanda would like to see a vote on a united Ireland. She says, “it’s been long enough”, and suggests work should begin now to include the voices of migrant communities in key areas of discussion; “Health is one of the biggest questions, and a lot of healthcare workers are migrants”. Passarim would like to see citizens’ assemblies tackling the work of a new constitution with a focus on social rights, while Savage believes, “any border poll has to have a white paper, there has to be a road map”. 

Yet eight years after Brexit that road map still doesn’t exist. While that disastrous decision may have brought the potential for a border poll forward by decades, a lack of vision, ambition, and political leadership is stunting the progress toward an effective campaign strategy. 

Too often, debates on a new Ireland are weighted by older white men and whilst their voice is a valued component of the broader chorus of public opinion, how much more might we glean about both ourselves and the sort of society we want to build if we broadened the tent to include migrant voices, LGBTQI+ voices, disabled views, Travellers, more women, and the young people who will be left to take this new society forward? The longer the diversity of wider society is left out of the conversation, the more difficult it will be to plot an inclusive way forward.

US Had Direct Involvement In Israeli Massacre of 274 Palestinians

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/06/2024 - 12:45am in

Officials in Washington praised Israel’s military operation that freed four Israeli captives from the Gaza Strip but refrained from commenting on the approximately 274 Palestinians killed during the mission, which involved U.S. collaboration.

While Israelis celebrated the extraction of the captives from Gaza’s Nuseirat, Palestinian refugees in the area were left to collect the remains of their loved ones. An eyewitness described seeing “mangled bodies of men, women, and children strewn around a marketplace and a mosque,” while a paramedic likened the scene to “a horror movie.”

A headline in The Washington Post read, “For Israel, a rare day of joy amid bloodshed as 4 hostages are rescued alive,” referring to the event that resulted in the deaths of 274 Palestinians and hundreds of others wounded. Meanwhile, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan praised the operation as “daring,” and President Joe Biden expressed his joy over the rescue without addressing what was one of the largest civilian massacres in Gaza since October.

During the Israeli military operation, which successfully extracted four captives, three others were reportedly killed, including a U.S. citizen, according to a statement from Hamas. Shortly after, information surfaced that the U.S. had played a significant role in the operation, which was hailed as a great success.

A New York Times article reported that “a team of American hostage recovery officials stationed in Israel assisted the Israeli military’s effort to rescue the four captives by providing intelligence and other logistical support.”

Another report from Axios cited an unnamed U.S. official claiming that a “U.S. hostage cell in Israel supported the effort to rescue the four hostages” but did not provide details on the support provided.

Compounding issues for the American government, a video seemingly filmed by Israeli soldiers was widely shared on social media, showing a helicopter taking off next to the U.S.-built temporary pier meant to facilitate the transfer of much-needed aid to Gaza. The aircraft was used in Israel’s military operation to transport the four freed captives.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) quickly released a statement on the issue, claiming:

The humanitarian pier facility, including its equipment, personnel, and assets, was not used in the operation to rescue hostages today in Gaza. An area south of the facility was used by the Israelis to safely return the hostages to Israel. Any such claim to the contrary is false.”

However, contrary to the spirit of CENTCOM’s statement, the video of the helicopter used to evacuate the Israeli captives shows it clearly next to the pier. The vehicles used to transfer the four released detainees likely used the nearby causeway attached to the pier.

Following further denial from the U.S. government that its forces were directly involved, the Pentagon released a statement describing the area used by the helicopter as “near” the pier. This contradicts reports from the New York Times, Axios, and CBS, which cited American officials claiming that U.S. and UK intelligence information was used by Israel to conduct the military operation.

Additional reports indicated that U.S.-operated drones were used for surveillance to support the operation. While there are no allegations that U.S. forces were on the ground or participated in armed action, they were clearly involved in other ways.

Despite Washington’s insistence of innocence, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) remained unconvinced that the close proximity of the Israeli-operated aircraft did not imply the pier’s use in the military operation. WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain announced the organization had “paused” its planned distribution of aid from the pier due to security concerns for its staff. This decision came after two of its sites were attacked during the Nuseirat massacre.

The U.S.-built temporary pier was initially estimated to cost American taxpayers $320 million. Contributions from the United Kingdom and lower rates for contractors allegedly lowered that figure to $230 million. However, the pier suffered damage after U.S. forces failed to account for sea conditions, adding another $22 million in damages to the bill.

The U.S. only managed to reconnect the floating pier to Gaza on June 7, less than a day before the Israeli military operation. This has sparked speculation about the true intended nature of the pier, as it is only operable in conditions with waves smaller than 1.25 meters and has delivered minimal aid for such a costly project.

Feature photo | Bodies of Palestinians, killed during simultaneous Israeli attacks on Nuseirat brought to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip, Palestine, on June 8, 2024. Ramez Habboub | AP

Robert Inlakesh is a political analyst, journalist and documentary filmmaker currently based in London, UK. He has reported from and lived in the occupied Palestinian territories and hosts the show ‘Palestine Files’. Director of ‘Steal of the Century: Trump’s Palestine-Israel Catastrophe’. Follow him on Twitter @falasteen47

The post US Had Direct Involvement In Israeli Massacre of 274 Palestinians appeared first on MintPress News.

Devastation Into Dollars: Israeli Startups Are Making a Killing in Gaza

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/06/2024 - 11:16pm in

Despite calls across college campuses demanding divestment from Israel, one sector of the Israeli economy appears to be booming. Israeli startups raised over $1 billion in funding for the second straight month in May.

A number of these successful startups have participated in Israel’s ongoing war on the besieged Gaza Strip, suggesting genocide is a lucrative marketing tool for business. Products like suicide drones, smart guns, and robot dogs have all been deployed on the battlefield since October 2023, with some startups even exploiting the war to their advantage and touting their technologies’ use in the war as an advertising boost.

Israel’s government-owned and private companies alike have long promoted their weapons as “battle-tested,” with the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank serving as Israel’s homegrown weapons-testing laboratory.

“It’s just one example, and there are so many more, of Israel not wanting to ‘waste’ the opportunity in Gaza to show off its military hardware to an excited global market,” Antony Loewenstein, author of The Palestine Laboratory, a book on Israeli weapons exports around the world, wrote in the April 3, 2024 edition of his newsletter.

Hamas’ October 7, 2023 attack exposed Israel’s once-renowned cyber tech capabilities. Whereas such a massive oversight would presumably collapse any other industry, the opposite appears to be happening as Israel’s genocide overshadows the October attack.

“Despite this colossal failure of the intelligence agencies, the wholesale destruction of Gaza and the kinds of weapons Israel’s using will only increase the sales,” Neve Gordon, human rights and international law professor at the Queen Mary University of London, told MintPress News.

 

The Dark Side of Innovation

Israel is rapidly becoming a pariah state on the world stage, as its assault on Gaza has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians thus far and created a manufactured famine. Yet while the International Criminal Court issues arrest warrants for Israeli leaders and countries pulling their ambassadors from Israel, defense industries are eyeing the same Israeli weapons that have wreaked such unfathomable destruction and death.

“This industry is in the business of killing,” Gordon said. “So what we find appalling, they find exciting.”

These weapons have been used to carry out egregious violations of international law, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and even genocide, and buyers are saying, ‘That’s wonderful. These things work. This is what spurs sales.”

Israel touts its “battle-tested” technology and the revolving door relationship of its military, tech, and education sectors. Roughly 80% of Israeli cyber tech firms were founded by graduates of Shin Bet’s (Israeli security agency) Unit 8200, an intelligence corps infamous for its clandestine spying operations against Palestinians.

Israeli universities work with the Ministry of Defense to conduct research activities and cater programs like the Academic Reserves (Atuda), Talpiot programs, and Havatzalot Program to the Israeli military. Tech giants like IBM also strategically set up cyber research centers near military bases as part of the Defense Ministry’s initiative to funnel veterans into the high-tech industry.

Nicknamed the “startup nation,” Israel has one of the highest numbers of startups per capita worldwide — primarily bolstered by the government’s substantial investment in startups and technology. Startups are the backbone of Israel’s economy, so when they flourish, so does the state.

“All these companies are more or less under the radar,” Jeff Halper, author of “War Against the People,” a book on Israel’s arms and surveillance technology industries, told MintPress News, noting the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement should be targeting Israeli defense tech startups.

There is some hesitation to invest now in Israeli startups, but it’s not a fatal blow mainly because this is fairly secret stuff, and it’s not exposed very much in the public.”

Listed below are the startups whose products are being used in Israel’s war on Gaza.

 

Xtend

Xtend secured $40 billion in funding after touting its success in the war against Gaza, where its drones have dropped grenades, surveyed tunnels, and attacked Palestinians. The Israeli military is using its signature Wolverine combat drone in Gaza to gather intelligence on buildings. Equated to operating a video game, the drone is equipped with a robotic arm and virtual reality goggles.

According to monitoring groups, Statewatch and Informationsstelle Militarisierung, Xtend received a multi-billion research and innovation grant from the European Union to study the optimizing capabilities of its Skylord Xtender drone system and find suitable partners for producing and commercializing the technology.

In its latest financing round, investors include Tel-Aviv-based investment firm Claltech, a large unnamed Japanese financing corporation, and previous investors like the Chartered Group, a Japanese-Singapore investment company headed by Israeli businessman Eyal Agmoni.

The company’s customers include the United States Department of Defense, BP, and Hyundai (which use drones to monitor their pipelines for potential issues), and it has partnered with the Canadian and United Kingdom defense ministries. Its investors include TAU Ventures, Tel Aviv University’s venture capital firm.

 

SmartShooter

Known for developing an AI-powered gun installed at a checkpoint in the West Bank city of al-Khalil (Hebron), SmartShooter has now developed the Smash system in Gaza, which utilizes “smart sight” to precisely track moving targets. In November, an Israeli special forces unit used the system to target homes near a school in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza.

SmartShooter equipment is also used by the British, German, and U.S. militaries.

 

infiniDome

This Israeli startup produces GPS protection and navigation systems for drones patrolling the Gaza border. With investment from U.S.-based Honeywell Aerospace Technologies, the company will soon be able to support the U.S. Department of Defense and South Korean and Indian armies. It also recently established a U.S. subsidiary to serve the U.S. defense industry.

 

D-Fend Solutions

To disrupt drones sent by Hamas and Hezbollah, the Israeli military is using the Israeli firm’s D-Fend Solutions counter-drone technology. Their products are also used by the U.S. Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security and the United Arab Emirates security agencies.

 

Spear UAV

This Israeli startup developed a Viper suicide drone that can be launched from a portable capsule by a soldier or armored vehicle and is intended to locate, track, and attack targets by crashing into them and self-destructing. Since the war, the company says it has accelerated development to meet the demands of the Israeli military.

 

Axon Vision

As international headlines have noted, artificial intelligence is fully immersed in Israel’s war on Gaza. While the Israeli military develops some, other AI tools originate in the Israeli startup hub, like Axon Vision, whose products are being used in Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza. Edge360, Axon Vision’s AI camper system, is installed in armored vehicles in Gaza to assist soldiers in detecting threats and making decisions on the ground.

“One of the advantages we have here in Israel with the Israeli army is that we have close relationship,” CEO Roy Riftin boasted of the company’s tight-knit collaboration with the Israeli military in an interview with Nikkei. “We get feedback all the time.”

Riftin added his company is currently conducting market research with the hope of exporting the technology.

 

Steadicopter

The Steadicopter Black Eagle, an unmanned robot helicopter, is being used for intelligence gathering in Gaza. The Israel startup has been around for decades, working with companies in Africa, the UAE and pitching to the U.S. Army.

 

NextVision

This Israeli startup manufactures cameras for weapons systems, specifically on drones made by Israel’s top arms companies like Elbit Systems, Israel Aerospace Industries, and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems — all used in Israel’s assault on Gaza. The Israeli military also uses its cameras.

With NextVision’s CEO stating, “Wars are good for business,” the startup has experienced an increase in sales since the war on Gaza began in 2023. In the war’s first month, NextVision’s sales rate doubled.

NextVision operates worldwide, with customers in Asia, Europe, the UK, Canada, the U.S., Mexico, and South America. Europe is its largest market.

 

Asio Technologies

Soldiers are using Asio Technologies’s AI navigation systems in Gaza. The Orion platform, developed by Asio, uses augmented reality and three-dimensional viewing to identify potential threats. The AeroGuardian NOCTA optical navigation system, another Asio invention, is a vision-based navigation tool for drones.

News reports say the company will improve its technology based on lessons learned from the war and hopes to export it abroad. Without disclosing the country, Asio Technologies’ CEO David Harel said an Asian country expressed interest in Orion.

The company also works with militaries in North America and Asia and unnamed U.S. defense customers.

 

Robotican

Animal-like robots are being deployed in the war on Gaza. The Rooster, jointly developed by Israeli startup Robotican and the Israeli Defense Ministry, is a drone inside a wheeled cage. The Rooster drones are attached to Vision 60 robot dogs made by the Philadelphia-based Ghost Robotics. The Israeli reserves organization Brother in Arms donated the first three devices to the Israeli military. Not in any way friendly, the robodogs are equipped to shoot and are primarily used to surveil buildings and tunnels inside Gaza.

Robotican is also developing the “Angry Birds” drone, which is meant to take down other drones, specifically for use in populated areas where neutralizing them may not be an option.

In addition to Ghost Robotics, Robotican has partnered with international arms distributors for police and military forces like Guardian Defense & Homeland Security in Spain, Messer Waffenhandel in Germany, Viking in the UK, and FLYMOTION in the U.S.  It has also expanded its market to Scandinavia with its collaboration with Northcom, a communication solutions company operating in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland, to promote its Rooster Drone in Nordic countries.

Robotican also presented its Rooster drone to New York City Mayor Eric Adams in 2023, writing, “We believe that the Rooster is a vital product and tool for the public safety and first responders of New York City.”

 

Corsight

Jointly owned by Israeli company Cortica and Canadian venture capital firm Awz Ventures, Corsight uses AI facial recognition technology to collect information about Palestinians in Gaza.

According to the New York Times, Israeli soldiers have set up checkpoints along routes where Palestinians have fled Israeli bombing and combat operations and scan Palestinians passing through using cameras equipped with Corsight’s facial recognition application. Meant to identify members of Hamas — specifically those who participated in the October 7 attacks — the program has created a database of Palestinians without their knowledge or consent.

In several instances, the Corsight application mistakenly identified a person as a Hamas member, like Palestinian poet Mosab Abu Toha, who was taken from a Gaza checkpoint and detained, beaten, and interrogated by Israeli officers for two days before being returned to Gaza.

Corsight’s technology is being used at airports and law enforcement authorities worldwide, such as the police forces in Thailand, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, and the EU. Australian and UK police forces are piloting its product. Gold producer Sibanye Stillwater in South Africa also uses it.

Israel’s genocidal assault in Gaza couldn’t reach the degree it has without the advanced weaponry it’s creating. On the one hand, Israel’s economic dependence on defense technology stagnates peace efforts and damages its international relationships when its technologies aid Israel’s human rights abuses. Yet, on the other, Israel’s economy thrives on war and occupation.

“Israel tends to be kind of immune from sanctions or from people not wanting to buy their products because of Gaza because the technologies are so useful for governments, especially repressive governments,” Halper said.

So, while diplomatically, Israel may be shunned in staterooms around the world, it’s only becoming more and more attractive to decision-makers in war rooms and military brass on the battlefield.

Feature photo | Illustration by MintPress News

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.

The post Devastation Into Dollars: Israeli Startups Are Making a Killing in Gaza appeared first on MintPress News.

Former Israeli Captive Held In Gaza Says Biggest Fear Was Israeli Airstrikes

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 08/06/2024 - 1:44am in

In an interview with Israel’s Haaretz, a former Israeli soldier who was held captive in the Gaza Strip said his biggest fear of being killed was from Israeli airstrikes, not Palestinian fighters.

In the interview, 70-year-old Louis Har, an Israeli who was held captive in the Gaza Strip, recounted his “biggest fear was the IDF planes and the fear that they would bomb the building we were in. It is clear that this is war, and the IDF is working. I was a soldier myself. But the feeling that it could be our bombs, our planes—that is what will make us die—is very scary and very stressful.”

The exclusive interview, published in Hebrew and not yet released on Haaretz’s English-language website, offers a glimpse into the reality of Israelis held as prisoners of war in Gaza.  Har also states in the interview that he was not fearful that Gazan fighters would kill him, as he realized he was a valuable bargaining chip in any potential prisoner swaps.

Har was extracted from Gaza as part of the only hostage rescue operation conducted by the Israeli military since October 7. Israeli media produced a dramatic story depicting a daring and violent collaborative interagency mission involving Shin Bet and special forces to retrieve Har and his fellow captive, Fernando Marman.

However, discrepancies in the narratives led to questions about the role of the alleged Palestinian fighters guarding them. These were clarified when al-Mayadeen News reported that a civilian family had been holding the two Israelis captive and had attempted to negotiate their release.

The Haaretz interview with Har highlights the fear Israeli captives in Gaza experience when hearing Israeli fighter jets overhead. This sentiment is commonly expressed by Israelis taken captive by Palestinian fighters throughout the war.

Despite strict censorship in Israeli media on these matters, many former captives have spoken about the reality of their detention since the war began.

An example of this fear was highlighted in the testimony of Yasmin Porat, a survivor of the October 7 Hamas-led offensive on Kibbutz Be’eri.

During an interview on an Israeli radio show hosted by the Kan state broadcaster, she shared that Israeli forces “eliminated everyone, including the hostages.” She described “very, very heavy crossfire” and noted hearing tank shelling.

An Al-Jazeera investigation into the events of that day also revealed that indiscriminate airstrikes and tank fire from the Israeli military killed fellow Israelis being held by Hamas.

In January, Hamas’ armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, published a video showing captured Israeli Yarden Bibas, discussing the apparent killing of his wife and two children in an airstrike. Hamas had previously claimed in a communique that an Israeli missile attack had killed them. “Will I live to attend their funeral? Or will I be buried with them?” Bibas is filmed asking.

According to Hamas, more than 50 Israeli captives held in Gaza have allegedly been killed by Israel’s own indiscriminate bombing attacks, placing tremendous pressure on Tel Aviv to conclude a prisoner exchange.

Feature photo | A picture of rescued hostage Louis Har and a sign that reads “a deal now” hangs on a wall in Tel Aviv, Feb. 12, 2024. Ariel Schalit | AP

Robert Inlakesh is a political analyst, journalist and documentary filmmaker currently based in London, UK. He has reported from and lived in the occupied Palestinian territories and hosts the show ‘Palestine Files’. Director of ‘Steal of the Century: Trump’s Palestine-Israel Catastrophe.’ Follow him on Twitter @falasteen47

The post Former Israeli Captive Held In Gaza Says Biggest Fear Was Israeli Airstrikes appeared first on MintPress News.

Biden’s Call For Gaza Ceasefire Collapses Amid Israel’s Rafah Offensive

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 08/06/2024 - 12:25am in

President Joe Biden’s long-overdue demand for both sides to accept a Gaza ceasefire proposal appears to be faltering under Israeli refusal to comply, an escalation of Israel’s offensive in Rafah, and contradictions between the proposal and the president’s speech.

On May 31, President Joe Biden issued what many considered a long-overdue call for both Israel and Hamas to accept an Israeli ceasefire proposal to end the war in the Gaza Strip. In the speech, he briefly outlined the phases of the proposal, stating it would be “a road map to an enduring ceasefire and the release of all hostages.”

According to unnamed officials in the Biden administration, the timing and manner of the president’s announcement were designed to pressure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept it.

Shortly afterward, however, Benjamin Netanyahu publicly stated that his regime’s ceasefire was aimed at the destruction of Hamas. He affirmed his intention to continue the war in Gaza until victory is achieved against the Palestinian resistance movement. This directly contradicted the spirit of President Biden’s speech, implying that despite the ceasefire agreement with Hamas, it would still enable the dismantling of the group.

The confusion resulting from these conflicting narratives triggered an adverse reaction from ministers within the Israeli premier’s ruling coalition, including members of Netanyahu’s Likud Party. Israeli Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir announced that his Jewish Power Party would suspend its role in the ruling coalition until the terms of the ceasefire proposal were made available to him.

According to polling data released in March, around 50% of Israelis support the idea of Israel taking control of the Gaza Strip in a post-war situation. Only 10% approved of the Palestinian Authority running Gaza, and none of the respondents favored Hamas remaining in power.

While most Israeli Jews do not believe that Benjamin Netanyahu is winning the war in Gaza, the polling data suggests that the majority of Israelis want the war to continue and feel that Israel has either used enough or not enough force in Gaza.

On the other hand, Hamas officials heavily criticized President Biden’s portrayal of the group as obstructing the deal. They pointed to what they labeled as blatant Israeli intransigence and highlighted contradictions between the actual proposal and how the U.S. president represented it.

Majed Al-Ansari, Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesperson, said, “We are waiting for a clear Israeli position that represents the entire government in response to the U.S.’s Gaza proposal.”

Hamas initially received the Biden administration’s initiative “positively” but maintains that any viable ceasefire proposal must lead to the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and the end of the war.

Meanwhile, Israel has ramped up its offensive actions in the Gaza Strip, advancing with its invasion of Rafah despite the International Court of Justice’s ruling ordering Tel Aviv to halt its offensive there.

Not only has Israel continued its military actions in the Rafah area, but it has also launched new incursions into the central region of the besieged coastal enclave as the daily death toll continues to climb. On Thursday, an Israeli airstrike targeted a UN school in the Nuseirat Refugee Camp, killing around 45 civilians, half of whom were women and children.

A recent leak of the details of the ceasefire proposal, as reported by The Economist, appears to contradict President Biden’s presentation of the Israeli deal being offered. The article noted that the proposal would be much more difficult to conclude in phases two and three than the president had suggested.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Biden’s representation of the ceasefire proposal “inaccurate.” As the Israeli military continues to increase its operations in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian civilian death toll rises, hope appears to be faltering.

On May 6, Hamas accepted a ceasefire proposal. However, the Israeli government responded by immediately launching its Rafah offensive and seizing the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt. This move violated Israel’s 1979 Camp David normalization agreement with Egypt and led to the breakdown of ceasefire talks.

Feature photo | Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israeli bombing next to a United Nations facility near Rafah city, Gaza Strip, May 28, 2024. Jehad Alshrafi | AP

Robert Inlakesh is a political analyst, journalist and documentary filmmaker currently based in London, UK. He has reported from and lived in the occupied Palestinian territories and hosts the show ‘Palestine Files’. Director of ‘Steal of the Century: Trump’s Palestine-Israel Catastrophe’. Follow him on Twitter @falasteen47

The post Biden’s Call For Gaza Ceasefire Collapses Amid Israel’s Rafah Offensive appeared first on MintPress News.

Why Mexico Electing First Woman President Doesn’t ‘Automatically Translate Into Hope’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/06/2024 - 12:46am in

International media outlets reported celebrations Sunday as Mexico elected its first woman president in Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, but the mood on the ground was far more mixed.

The ascension of Sheinbaum is indeed historic, and has also been lauded as an indication that Mexico's young electoral democracy - the nation endured one-party rule for 70 years until the year 2000 - is alive and kicking. The 61-year-old will hold office for the Morena party that was founded by outgoing president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known by his initials as AMLO.

Her victory was also, seemingly a win for the climate, with reports focussing on Sheinbaum's background as a climate scientist and member of the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won a Nobel Prize.

Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo's supporters celebrate her victory in what was a historic moment for Mexico. Photo: ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy

"Having a woman as head of the presidency is undoubtedly a significant advance in the historical demands for women's representation in public office and positions of power," Daira Arana, an international policy and security specialist and principal of the Mexico-based Global Thought consultancy, told Byline Times.

"One of the demands of feminist movements is that these women, through their positions, break the power pacts that violate people's rights", instead advancing policies that "promote care and peace".

President-elect declared ´you are not alone´to female victims of gendered violence with an accused rapist on stage next to her

For Yolitzin Jaimes, spokesperson for CONAFEM - Colectivo Feminista Nacional Ningún Agresor en el poder, the ´No Abuser in Power´ National Feminist Collective - president-elect Sheinbaum has not taken any such actions in the past.

Sheinbaum was mayor of Mexico City 2018-2023, during which time the capital saw historic numbers of feminist collectives and protesters take to the streets to protest the country's shocking levels of gender-based violence and the indifference and inaction of government at all levels.

Instead of supporting the activists, says Jaimes, "Sheinbaum´s police gassed us and kettled us."

Further, "The Mexico City public prosecutor's office opened investigation files against my feminist colleagues, accusing us of damage to public property, which I call political persecution."

Particularly for feminists in Jaimes´ home state of Guerrero, Sheinbaum´s alliance within the Morena party with former candidate for governor of Guerrero, Felix Macedonio Salgado, is also evidence that she has no intention of breaking "the patriarchal pact", where those in power overlook men's violence and discrimination against women; instead elevating them to leadership positions and blocking processes for justice and accountability.

Ahead of the 2021 gubernatorial elections for which he would be a candidate, Salgado´s campaign was hit with accusations of sexual violence and rape by five women dating back as far as 1998. Following pressure from CONAFEM and other feminist collectives across the country, Salgado withdrew. Morena replaced him as candidate with his daughter, Evelyn Salgado Pineda, who became the first woman governor of Guerrero state. 

Sheinbaum has stood by Salgado, with feminist groups noting in particular that she appeared with him in at her closing campaign rally on May 31 in which she declared to Mexican women that "you are not alone".

"Putting him on the stage with her was an act that I consider an affront to all the victims of sexual aggression in the country," said Jaimes.

Salgado was elected a senator for Morena in Sunday´s elections.


Sheinbaum Supported 'Macho Austerity' Budget Cuts That Eeduced Womens Independence

As an AMLO loyalist, Mexican feminists also observe that Sheinbaum takes up office with "the baggage of #AusteridadMachista", Dr Cecilia Farfán-Méndez told Byline Times.

The hashtag #AusteridadMachista - macho austerity - "was used by civil society organizations to oppose budget cuts in areas that are known to be essential for preventing gender based violence or assisting women in escaping situations of violence", explained Dr Farfán-Méndez, the Head of Security Research Programs at the Center for US-Mexican Studies, University of California San Diego.

"These budget cuts include areas like subsidised child care, which contributes to women having greater participation in the workforce and therefore reducing dependence on the partner's income."

Mexico's Crisis of Gender-Based Violence vs Sheinbaum´s Party Platform

'Women in Mexico live in a violent environment", said María Calderón, a lawyer and research analyst with the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, a US-based think tank.

"There has been a strong wave of violence" against women during the AMLO administration, continued Calderón, citing the figure that "11 women a day are murdered for gender-related reasons in Mexico" released in 2022 by the National Citizen Observatory on Femicide.

Sheinbaum, the lawyer added, has had very little to say on the matter or the many brigades of mothers searching for their disappeared children. More than 115,000 people are registered as disappeared in Mexico, an issue that got international attention when 43 students disappeared from the Ayotzinapa teacher´s college in 2014. Upon assuming office in 2018, AMLO vowed to resolve the case, but leaves the presidency with no resolution in sight for the families of the missing young men.

These matters are "not among her priorities", said Calderón, adding that she expects the president-elect to stick closely to the programme already laid out by AMLO and the Morena party which has not included concrete plans to address gender-based violence and forced disappearance. It focuses on the militarisation of public security and civil functions, which should be cause for concern for feminists. 

Other critics have also pointed out that climate scientist Sheinbaum has, at least up until now, been a loyal supporter of pet projects of AMLO´s such as the Tren Maya, judged in 2023 by an international tribunal of experts as causing environmental and human damage to the extent of ecocide and ethnocide.

However, Jaimes noted, "to be able to say 'Presidenta', woman president, for the first time" generates a tremendous feeling that "recalls the Mexican suffragettes who fought for all of our political and electoral rights".

But, the accomplished feminist activist added, "it does not automatically translate into hope".

Brexit is the Election Elephant in the Room – But Business Leaders Know the Truth

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/06/2024 - 11:52pm in

There is an elephant in the room in this general election campaign: the ‘B’ word.

Piers Morgan recently raised it on BBC’s Question Time, challenging Nigel Farage, otherwise it's as if Brexit never occurred. Strikingly, it did not feature at all in the ITV leadership debate between Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer on Tuesday evening.

And so it is as if the disaster that is the aftermath of Brexit is not taking place. As far as our politicians are concerned, the UK's exit from the EU, and what has happened since, is off-limits.

Not so, among the business community.

I recently chaired a panel discussion for business networking organisation E2E to mark the body’s launch of its “International Track 100 for 2024” – the ranking of the 100 British private businesses that had enjoyed the highest export sales growth during the past three years. The panellists were drawn from the list. 

These were bosses who were successful and who were selling well overseas. Yet, all of them were damning about the UK’s departure from the EU. 

Simon La Fosse, founder and chairman of technology recruiter La Fosse Associates, called for another referendum on EU membership. Others nodded their agreement. Among them was Ed Gillett, creator of CharterSync, which marries freight-forwarders with airlines handling air cargo.

“Pre-Brexit, we could move aircraft without delay. Now, with all the paperwork required, it takes 48 hours," Mr Gillett said. "This has a major impact, for example, on 'just in time’ supply chains – say they’re relying on automobile parts, the whole production is left waiting for them to arrive. Previously, we never saw competition from road freight, now there is, as it can be just as quick to send a part by road as by air."

Before Brexit, another panel member added, all that was needed to cover the whole of the EU was one docket. Now, every member of the EU requires its own forms to be filled in before goods can be transported. 

Jaitej Walia, director of crop protection supplier JT Argo, said: “It’s very tough, doing business between the UK and Europe. I wish Brexit had never happened.”

He was considering relocating his head office to Ireland, which is in the EU, to use it as a gateway to the bloc, saying: “They need to execute a better trade deal with the EU. Even if we don’t have a referendum, we should at least get a better deal with the EU.”

Mr La Fosse was concerned that “one of the unintended consequences of exiting the EU was that previously, 40% of the founders of tech companies came from the EU – they’d chosen to come to the UK. Now, we’ve made it more difficult for them to come and the UK has become less attractive. If you think about the value creation they brought, and the employment they created, their loss is massive.

"I fear we’re becoming less competitive as a country.”

People who run Britain’s businesses know what is happening – they experience it daily. But they are ignored.

Instead, our political leaders behave as if everything is fine, that the correct decision was made – or at least they prefer to keep their counsel, not wishing to reopen wounds. 

Die-hard Brexiters like to maintain that the UK made the right move. They point to the UK economy growing faster than others in the EU. But that would have occurred anyway, having more to do with countries’ individual economies than the EU. It is true that the UK led the EU in the race for a COVID vaccine, but others soon caught up. 

Likewise, Brexiters cite the trade deals struck since the UK left the EU as proof of the country's ability to forge its own way in the world. Most of these agreements, however, merely replace the ones lost due to Brexit. As for the two much-vaunted big ones – India and the US – they have not transpired. 

Brexit’s proponents also love to cite 'taking back control’. By that they meant a nirvana of low taxes, lower subsidies, British-owned businesses flying the flag for Britain, free of the shackles imposed by the dreadful, leftie bureaucrats and technocrats of Brussels

Low taxes? Not a sniff.

Lower subsidies? Britain no longer features on the EU’s score card for state aid and the Government refuses to publish its own figures. Shearman & Sterling trawled through an official online database of awards to try to establish the true picture. It’s not exact, but what the law firm found was that the UK was outstripping the EU in throwing money at business.

In 2015, UK Government aid amounted to 0.35% of GDP, versus an EU-wide average of 0.67%. That rose to 2.71% in Britain, and 2.39% in the EU in 2020, as the pandemic sparked handouts for hard-hit firms. After that, it fell back to 1.19% of GDP in 2021 and 1.13% of GDP in 2022. 

Those who thought Britain would be 'less European’ after Brexit should think again. Under the UK's post-Brexit system, industry regulators have no power over the Government – a cash award can only be recovered through the courts. In the EU, by contrast, the European Commission must examine and approve the largest subsidies before they are paid. 

As for the proud champions of commerce and entrepreneurship, since January 2020, when the UK formally quit the EU, analysis by the Office for National Statistics’ charts, shows that 2,917 British businesses worth more than £1 million have been bought by foreigners, for a total of £176.7 billion, including the iconic Royal Mail, sold to a Czech for £5.3 billion. 

The once world-beating City has had a torrid time. The London Stock Exchange has fallen out of the top 20 global IPO destinations for 2024, raising as much money as Kazakhstan’s stock market. It is behind smaller exchanges such as Istanbul, Oslo and Athens.

Hopes rest with Chinese retailer, Shein, which is considering the UK for its $50 billion float. If Shein does choose London over New York, it will be because the firm is fearful of a US backlash against some of its labour practices. Ironic, then, that it should select the UK on that ground. 

This is against a backdrop of top-quoted companies leaving the London market. Without an influx of IPOs, they are not being replaced. 

Still, as a Conservative peer told LBC, there is a Brexit dividend. He claimed there were “many” benefits, but then, when asked to name them, the only one he could think of was the lifting of the cap on bankers’ bonuses. 

We took back control. Now what? On we go, having to pick up the pieces while our political class say nothing. It’s a shaming omertà that speaks volumes. 

European Recognition of Palestine Signals Major Shift in Global Discourse

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/06/2024 - 11:16pm in

If one were to argue that a top Spanish government official would someday declare that “from the river to the sea, Palestine would be free,” the suggestion would have seemed ludicrous.

But this is precisely how Yolanda Diaz, Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister, concluded a statement on May 23, a few days before Spain officially recognized Palestine as a state.

The Spanish, Norwegian, and Irish recognition of Palestine is the most important.

Western Europe is finally catching up with the rest of the world regarding the significance of a solid international position in support of the Palestinian people and rejection of Israel’s genocidal practices in occupied Palestine.

But equally important is the changing political discourse regarding both Palestine and Israel in Europe and all over the world.

Almost immediately after the start of the Israeli war on Gaza, some European countries imposed restrictions on pro-Palestinian protests, some even banning the Palestinian flag, which was perceived, through some twisted logic, as an antisemitic symbol.

With time, the unprecedented solidarity with Israel at the start of the war, however, turned into an outright political, legal and moral liability to the pro-Israel Western governments.

Thus, a slow shift began, leading to a near-complete transformation in some governments’ positions and a partial though clear change of the political discourse, among others.

The early ban on pro-Palestinian protests was impossible to maintain in the face of millions of angry European citizens who called on their governments to end their blind support for Tel Aviv.

On May 30, the mere fact that French private broadcaster TF1 hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led to significant, though spontaneous, protests by French citizens, who called on their media to deny accused war criminals the chance to address the public.

Failing to push back against the pro-Palestine narrative, the French government has, on May 31, decided to disinvite Israeli military firms from participating in one of the world’s largest military expos, Eurosatory, scheduled for June 17-21.

Even countries like Canada and Germany, which supported the Israeli genocide against Palestinians until the later stages of the mass killings, began changing their language as well.

The change of language is also happening in Israel itself and among pro-Israeli intellectuals and journalists in mainstream media. In a widely read column, New York Times writer Thomas Friedman attacked Netanyahu late last March, accusing him of being the “worst leader in Jewish history, not just in Israeli history.”

Unpacking Friedman’s statement requires another column, for such language continues to feed on the persisting illusion, at least in the mind of Friedman, that Israel serves as a representation, not of its own citizens, but of Jewish people, past and present.

As for the language in Israel, it is merging into two major and competing discourses: one irrationally ruthless, represented by far-right Ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, in fact, by Netanyahu himself, and another, though equally militant and anti-Palestinian, which is more pragmatic.

While the first group would like to see Palestinians slaughtered in large numbers or wiped out through a nuclear bomb, the other realizes that a military option, at least for now, is no longer viable.

“The Israeli army does not have the ability to win this war against Hamas, and certainly not against Hezbollah,” Israeli Army Reserve Major General Yitzhak Brik said in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Maariv on May 30.

Brik, one of Israel’s most respected military men, is but one of many such individuals who are now essentially repeating the same wisdom.

Strangely, when Israel’s Minister of Heritage Amihai Eliyahu suggested the “option” of dropping a nuclear bomb on the Strip, his words reeked of desperation, not confidence.

Before the war, the Israeli political discourse regarding Gaza revolved around a specific set of terminology: ‘deterrence,’ represented in the occasional one-sided war, often referred to as ‘mowing the lawn’ and ‘security,’ among others.

Billions of dollars have been generated throughout the years by war profiteers in Israel, the US and other European countries, all in the name of keeping Gaza besieged and subdued.

Now, this language has been relegated in favor of a grand discourse concerned with existential wars, the future of the Jewish people, and the possible end of Israel, if not Zionism itself.

While it is true that Netanyahu fears an end to the war will be a terrible conclusion to his supposedly triumphant legacy as the ‘protector’ of Israel, there is more to the story.

Suppose the war ends without Israel restoring its so-called deterrence and security. In that case, it will be forced to contend with the fact that the Palestinian people cannot be relegated and that their rights cannot be overlooked. For Israel, such a realization would be an end to its settler-colonial project, which began nearly a hundred years ago.

Additionally, the perception and language about Palestine and Israel are changing among ordinary people across the world. The misconception of the Palestinian ‘terrorist’ is being quickly replaced by the accurate depiction of the Israeli war criminal. This categorization is now consistent with the views of the world’s largest international legal institutions.

Israel now stands in near-complete isolation, due, in part, to its genocide in Gaza but also to the courage and steadfastness of the Palestinian people and the global solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

Feature photo | Irish citizens hold an emergency protest for Rafah outside Leinster House, on May 8, 2024, in Dublin, Ireland. Artur Widak | AP

Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of six books. His latest book, co-edited with Ilan Pappé, is ‘Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak Out.’ His other books include ‘My Father Was a Freedom Fighter’ and ‘The Last Earth.’ Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

The post European Recognition of Palestine Signals Major Shift in Global Discourse appeared first on MintPress News.

Israel Accused of Using White Phosphorus in Lebanon Amid Fears of an All-Out War and as ‘Hidden Crisis’ Unfolds

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/06/2024 - 7:47pm in

Tensions between Israel and Lebanon appear to have intensified in recent days with the Israeli prime minister telling troops he is prepared for "very strong action" inside Lebanon and amid reports of incendiary white phosphorus attacks.

The escalation comes as Human Rights Watch (HRW) released the findings of an investigation on Wednesday that verified the use of white phosphorus munitions by Israeli forces in at least 17 municipalities, including populated civilian areas, across south Lebanon following the Hamas attack on 7 October, 2023. The report said Israel’s widespread use of the chemical was "putting civilians at grave risk and contributing to civilian displacement". 

White phosphorus is a chemical substance dispersed in artillery shells, bombs, and rockets that ignites when exposed to oxygen, HRW wrote, explaining that its incendiary effects "inflict death or cruel injuries that result in lifelong suffering". It urged Israel to "immediately stop" using it in populated areas, "especially when less-harmful alternatives are readily available”.

Sky News reported Thursday that both Israeli and Arab media have been awash with warnings about the possibility of all-out war on the Lebanese front, and that there have been multiple reports of diplomatic warnings from Western envoys about an imminent Israeli attack on Lebanon.

The media focus has rarely strayed from Gaza where the horrors have continued unabated since Israel launched its counter-offensive - after Hamas attacked killing 1,200 - but casualties in Lebanon are also mounting.

In what many have labelled a genocide, more than 36,400 lives have been lost - most of them civilians - in Israel's eight-month-long attack on Gaza, which has been rendered unliveable, and the entire population of more than 2.2 million people are at risk of famine.

International outrage intensified last week when an Israeli airstrike on a tent city in Rafah killed at least 45 people, including women and children. The area in the southern Gaza Strip was deemed a safe zone and a World Court had ordered Israel to halt its military assault.

The death Toll in Lebanon is Rising

Days before the Rafah atrocity, three Lebanese school children on a minibus were wounded after an Israeli drone airstrike hit the car ahead of them near the town of Nabatiyeh, about 13 kilometres from the Israeli border. 

Last month, a family of four, one of them a 12-year-old boy, were killed by an Israeli airstrike in their hometown of Mais al-Jabal - a village repeatedly struck by Israel. They had fled the south due to an escalation at the border but temporarily returned to check on their home and supermarket. 

And, in April, a woman with her 10-year-old niece were killed and four children and their grandparents were wounded in another Israeli strike on the southern town of Haine.

Since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas hostilities, about 90,000 southern Lebanese, including over 30,000 children, have been forced from their homes, according to a Unicef report released at the end of April, and according to the Lebanese Ministry of Public Health, over 350 people have been killed by Israeli attacks in the south of Lebanon, including at least eight children and 21 women.

Near daily Israeli aerial offensives have a devastating impact on the population in the south of the country, threatening the everyday lives of children and families, and ruining their futures.   

“I went to school for only one day, and on that day the war broke out, so I couldn’t continue going”, Farah said, reflecting on her schooling, and friends now scattered by the conflict in a Save The Children social media post.

“I worry for the safety of my friends and family members who weren’t able to leave”, Razan, 13, says in a Unicef social media post after being displaced by the Lebanon-Israel border hostilities. 

“I just want to go back home, I miss it”, Serge who fled the village of Kfar Kila and moved with his family to a shelter in Habbouch says in a Unicef post on Instagram.

“I brought my teddy bear, but I miss my bed at home”, 8-year-old Malak, from Kfar Kila, who took refuge in Nabatieh after their home was damaged in an Israeli bombing, says in another social media post.

“These kids miss their home, their family, their normal routine. It’s that familiarity of surroundings, its consistency, and emotional security”, Ettie Higgins, Unicef's deputy representative in Lebanon told Byline Times.

The intensification of fighting has destroyed or damaged civilian infrastructure and facilities and disrupted essential services such as education and health as well as access to water, sanitation and hygiene. 

Hundreds of Thousands of Children are Missing out on Education

Since October 8, when Hezbollah opened the southern front in response to Israel’s attacks on Gaza, Unicef's latest study found that more than 70 schools have been partially or fully closed, especially in border areas, affecting around 20,000 children. Even before the current confrontation, more than 700,000 children in Lebanon were missing out on education.

The Unicef survey also showed that the complete or partial closure of 27 health facilities in the south due to the conflict has impacted 4,000 children among tens of thousands of people who have lost access to public health care. Vital services like immunisation, access to critical medications, maternal healthcare and pre-and-postnatal care have been cut. 

One hundred thousand people have no access to safe drinking water since nine water facilities were damaged and destroyed. Displaced children face increased risks of water and sanitation-related diseases because of overcrowding and inadequate sanitation facilities.

As more Lebanese families are displaced by cross-border exchanges, disruption of regular in-person learning increases the risk of child labour and early marriage for the most vulnerable, particularly girls and children with disabilities, authorities warn. 

The continued conflict is also taking a heavy toll on children’s mental and physical health, with rapidly increasing cases of anxiety and trauma reported by children and their families. 

Higgins, having regularly visited families from south Lebanon, has observed high levels of psychological distress among displaced minors. Talking about their children, parents have often cited angry behaviour, crying, bedwetting and nightmares. 

This prolonged trauma at a household level can mean many years of residual trauma. Children are the innocent victims of a war that isn’t of their making

Ettie Higgins, Unicef

Higgins went on to highlight how children are being exposed to "toxic stress" both at home and in the community.

The current disrupted school year comes on top of three previous years of missed education in Lebanon, following over a year of teachers’ strikes and Covid

“It’s devastating”, Bassel Akar, an education research consultant in crisis-hit areas, said referring to the long-term effects of the lack of proper learning: “It’s not just about not learning information or falling behind on a subject, but also missing out on the learning practice, feedback, and the schooling routine."

Based on interviews he conducted with families forced to flee from the south, scattered between Beirut and Sidon, Akar, who is based in Lebanon, found widespread concern for the loss of homes, incomes, and what will happen next. 

“They are stuck in a survival mode, and are getting used to another way of living where schooling is not a priority”, the education specialist remarked, pointing out that for displaced Lebanese families who are already struggling financially, it is difficult to secure more than one meal a day. 

These conflict-affected children, he explained, are trying to deal with limited schooling and their families’ worsened financial situation that does not allow them to grow in a healthy environment. “It will be a generation that is not only behind but also not interested in going back to school or learning”, Akar concluded.  

The Lebanon deputy representative for Unicef voiced worries that in such a state of lost education, families turn to negative coping mechanisms like marrying off their young girls and sending children to work as the situation remains volatile. Higgins described the disruption of education in Lebanon as a “hidden crisis” with long-term consequences. 

Israel’s war on Gaza is the latest crisis to hit Lebanon, adding to a series of political and economic crises that have devastated the small Middle Eastern state since 2019 resulting in job losses, high inflation, and shortage of basic services - including fuel, medicines and electricity- and pushing over 80% of the population into poverty. 

Before the conflict, the health and education systems were already on the brink of collapse after years of financial constraints and a lack of resources. 

After more than eight months of regular cross-border hostilities, 75% of children in Lebanon are at risk of poverty and every aspect of their lives is being critically affected. 

“This country was previously on its knees economically. The impact on children’s everyday life is now total disruption”, the Unicef deputy head said noting that forcibly displaced parents, for the most part, don’t have the means to start a new livelihood amid ongoing multiple crises. 

Cyabra: The Intelligence Cutout Waging Israel’s Online Propaganda War

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/06/2024 - 6:23am in

MintPress News’ Lowkey, one of the United Kingdom’s most prominent and outspoken opponents of the Israeli onslaught against Gaza, has been under attack. In May, The Daily Telegraph, one of Britain’s largest newspapers, published a report claiming that Russia, China and Iran were boosting the rapper’s messaging on social media “in an effort to stoke division” and manipulate public opinion across the country.

Central to the Telegraph’s claims is a report by tech firm Cyabra, which asserted that 11% of profiles engaging with him on Twitter were fake, implying that an organized bot network was artificially amplifying his messages.

Yet what the Telegraph failed to inform readers was that Cyabra was not just “a tech firm specializing in countering disinformation online,” as it claimed, but an Israeli company founded by military intelligence officers, half of whose employees have left to rejoin the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to fight in Gaza – and one that continues to openly work with Israeli military intelligence to this day.

Instead, the Telegraph allowed Israeli government officials to assert unchallenged that the United Kingdom was under “threat” from pro-Hamas organisations that are operating all across Britain with a clear purpose to impose Sharia law and to make Britain a Muslim island” and to advise that authorities must be “far more aggressive” against these “enemies” that threaten British values and the British way of life.

Unfortunately, Cyabra’s methodology was as shoddy as the Telegraph’s reporting. First, the study they published does not even mention Lowkey. Second, there is essentially zero evidence supplied in their reporting. Finally, there are no spreadsheets where readers can access the names of the supposedly fake accounts so that researchers can judge for themselves.

The study failed to show whether these bot networks truly amplified messages from Lowkey or other pro-Palestine influencers in any meaningful way. In fact, beyond pointing to some extremely generic profiles with barely any followers and leaving boilerplate replies such as “Amazing! This is fantastic! How cool! Congratulations!” they show little to no evidence of any interference—foreign or otherwise.

The clear implication is that 11% of profiles interacting with Lowkey being fake would be proof that the massive upsurge in pro-Palestine sentiment across the world is artificially manufactured from abroad. Yet what Cyabra leaves out of the report is the crucial context that a considerable proportion of social media accounts are fake and always have been.

Estimates of the true number of fake accounts on Twitter run from anywhere between 5% to more than 80%, and Twitter owner Elon Musk suggested that one in five personas on his platform were false. Cyabra itself claims that 11% are fake and that celebrities and other public figures draw more bot accounts than average.

Recent Cyabra studies have asserted that 13% of all Twitter accounts debating the upcoming U.S. presidential elections are bots, and 20% of those discussing disgraced human trafficker Jeffrey Epstein are inauthentic. Thus, Cyabra’s claim that 11% of profiles interacting with Lowkey are fake is hardly a smoking gun. In fact, it only reinforces that Lowkey and his views have widespread global support.

 

An Israeli Intelligence Arm

“We are the watchdog for truth and trustworthiness on social media,” Cyabra CEO Dan Brahmy loftily claimed. The company possesses essentially no organic reach (at the time of writing, it had 221 subscribers on YouTube and 1,145 and 120 followers on Twitter and Instagram, respectively). Yet, it has risen to become an extremely influential organization. Its work, purporting to “uncover the good, bad and fake online,” has been referenced in outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

However, none of these write-ups in prominent outlets detail the company’s extremely close connections to the Israeli government. Brahmy, for instance, was an IDF shooting and combat instructor before he founded Cyabra.

Its two other co-founders were key members of Israeli intelligence. As Brahmy boasted in a recent interview:

Luckily enough, I found the two people on the planet that have the audacity and the knowledge to be able to say that they were part of the commanders of information warfare within the Israeli Army. And after a really long military service, they felt that they had to do something about it [online information warfare].”

Brahmy is referring to Ido Shraga and Yossef Daar. Shraga was formerly a cyber systems engineer in the Israeli Defense Forces before co-founding the company. Daar is a longtime veteran of the controversial military group Unit 8200.

Yossef Daar Bio

Unit 8200 is the centerpiece of Israel’s hi-tech surveillance apparatus and is the architect of the surveillance state imposed upon Palestinians. Unit 8200 has created a massive, worldwide digital dragnet to spy upon Palestinians, using their personal data as kompromat, blackmail and extortion. Its veterans are also behind the Pegasus software that was sold to the world’s worst human rights abusers to hack phones and surveil high-value targets.

From 2004 to 2014, Daar was a leader at Unit 8200, rising to become its head of department. The close connections to Israeli military intelligence do not stop there, however.

Cyabra likely actively recruits from Unit 8200 and other IDF groups. For example, Roni Fridfertig left her job as a Unit 8200 analyst to join Cyabra, where she is currently head of strategic insights. Working alongside Fridfertig is Lali Bar, a cyber intelligence analyst team leader at Unit 8200 until March, when she began working at Cyabra as a strategic data analyst.

Roni Fridfertig bio

Daniel Elya was an aerial photograph decoder and technical product manager for Unit 8200 between 2017 and 2020. In 2022, he became a product manager and head of operations for Cyabra. Customer success team leader Tanya Barkatz was, until 2021, a master sergeant intelligence analyst at the Lahav 433, Israel’s equivalent to the FBI. Until 2019, Cyabra’s head of private sector sales, David Bar-Aharon, was an IDF field intelligence officer.

Tanya Barkatz bio

These state intelligence connections are far from cherry-picking. Under Israeli law, revealing any affiliation to Unit 8200 is a criminal offense, meaning that the few who brazenly announced it on their public LinkedIn profiles are likely just the tip of the iceberg.

In a recent interview, Brahmy revealed that half of his 40 employees have been called up for active military service and are currently involved in the occupation of Gaza and the displacement of millions of people from their homes. The other half are fighting on the digital battlefield for Israel, local outlet Israel 21c noted. Brahmy revealed that this includes closely liaising with their former colleagues in active military intelligence.

We pass on information to security organizations inside Israel and beyond because they can apply pressure, help identify and feed back intelligence.

Earlier this year, Cyabra also briefed the Israeli parliament, teaching the Knesset Committee for Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Technologies about tactics Hamas uses online. In short, Cyabra’s deep connections to the Israeli state – particularly Unit 8200 – make it difficult to ascertain where one ends and the other begins.

 

From Surveillance to Silicon Valley

Unit 8200 is Israel’s most elite and perhaps infamous unit. Described as Israel’s Harvard, the brightest young minds in the country compete to be accepted, knowing the sort of training they will receive will set them up for lucrative tech careers. Arab Israelis are effectively barred from joining; indeed, they are among the unit’s principal targets.

The Financial Times called Unit 8200 “Israel at its best and worst” – the centerpiece of both its booming high-tech industry and its repressive state apparatus. Unit 8200 veterans have gone on to produce many of the world’s most downloaded apps, including maps service Waze and communications platform Viber.

In 2014, 43 reservists (including several officers) sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, informing him they would no longer serve in its ranks due to its zealous persecution of Palestinians. This consisted of using big data to compile dossiers on vast numbers of the indigenous domestic population, including their medical history, sex lives, and search histories, so that it could later be used for extortion.

If a particular individual needed to travel across checkpoints for crucial medical treatment, permission could be suspended until they agreed to spy on others.

Information, such as if a person was cheating on their spouse or was homosexual, is also used as bait for blackmail. One former Unit 8200 operative said that he was trained to memorize different Arabic words for “gay” so that he could listen out for them in monitored conversations. All Palestinians, the Unit 8200 veterans claim, were treated as enemies of the state. “There’s no distinction between Palestinians who are, and are not, involved in violence,” the letter read.

More worryingly for an international audience is Unit 8200’s influence within the global tech platforms we trust with our data. A 2022 MintPress investigation found that hundreds of former Unit 8200 agents are working in Silicon Valley, achieving positions of influence at companies such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Meta.

One example of this is Emi Palmor. Palmor sits on the oversight board for Meta (the parent company of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram). This group effectively serves as the platforms’ supreme court, deciding which content should be promoted and which should be suppressed.

Gavriel Goidel, meanwhile, is Google’s head of strategy and operations. However, until 2016, he was head of learning at Unit 8200, leading an intelligence team to surveil and counter the activities of what he called “hostile activists.” With people such as Palmor and Goidel holding such influential roles at social media giants, it is perhaps not surprising that content sympathetic to the Palestinian cause is so ruthlessly suppressed online.

 

“We Lied, We Cheated, We Stole”

Cyabra certainly has ambitions to become a truly global company. Its opening of an office in New York City and the appointment of former Secretary of State and CIA Director Mike Pompeo to its board of directors are a measure of this goal. “We are thrilled to welcome Mike Pompeo,” Brahmy said.

Throughout his distinguished career, Secretary Pompeo has demonstrated a deep understanding of the impact on national security posed by disinformation campaigns. His insights and guidance will be invaluable as Cyabra continues to develop innovative solutions to establish a digital immune system.”

Throughout his career at the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency, Pompeo was the source of disinformation campaigns destabilizing other countries’ national security. “I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. We had entire training courses [on] it,” Pompeo once quipped. The CIA, of course, has been the source of countless fake news scandals, has promoted regime change around the world, and has set up a worldwide network of media outlets to push pro-U.S. narratives.

Appointing a former CIA director to the board of a company that claims to offer a service distinguishing fact from fiction should immediately undermine that group’s credibility. But in today’s world, fact-checking is often directly sponsored by the U.S. government. At least five fact-checking groups Facebook relies upon to filter and judge news about Ukraine, for instance, are bankrolled by Washington.

As Israel launched its assault on Gaza, Cyabra jumped to attention on the online battlefield, rushing out reports claiming that 25% of all accounts discussing the October 7 attack were fake and pushing pro-Hams narrative or claiming that Russia, China, Iran, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq were engaged in a massive online anti-Israel conspiracy to stoke visceral anger by sharing misleading or false content.

One example Cyabra itself chose to illustrate this was Russian state TV channel RT en Español reporting that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi called the attack on the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza an Israeli “war crime.” This was supposedly false because Israeli and Western sources insisted that Palestinians likely blew up their own hospital.

Disinformation exists on all sides of the Gaza attack, and all states attempt to control narratives as best they can. As Cyabra CEO Brahmy stated: “Social media is often the destination for millions of people to follow the news and share their opinion. Consequently, it is also the venue of choice for malicious actors to manipulate the narrative.”

Yet his company’s research implies that criticism of Israel is false or invalid, and its effect is to divert attention away from Israel’s actions. Israel, of course, is also carrying out a colossal propaganda effort online. Researchers such as Professor Marc Owen Jones have uncovered armies of pro-Israel sock-puppet accounts spreading anti-UNRWA disinformation and trying to undermine solidarity between black Americans and Palestinians. Yet Cyabra appears far less interested in scrutinizing pro-Israel campaigns – perhaps because they are a crucial part of them.

 

Propaganda Wars

Israel has carried out a sustained and coordinated propaganda campaign that rivals the complexity of its military attack. In the two weeks following October 7, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spent more than $7 million on advertisements on YouTube alone. These ads were overwhelmingly targeted at Western nations, with France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium and the United States as the top targets.

In just 14 days, one campaign on one platform from one Israeli government department reached one billion sets of eyes – numbers that make anything Cyabra has supposedly uncovered look insignificant by contrast.

Many of these YouTube ads blatantly broke the platform’s terms of service, displaying graphic images of dead bodies and featuring false messaging, such as “Hamas=ISIS.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also launched a covert campaign to harass and intimidate American students, establishing a “task force” to carry out psychological operations aimed at, in their own words, “inflicting economic and employment consequences” against pro-Palestine protestors. While Foreign Minister Eli Cohen heads the task force, it stresses that its actions “should not have the signature of the State of Israel on it.”

Israeli propaganda campaigns, however, go back much further. Wikipedia has long been a target of Israeli infiltration. A project overseen by Naftali Bennett (who would later go on to become prime minister) deployed thousands of young Israelis to police the online encyclopedia, removing troublesome facts and framing articles more favorably to Israel. Those who made the most edits would receive rewards, including free hot air balloon rides.

 

Silencing Pro-Palestine Voices

Palestinians – or those who are sympathetic to them – have historically had their voices suppressed online. However, since October 7, the digital throttling of pro-Palestine sentiment has been ramped up. Hundreds of prominent figures have claimed that social media platforms are artificially limiting their reach because of their position on Israel-Palestine.

Instagram suspended the accounts of Eye on Palestine and Motaz Azaiza, two critical sources for on-the-ground reporting in Gaza. The platform also inexplicably added the word “terrorist” into the bios of hundreds of people identifying as Palestinian. It claimed later that this was a bug. However, the platform’s close connections to Unit 8200 suggest that this may have been less a bizarre mistake and more of an outcome of the company’s general milieu regarding Palestinian liberation.

MintPress News itself is facing constant online suppression. There is not an employee (this author included) who has not had their social media accounts restricted, suspended or deleted – something which rarely, if ever, happens to pro-Israel news sources.

Lowkey is no exception. Last week, Instagram locked him out of his account. Pro-Israel groups have successfully shut down his public events and have even attempted to have his music removed from the streaming service Spotify. Lowkey has, for many years, been a top target of the Israel lobby.

A hip-hop artist widely recognized as one of the most gifted lyricists of his generation, he has used his talents to highlight the suffering of Palestinians, gaining him a worldwide fan base. Tracks such as “Long Live Palestine” have become anthems of resistance the world over and are frequently played at solidarity demonstrations. As far back as 2011, The Jewish Chronicle wrote that his mere existence was a “potential nightmare” for Israel.

Cyabra purports to be a tech company helping individuals and organizations distinguish between fact and fiction online by promoting media literacy. Brahmy warns that every time you are online, “you can potentially become a target to a bad or fake actor that is trying to manipulate public opinion, that is trying to draw you into a contextualized trap.”

Yet a deep dive into Cyabra’s history, its key figures, and its activities suggest that it is itself a bad actor attempting to manipulate public opinion for the benefit of the Israeli state. Real critical media literacy would start by highlighting state-connected fact-checking groups and teaching individuals to be highly skeptical of any big-money company that offers to do the thinking for them – especially those with former Israeli intelligence leaders and CIA directors on their board.

Feature photo | Illustration by MintPress News

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

The post Cyabra: The Intelligence Cutout Waging Israel’s Online Propaganda War appeared first on MintPress News.

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