Monthly Archives: March 2016

University of Chicago launches divestment campaign

Chicago BDS

Philip Weiss writes

Yesterday two signal events took place in the movement to boycott Israel over the occupation. First, Bar Heffetz, an Israeli farmer, kibbutznik and peace activist, writes that BDS is working, and how. (Original Hebrew post here; translation from Sol Salbe’s Facebook page)

Contrary to what you get told, the boycott and BDS are working, and how. At you can feel it everywhere, at least in my field of agricultural exports to Europe. And that’s apart from the fact that you must sign a document that your produce does not come from the settlements, with aerial photographs attached. Even plain Israeli products [from inside the Green Line] encounter a lot of problems because the buyers cannot think of a reason why they need all that hassle. Buy from Spain and it’s all simple and quiet. And what is really nice about it, is that government departments such as the Ministry of Agriculture headed by that top Rightist Uri Ariel cooperate with all this. They provide official documents that indicate separate production lines do exist which are free of settlements’ produce, for those who wish to export to Europe The conclusion? The road to South Africa has never been shorter.

Thousands of miles away yesterday, a group at the University of Chicago announced a new divestment campaign yesterday with the statement below. The target of the campaign is quite focused: ten international companies (eight of them American) that “perpetuate apartheid and human rights abuses by providing technology and resources used by the Israeli military and government to attack and kill Palestinian civilians, maintain and build the Apartheid Wall and checkpoints, and destroy Palestinian property for the purpose of building illegal settlements.”

We, a diverse coalition of students at the University of Chicago, come together as UofC Divest to call upon the College Council of the University of Chicago to pass a resolution urging the university to financially divest from companies presently complicit in, or profiting off of, the State of Israel’s ongoing system of military occupation, apartheid, and other human rights violations in Palestine/Israel. We act in direct response to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which was initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005 and is endorsed by over 170 Palestinian political parties and organizations. The BDS movement calls on Israel to comply with international law by (1) Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall, (2) Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and (3) Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194. The specific corporations our resolution targets for divestment are Boeing, Caterpillar, Cemex, Elbit Systems, General Electric, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Lockheed Martin, Motorola Systems, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon. Collectively, these companies perpetuate apartheid and human rights abuses by providing technology and resources used by the Israeli military and government to attack and kill Palestinian civilians, maintain and build the Apartheid Wall and checkpoints, and destroy Palestinian property for the purpose of building illegal settlements. For example, Boeing supplies aircraft, missiles, and weapons used to attack Palestinians in the occupied territories including during the 2014 summer assault on Gaza, which, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, damaged or destroyed over 144 kindergartens, killed 2,205 Palestinians, displaced over 500,000, and left 108,000 homeless. Cemex operates four factories on occupied land and produces concrete elements used in the construction of illegal settlements, the Apartheid Wall, and checkpoints; and Elbit Systems Ltd. provides the electronic detection fence and surveillance cameras for the Apartheid Wall and supplies unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used to kill and maim Palestinians in the occupied territories. Unfortunately, the University of Chicago has a long history of both failing to take socially responsible stances and actively perpetuating systems of oppression. Our university failed to divest from South Africa and Darfur even though many of our peer institutions did. The school also failed to divest from fossil fuels or to form a socially responsible investment committee, even though both initiatives were supported by an overwhelming majority (70-80%) of the student body. It has played a major role both locally and nationally in perpetuating segregation and gentrification. Other anti-Black components of the school’s history include maintaining a huge, unaccountable private police force and flatly refusing to provide trauma care to the South Side, until relentless activism from a coalition led by young Black organizers forced the university to change course. The University of Chicago is currently under investigation for multiple Title IX violations, has perpetuated unfair labor practices, and consistently fails to adequately address racist, homophobic, transphobic, islamophobic, anti-Semitic, and anti-Palestinian incidents on campus. On a global scale, the Chicago School of Economics was a major producer and proponent of economic theories and policies that lead to the dismantling of the welfare state, decimation of poor and middle class communities, and rise of mass incarceration. Additionally, it aided and abetted multiple murderous, racist, and anti-Semitic Latin American regimes. As students and alumni of the University of Chicago, we know such history and such (in)actions are not neutral, or a mere byproduct of open discourse. We feel compelled to work to change this shameful legacy and put the university, at last, on the right side of history. As the recent victory of the trauma center coalition’s 5-year campaign has demonstrated, sustained organizing and activism works, and can enact supposedly impossible change at our seemingly immovable institution. Because of our powerful belief in justice and equity for all people, we are proud to bring our resolution calling for divestment from companies complicit in Israeli apartheid before College Council this spring quarter. We urge other members of the university community, including students, former students, faculty, and alumni, to support us as well by signing our petition ( and checking out other ways to get involved! –

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Highlighting Western Victims While Ignoring Victims of Western Violence

Glenn Greenwald writes

FOR DAYS NOW, American cable news has broadcast non-stop coverage of the horrific attack in Brussels. Viewers repeatedly heard from witnesses and from the wounded. Video was shown in a loop of the terror and panic when the bombs exploded. Networks dispatched their TV stars to Brussels, where they remain. NPR profiled the lives of several of the airport victims. CNN showed a moving interview with a wounded, bandage-wrapped Mormon American teenager speaking from his Belgium hospital bed.

All of that is how it should be: That’s news. And it’s important to understand on a visceral level the human cost from this type of violence. But that’s also the same reason it’s so unjustifiable, and so propagandistic, that this type of coverage is accorded only to Western victims of violence, but almost never to the non-Western victims of the West’s own violence.

A little more than a week ago, as Mohammed Ali Kalfood reported in The Intercept, “Fighter jets from a Saudi-led [U.S. and U.K.-supported] coalition bombed a market in Mastaba, in Yemen’s northern province of Hajjah. The latest count indicates that about 120 people were killed, including more than 20 children, and 80 were wounded in the strikes.” Kalfood interviewed 21-year-old Yemeni Khaled Hassan Mohammadi, who said, “We saw airstrikes on a market last Ramadan, not far from here, but this attack was the deadliest.” Over the past several years, the U.S. has launched hideous civilian-slaughtering strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Libya, and Iraq. Last July, The Intercept published a photo essay by Alex Potter of Yemeni victims of one of 2015’s deadliest Saudi-led, U.S.- and U.K.-armed strikes.

You’ll almost never hear any of those victims’ names on CNN, NPR, or most other large U.S. media outlets. No famous American TV correspondents will be sent to the places where those people have their lives ended by the bombs of the U.S. and its allies. At most, you’ll hear small, clinical news stories briefly and coldly describing what happened — usually accompanied by a justifying claim from U.S. officials, uncritically conveyed, about why the bombing was noble — but, even in those rare cases where such attacks are covered at all, everything will be avoided that would cause you to have any visceral or emotional connection to the victims. You’ll never know anything about them — not even their names, let alone hear about their extinguished life aspirations or hear from their grieving survivors — and will therefore have no ability to feel anything for them. As a result, their existence will barely register.

That’s by design. It’s because U.S. media outlets love to dramatize and endlessly highlight Western victims of violence, while rendering almost completely invisible the victims of their own side’s violence.

Perhaps you think there are good — or at least understandable — reasons to explain this discrepancy in coverage. Maybe you believe humans naturally pay more attention to, and empathize more with, the suffering of those they regard as more similar to them. Or you may want to argue that victims in cities commonly visited by American elites (Paris, Brussels, London, Madrid) are somehow more newsworthy than those in places rarely visited (Mastaba, in Yemen’s northern province of Hajjah). Or perhaps you’re sympathetic to the claim that it’s easier for CNN or NBC News to send on-air correspondents to glittery Western European capitals than to Waziristan or Kunduz. Undoubtedly, many believe that the West’s violence is morally superior because it only kills civilians by accident and not on purpose.

But regardless of the rationale for this media discrepancy, the distortive impact is the same: By endlessly focusing on and dramatizing Western victims of violence while ignoring the victims of the West’s own violence, the impression is continually bolstered that only They, but not We, engage in violence that kills innocent people. We are always the victims and never the perpetrators (and thus Good and Blameless); They are only the perpetrators and never the victims (and thus Villainous and Culpable). In April 2003, Ashleigh Banfield, then a rising war-correspondent star at MSNBC, returned from Iraq, gave a speech critiquing the one-sided, embedded U.S. media coverage of the war, and was shortly thereafter demoted and then fired. This is part of what she said:

That said, what didn’t you see? You didn’t see where those bullets landed. You didn’t see what happened when the mortar landed. A puff of smoke is not what a mortar looks like when it explodes, believe me. There are horrors that were completely left out of this war. … It was a glorious, wonderful picture that had a lot of people watching and a lot of advertisers excited about cable news. But it wasn’t journalism, because I’m not so sure that we in America are hesitant to do this again, to fight another war, because it looked like a glorious and courageous and so successful, terrific endeavor, and we got rid of horrible leader: We got rid of a dictator, we got rid of a monster, but we didn’t see what it took to do that. …

I think there were a lot of dissenting voices before this war about the horrors of war, but I’m very concerned about this three-week TV show and how it may have changed people’s opinions. It was very sanitized. … War is ugly and it’s dangerous, and in this world, the way we are discussed on the Arab street, it feeds and fuels their hatred and their desire to kill themselves to take out Americans.

In other words, the death, carnage, and destruction the U.S. invasion was causing was generating huge amounts of anti-American hatred and a desire to bring violence to Americans, even if meant sacrificing lives to accomplish that. But the U.S. media never showed any of that, so Americans had no idea it existed, and were thus incapable of understanding why people were eager to do violence to Americans. They therefore assumed that it must be because they are primitive or inherently hateful or driven by some inscrutable religious fervor.

That’s because the U.S. media, by showing only one side of the conflict, by presenting only the nationalistic viewpoint, propagandized — deceived — American viewers by making them more ignorant rather than more enlightened. As a result, when the trains of London and Madrid were attacked in 2004 and 2005 as retaliation for those countries’ participation in the invasion of Iraq, that causal connection (which even British intelligence acknowledged) was virtually never discussed because Western media outlets ensured it was unknown. The same was true of attempted attacks on the U.S.: in Times Square, the New York City subway system, an airliner over Detroit, all motivated by rage over Western violence. In the absence of any media discussion of those victims and motives, these attacks were simply denounced as senseless, indiscriminate slaughter without any cause, and people were thus deprived of the ability to understand why they happened.

That’s exactly what’s happening still. Because I was traveling in the U.S. this week, I was subjected to literally dozens of hours of cable and network news coverage of the Brussels attacks. The most minute angles of the attack were dissected. But there was not one moment devoted to the question of why Belgium — and the U.S., France, and Russia before it — were targeted by ISIS (as opposed to a whole slew of non-Muslim, democratic countries around the world that ISIS doesn’t target), even though ISIS explicitly stated the reason and it is, in any event, self-evident: because those countries have been bombing ISIS in Syria and Iraq and these bombings were intended as retaliation and vengeance. Nor was there any discussion of why ISIS seems to have little trouble attracting support among some in Western countries: As even a Rumsfeld-commissioned study found in 2004, it is in large part because of widespread anger among Muslims over ongoing Western violence and interference in that part of the world.

The point, as always, isn’t justification: It is always morally unjustified to deliberately target civilians with violence (see the update here on that point). Nor does it prove that the bombing of ISIS in Iraq and Syria is unjustified or should cease. The point, instead, is that the war framework in which much of this violence takes place — one side that declares itself at war and uses violence as part of that war is inevitably attacked by the other side that it targets — is completely suppressed by one-sided media coverage that prefers a self-flattering, tribalistic cartoon narrative.

The ultimate media taboo is self-examination: the question of whether there are actions we take that exacerbate the problem we say we are trying to resolve. Such a process would not dilute the evil of ISIS’s civilian-targeting violence, but it would enable a more honest and complete understanding of the role Western governments’ policies play and the inevitable costs they entail. Perhaps those costs are worth enduring, but that question can only be rationally answered if the costs are openly discussed.

But whatever else is true, if we are constantly bombarded with images and stories and dramatic narratives highlighting our own side’s victims, while the victims of our side’s violence are rendered invisible, it’s only natural that large numbers of us will conclude that only They, but not We, are committing civilian-killing violence. That’s a really pleasing thing to believe, no matter how false it is. Having media outlets perpetrate self-pleasing and tribal-affirming — but utterly false — narratives is the very definition of propaganda. And that’s what largely drives Western media coverage of these terrorist attacks every time they occur in the West.

Read on


HRW: Rights Defenders at Risk of Prosecution in Egypt

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who took office in June 2014, leads a country that remains in a human rights crisis. Authorities have effectively banned protests, imprisoned tens of thousands—often after unfair trials—and outlawed the country’s largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood. A sweeping counterterrorism law has expanded the authorities’ powers. National Security officers commit torture and enforced disappearances, and many detainees have died in custody from mistreatment. The government continues to investigate independent NGOs and put journalists on trial.

In recent weeks, the Egyptian authorities have summoned human rights workers for questioning, banned them from travel and attempted to freeze their personal funds and family assets, steps that indicate a five-year-old investigation into the funding and registration of independent human rights groups could soon result in criminal charges, 14 international organizations said today.

continue reading on Human Rights Watch page.



The Brussels atrocities

Something isn’t working. After the multiple DAESH/ISIL attacks in Paris, Hollande launched his surge in the War on Terror, and a wide ranging coalition of the most powerful nations on earth has been put in place to fight DAESH/ISIL, to which Russia has recently been added.

Now repeat multiple attacks hit the capital of the European Union.

At least 26 dead and dozens injured after three terror attacks

The Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said it was ‘an attack against democratic Europe’. How helpful is that statement? What about the two Istanbul and two Ankara attacks, one in each city attributed to DAESH/ISIL and the others attributed to the PKK/PYD (or their TAK offshoot)? How should we class those attacks?

Why does the US lead a coalition of the willing against DEASH/ISIL and yet arm and support the PYD, which is an integral part of the militant Kurdish structures which have PKK at their centre? Why were supporters of the PKK – an armed group that the European Union actually lists as a terrorist organization – able to fly its banners on a PR tent outside the EU building in Brussels?

Why do all European nations, and Russia, support dictatorships in the Middle East which imprison democratically elected governments, if they wish to eradicate terrorism? It isn’t merely that ‘democratic Europe’ doesn’t live up to its much trumpeted ‘values’, but that it is plainly daft to try to eradicate extremism by force, given that it should be plain for all to see that it is the application of force which causes extremism, and specifically that it is the backing of dictatorships in the Middle East by the Western nations that has caused Islamic terrorism.

Isn’t it about time that we tried democracy for a change?

If it’s not enough the Western nations lecture us, Sergei Lavrov also pontificates that the Middle-East isn’t ready for democracy, while Russia joins the long list of nations headed by Israel that work overtime to undermine the sincere efforts of many to bring democracy to Egypt, as well as working to undermine the successful indigenous democratic culture of Turkey.

But exactly what does Russia know about democracy anyway?

Obama’s legacy

Every US President wants to clarify a legacy for posterity and Jeffrey Goldberg’ article in the Atlantic,The Obama Doctrine‘, was an attempt to do just that.

The upshot of the article is that Obama’s phlegmatic temperament drove many of his interventionist advisers to despair, especially Hillary Clinton and Samantha Power.

Apparently Obama would say privately that the first task of an American president in the post-Bush international arena was “Don’t do stupid shit.”

Hillary Clinton argued for an early and assertive response to Assad’s violence. After she left office, Clinton told the Atlantic for the record that “the failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad … left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.” (Self-serving as ever, Clinton didn’t refer to the fact that, by undermining the Syrian National Congress (SNC), because she was opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, it was she who was the actual cause of that failure).

The article goes on to say that when this was published, along with Clinton’s assessment that “great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,” Obama became “rip-shit angry,” according to one of his senior advisers.

Obama, with his usual fecal metaphor, couldn’t understand how “Don’t do stupid shit” could be considered a controversial slogan.

Obama’s U-turn on a Syrian bombing campaign is central to the narrative.

It is interesting to note that when Obama’s misgivings about keeping to his own ‘red lines’ over the use of chemical weapons in Iraq became clear, James Clapper, the Homeland Security chief, became very cautious about ascribing blame to Assad for the attack.

Also the British Parliament had voted against intervention in Syria. Obama said of his decision to stand down: “We had UN inspectors on the ground who were completing their work, and we could not risk taking a shot while they were there. A second major factor was the failure of Cameron to obtain the consent of his parliament.”

The third, and most important, factor, according to the article, was “our assessment that while we could inflict some damage on Assad, we could not, through a missile strike, eliminate the chemical weapons themselves, and what I would then face was the prospect of Assad having survived the strike and claiming he had successfully defied the United States, that the United States had acted unlawfully in the absence of a UN mandate, and that that would have potentially strengthened his hand rather than weakened it.”

Everybody that seemed to matter hated Obama’s decision it turns out: the French, of course, the hawks in congress, Lindsey Graham and John McCain, the U.A.E and Saudi Arabia, and his own staff, not least John Kerry.

What I learned from the article was that it was Obama who broached the idea of a chemical weapons disarmament by Assad with Putin at the G20 summit, in order to eliminate the need for a military strike.

Jeff Goldberg writes in the Atlantic article that: “in Obama’s mind, August 30, 2013, was his liberation day, the day he defied not only the foreign-policy establishment and its cruise-missile playbook, but also the demands of America’s frustrating, high-maintenance allies in the Middle East—countries, he complains privately to friends and advisers, that seek to exploit American “muscle” for their own narrow and sectarian ends.” Obama was irritated that foreign-policy orthodoxy compels him to treat Saudi Arabia as an ally.

The most high-profile part of Obama’s legacy must be the Iran Nuclear Deal. Susan Rice says of this deal that it “was never primarily about trying to open a new era of relations between the U.S. and Iran. It was far more pragmatic and minimalist. The aim was very simply to make a dangerous country substantially less dangerous. No one had any expectation that Iran would be a more benign actor.” It had nothing to do this a vision of a historic American-Persian rapprochement.

What these points about Saudi Arabia and Iran seem to say is that Obama is not a strategist. Unless, that is, standing in the way of interventionists is a strategy. Perhaps it is, perhaps he saved us from those additional wars, which Hillary Clinton, if president, would have wished on the world.

Unfortunately, the article ends with pages and pages of self-serving drivel about how disappointed Obama is in the Middle-East, the fact that the Arabs cannot organise themselves, or solve their problems of governance, and about his view on Islam that it is unreformed.

But just the fact that, on his watch, the US State Department backed a coup against the democratically, freely and fairly elected government of Egypt, damns his legacy, and renders the rest of the discussion about his foreign policy, with its pretentious discussion of a slew of big words ending in -ism to try to define Obama’s foreign policy, absurd.

Prior to pushing legislation through Congress, which would create the temporary waivers that would allow the US to deliver money and weapons to the Egyptian junta, against the spirit and letter of US law, Obama said in a speech at the UN in September 2013:

Mohamed Morsi was democratically elected, but proved unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was fully inclusive…. the interim government that replaced him responded to the desires of millions of Egyptians who believed the revolution had taken a wrong turn…”

Thus clearly backing the mobs who took to the streets of Cairo on June 30th 2013 organised by The Egyptian Intelligence services and Mossad, and financed by the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, and various oligarchs, Obama dismisses the ballot box as the definite principle on which presumably a reformed governance for the Middle-East should be based.

We then hear in that speech a few weasel words of justification:

“Our overriding interest throughout these past few years has been to encourage a government that legitimately reflects the will of the Egyptian people, and recognizes true democracy as requiring a respect for minority rights and the rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, and a strong civil society….”

Absolutely no rights had been infringed in Egypt in respect of minorities, other than perhaps the interests of the General Intelligence Services, Mossad and the various oligarchs, who funded the 30th June 2013 mobs, and the subsequent 3rd July coup.

Obama’s meanderings in the speech begin to pall, until we suddenly find in a moment of clarity, namely that what he really wants is for a dictatorship to rule in Egypt, one that does US bidding and, above all, one which protects the interests of Israel.


“And our approach to Egypt reflects a larger point: The United States will at times work with governments that do not meet, at least in our view, the highest international expectations, but who work with us on our core interests.”

Jeff Goldberg’s Atlantic article is lengthy and pointless. In it is appears that Obama lectures the Arabs that Israel isn’t a problem. So the fact that it has to be protected from the popular will of Egyptians by putting a mad tyrant in charge of the country by force isn’t a problem. If that isn’t a problem, what is a problem? Obama, it turns out, is a spineless creep and a hypocrite.



Trump as POTUS? Some analysts are convinced

Helmut Norpath, Professor of Political Science at Stony Brook, works out a 97-99% probability of Trump beating Clinton, and Musa al-Gharbi seems to get similar numbers using a different analysis. The argument revolves around the fact that Clinton is winning over Sanders in safe Republican states, whereas Sanders is winning in the safe Democratic states. But the primary races aren’t over yet – at least not until New York and California make their decisions.