Ali Gharib

Ted Cruz Is an Anti-Muslim Bigot, Too

 This is a frightening time for Muslims in America. One of the country’s major parties is in thrall to anti-Muslim ideologues.

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Human Rights Watch Calls on Businesses to Withdraw from Israeli Settlements

For almost a half a century, Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories occupied during the Six Day War have grown, imposing a two-tiered system—one that not only discriminates against Palestinians, but deprives them of basic rights and adversely impacts their society’s economic viability. Proponents of a two-state solution have watched with dismay as every new apartment and settlement erected in occupied territory created new stumbling blocks on the path to peace and ending the conflict. And yet Israel has faced few consequences. On Tuesday morning, however, New York-based Human Rights Watch released a report calling for an end to this impunity, at least where the international business community is concerned.

The new 162-page report, “Occupation, Inc.: How Settlement Businesses Contribute to Israel’s Violations of Palestinian Rights,” calls for businesses operating in and dealing directly with Israeli settlements to end their endeavors there. “In Human Rights Watch’s view, the context of human rights abuse to which settlement business activity contributes is so pervasive and severe that businesses should cease carrying out activities inside or for the benefit of settlements,” the report says. “They should also stop financing, administering, trading with or otherwise supporting settlements or settlement-related activities and infrastructure.”

The report coincides with recognition from an unlikely place of just how bad Israeli discriminations and rights abuses have gotten. On Monday, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, a fluent Hebrew speaker who is well liked in the Jewish state, told an audience in Tel Aviv that “at times it seems Israel has two standards of adherence to rule of law in the West Bank: one for Jews and one for Palestinians.” Though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decried Shapiro’s statement as “unacceptable and untrue,” the settlement enterprise—which is illegal under international humanitarian law—patently imposes different standards on many aspects of life in the West Bank.

“Occupation, Inc.” leverages case studies to demonstrate just how businesses contribute to discrimination, rights abuses, and violations of humanitarian law. It divides businesses into two broad categories: those that directly contribute to supporting settlements—such as construction of settlements and the infrastructure needed to establish and maintain them—and those that are based in settlements, which don’t necessarily directly bolster the inherently rights abusive enterprises, but nonetheless provide benefits to exclusive Jewish Israeli communities in Palestinian territories.

“We’re trying to be very strongly based in law,” says Sari Bashi, HRW’s Israel-Palestine country director. “Under international law, businesses have responsibilities. Our position is doing business in the settlements is inconsistent with those responsibilities.”

The move will no doubt be seen as controversial. “Israel is not going to care about this distinction that Human Rights Watch is making,” said Ali Abunimah, an activist and journalist who advocates for boycotting Israel. “As far as Israel is concerned, it’s a call for a boycott.”

The Israelis are almost certain to view the report as part of the growing movement to Boycott, Divest, and Sanction Israel, known by its initials BDS. As BDS has gained traction, it has been met by increasingly fierce resistance from the Israeli government and many pro-Israel groups in the US. In his 2014 speech to the most influential American pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, Netanyahu focused on the fight against the movement, but said it was doomed to fail. By last summer, Israeli rhetoric against BDS grew more intense and the government poured $25 million into anti-BDS efforts. “We are in the midst of a great struggle being waged against the state of Israel, an international campaign to blacken its name,” said Netanyahu. The issue has even percolated into American presidential politics: In a letter to megadonor Haim Saban, an Israeli-American businessman, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton pledged to “make countering BDS a priority.”

Even while BDS most often targets Israel as a whole, some peace activists, both from the pro-Palestinian and liberal pro-Israel camps, prefer to single out settlements. Not only is the occupation viewed as a humanitarian and human rights disaster, but settlements impede chances for a two-state solution, the thinking goes. Calls outside the BDS movement for boycotting settlements have even caused rifts among liberal pro-Israel groups: Some, like Americans for Peace Now, support settlement boycotts while others, such as J Street, oppose settlements but don’t call on their membership to boycott.

Nonetheless, such distinctions are lost on Israel’s right-wing government, where settlers rule the roost. Netanyahu has overseen a massive boom in settlement growth, and his government coalition is populated by pro-settlement parties and even many politicians who disavow the two-state solution altogether. Over the holidays, Israel’s Ambassador in Washington gave gifts produced in settlements to foreign officials, ironically mimicking the erasure of the Green Line that hardcore BDS activists push for.

Those BDS activists, for their part, welcome the Human Rights Watch report. Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the BDS movement, calls the report “ground-breaking—even courageous, given the current environment of increased repression and McCarthyism in the US.” Abunimah, also a strong supporter of BDS, says it was “a very good step in the right direction,” adding, “This report will be a really useful tool for BDS activists.”

The report calls on third-party states to deny settlement products the benefits afforded by trade agreements to Israeli products, therefore subjecting those goods to full tariffs. In accordance with that, HRW calls on countries to impose strict protocols for labeling the origins of settlement products as such. The European Union is working through its own origin labeling regulations with regards to the settlements and, on Monday, stated that any EU deals with Israel must exclude the occupied territories, a move Israel opposed. Israel reportedly softened the language from European foreign ministers, an outcome one activist, who works on EU and Israeli-Palestinian issues and asked to remain anonymous, says that an earlier release of the HRW report could perhaps have forestalled.

Abunimah, the pro-Palestinian activist, also lauds HRW for having made “a big shift form their previous position and accept(ing) that any and all business is abusive and helps Israel in grave violations of Palestinian rights and international law.”

In 2010, Human Rights Watch released a report on discrimination against Palestinians in the West Bank that called on businesses to “to prevent and mitigate any corporate involvement” in rights abuses, only cutting off business entirely when the activities were inextricable from abuses. The shift occurred in part because the new report and the recommendations it makes to businesses active in the settlements, Israel, and third-party states relies heavily on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which was not adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011, says Arvind Ganesan, who directs the Business and Human Rights division at HRW. “It’s very clear that if a company is contributing to violations or operating in a place where there is a high risk of exacerbating or contributing to violations, you shouldn’t do that,” says Ganesan. “The whole nature of settlements and way land is seized and the nature of who benefits makes it hard to see how you can operate there.”

“Occupation, Inc.” makes this case through meticulous research and careful attention to the consequences of Israel’s illegal actions in the West Bank. One particularly strong section deals with one of the most common pro-Israel defenses of settlement business: that it supports Palestinian economic life. Settlement businesses claim to bring jobs for Palestinians, but HRW’s report shows that the discriminatory legal system makes labor abuses possible. And, as the report and countless others have pointed out, the World Bank has estimated that with an end to restrictions on Palestinian economic activity in Area C (some 60 percent of the West Bank that is controlled exclusively by Israel), the Palestinian GDP could jump by more than a third, making way for more Palestinians to be employed by Palestinian companies.

“There is an ongoing and concerted Israeli pushback against the compelling logic of acting on the illegality of settlements and the illegality of Israeli actions beyond the Green Line by way of more than rhetorical condemnation,” says Daniel Levy, the head of the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Middle East and North Africa program. “That Israeli pushback rests on very weak legal and substantive grounds. The flimsiness of those grounds is being further exposed by this Human Rights Watch report.”

Ultimately, settlements and settlement business don’t account for a huge portion of Israeli economic activity, but liberals like Levy who work on Israel-Palestine issues welcome the renewed focus. Levy says the “the major propelling factor for the status quo, the impunity that Israel feels in the face of its actions toward to the Palestinians” needs to give way to “the obvious consequences that have been called for by this Human Rights Watch report.”

“We’re a long way from that being addressed,” he adds, “but this takes us in the right direction for those who want to see peace between Israel and Palestine.”

America's Massive Hypocrisy in Refusing British Muslim Family's Entry

The Mahmood family’s ordeal at Gatwick airport in London, where the Disneyland-bound group of 11 UK citizens was pulled out of the boarding line by American officials and had their tickets cancelled, speaks to more than just the apparent institutional prejudices of the American government’s security measures.

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Everything You Need to Know About Tom Cotton, the Man Behind the GOP's Insane Letter to Iran

This weekend, freshman Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas spearheaded a completely innocent effort to let Iran know that, basically, the Senate GOP would fight any nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic even after it was signed. That, at least, was the implicit threat in the open letter Cotton wrote; the explicit one was that any future president could easily undo such an accord.

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Wikileaks Info Cherry-Picked by Corporate Media to Bolster Case Against Iran

A source provides details to the American government about the nefarious activities of a Middle Eastern country. That information ends up in scores of secret U.S. government documents. Subsequently, the information winds up on the front pages of major newspapers, and is heralded by war hawks in Washington as a casus belli.

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A Global Day of Action for Iran

Last week, Iranians were back out on the streets in numbers, braving beatings and tear gas with bullets whizzing over their heads – risking arrest or, worse, life and limb. Fissures are even becoming apparent in the higher echelons of the Islamic Republic. Like Mir Hossien Moussavi’s initially reluctant leadership of the opposition, the cracks in the elite structures are fostered by the continuing strength of increasingly defiant demonstrators, and vice versa.

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The World Watches as Lebanon Goes to the Polls

WASHINGTON, Jun 5 (IPS) -- After emerging from a political crisis last year, the Lebanese people will head to the polls Jun. 7 to determine the composition of the new parliament. A variety of foreign powers, including the U.S., will be watching closely, waiting for the electoral results before they determine their policies towards the new government.

The outcome is especially important because many analysts view the elections through the lens of the struggle between U.S. and Iranian regional hegemonic aspirations.

No one is sure whether the Saad al-Hariri’s Western-backed March 14 alliance will retain its parliamentary majority, or whether the balance of power will shift to the Iranian-backed March 8 movement, led by the Shi’a militant group Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement of Maronite Christian Michael Aoun.

An agreement after Hezbollah took the Sunni Arab neighbourhoods of Beirut by force a year ago strengthened Hezbollah’s opposition, granting their coalition veto power over actions of the government. Now the group is looking to expand its power and perhaps take the helm of government.

The U.S. has designated Hezbollah, an armed Shia group that also serves as a social organization and political party for much of Lebanon's Shia population, a terrorist group

Asked by National Public Radio on Monday whether the U.S. would recognize electoral gains by Hezbollah, U.S. President Barack Obama stumbled through an answer which indicated that he was waiting to see what happened in the election.

"Well, look, if at some point -- Lebanon is a member of the United Nations -- if at some point they are elected as a head of state, or a head of state is elected in Lebanon that is a member of that organization, then that would raise these issues. That hasn’t happened yet," he said.

While the U.S. currently supports Lebanon under a government in which Hezbollah is in opposition, a government there led by the group and its allies might draw concern in Washington, where support for Hezbollah’s adversary Israel and antipathy towards the group’s patron, Iran, run deep.

The elections, however unpredictable, do retain the typical character of Lebanese politics: several regional and international players have a stake in the process.

The list of countries deeply interested in the elections goes beyond the usual Mideast regional players – Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – and into the realm of international powers such as the U.S., France and Russia.

The Obama administration deemed the Lebanese election important enough to dispatch Vice President Joe Biden to Beirut last week -- the first time in 25 years that a sitting U.S. president or vice president has visited Lebanon.

Biden said that he hadn’t come to back any specific Lebanese party, but he later remarked that the U.S. "will evaluate the shape of our assistance programs based on the composition of the new government."

"When there is an American embrace, it almost always backfires, particularly in the Middle East," said the National Democratic Institute’s (NDI) Les Campbell, at a panel hosted by the Washington-based Aspen Institute.

At the same panel, Middle East analyst and al-Hayat correspondent Raghida Dergham referenced the involvement of outside players in Lebanon, calling the country a laboratory where regional power struggles are carried out between countries like Iran, Syria and Israel.

In addition to the struggle between external powers, Dergham said the stakes were even higher for Lebanon itself.

"If Hezbollah wins, the fabric of society may change. The meaning of ‘the state’ may change," she said, though she insisted she wasn’t predicting a Hezbollah victory. She said she feared another violent conflict with Israel, which fought a 34-day war with Hezbollah in the summer of 2006.

"I’m afraid the Netanyahu government wants to shield themselves from a peace process, and Lebanon might be the platform to do that if Hezbollah wins," she said.

The U.S. has not telegraphed how it would react to a Hezbollah win, but experts have made some predictions.

"If Hezbollah and its allies win a majority and they lead the next government, at that point we will see the Obama administration pull back in the level of what aid it provides militarily," said Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) fellow Mohammad Bazzi during a press call. "We may see a continuation in training, but there will be a pullback in arms [aid]."

Indeed, when another Islamic "resistance" group, Hamas, won Palestinian Authority (PA) elections, it was largely frozen out by the West, including the U.S., which withdrew or diverted some 400 million dollars of aid to the PA.

The U.S. has been supporting the Lebanese military, which is widely viewed as a unifying national institution, with the intention of bolstering it. The army, however, has neither the mandate nor the ability to carry U.N. resolution 1771, which calls for the disarmament of all Lebanese militias.

It is unlikely Hezbollah will opt to form a government on its own. Rather, to make the new government more palatable - both within Lebanon and abroad - a coalition with elements of the March 14th movement is likely.

Despite Hariri’s publicly saying he will not join a government led by the March 8th coalition – Hezbollah and its allies – NDI’s Campbell believes that, regardless of which side emerges from the election with more seats, "there will likely be a unity government."

Campbell sees claims to the contrary by March 14th leaders as an effort to impress the importance of turnout upon their constituents.

Hezbollah’s coalition already includes Aoun, who, despite aligning himself with Hezbollah, has some sharply divergent political goals. Such allies, whose support would be needed for a March 8th victory, would likely moderate Hezbollah’s agenda.

Pointing to a likely national unity government, the close U.S. relationship with Lebanese president and former army general Michel Suleiman, and the fact that leading the government would make Hezbollah accountable to the public, Financial Times columnist Roula Khalaf argued that the U.S. should support whomever emerges from the elections.

"[A]t a time when President Barack Obama is on a mission to improve America’s battered image in the Muslim world... it would be a mistake to punish voters for making what the U.S. considered to be the wrong choice," Khalaf wrote.

"At a time when the U.S. is trying to engage Syria and Iran," Khalaf continued, "it can surely find justification for respecting the choice of Lebanese voters, even if it finds the outcome of the elections disagreeable."

Indeed, the U.S. special envoy for Mideast peace, former Senator George Mitchell, will visit the region next week. Though the State Department would not confirm his itinerary, there is speculation that Mitchell’s trip will include his first visit to Syria as special envoy.

In her blog at Foreign Policy, Laura Rozen revealed that Mitchell will make a stop in Lebanon in the period immediately following the election.

Last month, the German newspaper Der Spiegel wrote a bombshell article which asserted that leaks from an investigation into the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri – Saad’s father – reveal that Hezbollah was involved.

Some commentators, including politicians from both sides of the Lebanese political spectrum, have debated the veracity of the Der Spiegel article – some noting its timing just before the elections.

Attempts to Undermine Hamas Are Killing Gaza

WASHINGTON, Feb 9 - Despite a desperate need to rebuild the Gaza Strip, viewed by many as a key ingredient to reuniting the Palestinian territories and building a two-state peace deal with Israel, it appears that the U.S. and the international community are poised to continue old, politically charged policies that will impede progress.

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MoveOn Launches Campaign for Bold Progressive Reforms as the Obama Era Begins

Huge throngs came to Washington to watch President-elect Barack Obama get sworn into office and attend one, or if they were lucky, several balls, parties and events. Widely billed as the biggest celebration ever to come to town, visitors couldn't help but notice that the grassroots progressive groups that helped get Obama elected are far from fading into the background until the next round of elections. Instead, those visitors -- and perhaps some Washington insiders, too -- were forced to see the advertisements spread across D.C.'s transit system proclaiming that is preparing to throw its full weight behind immediately launching bold progressive reforms.

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IDF Using Flesh-Burning Chemical Against Civilians

More and more press reports about Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) using a controversial weapon against the Gaza Strip continue to surface. Even in the face of mounting evidence and criticism from increasingly reliable sources, however, the official Israeli line has not changed: Deny, deny, deny.

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