Iranian ministers open pages on banned Facebook

Updated 10 September 2013

Iranian ministers open pages on banned Facebook

TEHRAN: Iran’s entire Cabinet has opened Facebook pages in what is seen as a move toward greater government openness — even though the social media site is blocked in the Islamic Republic.
The Facebook pages of 15 ministers could be viewed in Tehran through a proxy server. Newspapers on Monday hinted the move might herald the lifting of some Internet barriers.
“It seems the ‘key’” — Rouhani’s electoral symbol in his presidential campaign — “may turn the lock of (Internet) filtering,” the pro-reform Shargh daily said.
With the exception of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who joined Facebook in 2009, the Cabinet members signed up this August after the inauguration of centrist- and reformist-backed President Hasan Rouhani.
Rouhani’s office has also opened a page on Facebook that was “liked” by all the ministers.
Saeed Leilaz, a Tehran-based political analyst, said it was likely the start of the lifting of Internet “filters,” which block specific sites. “Definitely filtering on Facebook will be lifted, and we will witness the elimination of filters (on the rest of) Internet,” said Leilaz.
Rouhani had promised greater openness and transparency during his presidential campaign in June. The move also suggests that his administration is looking toward social media to push its policies.
Last week, Zarif told a local news website that he sent a message on Twitter saying “Happy Rosh Hashana,” the Jewish new year, in what is likely a small diplomatic step toward easing the hostilities between his nation and Israel.
Iranian hard-liners see the Internet as a possible corrupting force, but many Iranians use proxies to access banned sites.
Iran imposed a ban on Facebook after disputed re-election of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009, when his opponents used social media to organize protests.
Earlier in 2012, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, issued a religious decree in which Facebook was considered permissible if it was not used for corrupting or bad purposes. A page that claims to be Khamenei’s is generally believed to reflect his views. He has neither disowned nor claimed it, and many consider it his unofficial voice.
There are 18 ministers in the cabinet but three nominees of Rouhani failed to receive vote of confidence from parliament in August. The president should introduce their alternatives to the parliament in coming months.


Israeli court bars ‘racist’ candidates from September poll

Updated 5 min 21 sec ago

Israeli court bars ‘racist’ candidates from September poll

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Supreme Court has barred two members of an extreme-right party many view as racist from running in a September 17 general election.
The court ruled that candidates Benzi Gopstein and Baruch Marzel, of the Jewish Power party could not stand, quoting a law barring “incitement to racism” by candidates, according to a court statement late Sunday.
Jewish Power members are followers of late racist rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach movement wanted to chase Arabs from Israel.
The ideology of Kahane, assassinated in New York in 1990, also inspired Baruch Goldstein, who carried out a massacre of 29 Palestinian worshippers in Hebron in 1994.
The court rejected petitions to ban the Jewish Power as a party and upheld the candidacy of West Bank settler Itamar Ben-Gvir, who heads its electoral list.
Ben-Gvir acknowledges having a picture of Goldstein in his living room, but has reportedly said it is because he was a physician who rescued Jews targeted in Palestinian attacks.
Indicted 53 times since his youth, Ben-Gvir boasts of having been cleared in 46 cases. He decided to study law on the recommendation of judges so he could defend himself.
He now represents settlers accused of violence, including those allegedly responsible for an arson attack that killed an 18-month-old Palestinian boy and his parents in 2015 in the West Bank, an incident that drew widespread revulsion.
Jewish Power advocates removing “Israel’s enemies from our land,” a reference to Palestinians and Arab Israelis who carry out attacks.
It also calls for Israel annexing the occupied West Bank, where more than 2.5 million Palestinians live.
Alone it was considered unlikely to garner the 3.25 percent of votes cast necessary to get into parliament.
But a deal mentored by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saw it entering an electoral alliance with two other far-right parties, improving its chances.
The pact drew disgust from many in Israel and among Jewish communities abroad, particularly in the United States.
For Netanyahu, the deal ahead of what is expected to be a close election was pure politics.
He defended it by saying he does not want any right-wing votes to go to waste as he plans his next coalition.