US listing of BDS as anti-Semitic sparks freedom-of-speech debate

US listing of BDS as anti-Semitic sparks freedom-of-speech debate
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a joint statement with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. (AP)
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Updated 23 November 2020

US listing of BDS as anti-Semitic sparks freedom-of-speech debate

US listing of BDS as anti-Semitic sparks freedom-of-speech debate
  • Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel officially rejects anti-Semitism
  • American attorney: ‘To equate BDS and anti-Zionism as a whole with anti-Semitism is just factually wrong’

NEW YORK: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision to list the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel as an anti-Semitic organization has reignited a ferocious debate over what constitutes anti-Semitism, and where the line should be drawn regarding freedom of speech.

Kenneth Stern, an American attorney and director of the Bard Center for the Study of Hate, called Pompeo’s move “unproductive and troubling.”

Stern told Arab News: “Even though the BDS movers and shakers are clearly anti-Zionist, there are many organizations that support it because they’re concerned about Israel’s control of the West Bank. So to equate BDS and anti-Zionism as a whole with anti-Semitism is just factually wrong.”

Pompeo directed the State Department’s envoy on combating anti-Semitism “to identify organizations that engage in or otherwise support” BDS.

This has raised fears that Palestinian and international human rights groups that Israel accuses, rightly or wrongly, of supporting BDS could be denied US funding.

Though a self-identified Zionist, Stern considers the creation of a blacklist of groups that are highly critical of Israeli policy and society as problematic.

“That’s not how you deal with political differences, by creating a hard and fast rule that takes on all types of protest and dissent and says it’s a hateful one. In fact, it’s not,” he said.

But Harley Lippman, president of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP), could not agree more with Pompeo.  

“BDS is an international movement to bring Israel to its knees,” Lippman told Arab News. “They’re not just criticizing Israeli policies. They're putting in place something that, if the nations of the world cooperated, could destroy Israel.”

Critics say BDS represents a hindrance to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by rejecting the right of the Jewish state to exist and shunning bridge-building efforts on the grounds that they “normalize” Israel.

“All these claims were created by right-wing politicians because none of them are true,” Miko Peled, an Israeli-American activist, told Arab News.

“The demands of BDS are very, very clear: Ending the military occupation, equal rights for Palestinians and all the people who live in historic Palestine, and the right of refugees to return to their land and homes,” he said. 

“These aren’t demands to hurt or expel anyone. They’re remedial, to remedy the reality in which Palestinians exist as a result of the creation of the state of Israel.”

Peled was born and raised in Jerusalem by a “very Zionist family, as Zionist as you can imagine.”

His grandfather signed Israel’s Declaration of Independence, his father was a general in the army, and many of his uncles were ambassadors.

But a journey into Palestinian territories made him come out “to support the struggle for justice and liberty in Palestine.”

He discovered “a narrative that I wasn’t told, that Israelis were kept away from,” and chronicled it in his book “The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine.”

Peled said: “The Palestinians in Palestine live under a brutal apartheid regime, subjected to racist laws and a police state that makes their life impossible.”

He believes that Pompeo’s move to brand BDS as anti-Semitic is based on a false premise: “That opposing and rejecting Israel and Zionism is racist, where in fact the opposite is true. Opposing Zionism is opposing racism and anti-Semitism. But they (Israel’s supporters) flipped it around. Now they perpetuate this myth everywhere.”

The US House of Representatives passed a resolution opposing BDS last year, and several American states have enacted similar laws.

Some of those laws have been struck down, however, for violating the First Amendment regarding freedom of speech.

A survey released last year showed that one in five Americans approved of BDS as a means of opposing Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.

“In campus after campus around the world, students are supporting BDS,” said Peled. “Is it bringing the collapse of the Israeli economy? Of course not. But these things take time. It’s about awareness. More and more people are aware that buying something that’s made in Israel is wrong.”

But Lippman, a longtime member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), said BDS is actually backfiring.

“All it does is galvanize people around Israel. We see ourselves threatened by this, so it ends up motivating us to do more for Israel and defend it more,” he said.

Despite pullouts from Israel by some companies, foreign investment in the country is booming. Israel relies less on exporting commodities than intellectual property such as software, which makes it harder to boycott.

“Israel, while it’s the most powerful nation in the Middle East, is also the most fragile. The fact that its economy is booming despite BDS doesn’t diminish the sinister, prejudiced nature of what they’re trying to do,” Lippman said.

“It’s like saying, ‘There’s a Nazi party in the US but they’re not hurting Jews right now, so what’s the problem?’ Well, not yet. But we all know the Nazi ideology. We know that their goal would be to murder all Jews,” added Lippman, whose family lost 86 members during the Holocaust.

Stern, author of “The Conflict over the Conflict,” which tackles the Israeli-Palestinian debate on college campuses, said: “I understand the desire in parts of the Jewish community and the evangelical community, that there’s one Jewish state and to target it and question its right to exist is a manifestation of anti-Semitism. I get why they want to push that.

“But I worry about the flip side of that. We’re implying in legal terms the idea that anti-Zionism is always anti-Semitism. It’s going to have a negative impact on the ability of Palestinians and others to make their cases. I may not be agreeing fully with their case, but they certainly have a right to make it.”


France hails Chad president Deby as ‘courageous friend’

France hails Chad president Deby as ‘courageous friend’
Updated 3 min 34 sec ago

France hails Chad president Deby as ‘courageous friend’

France hails Chad president Deby as ‘courageous friend’

PARIS: France on Tuesday paid tribute to Chad’s president Idriss Deby Itno as a “courageous friend” and “great soldier,” while urging stability and a peaceful transition in the African country after his shock death.
The veteran leader died from wounds sustained while commanding troops fighting a rebel incursion, according to the army, opening a period of uncertainty in Chad, a key strategic ally of the West in the Sahel region of Africa.
“Chad is losing a great soldier and a president who has worked tirelessly for the security of the country and the stability of the region for three decades,” the office of President Emmanuel Macron said in statement, hailing Deby as a “courageous friend” of France.
The statement also emphasised France’s insistence on the “stability and territorial integrity” of Chad as it faces a push by rebel forces toward its capital, N’Djamena.
Defense Minister Florence Parly praised Deby as an “essential ally in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel” while emphasising that the fight against jihadist insurgents “will not stop.”
Deby’s son was immediately named transitional leader as head of a military council as both the government and parliament were dissolved, but the army vowed “free and democratic” elections after an 18-month transition period.
The statement by the French presidency underscored “the importance of the transition taking place under peaceful conditions.”
There should also be “a spirit of dialogue with all political and civil society actors, and allowing the rapid return to inclusive governance based on civil institutions,” it added.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said it was important that the transition would lead “after a limited period of time” to the establishment of a civilian and inclusive government to serve Chad’s people.
Deby had ruled Chad with an iron fist since taking power on the back of a coup in 1990, but was a key partner in the West’s anti-jihadist campaign in the troubled Sahel region, where France’s 5,100-strong Barkhane force is deployed.


Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants
Updated 20 April 2021

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants
  • Deby said he was headed to the front lines to join troops battling “terrorists”
  • Deby, 68, came to power in a rebellion in 1990 and is one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders

N’DJAMENA: Chad’s President Idriss Deby has died while visiting troops on the frontline of a fight against northern rebels, an army spokesman said on Tuesday, the day after Deby was declared the winner of a presidential election.
Deby, 68, came to power in a rebellion in 1990 and was one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders.
His campaign said on Monday he was joining troops battling what he called extremists after rebels based across the northern frontier in Libya advanced hundreds of km (miles) south toward the capital N’Djamena.
The cause of death was not yet clear.

A four-star general who is a son of Chad’s slain president Idriss Deby Itno will replace him at the head of a military council, the army announced Tuesday.
“A military council has been set up headed by his son, General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno,” the army’s spokesman, General Azem Bermandoa Agouna, said on state radio.
Army spokesman Azem Bermendao Agouna announced his death in a broadcast on state television, surrounded by a group of military officers he referred to as the National Council of Transition.
“A call to dialogue and peace is launched to all Chadians in the country and abroad in order to continue to build Chad together,” he said.
“The National Council of Transition reassures the Chadian people that all measures have been taken to guarantee peace, security and the republican order.”
Western countries have seen Deby as an ally in the fight against extremist groups, including Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin and groups linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh in the Sahel.
Deby was also dealing with mounting public discontent over his management of Chad’s oil wealth and crackdowns on opponents.
His election victory had given him a sixth term in office but the April 11 vote was boycotted by opposition leaders.


Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths
Updated 20 April 2021

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths
  • The government coronavirus task force said 379 people had died in the past 24 hours
MOSCOW: Russia reported 8,164 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, including 1,996 in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 4,718,854.
The government coronavirus task force said 379 people had died in the past 24 hours, pushing its total death toll to 106,307.
The federal statistics agency has kept a separate count and has reported a much higher toll of more than 225,000 from April 2020 to February.

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan
Updated 20 April 2021

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan
  • $5.5 billion needed for urgent food assistance to reach more than 34 million

GENEVA: More than 260 non-governmental organizations signed an open letter on Tuesday calling on governments to donate $5.5 billion to prevent famine in 2021 in countries that include Yemen and South Sudan.

The sum has been called for by the United Nations’ World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

“We call on you to provide the additional $5.5 billion needed for urgent food assistance to reach more than 34 million girls, boys, women and men around the globe who are a step away from famine. This assistance must begin immediately,” the open letter said.

The letter was penned by NGOs working with an estimated 270 million people “facing hunger, starvation or famine all over the world.”

They include Oxfam, Christian Aid, World Vision, Tearfund, Save the Children and Care International

“In Yemen, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, DR Congo, Honduras, Venezuela, Nigeria, Haiti, Central African Republic, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Sudan and beyond we help people who are doing all they can to simply get through one more day,” the letter said.

“These people are not starving, they are being starved.”

“It is human actions that are driving famine and hunger and it is our actions that can stop the worst impacts,” the NGOs insisted.

“There is no place for famine and starvation in the 21st century. History will judge us all by the actions we take today.”


EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies
Updated 20 April 2021

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies
  • Latest sanctions target 10 individuals and two military-controlled companies
  • Since the coup, security forces have killed at least 738 protesters and bystanders

BANGKOK: The European Union expanded its sanctions against Myanmar’s military leaders and army-controlled companies ahead of a regional meeting to discuss the worsening crisis after army leaders deposed the elected government.

The Council of the European Union’s latest sanctions target 10 individuals and two military-controlled companies already subject to sanctions by the US, Britain and other governments.

It is unclear if such moves are having any impact as the military escalates its efforts to crush opposition to its seizure of power. Myanmar’s economy is already in crisis, worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and by the mass civil disobedience movement that arose following the Feb. 1 coup.

The EU said the number of individuals sanctioned was expanded to 35 people it said were responsible for undermining democracy and the rule of law, for repressive decisions and for serious human rights violations.

The two military-controlled companies, Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Ltd. (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corp. (MEC), have vast holdings in many industries and help to fund the military.

All are subject to having their assets frozen, travel banned and other measures. EU citizens and businesses are banned from doing business or providing funds to them without special permission.

“Today’s decision is a sign of the EU’s unity and determination in condemning the brutal actions of the military junta, and aims at effecting change in the junta’s leadership,” the EU said in a statement.

“Today’s decision also sends a clear message to the military leadership: continuing on the current path will only bring further suffering and will never grant any legitimacy,” it said.

Since the coup, security forces have killed at least 738 protesters and bystanders, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors casualties and arrests. It says more than 3,200 people are still detained, among the nation’s deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.

The EU already had an embargo on sales to Myanmar of arms and equipment that can be used for internal repression; an export ban on dual-use goods for use by the military and border guard police; export restrictions on equipment for monitoring communications that could be used for internal repression, and a prohibition on military training for and military cooperation with the army.

Last week, the US S&P 500 said it was removing India’s Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd. from its sustainability index due to its alleged dealings with Myanmar authorities. Adani did not respond to a request for comment on that move.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday exhorted the UN Security Council to act immediately to halt the violence and protect civilians. So far, the council has not taken such action, which would likely be blocked by China and Russia.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations — which is holding a summit on Myanmar this month — maintains a policy of “non-interference” in each others’ political matters and has rejected the idea of imposing sanctions against the junta.

Ban urged ASEAN to send a high-level delegation to Myanmar. He said he had tried unsuccessfully to make a diplomatic visit himself.