Michigan legislator apologizes for taking financed Israel junket

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Updated 11 August 2023

Michigan legislator apologizes for taking financed Israel junket

Michigan legislator apologizes for taking financed Israel junket
  • State Senator Sylvia Santana did not disclose the trip to constituents
  • Trips ‘super-secret’ to conceal Israel’s political lobbying, says analyst on The Ray Hanania Radio Show

CHICAGO: Michigan State Senator Sylvia Santana was forced to apologize to her constituents this week after it was revealed she had taken a freebie junket to Israel that was partially funded by a pro-Israel group.

Santana’s D-2nd District is about 40 percent Arab and Muslim and the communities’ leaders criticized her publicly for not disclosing the trip before she left.

Pro-Tel Aviv organizations in America spend millions every year to take elected officials, at every level and from every state, on tours of Israel that critics charge are political and intended to undermine criticism of government policies.

The trips are estimated to cost as much as $10,000 per person often including airfare, hotel accommodation, food and tour guides provided by Israel’s government.

American legislators who go on these junkets are required to disclose the type and costs on their annual campaign financial-disclosure forms.

Critics charge that the junkets are intended to influence the political views of participating elected officials. When Santana’s participation became known, she was criticized harshly.

After returning from the 10-day trip, Santana acknowledged she “should have exercised better discretion” and engaged directly with her constituents before accepting it.

Santana posted her apology on her Facebook page.

“It has come to the attention of my constituents specifically those in the Arab/Muslim community that I recently visited Israel in my capacity as a State Senator. This is a trip offered to state lawmakers to learn more about Michigan’s relationship with Israel,” Santana said in a statement released Monday night.

“After speaking with friends and members of the community I recognize my presence on this trip has sparked anger and disappointment by many in the Arab/Muslim community. For this I truly apologize, seek your forgiveness and hope that you will understand that I had no malicious intent. There is no perfect combination of words that I can offer that truly reflects the feelings in my heart. My only goal was to learn about this region of our world and to improve my understanding of matters related to Michigan.”

Santana said she hopes the Arab and Muslim communities “will continue to support me.”

“I understand now more than before the level of pain, sensitivity and deep-rooted emotions that this trip has produced. This experience will always stay with me and will help guide my work in Lansing,” Santana said.

Kyle Melinn, editor of the online Michigan Information & Research Service Inc. — an organization that provides political analysis for subscribers in the state — said the backlash against Santana was significant and forced her to issue an apology to the Arab and Muslim community groups that protested.

“Yes she did get a lot of pushback from the Arab and Muslim community because Osama Siblani of The Arab American News was able to find out that she had gone on this trip to Israel that was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Southeast Michigan. This is a trip that is available to legislators for many, many years. Legislators have to pay their own airfare to Israel but once they get there the federation takes care of the lodging and meals,” Melinn said during an appearance Wednesday on The Ray Hanania Radio Show.

“For that seven days what these legislators do, it is usually 10 to 15 (legislators), they learn about some of the culture, and kind of what the political environment is. They will also talk about some of the economic connections between Israel and Michigan and about some of the joint ventures (of) some of the companies that are in both Michigan and Israel. The geopolitical climate is big.”

Melinn said: “This is not a widely-publicized thing. You will only find out about it second- or third-hand. The Jewish federation doesn’t like to advertise it. The legislators don’t like to advertise it, especially these days when there is just a distaste among voters about legislators taking what they view as junkets. They don’t see these kinds of things as educational, or beneficial really in any way, (for) the voters. They just think this is a perk that legislators are getting a free trip and they go to these places and get wined and dined and schmoozed to really no benefit to (the voters). So, they keep these things super-secret.”

Congress has passed legislation to restrict foreign travel, basically allowing legislators to be reimbursed for official business trips related to their congressional offices and committees. However, the law requires public disclosure of travel funded by private organizations.

Although restrictions on members of Congress are far different than those on officeholders at state and municipal levels, donations of any kind to an elected official must be publicly disclosed regardless of government position — whether federal, state or local.

Last June in New York, several members of the New York City Council, who were hosted by pro-Israel groups on a propaganda trip to the country, failed to report the travel on their disclosure forms. The New York officials said they would amend their disclosure forms to reflect the trips.

The disclosures are often disguised behind the names of the donor organizations that often do not appear like they are involved in Israeli politics. Some legislators are asked to purchase their own tickets, but may receive campaign donations equivalent to the cost of the flights.

There is no system that clearly monitors these foreign-paid political junkets.

Last year, congressional records showed that more than $2.6 million was spent on “privately sponsored travel” to Israel for several Democrat and Republican members of the US Congress.

Democrats, who have been publicly advocating for peace in the Middle East and spoken out in favor of Arab and Muslim rights, have been the main beneficiaries, including the top-ranking member of the House Democrats, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who visited Israel twice last year.

During the 2021-2022 campaign year, pro-Tel Aviv PACs, or Political Action Committees, donated more than $5.4 million to members of the US House and Senate, including cash for campaigns and to cover the cost of trips to Israel.

But that total is misleading. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, donated more than $17 million in the 2021-2022 election season to support not only incumbents but also candidates for office.

The Ray Hanania Radio Show is broadcast every Wednesday on the US Arab Radio Network in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 Radio and in Washington D.C. on WDMV AM 700 Radio.

You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.

Fire engulfs police facility in Egypt’s Ismailia

Fire engulfs police facility in Egypt’s Ismailia
Updated 12 sec ago

Fire engulfs police facility in Egypt’s Ismailia

Fire engulfs police facility in Egypt’s Ismailia
  • At least 38 people before firefighters could extinguish the blaze several hours later
  • Ministry of health has increased preparedness of hospitals in Ismailia Governorate

CAIRO: A massive fire broke out on Monday at a police facility in northeastern Egypt, injuring at least 38 people before firefighters could extinguish the blaze several hours later, authorities said.

Officers from the Egyptian Armed Forces and the Suez Canal Authority also took part in fire and rescue operations at the Ismailia Security Directorate headquarters, northeast of Cairo.

Cooling operations for the building are underway, officials said.

The Ministry of Health and Population has increased the preparedness of hospitals in Ismailia Governorate to receive injured people.

Hossam Abdel Ghaffar, a ministry spokesperson, said that 50 fully equipped ambulances were sent to the site.

The spokesperson said all emergency medications and blood groups were available in the governorate’s hospitals.

Abdel Ghaffar said ambulances provided emergency treatment to 12 injured people at the site.

The official said 26 other injured people — 24 cases of suffocation and two cases of burns — were transferred to Ismailia Medical Complex.

Seven injured people were discharged from the medical complex after recovering.

Egypt’s Interior Minister Mahmoud Tawfik inspected the site of the blaze.

He directed a committee of consultants to determine the cause of the fire and review the structural safety of the building to restore it to working condition as soon as possible.

The minister demanded that all aspects of care be provided to the injured until their complete recovery.

A team from the Ismailia Public Prosecution visited the site to conduct inspections and question witnesses, as well as those injured in hospitals.

An official statement on the fire that broke out in the Ismailia Security Directorate building has yet to be issued.

Ismailia Gov. Sherif Fahmy Bishara visited the injured and said that full medical care should be provided to them.

Armenian exodus from Nagorno-Karabakh ebbs as Azerbaijan moves to reaffirm control

Armenian exodus from Nagorno-Karabakh ebbs as Azerbaijan moves to reaffirm control
Updated 02 October 2023

Armenian exodus from Nagorno-Karabakh ebbs as Azerbaijan moves to reaffirm control

Armenian exodus from Nagorno-Karabakh ebbs as Azerbaijan moves to reaffirm control
  • The Armenian government said Monday that 100,514 of the region’s estimated 120,000 residents have crossed into Armenia

The last bus carrying ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh left the region Monday, completing a grueling weeklong exodus of over 100,000 people – more than 80 percent of its residents – after Azerbaijan reclaimed the area in a lightning military operation.
The bus that entered Armenia carried 15 passengers with serious illnesses and mobility problems, said Gegham Stepanyan, Nagorno-Karabakh’s human rights ombudsman. He called for information about any other residents who want to leave but have had trouble doing so.
In a 24-hour military campaign that began on Sept. 19, the Azerbaijani army routed the region’s undermanned and outgunned Armenian forces, forcing them to capitulate. Separatist authorities then agreed to dissolve their government by the end of this year.
While Baku has pledged to respect the rights of ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, most of them hastily fled the region, fearing reprisals or losing the freedom to use their language and practice their religion and customs.
The Armenian government said Monday that 100,514 of the region’s estimated 120,000 residents have crossed into Armenia.
Armenian Health Minister Anahit Avanesyan said some people had died during the exhausting and slow journey over the single mountain road into Armenia that took as long as 40 hours. The exodus followed a nine-month Azerbaijani blockade of the region that left many suffering from malnutrition and lack of medicines.
Sergey Astsetryan, 40, one of the last Nagorno-Karabakh residents to leave the region in his own vehicle Sunday, said some elderly people have decided to stay, adding that others might return if they see it’s safe for ethnic Armenians to live under Azerbaijani rule.
“My father told me that he will return when he has the opportunity,” Astsetryan told reporters at a checkpoint on the Armenian border.
Azerbaijani authorities moved quickly to reaffirm control of the region, arresting several former members of its separatist government and encouraging ethnic Azerbaijani residents who fled the area amid a separatist war three decades ago to start moving back.
On Sunday, Azerbaijan prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for former Nagorno-Karabakh leader Arayik Harutyunyan, who led the region before stepping down at the beginning of September. Azerbaijani police arrested one of Harutyunyan’s former prime ministers, Ruben Vardanyan, on Wednesday as he tried to cross into Armenia.
“We put an end to the conflict,” Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said in a speech Monday. “We protected our dignity, we restored justice and international law.”
He added that “our agenda is peace in the Caucasus, peace in the region, cooperation, shared benefits, and today, we demonstrate that.”
After six years of separatist fighting ended in 1994 following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Nagorno-Karabakh came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces, backed by Armenia. After a six-week war in 2020, Azerbaijan took back back parts of the region in the south Caucasus Mountains along with surrounding territory that Armenian forces had captured earlier.
Armenian authorities have accused Russian peacekeepers, who were deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh after the 2020 war, of standing idle and failing to stop the Azerbaijani onslaught. The accusations were rejected by Moscow, which argued that its troops didn’t have a mandate to intervene.
The mutual accusations have further strained the relations between Armenia and its longtime ally Russia, which has accused the Armenian government of a pro-Western tilt.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan alleged Thursday that the exodus of ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh amounted to “a direct act of ethnic cleansing and depriving people of their motherland.”
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry strongly rejected Pashinyan’s accusations, arguing their departure was “their personal and individual decision and has nothing to do with forced relocation.”
A United Nations delegation arrived Sunday in Nagorno-Karabakh to monitor the situation. The mission is the organization’s first to the region for three decades, due to the “very complicated and delicate geopolitical situation” there, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said Friday.
Local officials dismissed the visit as a formality. Hunan Tadevosyan, spokesperson for Nagorno-Karabakh’s emergency services, said the UN representatives had come too late and the number of civilians left in the regional capital of Stepanakert could be “counted on one hand.”
“We walked around the whole city but found no one. There is no general population left,” he said.

Philippines, US hold joint naval exercise as Manila seeks to boost territorial defense

Philippines, US hold joint naval exercise as Manila seeks to boost territorial defense
Updated 02 October 2023

Philippines, US hold joint naval exercise as Manila seeks to boost territorial defense

Philippines, US hold joint naval exercise as Manila seeks to boost territorial defense
  • Drills take place as tensions rise between Manila, Beijing over dispute in South China Sea
  • Japan, Canada, UK, Australia, France also sending navy personnel to take part this year

MANILA: Philippine and US navies on Wednesday launched their joint exercise and were joined by seven partner countries, as Manila seeks to boost its naval warfare capabilities and readiness to confront security challenges in the region.

Exercise Sama Sama started off as Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training in 1994 between the Philippines and America but changed into its current form in 2017. It seeks to increase interoperability, foster regional cooperation, and tackle non-traditional challenges.

This year, more than 1,800 navy personnel are taking part in the drills from Oct. 2 to 13, including from Japan, Canada, the UK, Australia, and France, while New Zealand and Indonesia are sending observers.

Philippine Navy Chief Vice Admiral Toribio Adaci Jr. noted that Sama Sama equips participating nations to “face an array of threats together,” from territorial defense to countering transnational crimes.

“For us in the Philippine Navy this activity serves as a vital platform for capacity building and empowers us to refine our naval warfare capabilities.

“This exercise enhances our readiness to confront a wide spectrum of security challenges,” Adaci said during his speech at the opening ceremony.

“This year, our interoperability exercises with the US Navy will center on warfighting serials, reinforcing our readiness for joint operations in the face of evolving threats.

“With this show of force and active engagement of our allies and partners, Sama Sama transcends (mere) military exercises. It is a symbol of our enduring partnerships and our shared commitment to security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” he added.

The exercises are taking place as tensions continue to rise between Manila and Beijing over territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The Philippines and China have repeatedly sparred in the resource-rich South China Sea, as Beijing maintained its claim over the region in its entirety while other nations also have claims.

Vessels of the two countries have faced off several times this year in areas Manila said is part of its exclusive economic zones.

Sama Sama also reflects increased defense engagements between the Philippines and the US since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office last year, after relations ebbed during the previous administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, who leaned more toward Beijing.

Through Sama Sama, the Philippines was seeking to build relationships with allies and partner nations to boost its territorial defense capabilities, Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said.

“When it comes to territorial defense, we cannot do it alone. So, we have to leverage our alliances and our partnerships with like-minded nations. So that’s what we are doing,” Brawner told Arab News.

“Part of our defensive posture in the West Philippine Sea is doing operations together with our partners. So, the joint sail, joint exercises, these are all part of that overall build-up of our defensive posture in the area.”

Nobel in medicine goes to 2 scientists whose work enabled creation of mRNA vaccines against COVID-19

Nobel in medicine goes to 2 scientists whose work enabled creation of mRNA vaccines against COVID-19
Updated 02 October 2023

Nobel in medicine goes to 2 scientists whose work enabled creation of mRNA vaccines against COVID-19

Nobel in medicine goes to 2 scientists whose work enabled creation of mRNA vaccines against COVID-19
  • The secretary of the Nobel Assembly announced the award Monday in Stockholm
  • The Nobel Prizes carry a cash award of 11 million Swedish kronor

STOCKHOLM: Two scientists won the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for discoveries that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19.
The award was given to Katalin Karikó, a professor at Sagan’s University in Hungary and an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Drew Weissman, who performed his prizewinning research together with Karikó at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Through their groundbreaking findings, which have fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system, the laureates contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times,” the panel that awarded the prize said.
Thomas Perlmann, secretary of the Nobel Assembly, announced the award and said both scientists were “overwhelmed” by news of the prize when he contacted them shortly before the announcement.
The Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was won last year by Swedish scientist Svante Paabo for discoveries in human evolution that unlocked secrets of Neanderthal DNA which provided key insights into our immune system, including our vulnerability to severe COVID-19.
The award was the second in the family. Paabo’s father, Sune Bergstrom, won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1982.
Nobel announcements continue with the physics prize on Tuesday, chemistry on Wednesday and literature on Thursday. The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced Friday and the economics award on Oct. 9.
The prizes carry a cash award of 11 million Swedish kronor ($1 million). The money comes from a bequest left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1896.
The prize money was raised by 1 million kronor this year because of the plunging value of the Swedish currency.
The laureates are invited to receive their awards at ceremonies on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death. The prestigious peace prize is handed out in Oslo, according to his wishes, while the other award ceremony is held in Stockholm.

Court rules against Italian PM over Tunisian migrant detention

Court rules against Italian PM over Tunisian migrant detention
Updated 02 October 2023

Court rules against Italian PM over Tunisian migrant detention

Court rules against Italian PM over Tunisian migrant detention
  • 3 asylum-seekers who applied for international protection must be ‘immediately released’
  • Use of detention a breach of Italian and EU law but Interior Ministry will appeal

London: Italy’s detention of three Tunisian migrants awaiting asylum decisions has been ruled illegal under domestic and EU law by a Sicilian court, The Times reported on Monday.

The ruling is viewed as a rebuke to Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who is seeking to tighten controls on refugee intake. The Interior Ministry said it will appeal the court’s decision.

The three Tunisian asylum-seekers entered Italy on Sept. 20 and applied for international protection but were sent to a detention center in Sicily, in a move that a Catania court has deemed illegal.

A fourth Tunisian who withdrew his asylum request was not included in the court order, which called for the “immediate release” of the trio.

Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party recently launched measures to stem the flow of migrants from the Mediterranean, with 133,171 people reaching Italian shores since the start of the year.

The detention of the three migrants, given their pending asylum applications, was determined to be in breach of Italy’s constitution and EU law.

Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister, accused the Catania court of political bias. “Serious reform of the justice system is required,” he said on X.

The court’s findings come amid heightened tensions between EU member states over migration, and as the Italian government seeks to boost the number of detention centers nationwide.