Are Latin American countries forming a pro-Palestinian bloc?

Are Latin American countries forming a pro-Palestinian bloc?
People take part in a demonstration against Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 22, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 07 November 2023
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Are Latin American countries forming a pro-Palestinian bloc?

Are Latin American countries forming a pro-Palestinian bloc?
  • In quick succession, Bolivia has severed ties with Israel; Chile, Colombia and Honduras have recalled their ambassadors
  • Argentina and Mexico have expressed condemnation of Israeli military action in Gaza and the deaths of Palestinian civilians

SAO PAULO, Brazil: With the intensification of the war in Gaza, analysts in Latin America have told Arab News that a regional pro-Palestinian bloc may be starting to emerge, which would be an unprecedented development.

The process was triggered on Oct. 31 when Bolivia announced that it would sever diplomatic relations with Israel because of its attacks on Gaza.

Palestinian-born Sheikh Isa Amer Quevedo, a political scientist who leads an Islamic center in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, told Arab News that the government’s decision was received with great joy by Muslims in the country.

“When countries commit crimes against humanity, they must be pressured. Those indiscriminate strikes must stop,” Amer said, celebrating the fact that Bolivia is sending 73 tons of food to Gazans and expressing hope that other nations will follow suit.

Shortly after Bolivia’s announcement, both the Chilean and Colombian presidents recalled their ambassadors to Israel for consultations.

On his X account on Oct. 31, Chile’s President Gabriel Boric cited Israel’s “unacceptable violations of humanitarian international law” in Gaza.

“Chile energetically condemns and sees with great concern that such military operations — which at this point (are) collective punishment of the civilian Palestinian population in Gaza — do not respect fundamental norms of international law, as the more than 8,000 civilian victims, most of them women and children, demonstrate.”

Chile has the world’s largest Palestinian population outside the Middle East, with as many as 600,000 people. It is a well-organized and influential community.

But Prof. Pablo Alvarez Cabello, an expert in Middle Eastern-Latin American relations at Diego Portales University in Santiago, told Arab News that Chile will most probably not cut ties because “its relations with Israel and the US are very important.”

In an interview after meeting with US President Joe Biden at the White House, Boric said he expressed to him his concern about developments in Gaza, and affirmed that Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas has been disproportionate.

FASTFACT

  • Chile has the world’s largest Palestinian population outside the Middle East, with as many as 600,000 people.

Similarly, a Colombian government statement on Oct. 31 said Bogota “expresses its strongest rejection of the actions of the Israeli security forces in Gaza in areas densely populated by civilians.”

Since Oct. 7, President Gustavo Petro has posted dozens of comments on X strongly criticizing Israel’s Gaza assault. At one point, he even compared Israel to the Nazis.

Israel subsequently suspended exports of military equipment to Colombia, but Petro said he is ready to sever relations with Tel Aviv if needed.

Palestinian-born Ali Nofal, a community leader in Colombia, told Arab News: “We received President Petro’s measures with great joy. For decades, the Colombian right wing strengthened ties with Israel and served its interests. Now we have a dramatic change.”

He added: “There’s a general shift in the way people see the Palestinian issue. That’s why more and more Latin American countries have been manifesting a more balanced view now.”




People demonstrate in support of Palestinians in Cali, Colombia, on October 19, 2023. (AFP)

Indeed, on Nov. 1 Argentina and Mexico criticized Israel’s bombing of the Jabalya refugee camp and other locations in Gaza, something that is seen as an important step for countries that have been close to Israel.

“There’s a kind of trend among the progressive administrations in the region,” Argentinian-born Rafael Masry, president of the Palestinian Confederation of Latin America and the Caribbean — known by the Spanish acronym COPLAC — told Arab News. “At this moment, we can say the countries that should’ve expressed a pro-Palestinian attitude have done so.”

He said Argentina’s Nov. 1 statement criticizing Israel has “gigantic significance” given the South American country’s strong Zionist lobby and large Jewish community.

“Of course, the government’s actions can still evolve. There are economic pressures that can be applied,” Masry added.




Palestinians check the destruction in the aftermath of an Israeli strike the previous night in the Jabalya camp for Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, on November 1, 2023. (AFP)

On Nov. 3, Jewish leaders in Argentina met with President Alberto Fernandez and handed him a petition with more than 58,000 signatures, demanding that the government do all it can to release hostages of Argentinian origin held by Hamas (estimated at more than 20).

On the same day, Honduras announced that it would recall its ambassador to Israel for consultations.

Honduran Foreign Minister Eduardo Enrique Reina cited “the serious humanitarian situation affecting the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip.”

In an interview with Honduran newspaper La Prensa, Vice Foreign Minister Antonio Garcia said the decision is part of a set of potential diplomatic actions, and reflects the government’s “concerns over the indiscriminate killing of the Palestinian civilian population.”

The Foreign Ministry described the indiscriminate killing as “genocide” in a statement, but the term was later removed.




Members of the Honduran Committee in Solidarity with the Palestinian People hold a vigil in front of the US embassy in Tegucigalpa on August 7, 2014. (AFP)

Masry said Brazil is the most important nation in the region, and if President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva could assume a more critical stance on Israel, more countries would be drawn to this emerging pro-Palestinian bloc.

“Lula has been giving interviews about Israel’s actions and has been critical of them. Maybe under the pressure of Chile, Colombia and so on, he will decide to join the bloc,” Masry added.

Brazilian-born Emir Mourad, COPLAC’s secretary-general, told Arab News that Lula has played a relevant role in trying to pass UN Security Council resolutions that include the need for an immediate ceasefire (the US vetoed one of them), but that Brazil can do more.

“There are many diplomatic instruments that can be used, beginning with recalling the ambassador for consultations and concluding the process by severing relations,” Mourad said, adding that Lula was the first Latin American leader to recognize Palestine’s statehood in 2010, and this led many other nations to do the same.

“Probably something similar would happen this time too,” Mourad said.




Demonstrators take part in a rally in support for the Palestinian people in front of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, on October 9, 2023. (AFP)

But some analysts are pessimistic about Lula’s handling of the situation. “It’s becoming more and more embarrassing for Lula that important Latin American nations are manifesting support for Palestine and he isn’t,” historian Tufy Kairuz, an expert in relations between Brazil and the Arab world, told Arab News, adding that Lula “now seems to be avoiding following other leaders.”




Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Ramallah in 2010. (AFP)

Kairuz said it is “disturbing” that Brazil continues to import Israeli military equipment and technology under Lula’s administration.

However, Alvarez said Lula seems to be assuming the role of a “non-aligned leader,” and may head a group of countries seeking a diplomatic shift on the Palestinian issue, which “could lead to more pressure at the UN and a more balanced distribution of power.”

 


Ukraine needs $3 billion in financial aid per month in 2024, Kyiv says

Ukraine needs $3 billion in financial aid per month in 2024, Kyiv says
Updated 57 min 5 sec ago
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Ukraine needs $3 billion in financial aid per month in 2024, Kyiv says

Ukraine needs $3 billion in financial aid per month in 2024, Kyiv says
  • “We cannot allow a delay in attracting external financing,” Marchenko said
  • The EU finally approved its 50 billion euro four-year facility for Ukraine this month

KYIV: Ukraine needs about $3 billion in foreign financial aid on a monthly basis to get through 2024, Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko said on Wednesday, highlighting the challenges Kyiv faces as US support begins to falter.
Marchenko said Ukraine’s macroeconomic stability during the war with Russia had been possible due to a steady inflow of international financial aid from Kyiv’s allies, something he added remained crucial this year.
“In 2024, the monthly need for external financing will reach about $3 billion. We cannot allow a delay in attracting external financing,” Marchenko said in a statement.
Ukraine has received more than $73 billion in financial aid from its Western partners in the two years since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.
So far this year the level of support has been much lower as major packages from the European Union and the United States have suffered major delays.
The EU finally approved its 50 billion euro four-year facility for Ukraine this month but the US financial and military support package remains stuck in Congress, blocked by Republican lawmakers.
Addressing finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of Seven major industrialized nations on Wednesday, Marchenko said the government had been more active on the domestic debt market this year and looked for other ways to increase its budget revenues.
Senior executives of several of Ukraine’s biggest state-owned companies have told Reuters they had paid some of their obligatory budget payments in advance to help the government cover the budget deficit.
Ukraine’s budget gap is about $37 billion this year.
Ukraine channels most of its budget revenues into the defense effort and relies on foreign aid to pay pensions and state employees’ wages, and to cover social and humanitarian spending.
Finance ministry data shows Ukraine received about $1.2 billion from Japan and Norway in the first two months of this year.
“International donors’ help is not just a financial issue, but an opportunity to support millions of Ukrainians who need it and to save the lives of thousands of soldiers,” Marchenko said.


EU watchdog wants new search and rescue rules after hundreds of migrants drown off Greece

EU watchdog wants new search and rescue rules after hundreds of migrants drown off Greece
Updated 28 February 2024
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EU watchdog wants new search and rescue rules after hundreds of migrants drown off Greece

EU watchdog wants new search and rescue rules after hundreds of migrants drown off Greece
  • European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said current rules prevent the EU’s border and coast guard agency Frontex from fulfilling its obligations to protect the rights of migrants
  • Up to 750 people were believed to be crammed aboard the Adriana when it sank off Greece last June

BRUSSELS: The European Union’s administrative watchdog called Wednesday for a change to Europe’s search and rescue rules following an inquiry into last year’s sinking of a rusty fishing boat, the Adriana, carrying hundreds of migrants while traveling from Libya to Italy.
European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said current rules prevent the EU’s border and coast guard agency Frontex from fulfilling its obligations to protect the rights of migrants or act independently of national authorities when boats they use are in distress.
Up to 750 people were believed to be crammed aboard the Adriana when it sank off Greece last June. Just 104 people were rescued — mostly migrants from Syria, Pakistan and Egypt — and 82 bodies were found. Human rights groups accused Greek authorities of failing to properly investigate. Italian authorities were also involved in the incident.
“Why did reports of overcrowding, an apparent lack of life vests, children on board and possible fatalities fail to trigger timely rescue efforts that could have saved hundreds of lives?” O’Reilly asked.
Frontex provides surveillance and other support to the 27 national authorities — plus those of some EU partner countries — to help protect their maritime and land borders. In emergencies, it is obliged to follow the orders of those authorities and has no power to coordinate rescue missions.
O’Reilly said documents inspected during her inquiry showed that Frontex made four separate offers to assist Greek authorities with aerial surveillance of the Adriana but received no response. Current rules prevented Frontex from going to the ship without Greek permission.
“We must ask ourselves why a boat so obviously in need of help never received that help despite an EU agency, two member states’ authorities, civil society and private ships knowing of its existence,” O’Reilly said.
Thousands of people die or go missing in the Mediterranean each year in desperate attempts to reach Europe in barely seaworthy boats to escape poverty, war, abuse or discrimination. But the EU and member countries do not have a search and rescue mission actively patrolling.
The Italian authorities set up a search and rescue effort in 2013, but it was abandoned due to accusations that it only inspired more people to come. Italy and others have actively sought to stop charity ships from doing such work, sometimes by impounding their vessels.
“If Frontex has a duty to help save lives at sea, but the tools for it are lacking, then this is clearly a matter for EU legislators,” O’Reilly said. She said cooperation with national coast guards by Frontex when it lacks autonomy “risks making the EU complicit in actions that violate fundamental rights and cost lives.”
Reacting to the ombudsman’s findings, the agency said it “is deeply committed to saving lives and we’re always looking for ways to do our job better, especially when it comes to search and rescue missions.”
Frontex welcomed the ombudsman’s acknowledgement that the agency had followed all laws and procedures when alerting Greek and Italian authorities.
It said an assessment by Frontex’s own fundamental rights officer “confirms our adherence to international laws and the adequacy of our support to national authorities, alongside the proper conduct of search and rescue operations.”
EU member countries and lawmakers are currently negotiating a new overhaul of the bloc’s asylum and migration rules, and are trying to push it through before Europe-wide elections on June 6-9. The reforms do not include any proposals for proactive search and rescue missions.


UK’s governing Conservatives struggle to contain fallout from Islamophobia claims

UK’s governing Conservatives struggle to contain fallout from Islamophobia claims
Updated 28 February 2024
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UK’s governing Conservatives struggle to contain fallout from Islamophobia claims

UK’s governing Conservatives struggle to contain fallout from Islamophobia claims
  • Baroness Sayeeda Warsi: ‘It’s definitely not a party I recognize’
  • New poll finds 58% of members believe Islam is a threat to British way of life

LONDON: Britain’s governing Conservative Party has once again found itself embroiled in accusations of Islamophobia following the remarks of its former Deputy Chair Lee Anderson.

Speaking on GB News last week, he claimed that London Mayor Sadiq Khan, one of the UK’s highest-profile Muslim politicians, had “given away control of the capital to his mates,” describing him as under the control of Islamists.

Party bosses purportedly pushed Anderson to apologize in an effort to mitigate the fallout, but failed. He has since doubled down, claiming he has public support.

A day after the comments were made, a party spokesperson confirmed that while remaining an MP, Anderson would no longer serve his Ashfield constituents as a Conservative but rather as an independent, in what is expected to be a highly contentious election year.

If the hopes were that a relatively swift, if not immediate, ousting from the party would calm the situation, such hopes have proved misplaced.

Many are pointing not to the event but its handling as indicative of structural Islamophobia within the Conservative Party, with commentators noting that the suspension came not for the comments themselves but for defying party requests that he apologize.

One of the Conservatives’ own leading figures, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi — the first Muslim to serve in the British Cabinet — told LBC Radio: “It’s definitely not a party I recognize, but it’s not a party that so many of my colleagues recognize.

“I’ve had colleagues on the phone … just despairing. I’ve had very senior ex-cabinet colleagues saying, ‘they’re just jokers.’

“What disturbs me more is that this kind of divisive far-right conspiratorial rhetoric is now in the mainstream, and this has real-life consequences.”

Polling by Opinium of 521 Conservative Party members indicated that 58 percent consider Islam a threat to the British way of life, with 52 percent believing an ever more prominent conspiracy theory that pockets of Europe are under Shariah law and “no-go” areas for non-Muslims.

For some, the figures explain Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s repeated refusal to describe Anderson’s comments as Islamophobic, instead describing them as “unacceptable” and “wrong,” while denying claims that the party has Islamophobic tendencies.

Responding to Sunak, Khan told Sky News that he had been left “bewildered” by the party’s refusal to “call this (Islamophobia) out.”

“They should say what the problem is. The problem is that you have a senior Conservative saying things that are clearly racist, anti-Muslim and Islamophobic — this is leading to an environment where anti-Muslim crime is spiraling,” Khan said.

“What they’re doing is pouring petrol on the flames of Islamophobia. You wouldn’t put up with antisemitic tropes. Racism is racism.”   

Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf made the point more explicitly, telling STV News that the Conservative Party has a “structural” issue with Islamophobia, and that Anderson’s comments and the response are “just a further demonstration that Islamophobia is normalized.”

The evidence is not hard to find, with another furore having broken out last year when Khan’s Conservative opponent in the summer mayoral election, Susan Hall, whose candidacy has been mired in controversy, said Jewish Londoners were afraid of him and endorsed a tweet describing him as the “mayor of Londonistan.”

These are not the highest-profile Conservatives to have peddled Islamophobic rhetoric in recent years, nor is Anderson the first to have targeted Khan.

The mayor’s 2016 opponent Zac Goldsmith had to launch an investigation into his own team after claims of Islamophobic comments, with subsequent suggestions that he had been running a racist campaign in an endeavor to beat Khan.

Then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s subsequent appointment of Goldsmith to the House of Lords only added fuel to the fire. Johnson himself said women in burkas look like letterboxes.  

Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman earlier this month claimed that the UK is losing its identity and capacity to peacefully coexist with different faiths and races because Islamists are taking over.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, she said of Islamists: “We see their influence in our judiciary, our legal profession, and our universities.”

She added that they are next coming “for Parliament,” in a diatribe all too familiar with that seen across a range of far-right electoral strategies.

Britain’s largest Muslim body, the Muslim Council of Britain, has written to Conservative Party Chair Richard Holden demanding an investigation.

“Our view is that Islamophobia in the party is institutional, tolerated by the leadership and seen as acceptable by great swathes of the party membership. Leaders can shape the agenda and narrative and play a role in Islamophobic hate crime,” the letter stated.

“Islamophobic hate crime has trebled according to Tell Mama. These issues cannot — and must not — be ignored.”

Business Minister Nus Ghani, senior backbencher Sajid Javid and Conservative peer Gavin Barwell also condemned Anderson’s comments, but Warsi remains one of the few to have pointed out the wider issues in her party.

And it is a drum she has been beating for more than a decade, having noted in 2011 that around Conservatives, Islamophobia had “passed the dinner-table test.”


Majority of Conservative members believe Islam a threat to British way of life: Poll

Majority of Conservative members believe Islam a threat to British way of life: Poll
Updated 28 February 2024
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Majority of Conservative members believe Islam a threat to British way of life: Poll

Majority of Conservative members believe Islam a threat to British way of life: Poll
  • Most also believe parts of European cities subject to Shariah law
  • Anti-racism group: Islamophobia ‘runs deep’ in governing party ‘but this poll illustrates the problem starkly’

LONDON: A majority of Conservative Party members in the UK believe that Islam is a threat to the British way of life, a new poll has found.

The Opinium poll surveyed 521 members of the country’s ruling party about the UK’s second-largest religion, The Guardian reported on Wednesday.

Compared to the overall population, respondents were twice as likely to view Islam as a threat to the British way of life, with 58 percent agreeing with the statement.

Just over half of respondents — 52 percent — believe the false claim that sections of European cities are subject to Shariah law and are effectively “no-go zones” for non-Muslims.

It comes amid a growing row within the Conservative Party over Islamophobia, with MP Lee Anderson having been sacked last week after claiming that Islamists had “got control” of Sadiq Khan, London’s first Muslim mayor.

Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, a Conservative MP, also drew controversy after writing in the Daily Telegraph last week that “the Islamists, the extremists and the antisemites are in charge now,” referring to pro-Palestine protests that have been held across the UK in the wake of Israel’s war on Gaza.

Conservative members are twice as likely — compared to the overall population — to have a negative view of immigrants, Opinium found.

About three-quarters of respondents said they believe that immigration has been bad for the UK and multiculturalism is failing.

Nick Lowles, founder of Hope Not Hate, an anti-racism group that commissioned the poll, said: “It’s clear from the events of the past week that Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment run deep in the Conservative Party — but this poll illustrates the problem starkly.

“Based on the views of Conservative members, it’s clear why Anderson, Braverman et al feel increasingly emboldened to push the boundaries of decency and speak negatively of Muslims, immigrants and multiculturalism more generally.

“The battle for the soul of Conservative Party has begun, and so far the radical right is winning.”

The poll findings suggest that views within the party have hardened in recent years. A 2020 poll, also commissioned by Hope Not Hate, found that 47 percent of Conservative members agreed with the statement that Islam is a threat to the British way of life.

The party was cleared of allegations of institutional Islamophobia in 2021 as part of an inquiry known as the Singh Review, but critics have questioned the scope of the investigation.

Sajjad Karim, a former Conservative member of the European Parliament, told The Guardian: “I can go back to about 2012 or 2013 when I first started to detect some of this type of talk. We haven’t got here suddenly. But the party really has to get a grip of it now.”

He added: “(The Singh review) ended up sending a signal to the party membership that was basically ‘Muslims are fair game.’”


UK stepping up lawmakers’ security as tensions flare over Israel-Hamas war

UK stepping up lawmakers’ security as tensions flare over Israel-Hamas war
Updated 28 February 2024
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UK stepping up lawmakers’ security as tensions flare over Israel-Hamas war

UK stepping up lawmakers’ security as tensions flare over Israel-Hamas war
  • The fund includes money for extra police patrols in areas where tensions are high
  • Reports of both antisemitic and anti-Muslim abuse in Britain have soared since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel

LONDON: The British government said Wednesday that it is stepping up security for lawmakers after politicians reported threats and intimidation connected to the Israel-Hamas war.
The Home Office said a 31 million-pound ($40 million) fund will give every lawmaker a “dedicated named police contact” and provide money for those facing threats to pay for private security protection.
The government said some of the money will go more broadly to protecting Britain’s “democratic processes from intimidation, disruption or subversion” ahead of a general election later this year. The fund includes money for extra police patrols in areas where tensions are high.
Divisions over the conflict in Gaza have convulsed British politics, with some lawmakers saying they fear for their safety after receiving threats over their positions on the war. Reports of both antisemitic and anti-Muslim abuse in Britain have soared since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which triggered Israel’s invasion of Gaza.
A debate last week in the House of Commons on whether to call for a ceasefire descended into chaos amid allegations the speaker of the house had bent parliamentary rules in response to pressure from pro-Palestinian activists.
Conservative lawmaker Mike Freer has announced he is stepping down because of abuse and death threats linked to his support for Israel. Freer said an arson attack on his office in December was the “final straw.”
He said the money announced Wednesday was only “dealing with the symptom” rather than “going to the root cause” of why people feel emboldened to attack politicians.
“Security is welcome,” Freer told Times Radio. “But frankly, unless you get to the root cause, then you’re just going to have a ring of steel around MPs. And our whole style of democracy changes.”
British lawmakers have a tradition of meeting regularly with constituents in their local communities, but security has been tightened after several attacks in the last decade. In 2016, Labour lawmaker Jo Cox was killed by a far-right extremist, and Conservative David Amess was murdered in 2021 by an attacker inspired by the Daesh group.
In 2017 a Daesh-inspired extremist killed four people with a vehicle on Westminster Bridge before stabbing a police officer to death at the gates of Parliament. Two years later, in 2019, a neo-Nazi pleaded guilty to plotting to kill a Labour lawmaker.
Anti-war activists claimed the government was trying to stifle protest and lumping peaceful demonstrators in with violent extremists.
Home Secretary James Cleverly called on pro-Palestinian demonstrators to halt the mass protests that have drawn hundreds of thousands of people to central London almost weekly to call for a ceasefire in a conflict that has killed close to 30,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
Israel says Hamas killed 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, and abducted roughly 250, in the Oct. 7 attack.
The protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful, though there have dozens of arrests over signs and chants allegedly supporting Hamas, a banned organization in Britain. Jewish organizations and many lawmakers say the mass marches have created an intimidating atmosphere for Jewish Londoners — though members of the Jewish community have been among those on pro-ceasefire marches.
“I genuinely don’t know what these regular protests are seeking to achieve,” Cleverly told the Times of London. “They have made their position clear, we recognize that there are many people in the UK that hold that position. We respect that, but the UK government’s position is a disagreement with that for very practical, well thought-out reasons.”
The government says it supports an immediate “humanitarian pause” in the fighting but says a permanent ceasefire can only happen if Hamas frees all Israeli hostages and relinquishes control of Gaza.
Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which has organized many protests, said Cleverly’s comments showed the government did not understand the role of protest “as an important part of the democratic process.”
“They regard it as a hindrance, something that should be suppressed,” Jamal said.