zaterdag 16 november 2019

Israel’s Army of Online Trolls

When Israel’s military begins to attack, 

so does its army of online trolls

 on  4 Comments

Act.IL is a global pro-Israel campaign at least partially funded by the country’s government. The project includes an app that enables users to earn points and prizes for promoting the state of Israel online, by attacking BDS and other pro-Palestinian movements. According to Electronic Intifada reporting from earlier this year, it’s operating with a budget of a more than a million dollars.
Michael Bueckert is a PhD student in sociology and political economy at Carleton University and, since April 2018, he’s maintained a Twitter accountthat tracks the app’s “missions.” Bueckert spoke to Mondoweiss’ Michael Arria about the history of the project, its use during the recent attacks on Gaza, and whether or not it’s actually having an impact on anyone.
Arria: So just to start, I think a lot of people on our site are probably familiar with your work. But for people who maybe are not, can you briefly describe the ACT.IL app and explain who funds it?
Michael Bueckert
Michael Bueckert
Bueckert: Yes. So, for a couple of years now, I’ve been following Israel’s semiofficial propaganda app. It’s called ACT.IL and was set up in a sort of partnership between the Israeli government and a number of American pro-Israel lobby groups funded by Sheldon Adelson. There is a lack of clarity perhaps about the exact nature of that relationship. The app was funded in part by the Israeli government..I think that the government paid for the development of the website that it was hosted on and paid for a lot of advertising including sponsored content, like sponsored articles in Israeli newspapers that look like the are just regular reporting, but were paid for by the Israeli government essentially. At the time the developers of the app were talking about how they were working with the Shin Bet [Israel’s internal security service] and, you know, Israeli defense officials to identify targets online and to have a sort of duty to craft responses. But they’ve kind of backtracked on that.
But basically, it’s an app which anyone in the world can download onto their phone and it identifies targets online or they call them “missions” in which pro-Israel individuals can can very easily participate in online discourse. So, it will identify a tweet for them to read, or it will identify a Facebook comment on a news article that they can like. Essentially, it’s a way of coordinating online behavior in a way that looks organic, but is actually quite choreographed by this sort of centralized body with support from the Israeli government. And yet the intention of it is to very suddenly shape online discourse in a way that’s pro-Israel.
Arria: Do you have any sense of how many people are using the app and carrying out these “missions”?
Bueckert: It is really hard to say at any one point. It doesn’t appear like there are a lot of people. Certainly there are thousands of people who have downloaded the app, possibly tens of thousands. But there’s it’s hard to gauge exactly how many people are active on it on an ongoing basis. A lot of the missions don’t necessarily seem like they have a lot of uptake to them, not a lot of users have participated in many of the missions. So it’s really it’s really difficult to tell.
Arria: Are there particular moments when the app is more active than others?
Bueckert: Again, it’s hard to tell in terms of use, but certainly you can tell by maybe by the amount of missions that the app is producing. There are a whole bunch of different themes. I would say that the missions are more frequent any time that a musician or an artist is traveling to Israel. There is usually a number of missions for the app directing users to comment on their Instagram posts or welcome them to Israel on Twitter, that kind of thing, to sort of combat any boycott pressure that they might be receiving.
Then you have a whole category of more serious or consequential missions where it’s really targeting a specific local issues, usually on a campus where they might target a specific conference or a specific set of students in a way that makes it appear that there is a backlash to a pro-Palestinian organizing in an organic sense when it’s actually choreographed. And in some cases, I mean, the app has boasted of getting people fired or of getting things canceled. So when it puts a target on a local issue, it can really have a big impact.
And then I think the time when you see the most activity is times like right now when there is an escalation of violence, especially with airstrikes on Gaza and corresponding rocket fire. That’s when you have a fairly massive response with a whole range of missions all at once. And whether or not, again, there is an uptick in actual users taking advantage of those missions, I don’t know. But certainly the app is far more active in these times.
Arria: To that point, can you speak to the kinds of missions you’ve seen recently? A ceasefire was recently announced, but Israel has been sending missiles into Gaza for the last couple of days. What’s a typical mission look like when something like this happens?
Bueckert: Right. So right now, there are about 40 missions that are related to this issue. The majority of these missions are targeting news articles, whether on Facebook or on Twitter, where you’ll be asked to leave a comment that questions the terminology used. If the article’s headline says that an Islamic Jihad militant was killed, you’ll be asked to comment, “He’s not a militant, he’s a terrorist.” And so there will be a lot of nitpicking around language, to say, “You missed relevant information” or “This is a biased perspective.” That kind of thing. And I think the overall point of those kinds of missions (especially on Facebook) is to shape the way that ordinary users experience the news and come across those news articles, because what they’re trying to do (and in this case, they’re very successful) is in get these endorsed comments to rise to the top comment right under the article on Facebook. So if you’re a casual user of Facebook and you’re coming across these news articles, the first thing you see right below the headline are these critical comments by random people online and what appears to be an organic natural backlash to that article when it’s actually coordinated. So, I would say that that is the majority of of the missions.
And a lot of them are meant to deflect from the coverage of the fact that it was Israel’s targeted killings of the Islamic Jihad officials which knowingly triggered this latest round of violence. And so a lot of the articles are trying to combat that by saying, you know, there’s rockets all the time, Israel didn’t strike first. There’s also a bunch of missions where they’re sharing Facebook videos, for example, of rocket fire in Israel to say, you know, this is what life is like under terrorism from Gaza, that kind of thing.
Some of the missions are kind of offensive. One of them is sharing a video of a man in Israel and how his dog is being harmed emotionally by the rocket fire, so promoting the welfare of dogs in Israel. Meanwhile, I think at this point in time about 36 Palestinians have been killed. Four of them are children. And so [the missions are about] avoiding any questions of Palestinian casualties and trying to put all of the blame on Gaza. And so those are those are the kinds of missions that are that are flooding the app at this moment.

Arria: I know it’s impossible to quantify what impact something like this is having, but do you personally feel like it’s moving the needle any in terms of pro-Israel sentiment?
Bueckert: It really is impossible to tell. There have been a couple attempts to look at this. [One study] suggested that a lot of the traffic for the landing page that they created actually came from my Twitter account exposing it rather than from the app itself. And so that suggests that there’s very little take up, at least there has been on previous occasions.
The Electronic Intifada did some reporting on this as well that raises some questions about the effectiveness of this, especially considering the amount of money and resources that are being put into it. I think it’s really impossible to tell whether or not liking comments on Facebook and Twitter makes any difference, but I suspect that it’s minimal at best.
Although again, I would say that when it comes to missions that are more targeted, that go after specific individuals and go after people’s employment or try to get conferences canceled, those are the ones that do appear to be quite effective. There was a case earlier this year where the app had many missions going after [California’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Advisory Committee] for proposing an ethnic studies program which positively talked about Palestinians and BDS as a social movement. And there were many missions that were targeting specific school board trustees and sending emails to the individuals on the curriculum committee. So, when it comes to those specific instances, I think the app can be quite powerful. But when it comes to just trying to shape the general reaction to an event like the current airstrikes and rockets, I have no idea.
Arria: Has tracking the app given you any sense of how seriously Israel takes the BDS movement? On one hand you consistently hear pro-Israel groups mock the movement for having a negligible impact, but then there’s also vast resources being used to combat it like we see here.
It’s a debate in Israel itself and between different ministries even about whether [BDS] is actually a threat or something that is worth putting resources into. The Ministry of Strategic Affairs, obviously that’s what it’s whole deal is. But in foreign affairs, I think their understanding is that they’d rather just ignore it and let it go away, so it’s hard to tell what they actually think.
The amount of resources that they put into these kinds of campaigns, what does it suggest? Well, I don’t think it necessarily suggests that [they believe BDS is a real threat], but rather that they are not willing to allow any pro Palestinian sentiment to become accepted within today’s discourse. My impression is that is all less about the actual threat of BDS and more about the absolute intolerance towards any thing positive about the Palestinians.

American Homelessness

A Crash Course on How to Handle Homelessness

A Crash Course on How to Handle Homelessness
A section of Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, Calif. (Russ Allison Loar)(CC BY-SA 4.0)
I really discovered homelessness for the first time when I left my job at an upscale Hollywood radio station in 1987 to work at a downscale downtown newspaper.
Hollywood certainly had its homeless people, but at that time, in that place, their condition seemed minor, temporary, manageable: street kids, runaways, a smattering of burned-out hippies. Nothing that a little counseling, a little rehab, a little assistance in reconnecting with family members probably couldn’t fix easily enough.
It was certainly nothing systemic. Or so I thought, wrongly. What I’ve learned since is that the issue is far more complex than I could possibly have imagined. There are almost as many causes of homelessness as there are homeless individuals. Their homelessness may not just be a status they temporarily experience; it can become an existential condition, a syndrome they have fallen into that must be addressed incrementally, not a problem that can simply be solved in one swift, bold stroke. Bookshelves are groaning with 10-year plans that failed to deliver, if they were ever implemented at all.
I would eventually discover that it is simply not true that everyone wants to get off the street, clean up, submit to a conventional regimen. Whatever the professional advocates tell you, seasoned social workers know better. There are homeless individuals who genuinely are “service-resistant,” but that implies more agency and volition than many homeless street people actually possess. Even those who sincerely want to escape their homelessness simply may never be able to do what is necessary to regain their autonomy and self-sufficiency.

Liberals and progressives blame Darwinian social policy and the ravages of capitalism. Conservatives blame an indulgent society and personal moral failings. But imposing such an ideological overlay is profoundly unhelpful and leads inevitably to a false binary choice: Either more money or more discipline is needed. A more honest approach recognizes the need for both. Building shelter and providing support services demands more public investment than we historically have been willing to make, but not tending to the plight of people living on the street can no longer be an option for any community. It denotes not respect for their rights, but neglect of our obligations. As a practical political matter, we cannot continue asking the public for more funding without delivering something tangible in return. We must find an ethical and constitutional way to bring the homeless population in off the street.
*       *       *
When I joined the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, I got “woke” to the issue pretty fast. The Herald’s once-grand, Julia Morgan-designed building was located at 11th and Broadway, what we used to call the “ass-end” of downtown. It stood barely four blocks from the official boundary of skid row, a 50-square-block area bound by Third and Seventh Streets on the north and south, and by Alameda and Main Streets on the east and west.
In that era, there was no LA Live. There was no Staples Center. There was no new and improved Convention Center. There was only blight, neglect, decay and human wreckage on a scale I could never have imagined, and the local government seemed to be doing nothing about it. There, homelessness was an existential condition, signifying a greater pathology of severe illness, disability and official neglect.
By design, skid row had been left to rot by the city for decades; the policy was containment, not eradication. The strategy called for the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency to subsidize commercial and market-rate residential development in the area, with a token affordable-housing element to grease the approvals. The city would blunt political opposition to the resulting gentrification by throwing a few bucks to the skid row social-service agencies to keep them pacified and hopefully even win their support. The media would play its part by boosting the poverty agencies and their leaders with puffy human-interest features while promoting all the shiny new developments in the business and real estate news. But nothing really changed for the impoverished residents of skid row.
Downtown at that time was represented by Councilman Gilbert Lindsay, the self-proclaimed “Emperor of the Great Ninth District.” Gil was notorious for promoting new development at the expense of providing for displaced populations and offsetting the loss of affordable housing units. He actively resisted bringing more social services to skid row, insisting it would only attract more homeless and discourage the kind of big-ticket skyline he hoped would be his legacy.
In 1988, the 88-year-old Lindsay suffered a stroke but ran for reelection the next year, seeking a seventh term. His endorsement interview with us was a pathetic display. Mentally, he was clearly out of it; his girlfriend, some 50 years younger, perched on his knee for the entire meeting. He was reelected anyway. The following year, he suffered another stroke and died in office. Several years later, his family (represented by Johnnie Cochran) sued the girlfriend for ripping off the estate and won a $235,000 judgmentA 10-foot monument to the “Emperor” stands today in front of the Convention Center.
To say that city leadership was somewhat lacking in those twilight years of Mayor Tom Bradley’s long tenure would be an understatement.
I was shocked and sickened by what I saw downtown. A few months after joining the Herald, in a column titled “Los Angeles Doesn’t Care Anymore,” I had written:
The 1982 film “Blade Runner” has become the catch-all metaphor for the degraded future of urban life in Los Angeles. … The inescapable conclusion after living and working here is that Los Angeles, for all its purported affluence, glamor and sophistication, is becoming a city that is not unable, but unwilling, to care for itself. … On every street I drive, bag people are sleeping on benches, slumped in doorways, or huddled on the sidewalk. … On the radio, their voices plead for shelter and jobs. … I read about them being shuffled from the City Hall lawn to abandoned public buildings to vacant-lot “camps.” A county supervisor proposes to ship them out to a rusty hulk anchored in the LA harbor. One councilmember wants to truck them out to a military base, another would send them to Terminal Island. The city attorney sues the county over the problem.
I concluded: “The larger problem is that some time back, we collectively made an informal, unstated, but nevertheless binding decision to give up trying to make the city work. … The “Blade Runner” analogy actually has it backwards. In the film, frustrated replicant creatures yearn for human love and companionship. The inhabitants of today’s bleak cityscape, by contrast, seem ready to embrace their dehumanized, violent future.”
I wrote that in 1987. “Blade Runner” was set in 2019; its dystopian future is now.
*     *     *
After the Herald folded in 1989, I joined the office of Third District County Supervisor Ed Edelman. I was now part of a political staff actually trying to do something for homeless people, not just another journalist writing about them.
Ed’s supervisorial district, like Lindsay’s council district, at that time included downtown and skid row. Unlike Lindsay, Ed sincerely tried to improve the situation, but he was constrained by fiscal and political realities. Southern California was sinking into a serious post-Cold War economic recession that was driving up the demand for services while reducing the tax revenue to pay for them. And the Board of Supervisors was then ruled by a conservative Republican majority with little appetite for social-service spending in any event.
Some of it, frankly, was also probably due to a lack of vision. We never tried to reimagine homeless policy or champion major systemic change. We nibbled around the margin, raising the temperature triggers to extend the operating days of cold-weather homeless shelters. We fought against budget cuts to health, mental health care and substance-abuse programs. We tried to publicly shame skid row markets out of further exploiting and immiserating their alcoholic clientele by discouraging their marketing of king-size malt liquor and cheap fortified wines.
We tried, but failed, to avoid a punishing reduction in the county’s general relief payments, the minimal amount of public assistance available to single adults. Over Ed’s objections, the board slashed the monthly relief benefit from a high of $350 in 1991 down to $221, roughly the 1981 level, by scoring the “in-kind” cash value of health services and discounting the monthly cash benefit by that amount. Had we only indexed that 1981 benefit for inflation, relief recipients today would receive $624 per month. As it is, their benefits are only worth $78 in constant 1981 dollars. It is a shame and a scandal that today’s board still has not increased that stipend.
We also struggled over how to identify eligible recipients and quality them for the federal Supplemental Security Insurance program, which would have paid disabled recipients around $900 a month, saving the county money while greatly boosting their public assistance. Today, the internet offers expanded opportunities to accomplish that. But imagine, as a disabled relief recipient, trying to hack your way today through this online bureaucratic thicket to qualify, or getting yourself to a county Department of Public Social Services office to seek help in person.
After a federal civil rights lawsuit redrew the formerly gerrymandered districts and made possible Gloria Molina’s election in 1991, a new Democratic majority emerged. One of its first actions was to settle a five-year lawsuit in which the city and county had sued each other over who bore principal responsibility for addressing homelessness. As part of the settlement, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority was created as a joint-powers agency to better coordinate homeless policy. After more than 25 years, about the kindest thing you can say is that it’s still a work in progress—and still has a lot of problems, even as the homeless count continues to swell.
Ed retired from public office in 1994 but continued his homelessness efforts as a consultant to the city of Santa Monica. I joined the staff of his successor, Zev Yaroslavsky (who had earlier also succeeded Ed in his City Council seat). Midway through Zev’s first term, a major fiscal crisis in the county’s health department, with the potential for actually bankrupting the county, took precedence over everything else for several years. That was followed by public safety and law enforcement priorities in the wake of 9/11. It wasn’t until 2004-2005 that the county board began to refocus on homelessness.
In spring of 2006, at the supervisors’ direction, County Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen put forward a comprehensive new Homeless Prevention Initiative (HPI) that identified the three principal factors fueling the homeless crisis: 1) the lack of permanent, affordable housing; 2) insufficient resources and funding to help clients achieve and sustain self-sufficiency; and 3) severe psycho-emotional impairment of clients related to, and exacerbated by, substance abuse and/or mental illness.
The plan, with $100 million in new and previously committed county funding, offered a number of recommendations to address the shortage of emergency, transitional and permanent housing, the need for stepped-up medical care and substance abuse treatment, and assistance in finding housing, qualifying for benefits and dealing with law enforcement and criminal justice issues around homelessness and poverty. Recognizing the regional nature of homelessness, the HPI proposed five regional stabilization centers, one in each supervisorial district, which were intended as alternatives to jail for minor offenses, and for those discharged from jail or county hospitals as an alternative to the street.
Unsurprisingly, none of it was ever implemented. There was so much community opposition that not one stabilization center ever opened, and the rest of the plan fell by the wayside. The money ended up being shoveled instead into existing programs and departments, where it disappeared without a trace.
A year or two later, Zev revived the homeless issue with a bold, and then largely untested, approach: He called it Project 50, a pilot program intended to identify 50 of skid row’s most vulnerable homeless people, those most at risk of dying on the street based on multiple factors including age, health, substance abuse, mental illness and years of living on the street, and bring them into permanent supportive housing (PSH.) It was a “housing first” harm-reduction model, recognizing that they might not be sober and they might still be using, but that it was unrealistic to expect them to clean up on the street before they were eligible to come in out of the cold. If they could get shelter and services first, it would be easier to address their health needs and break the vicious cycle of street, emergency room, court, jail and street again.
The premise was that there were so-called “shot-callers” who functioned as de facto influencers and leaders in the homeless community, and the strategy was that if we could work with them to help cull out and assist the hardest of the hardcore homeless street people, we could certainly succeed with less intractable cases. It would create a new dynamic that would justify scaling up the pilot program to encompass more homeless in other parts of the county.
We also believed it would be less expensive to convert or build, and operate, permanent supportive housing than to keep subsidizing the enormously expensive “frequent flyers” who couldn’t stay out of jail or the ER.
It took months of effort to break down the bureaucratic silos that hampered interagency, law enforcement and judicial cooperation. In addition, what we called the homeless-industrial complex—the network of conventional, long-established soup kitchens, drug and alcohol treatment programs, midnight missions, shelters, transitional housing, community-based health care nonprofits and single-room occupancy operators—fiercely opposed a radically new service model that threatened their standing. They argued that building PSH units would take too long and drain too much money from other vital services, and that housing substance abusers while leaving nonusers out on the street was unfair, sent the wrong message, and would ultimately prove unworkable. And they had the political clout to really monkey-wrench the plan.
Our early evaluations showed that most of the clients were able to stabilize and remain in shelter. With a place to live and better medical treatment, they had fewer brushes with the law and needed fewer costly ER visits. But scaling up proved much more arduous than we anticipated—it was more costly and sparked more community resistance, more law enforcement and judicial opposition when they saw the plan as all carrot, no stick. In 2009, after we had just suffered the worst recession since the Great Depression, the Board of Supervisors balked when asked to expand the successful pilot from Project 50 to Project 500.
That was the last major homeless initiative undertaken before I left the county near the end of 2015. But from August 2015 to February 2016, county agencies mounted yet another County Homeless Initiative and formulated yet another bold new action plan to combat homelessness. Following up on that plan, in November 2016, while the country was electing Donald Trump president, city voters opened their wallets and approved Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion city housing bond that promised 10,000 new permanent supportive housing units within 10 years. Some of us have been deeply skeptical of that boast for some time, and a recent city audit also threw shade on the promise.
Meanwhile, county voters in March 2017 subsequently approved another 10-year homeless funding measure, a countywide parcel tax, which will generate about $355 million a year to be earmarked for a combination of services, rent subsidies and new housing. Its most recently posted roster of funding recommendations largely covers the same well-trod ground as all the other plans and proposals. Will this money be spent any more efficiently and effectively than all those earlier efforts? Will it take us where we need to go?
I don’t think it will. When the city is spending a median cost of $531,000 to develop and construct a single unit of permanent supportive housing that was originally estimated to cost around $350,000-$414,000—and a recent Los Angeles Times analysis concluded that the percentage of street homeless suffering from mental illness and/or substance abuse was more than double LAHSA’s estimated 29%—it’s quite clear that there won’t be nearly enough money to build our way out of homelessness.
But my county experience also revealed a more fundamental dilemma that nobody in government even wants to talk about, much less attempt to address. Even if all the housing were somehow magically to be constructed, and all the social services were to be magically provided, there is no mechanism and no requirement to ensure that homeless people agree to use them. State legislation does not compel homeless people to seek or submit to treatment, even when available, and the courts have repeatedly rebuffed city efforts to conduct street sweeps and enforce vagrancy laws. Our public spaces on sidewalks, roadway medians, freeway ramps, underpasses, parks and public libraries are increasingly commandeered for the private use of homeless street people in ad hoc encampments that as a practical matter cannot legally be removed.
County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, both former state legislators who are appointees to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Homeless Task Force, have recently argued that California should recognize a right to shelter. Steinberg also argued in an op-ed that the homeless have a corresponding legal obligation to use it, but withering criticism from civil libertarians and homeless advocates backed them off calling for any obligation on the part of the homeless population to get off the street. Their revised policy position is now the same as homeless advocates have always taken: Build more housing, provide more services, and the homeless will avail themselves accordingly.
But what if they can’t, or won’t? Public officials will spend literally billions of dollars of public money with no visible progress on a problem that has been growing steadily worse for more than 50 years. The seeds were planted back in the early 1960s, when the deinstitutionalization movement emerged as purportedly more humane mental-health treatment than state mental hospitals or asylums; new wonder drugs promised to treat mental illness more effectively on an outpatient basis. Community-based group homes and board-and-care facilities offered a more intimate and natural setting than forbidding lockdown facilities where patients historically had been subjected to physical and sexual abuse. But virtually none of those promised community-based replacement facilities ever emerged.
In this respect, my own family has been fortunate. My grandmother’s younger sister, my mother’s aunt, was diagnosed with an incurable mental illness, probably schizophrenia, and was permanently institutionalized in Illinois in the 1930s. While I heard stories from my mother, I never had the opportunity to meet her Aunt Elaine, but I gathered that family members visited regularly, and although there were clearly some lapses, they found her generally well cared for. She apparently lived into her mid-80s. How long would a woman like her have survived on the street?
We must be prepared to create a new mental-health and wellness system for the 21st century, one that includes both community-based outpatient and congregate-living facilities as well as regional hospitals and long-term residential facilities, and we must be willing to accept the idea of reinstitutionalization. This will mean both a change of mindset and a change in state law. I don’t minimize the challenges of squaring respect for patient rights and individual liberty with the interests and needs of the larger community of which they are a part. But I believe it must be done.
Until we recognize that the most severely addicted, mentally ill or infirm among our street population not only cannot, and may never be able to, care for themselves—and are also unable to give informed consent even for their own lifesaving care and treatment—buildings alone will never solve the homelessness crisis that our own naiveté, indifference and cruelty has created.
Joel Bellman

Benjamin Netanyahu's Sinister Plot

Benjamin Netanyahu's Sinister Plot to Hold On To Power

Benjamin Netanyahu's Sinister Plot to Hold On To Power
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Oded Balilty / AP
What follows is a conversation between author Jeff Halper and Marc Steiner of The Real News Network. Read a transcript of their conversation below or watch the video at the bottom of the post.
MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us once again.
I have to say this: Benjamin Netanyahu may be one of the shrewdest politicians on the face of the earth. He appointed far-right Naftali Bennett Minister of Defense just after he launched an air attack that killed Baha Abu al-Ata–who is the leader of Islamic Jihad we think–in Gaza, along with his wife Asmaa. That kept Bennett with him politically, which was a move on his part. And then it turned out that al-Ata was really not that much of a leader at all, some people write.
And then he bombed the offices of Islamic Jihad in Damascus, and then launched a bombing campaign on Gaza after the Islamic Jihad launched an ineffectual rocket assault on Israel. The attack in Gaza killed 32 Palestinians, including 11 children. And another 111 people were wounded. Okay, so that doesn’t make him brilliant. But his next steps politically inside of Israel that seem to be part of his grand strategy after all, is and was brilliant. And here is where his brilliant manipulation and strategic thinking begins to keep himself in power.

To help us figure all that out, we’re about to talk with Jeff Halper; Jeff Halper joins us once again. He’s an anthropologist, former head of the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions, and his latest book is “War Amongst the People, Israel, the Palestinians, and Global Pacification.” And he is currently involved with the People Yes Network, which promotes strategic coordination among left groups globally. And Jeff, welcome. Good to have you with us.
JEFF HALPER: Good to be back.
MARC STEINER: Always good to talk to you. I meant what I said at the very top here. I mean, whatever you think about Netanyahu and his politics and what he represents, the man is really brilliant, and he knows how to stay in power.
JEFF HALPER: That’s right.
MARC STEINER: So here he has his opposition, Benny Gantz, who might have won a few more votes than he has. He has a week to set up the government. So paint this story for us at this moment about what Netanyahu is doing to set himself up, so he doesn’t go to jail and can stay in power.
JEFF HALPER: Well, that’s all the manipulations, of course. And so Gaza and the Palestinians, as usual, are simply the vehicles for Netanyahu’s political campaigns, essentially. The people of Gaza and Hamas and Islamic Jihad do not pose an existential threat to Israel. And for years and years, they’ve tried even to get into some kind of a peace agreement with Israel. They even agreed to the two-state solution, years ago. It was called the Prisoner’s Stock. But we’re talking about a situation of controlled bias that serves Netanyahu in Israel in different ways. Controlled violence, of course, it continues the pretext of keeping the occupation going because they’re always attacking us, so we always have to defend ourselves.
Controlled violence also, of course, blames the victim so that we can’t be held accountable for anything, and they’re to blame and that gives us a free rein to do anything we want to in the occupied territories or politically. It also keeps the laboratory going, because don’t forget Israel tests all kinds of new weapons systems, security systems, surveillance systems, drones in particular, in Gaza. Gaza is like a little laboratory, which is part of a larger West Bank laboratory. So for all of those reasons, of course, the Gazi is very useful for Israel. But in terms of internal politics, it’s also useful because again, it can be turned on and turned off according to the needs of Netanyahu.
So now that he’s in this competition with Gantz, he’s trying to create a situation in which, and he’s said this many times, that security situation and such; that we can’t afford a new government. And certainly this is the boss subtext, the very important subject, certainly not a government that would rely on the Arabs in Israel. Because any government that Gantz would set up would have to have the support, at least half the support of the joint Arab list. And so by demonizing the Arabs, and of course by creating the conflict in Gaza, what Netanyahu was doing and saying, “What you’re going to have Arabs in the government at a time of war, they’re our enemies fighting us in Gaza and creating an absolutely impossible situation for Gantz.” So there’s all kinds of layered levels. You’re absolutely right. He is a brilliant manipulator.
MARC STEINER: So in taking a step further, I mean let’s take two parts here. A, what just happened in Gaza, I mean 32 people were killed, many of them innocents. I mean the father driving off on his motorcycle and the visuals were put out by some of the middle Eastern Arab media driving up to his house. He’s blown up. His two kids were blown up with him, but he’s just coming home to say hello to his kids. And it was a pretty horrendous attack that took place in Gaza, but many innocent people killed, 111 people wounded.
So that in itself creates this kind of terror inside of Gaza, with Hamas it seems is saying “We’re out of this, we’re not part of this.” So he’s neutralized them. But now it seems inside of Israel is, explain this to us, I mean Benny Gantz was going to form a coalition with Avigdor Lieberman on the right, from the Russian group on the right, the Russian Jews on the ride. And then he had the joint list on the left saying, at least, we passively support them, but not if he supports Gaza. So the Gaza incursions, which means that that was something else that Netanyahu must have planned ahead of time, knowing that that could split that coalition as well, to make it even more difficult for Gantz to form a government. Am I right or wrong about that?
JEFF HALPER: Well, it can be. But not far off. There’s nothing here that’s by chance. `In other words, it’s in the press in Israel that Abu al-Ata was schedule to be assassinated two years ago. In other words, the approval went through the Israeli government and the military 32 years ago. So in other words, for different reasons they might want it to get rid of him, but certainly it was very convenient to get rid of him and particularly at this time when the negotiations are so keen, and you want to make it impossible for Gantz and link up to the Arabs in Israel.
The Arabs in Israel are being portrayed by Netanyahu, not as in training citizens, but as the enemy. I mean there’s no difference in it. And I was speaking between Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and Ayman Odeh from the joint Arab list. And so I think the timing can’t be ignored, of course, for this and don’t forget also, this isn’t an isolated incident. We’ve been talking now about a year and a half or more, what’s called the March of return in Gaza. There have been almost 400 Palestinians killed, and more than 3,600 Palestinians wounded, in very different and very crippled in many cases. In Gaza. So, in other words, this is all art of the controlled violence. It’s controlled politically, it’s controlled in terms of managing Gaza and it’s also controlled in terms of Netanyahu’s immediate political needs.
MARC STEINER: And then didn’t he also kind of bring in one of the leaders of the joint list and kind of set him up in a conversation that he released? Wasn’t that part of his way of getting in between Gantz and potentially building a coalition?
JEFF HALPER: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, let me put it this way. Yes, but you know Netanyahu really is brilliant, but let me introduce another thought to this whole thing and that is that I think for everything else, I think he’s finished politically that Netanyahu.
MARC STEINER: You think he’s finished?
JEFF HALPER: I believe he is going to be indicted, I think. And even if not, people are tired. Even in the Likud, they’re tired of him. Gideon Sa’ar and other people are already beginning to challenge him. So he’s finished. Now, what is true, we have to keep this in mind is he is a brilliant manipulator. His English is great. He knows everybody from Modi, to the Chinese, to Bolsonaro, to Trump to everybody, and he’s set up very important right wing coalitions in the world. He’s got a big plan, a big strategy, and he’s managed to keep this whole thing together, all this all these years. Because the occupation is not very popular in the world, but he’s managed to hold it all together.
The next guy that comes in, whether it’s Gantz or Gideon Sa’ar who’s going to probably take over, or anybody else, is not going to have those skills. His English isn’t going to be so good. You’ll be a local Israeli politician. You won’t know anybody else. You won’t really care that much. And I think in a way after Netanyahu, this whole thing could start to unravel. And I’m looking forward to all kinds of opportunities to finish things when he’s gone because he really is–you’re right–he really is a brilliant manipulator.
MARC STEINER: It’s amazing. I was going to show that the very top, but I meant to do that, but let me show it now. This is just to conclude with what he did in Gaza. This is his press conference when he talked about what was about to do. Let’s look at, just for a moment, I want a quick thought from you on this:
SPEAKER: In the past year, this arch terrorist was the main generator of terrorism from the Strip. He initiated, planned, and carried out many attacks. He fired hundreds of rockets at communities in the Gaza periphery, whose suffering we haven’t ignored. He was in the midst of crossing additional attacks these very days. He was a ticking bomb.
MARC STEINER: So I meant to show this at the top and I apologize but this, because even this, afterwards was shown a ticking bomb. He’s killing somebody because what he might do, and everything I’ve read in the European press and other press, is that this guy wasn’t that big a deal to start with. I mean that these manipulations are sort of there and ended with how you were describing what he was doing inside of Israel proper.
JEFF HALPER: Look, on the one hand, he’s been ticking for two years now. I mean how long do you tick. Again, they improved his killing two years ago. So you have to look at that timing as well. But in addition, what the horse is missing from the whole discussion is any kind of political horizon. And this is the conflict management part, that the international community participates in an allows, and that is that everything is reduced to “They’re terrorists. They’re throwing missiles,” and in the sense, they have a right to resist. Nobody talks about occupation. That word is never, ever, ever used and very seldom internationally in these things. There are 50 years of occupation, 20 years or 10, more than 10 years, 15 years of a siege impoverishment.
If the UN says Gaza is going to be uninhabitable next year already, there’s no water to drink, there’s no employment. Israel is destroyed the infrastructure several times, killed thousands and thousands of people. So in this situation, in a way this particular attack, might have a certain strategic and tactical meaningfulness Netanyahu has put in a wider context. And we have to understand that this is a violent state terrorism, against the Palestinian people, has been going on now for more than 50 years in the occupied territory. And more than 125 years for the entire country.
So we have to always, always put these things within the wider political perspective and understand that Hamas, Islamic Jihad, together with all the other Palestinian factions agreeing years ago, to a two state solution, which is really a very pro-Israel solution, they’ve tried to sue for peace and Israel has always said no. And what Netanyahu tries to do is use these attacks to blame the victim, to make the Palestinians think that the terrorists attacking us. And we lose the whole bigger picture of Israel’s attacks, of besiegement, of occupation, of semi-colonialism, and the fact that we’re talking about Palestinian resistance, we’re not talking about Palestinian attacks on Israel. And so I think we have to keep that wider context all the time in front of us.
MARC STEINER: Well, Jeff. However, as this unfolds, we see what happens with Netanyahu and the indictment, and whether Gantz takes over or someone else takes over for Netanyahu, we’ll come back to you to see what this all is. Thank you for the work you do and thanks for joining us once again.
JEFF HALPER: Thanks for having me.
MARC STEINER: Always good to talk to you, Jeff. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you all for joining us. Let us know what you think. Take care.
Marc Steiner / The Real News Network

Corporate Media Whitewashes Its Role

Corporate Media Whitewashes Its Role in Lula's Imprisonment

Corporate Media Whitewashes Its Role in Lula's Imprisonment
Former Brazilian President Lula Da Silva. (Leo Correa / AP
The Brazilian Supreme Court reversed a 2018 ruling on November 7, upholding the principle of innocent until proven guilty in the 1988 Constitution and declaring it illegal to jail defendants before their appeals processes have been exhausted. Within 24 hours, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was released to an adoring crowd of hundreds of union members and social movement activists who had maintained a camp outside the police station where he was held, shouting “good morning,” “good afternoon” and “good night” to him for 580 consecutive days.
The Supreme Court had previously ruled, on April 5, 2018—after a threat from Brazilian Gen. Eduardo Villas Bôas—that defendants could be preemptively jailed before their appeals processes played out. Directly afterwards, Judge Sérgio Moro pressed for an immediate election-year arrest warrant for the PT party founder at a moment when he was widely leading in all polls. (The far-right candidate who won in the wake of Lula’s removal from the race, Jair Bolsonaro, went on to name Moro his “Super Justice Minister.”)
Lula’s arrest came as part of a wide-ranging international investigation, ostensibly aimed at corruption, called Lava Jato (“Car Wash”), which involved the US Justice Department, US Security and Exchange Commission and Swiss federal police, working with Judge Moro and a public prosecutor team based in the conservative Brazilian city of Curitiba (CounterSpin6/21/19). The only charge that prosecutors had been able to stick on Lula was that he had committed “indeterminate acts of corruption.”
At the time, the Anglo media ignored US involvement in the investigation, built Moro up as a superhero, and failed to provide any kind of critical analysis of the proceedings against Lula, despite complaints from some of the world’s leading legal scholars and human rights activists that the former president was victim of a politically motivated kangaroo court proceeding designed to remove him from the presidential elections.
There was no material evidence linking Lula to any crime. His conviction was based on coerced plea bargain testimony by a single convicted criminal named Leo Pinheiro, director of the OAS construction company, which built the building where an apartment that featured in Lula’s case was located. Sentenced to ten years and eight months for paying bribes to Petrobras Petroleum company, Pinheiro originally testified that Lula had not committed any crime, then changed his story twice, implicating Lula before having his sentence reduced to two years and six months. His third and final story stated that Lula had received free renovations on the beach-side apartment in exchange for political favors.
Seventy-three witnesses, including executives from the OAS company, testified that neither Lula nor anyone from his family had ever owned or lived in the apartment. Furthermore, a judge in Brasilia determined in January 2018, as part of a different case, that the vacant apartment still belonged to OAS. The prosecutors were unable to prove that the renovations had ever actually taken place. Although Sérgio Moro had barred the press from visiting the site, the MTST housing movement broke in and filmed a video which proved that, contrary to prosecutors claims, the strikingly cheap-looking apartment had never had any of the renovations listed by the prosecutors, including installation of a private elevator and luxury appliances. The Lava Jato task force prosecutors and Judge Moro were unable to prove that they had any legal jurisdiction over a case involving an alleged crime in a different state, São Paulo, which has its own court system, after they dropped an initial frivolous charge alleging a connection between the apartment renovations and a money-laundering scheme involving the Petrobras petroleum company. Finally, the alleged renovations, which prosecutors were unable to prove ever took place, in an apartment that they were unable to prove belonged to Lula, supposedly happened three years after he left public office, meaning that it was legally impossible to prove abuse of authority.
When Moro, who was declared a Time personality of the year in 2016 (4/21/16), declared Lula guilty of committing indeterminate acts of corruption, Western corporate media made little to no mention of prosecutorial misconduct, which was written about extensively in independent Brazilian media and legal publications. Moro had broken the law on multiple occasions in his zeal to put the former president behind bars. Using a legal loophole dating back to the Inquisition that enabled him to both oversee the investigation and rule on it, he ordered the Federal Police to wiretap Lula’s defense lawyers. This enabled the prosecutors to map out all possible moves by the defense and plan their reactions in advance. Moro also illegally wiretapped President Dilma Rousseff, then illegally leaked out-of-context audio to Brazil’s largest TV network on the eve of her impeachment hearings. In 2017, US Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco bragged about informal communications with his friends in the Lava Jato task force,which violates Brazilian law by bypassing security protocols.
There was certainly enough information out there to suggest that Lula might be the victim of a political witch hunt to keep him from becoming president. This is, in fact, what the AFL-CIONoam Chomsky, Angela Davis, Bernie Sanders and 29 Members of Congress were all saying at the time. However, no shadow of a doubt was allowed to fall over the proceedings in Anglo media. In the New Yorker (7/13/17), Alex Cuadros gushed that Lula’s conviction was “the most important criminal conviction in Brazil’s history.” And the week of Lula’s arrest, the Guardian (4/3/18) erroneously claimed that his conviction was connected to an “R$88 million graft scheme” involving Petrobras that Judge Moro had specifically explained in his ruling was not the case.
Behind bars and (illegally) barred from speaking to the press, Lula continued to run for president. Three months after he was arrested, he still led all election polls, with double the support of his nearest competitor. Then the UN Human Rights Committee issued a ruling, legally binding according to both international and Brazilian law, stating that Lula had the right to run for president. But as in the April 5, 2018, Supreme Court ruling, the judiciary decided to make an exception to the law, specifically to bar Lula from the campaign. Less than one month before the elections, the PT party was forced to provide a replacement candidate.
All things considered, the electoral results were better than expected. The PT party remained the largest party in Congress and became the party with the most governors. Last minute candidate Fernando Haddad made it to the final round and received 47 million votes, but it was not enough.
Months after Bolsonaro took office, the Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald revealed thousands of hours of social media conversationsbetween Lava Jato prosecutors and Moro. They showed the supposedly impartial judge giving instructions to the prosecutors, not only on how to improve the accusations, but on how to conduct a media strategy to commit character assassination against Lula. They exposed collusion with a Supreme Court Justice to issue a gag order preventing Lula from speaking to the press during the leadup to the 2018 presidential elections, in order to aid Bolsonaro’s campaign. They showed Lava Jato prosecution task force leader Delton Dallagnol praying to God that Bolsonaro would win the presidential election. Most damning of all, perhaps, is the conversation conducted between Dallagnol and the other prosecutors, only a few hours before the final trial, revealing that they didn’t think they had any proof, but that Moro was going to guarantee a conviction.
The US Department of Justice announced in March 2019 that it was going to give Dallagnol and his Lava Jato task force $682 million to open a privately managed “anti-corruption” foundation in Curitiba. The money would come from the $3.5 billion in fines that the DoJ and SEC collected in Lava Jato’s process of bankrupting and dismantling Brazil’s largest companies in the leadup to the 2016 legislative coup against President Rousseff.
The move was blocked by the Superior Justice Court, but it raised questions among some US lawmakers about how deep the US government’s role went in Lava Jato. On August 21, Rep. Hank Johnson (D.-Georgia) and 12 other members of Congress delivered a letter to Attorney General William Barr demanding answers to a series of questions about possible legal and ethical violations committed by the DoJ during its partnership with Moro and Lava Jato. One of the questions reads, “Did DoJ provide assistance with the collection or analysis of evidence compiled by the Lava Jato Task Force and Judge Moro for President Lula’s case?”
On September 25, Rep. Raul Grijalva and 14 other members of Congress introduced House Resolution 594, “expressing profound concern about threats to human rights, the rule of law, democracy and the environment in Brazil.” Moro is repeatedly criticized in the text of the resolution, which mentions the Intercept leaks, and states that
Sérgio Moro, the presiding judge in da Silva’s case, acted in a clearly biased manner toward da Silva, violating his right to a fair and impartial judicial process under Brazilian law.
One might think that by now US corporate media would finally begin to question the narrative that Lula is somehow guilty of corruption. Wouldn’t American readers be interested in learning about the role their Justice Department played in this process? Aren’t the leaked social media chats published by the Intercept relevant to the story of Lula’s release, especially since they were mentioned in the Brazilian Supreme Court ruling?
Unfortunately, since Lula’s release, none of the major corporate media outlets have mentioned the US Department of Justice role in Lava Jato at all. Although a few papers mentioned the Intercept revelations, they are reframed and rendered less threatening to the narrative, presented in the context of “raising doubts among some” about the investigation.
On the day Lula was released, Bloomberg (11/8/19) ran an article which does not mention illegal collusion between judge and prosecutors. It states instead:
The ex-president was convicted of corruption in 2017 and lost two appeals since then, but he has not exhausted the entire process. He has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and has said he’s victim of political persecution.
The Washington Post’s first article (11/8/19) on Lula’s release also failed to mention the corruption scandal which has enveloped Lava Jato, although it provided a link to a previous article (6/17/19) on that subject.
In two articles about Lula’s release, the BBC (11/9/19) likewise ignored the illegal collusion between judge and prosecutors in Lava Jato.
On the day Lula was released, the Guardian, whose Latin America editor Tom Phillips wrote 22 articles normalizing Bolsonaro in October 2018 in the leadup to the elections, made the editorial decision to rerun an AP article that makes no mention of the leaked social media conversations. One day later, the Washington Post‘s Dom Phillips (11/8/19), who was one of the biggest cheerleaders for Lula’s political imprisonment in the international media, briefly mentioned the Intercept revelations and Moro’s ethical problems in the context of an article that misrepresented Lula’s conviction as being connected to “money laundering,” and ended with an uncritical treatment of other frivolous charges against the former president.
The New York Times (11/8/19) mentioned the leaked audio messages, saying that they “made clear, for instance, that Mr. Moro had actively advised prosecutors on strategy in the case, conduct that legal analysts have called an ethical and legal transgression,” then quoted Moro on the case and stated that he disputes the idea that he acted improperly.
Despite the evidence of Lula’s innocence and illegal persecution, with the cooperation of the US DoJ, that removed him from the 2018 presidential elections, establishment media cling to a false narrative that, while weakened by the subsequent actions of current “Super Justice Minister” Moro, still attempts to damage the public image of the most popular president in Brazilian history.
As the smear campaign continues, it is important to remember that Lula represented a social democratic national development project, in the tradition of what Brazilians call desenvolvimentalismo, based on strategic control over natural resources and their use to fund public services like health and education, strong minimum wage policies and labor rights, increased access to free public universities, and strong investment in scientific research. This is the project that was dismantled after the 2016 coup, to the benefit of corporations like Monsanto, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Boeing. History shows that every Brazilian president who ever tried to implement desenvolvimentalista policies—from Getúlio VargasJuscelino Kubitschek and Jango Goulart to Rousseff and Lula—has been subjected to a coup, political imprisonment or assassination, with perennial suspicion of US involvement. And as we see corporate media working to normalize the military coup in Bolivia (FAIR.org11/11/19), it is clear that this problem is not limited to Brazil.

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