Sunday, June 30, 2013

Atheism: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Atheism in the USA seems to be on the rise, an interesting relief from the noxious religiosity that normally pervades the nation and the so-called "national discourse," which is no discourse at all but a well financed propaganda offensive. But the seeds of piety and belief in what, on the face of it, is idiot nonsense has always fallen upon fertile soil in our country, the most religious in the Western world. No one has to force Americans to believe self-satisfying fairy tales, they are eager and willing to believe things for which there is no evidence.

Mainstream media polling has shown an uptick in the percent of people who identify themselves as having no religious affiliation, or as outright atheists. Some polls have indicated that upwards of 20% reject god and or religion. Even before the media's discovery of this trend, atheism emerged as a hot topic and a saleable commodity on some talk radio and TV programs and more widely, in the form of best selling books: You have Christopher Hitchen's "God Is Not Great'" Sam Harris' more tedious tomes, Richard Dawkins has written on this topic earlier than most, and there is Bill Maher's HBO series and his movie "religulous."

As a rule, I'm in favor of atheism and the defense of atheist ideas. This is because atheism is true and all religion and related forms of superstition, other-worldlyness, and magical thinking are false. The world is a material place and we are animals who have evolved from earlier life-forms along with all other plants, animals, fungi, etc. Humanity has developed ways to try and understand all of this. It's called the scientific method, a way to, as objectively as possible, do research, test different preliminary theories and prove them more or less accurate or inaccurate. Investigating the truth or falseness of various propositions about many thing ("race," geology, evolution of species, physics--all topic about whuch religion has established dogmas that everyone is required to believe) need an open mind and an ability to make provisional judgements and also to revise these judgements in light of new evidence. Religion is the opposite of this method. The origins of the scientific method are not recent. Ancient Egyptians developed mathematics, The Greek Euclid studied there; Aristotle developed the idea of research and classification; the Arab world and India made scientific contributions a thousand years ago when Europe was in a state of isolated stagnation, and so on.

Another reason to favor atheism is that it liberates your mind and also opens the way to progressive social and political ideas. Or at least I thought so until I encountered the latest crop of rightwing, neo-con, close-minded "atheists" who have become minor media stars. The emergence of reactionary atheism is a new development. For me, growing up in middle America among apolitical friends and family, atheism was a way to be progressive and go against the current. There were no leftist papers to read, no older people who had been radicals; I had to figure it out for myself. Trying to be a beatnik in late 50's Indiana, I read Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, but it took Bertrand Russell's writings in defense of atheism and the pernicious effect of organized religion on society to give me something to use in arguments with rightist Republican fellow-students in high school. So I came of age with an association of atheism with liberal and later, socialist politics; it was the right wing that was religious.

Christopher Hitchens was a pseudo-leftist who bolted to the far right when it suited his inflated ego and pocket book. His rants against religion were not honest explanations of the benefits of atheism. Their main thrust was hysterical, racist, Islamophobia, and an endorsement of US imperialism's endless wars. Ditto for Sam Harris, another neo-con phoney. These people are basically rightist propagandist,s hailing neoliberal pillage of the world's resources by the corporate/banking/military interests that defines the USA's permanent ruling class. We get a lot about Islamo-fascism from these guys, but the growing influence of Israeli Judeo-fascism escapes their notice.

OK, as time went by I met and worked with religious human rights workers, and anti-imperialists, and even revolutionaries (during my time in Nicaragua in the 80s). Also a rounded, sophisticated understanding of history shows that many religious movements actually reflected class and social struggles (say the Reformation and development of capitalism, or various egalitarian levelers religious movements during the English Revolution), but that's another topic.

So, that's my stand. Atheism is a good thing. I'm not going to let the neocons ruin it. They probably will get religion if it helps their careers.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Why shouldn’t David Gregory be charged with a crime?

MONDAY, JUN 24, 2013 07:45 AM EDT

The NBC host thinks Glenn Greenwald may be a criminal. Here are 10 items to ponder about this gross double standard

Two weeks into the hullabaloo surrounding whistle-blower Edward Snowden and Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, one thing is clear: They did not just reveal potentially serious crimes perpetrated by the government — including possible perjury, unlawful spying and unconstitutional surveillance. They also laid bare in historic fashion the powerful double standards that now define most U.S. media coverage of the American government — the kind that portray those who challenge power as criminals, and those who worship it as heroes deserving legal immunity. Indeed, after “Meet the Press” host David Gregory’s instantly notorious performance yesterday, it is clear Snowden’s revelations so brazenly exposed these double standards that it will be difficult for the Washington press corps to ever successfully hide them again.

The best way to see these double standards is to ponder 10 simple questions.

1. During that “Meet the Press” discussion yesterday of Greenwald publishing stories about Snowden’s disclosures, Gregory asked Greenwald, “Why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?” Beyond the odiousness of a supposed journalist like Gregory seeming to endorse criminal charges against journalists for the alleged crime of committing journalism, there’s an even more poignant question suggested by Mother Jones’ David Corn: Why hasn’t David Gregory asked reporters at the Washington Post, the Associated Press and Bloomberg News the same question, considering their publication of similar leaks? Is it because Greenwald is seen as representing a form of journalism too adversarial toward the government, while those establishment outlets are still held in Good Standing by Washington?

2. Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation asks a question that probably won’t be asked of Gregory: Should Gregory himself be prosecuted? After all, as Trimm notes, “when interviewing Greenwald, he repeated what government officials told him about classified FISA opinions.” So will anyone of Gregory’s stature in Washington go on national television and ask if Gregory should now be charged with a crime?

3. Later during the “Meet the Press’” discussion of Greenwald’s reporting, NBC’s Chuck Todd demanded to know, “How much was (Greenwald) involved in the plot? … What was his role — did he have a role beyond simply being a receiver of this information? And is he going to have to answer those questions?” Why did Todd not ask that same question of reporters at the Washington Post, the Associated Press and Bloomberg News? Again, is it because Greenwald is seen as representing a form of journalism too adversarial toward the government, while those establishment outlets are still held in Good Standing by Washington?

4. A year ago, the New York Times’ Jo Becker and Scott Shane published a hagiographic article about President Obama’s so-called kill list. This article was based on selective — and potentially illegal — leaks of classified information by White House officials. Likewise, a recent draft inspector general report documented then-CIA Director Leon Panetta’s possibly illegal release of top secret information to filmmaker Mark Boal for his Obama-worshiping film, “Zero Dark Thirty.” Why haven’t Gregory or the Washington press asked whether the Becker, Shane and Boal “should be charged with a crime” for doing what Greenwald did by publishing that secret information?

5. In light of the Obama administration’s decision to prosecute Snowden and other whistle-blowers for leaking, why haven’t Gregory or other reporters asked the Obama administration whether similar prosecutions will soon be forthcoming against the leakers who were the sources of the New York Times “kill list” story and “Zero Dark Thirty”?

6. After an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” former Obama aide and corporate raider Steve Rattner took to Twitter and accused Snowden of being “a criminal, not a whistle-blower.” Such outraged accusations of criminality are more than a bit rich coming from a guy fined by the SEC and banned from the securities industry for pay-to-play crimes. But on top of that, there’s this question: Why didn’t Rattner accuse aforementioned Obama officials who similarly leaked classified info of being criminals, too?

7. The Obama administration’s Department of Justice prosecuted major league pitcher Roger Clemens of perjury before Congress. It was precisely the same kind of perjury that Snowden’s disclosures showed that National Intelligence head James Clapper and NSA chief Keith Alexander engaged in during their sworn testimony before Congress. Why haven’t Washington reporters bothered to ask the administration if it will prosecute Clapper and Alexander on the same charges that the administration aimed at Clemens?

8. On top of exposing Clapper and Alexander’s possible perjury, we also know that according to the New York Times, the NSA “intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress.” Additionally, we now know that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has ruled that at least some of the NSA’s surveillance programs are illegal. In light of that, why do many media outlets still somehow portray the NSA surveillance programs as perfectly legal?

9. Snowden’s decision to flee the United States has often been depicted as an act of treason unto itself. The idea is that whereas Daniel Ellsberg was a hero for blowing the whistle and remaining in the United States, Snowden is a coward for blowing the whistle and fleeing. Left largely unmentioned is the big change between the time of Ellsberg’s disclosures and today: This White House is waging an unprecedented campaign to criminalize whistle-blowing; it sometimes tortures whistle-blowers; and it claims the right to extra-judicially assassinate American citizens who criticize the government but haven’t even been formally charged for a single crime. In light of this, why have most media outlets not bothered to even ask whether Snowden’s location outside the United States is, unto itself, a response to these troubling changes in U.S. government policy?

10. And finally, perhaps the most damning question of all: Why are so many media outlets far more interested in the minute details of Edward Snowden’s life and location than in the potential crimes against millions of Americans that he exposed?

David Sirota is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future." E-mail him at, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Looking for ‘a new devil,’ Israeli leaders and supporters left scrambling after election of moderate Rouhani

by Nima Shirazi on June 17, 2013

Hassan Rowhani flashes the victory sign after voting on June 14, 2013 (Photo: Getty)

Hassan Rouhani’s unexpected victory in this weekend’s Iranian election has sent Israeli hasbara into a tailspin. The desire for an Iranian bogeyman is so intense in the warmongering mainstream of Israeli and neoconservative discourse that any attempt to mask their pre-election desires and post-election frustration has been futile. Their entire game plan has been on display — every Iranian leader is a New Hitler and every New Hitler must be stopped. The whole point is to stave off any possible reconciliation or even minor deflation of tensions between Iran and the West, namely the United States, so as to maintain permanent Israeli hegemony over the region and American largesse and diplomatic cover. A thaw after thirty-four years in the US-Iran standoff is scarier to Israeli leaders than all the unborn Palestinian babies under occupation. At least they’re already under Israeli control; the Islamic Republic of Iran never has been.

Daniel Pipes, that loathsome Likudnik, is at least clear about his hopes for the Iranian future. It lies not in the aspirations of the Iranian people, but in the smoldering ruins of a joint US-Israeli airstrike. Without a cartoonish scapegoat like the one the Western media made out of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad through their mistranslations and misinformation, Iran might not look so bombable. So Pipes – and the rest of his despicable ilk – wished mightily for the conservative Saeed Jalili to win Friday’s vote, or rather, using the well-established narrative, that Jalili would be selected as the winner by Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

A more moderate Iranian president, the neocons know, might signal a change in diplomatic dynamics and open the door to a less combative and punitive negotiating stance from the West. Rouhani, especially, with his history as a nuclear negotiator and Master’s and doctorate degrees from a Scottish university, is an existential threat to well-worn Israeli propaganda of Iranian recalcitrance and obstinacy.

It was on Rouhani’s watch that Iran voluntarily suspended uranium enrichment in 2003 and accepted intrusive inspections above and beyond what was legally required by its safeguards agreement for two years, during which the IAEA affirmed the peaceful nature of the program. It was only after Iran’s European negotiating partners, at the behest of the Americans, reneged on their promise to offer substantive commitments and respect Iran’s inalienable right to a domestic nuclear infrastructure that Iran resumed enrichment.

The turnout for the vote – a whopping 72%, forecast accurately by pre-election polling – signals another chink in the armor of conventional hasbara. Iranians, by and large, have faith that their voices matter and that change – or consistency – and progress can be achieved through the ballot box and by collective engagement within their nation’s political environment. No, this doesn’t mean, of course, that everyone who voted on Friday is a supporter of the Islamic Republic as it is constituted today. But it shows that the Iranian public is in no way looking to the skies for a savior in the form of an F-16 and is confident that change will only come from within Iran – by Iranians, for Iranians – not forced or foisted upon them by crippling sanctions or foreign troops.

Two days before the election, in an unprecedented and masterfully strategic move – Ayatollah Khamenei said in a speech, “My first recommendation is for an enthusiastic presence at the ballot box. It’s possible that an individual for some reason may not want to support the Islamic system, but he wants to support his country. Everyone must come out and vote.”

He added, “A maximum turnout at the ballot box is more important than anything else for the country. And the nation with a powerful action on Friday will prove its firm relationship and connection with the Islamic system and will once again make the enemy unfulfilled and hopeless,” concluding that, “No one knows the divine fate of the nation on Friday; however, the more votes the elected individual . . . receives, the more strength he has to stand against the nation’s enemy and defend the country’s interests.”

The Iranian electorate didn’t heed Khamenei’s words. Rather, Khamenei merely gave voice to how most Iranians already felt. The Iranian political system, founded far more on resistance to foreign domination than on religious fundamentalism, is of great pride to most Iranians, regardless of their particular feelings about the legitimacy or potential longevity of a theocratic republic.

The massive turnout undermined Western prognostications of both Iranian disillusionment and disinterest; the election itself, the first one administered by a new, independent election committee, was proof that Iranians and Iran itself will continue to shirk the easy categorization and absurd stereotypes ubiquitous in our own media and politics.

The same day Iranians took to the polls, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was in Washington D.C., delivering a speech at the AIPAC-affiliated Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Ha’aretz journalist Barak Ravid reported,

The head of the Israeli defense establishment declared – without any reservations – that nothing will change as a result of the Iranian election and that, in any event, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will decide on the country’s next president.

It did not take long for the depth of Ya’alon’s embarrassment of himself, and of those on whose behalf he flew to Washington, became clear. At best, Ya’alon’s remarks reflected a serious error in judgment on the part of Israeli intelligence and provided additional proof of the limitations of Military Intelligence and the Mossad in predicting internal political shifts in Iran and in Arab states. At worst, his words reflected arrogance, prejudice and shooting from the hip of the very worst kind.

But how can we complain about Ya’alon, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in Poland on Wednesdsay that Iran’s “so-called” election will not bring about any meaningful change. Netanyahu’s and Ya’alon’s Pavlovian responses, as well as the statement issued by the Foreign Ministry on Saturday night, reflect the overall approach of the Likud government which rejects all change, exaggerates the threats, plays down the opportunities and sanctifies the status quo.

The only thing missing was for Netanyahu and Ya’alon to call for extending the term of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as in the case of Egypt and former President Hosni Mubarak.

Indeed, the Israeli response was swift and expected. After years of insisting the Iranian President could single-handedly authorize a second Holocaust, Israel’s demagogue Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moved quickly to keep the hysteria high. ”Let us not delude ourselves,” he said in a press conference on Sunday. “The international community must not become caught up in wishes and be tempted to relax the pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program.” Netanyahu also noted that the Iranian president wields no real power in Iran, a concept unmentioned throughout the Ahmadinejad era. “It’s the same Iran,” an Israeli government statement read.

Meanwhile, International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz told Army Radio on Sunday that, even though “the results are a credit to the Iranian people,” there would be no “change” in the Iranian nuclear program. As such, he said, sanctions against Iran “must continue, regardless of the desire of the Iranian people for progress,” since, after all, Iran was “only a year or less away from the nuclear red line.” Of course, according to Israeli estimates, Iran has been only a year away from this mysterious “red line” for a decade now and Steinitz has recently deemed the potential of a nuclear-armed Iran to be “equal to 30 nuclear North Koreas,” insisting that “if Iran gets the first few bombs, in a decade or so they will have 100 nuclear bombs.”

Israeli politicians and pundits alike have been frustrated by Rouhani’s victory. Deputy Defense Minister Gilad Erdan “feared Rowhani’s win, and his reputation as a centrist and reformer, might lead the West to give Iran more leeway in diplomatic contacts over its rogue nuclear drive,” while Yedioth Ahronoth’s diplomatic affairs reporter Itamar Eichner noted that Israel now worries it will have difficulty convincing the United States to support a military attack.

Not all Israelis, however, reacted the same way. Shimon Peres, for instance, welcomed the “good news.”

Knesset minister Zahava Gal-on of Meretz issued a statement reading, “I extend my sympathy to the Israeli government that, with heavy heart and head hung low, must bid farewell to Ahmadinejad, who served as propaganda card and as an excellent source of excuses to avoid dealing with Israel’s real problems.”

“Where will the prime minister turn to now, when someone asks him about the Palestinian conflict?,” she wondered. “What about the out-of-control budget deficit for which he was responsible?… What about the racism that exists within Israeli society?… What will he do?”

Gal-on’s statement added, “I fear that the election of the moderate Rowhani is not just a blow to the extremists in Tehran, but also to the extremist leadership in Israel, which will now have to replace intimidation with actions.”

Similarly, following the official election results, Yedioth commentator Yigal Sarna penned a piece entitled, “A New Devil,” in which he satirically lamented, ”Oh Hassan Rouhani, you moderate, who invited you? What did you have to come for? What are we going to do without the scarecrow, the fanatic Ahmadinejad?” He continued,

What will we do without our Persian Hitler? What will Bibi draw at the UN? At whom will (Defense Minister Yaalon) storm and to whom will he send our smart bombs and how will Bibi distract people from the plundering here? How will we continue to talk about being the ‘villa in the jungle’ when the villa is filled with jungle and the jungle is filled with protest? What are we going to wave away when Danny Danons shake off every peace plan and lead us to international isolation?

“We need to return to the reality and quickly find a new devil,” Sarna concluded.

And we will. Because we need to.

In fact, AIPAC operatives and acolytes, regime change enthusiasts, Beltway hacks, and Israeli commentators have wasted no time at all.

About Nima Shirazi

Nima Shirazi is a political commentator from New York City. His analysis of United States foreign policy and Middle East issues is published on his website,, and can also be found in numerous other online and print publications. Follow him on Twitter @WideAsleepNima.
View all posts by Nima Shirazi →

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Israeli firm helps NSA spy on Americans and Mexicans

from the electric intifada

Submitted by Jimmy Johnson on Sat, 06/15/2013 - 00:41

Verint Systems has been contracted since 2006 for the mass interception of Mexican telecommunications, Wired magazine recently revealed, as part of US and Mexican interventions in the drug trade. Verint is the Israeli-American firm implicated in the National Security Agency’s mass wiretapping of U.S. citizens beginning in 2001.

In February 2013 Verint bought out its former parent company Comverse, a firm “directly influenced by [Unit] 8200 technology,” becoming independent from Comverse. Unit 8200 is Israel’s version of the National Security Agency and is part of the intelligence apparatus that surveils Palestinian phone and internet traffic. Retired Israeli general Hanan Gefen, Unit 8200’s former commander, told Wired that “Comverse’s main product, the Logger, is based on the Unit’s technology.”

This Mexico Technical Surveillance System allows the Mexican government to “intercept, analyze and use intercepted information from all types of communications systems operating in Mexico.” Part of the 2007 contract “gave the Mexican government access to most internet users in the country.”

Not only can the emails and phone calls of suspected narcotraficantes be monitored, so too can those of dissidents, resistance movements (over which Mexican security officials are coordinating with Israeli military and security officials) and marginalized populations. The system is funded by the US government and is part of “hundreds of millions of dollars” poured into the war on drugs in Mexico.

Wired notes that the Mexico Technical Surveillance System is “a key part of the means [by] which Mexico and the US fight the cartels.” This is, however, a mischaracterization. Investigative journalist Anabel Hern├índez amply demonstrates in her newly translated book Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and Their Godfathers (Verso, 2013), the Mexican state’s involvement in combating drug trafficking for the last several years has been an intervention on the side of one cartel over another — the Sinaloa Cartel in their attempts to take over the territories and market shares controlled by Gulf, Los Zetas and other cartels.

Verint’s technology – developed on the backs of Palestinian and Lebanese populations under Israeli occupation – is deployed not to fight drugs cartels but, according to Hern├índez’s extraordinary thesis, to help one cartel win.

Author James Bamford also revealed details about the role of Verint, and another Israeli firm, Narus, in the “superintrusive” sifting of Internet traffic at key American gateways, in his 2008 book The Shadow Factory.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Abir Kopty in US: Palestinians must reach out to African American community

from the Electric Intifada
Submitted by Maureen Clare Murphy on Thu, 06/13/2013 - 20:07

Abir Kopty (Christopher Hazou)
Palestinian activist and writer Abir Kopty is from Nazareth and holds Israeli citizenship. Defying Israel’s attempts to separate Palestinian communities from each other, she has been very involved in the popular struggle in the occupied West Bank in recent years, including the Bab Al Shams protest village, as well as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement challenging Israel’s system of colonization and apartheid.

Kopty is currently touring the US and was in Chicago this week where she spoke on a panel featuring activists from other communities of color with the goal of building transnational solidarity. The panelists drew comparisons between the systematic injustice in Palestine and in the US, particularly mass incarceration.

Before she left for the US, Kopty was summoned to an Israeli police station for interrogation over her writing, which she was told contained incitement to violence and terrorism. During the interrogation, the authorities attempted to pressure Kopty to give a DNA sample, which she refused, and so they opened another file against her. “I entered with one file and left with two files,” she told me in the following interview yesterday (the transcript is edited for length).

Maureen Clare Murphy: You’ve been in the US for several days now. Can you talk a little about your tour, the groups you’re meeting with, and any observations you have about the solidarity movement in the US?

Abir Kopty: I’ve been to five cities — Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Providence and Boston — and I’m going to St. Louis and San Francisco. I’ve been to the US before and I think that I’m seeing more engagement of the people with what is happening in Palestine, which is really amazing. I’m aware that most of the people who attend [my events] are already involved in Palestine solidarity. But when I used to meet people who were involved in solidarity a few years ago, they weren’t as informed as I see they are today. So I think there is progress; people are more interested in knowing what is happening and not talking about Palestine as an abstract thing. Also, the student movement here is really moving and very encouraging.

I see the older generation with a lot of fatigue and frustration and I see the younger generation with more energy and hope and creative work. I think those two levels are totally disconnected and there’s a need to do something about it. The experience of the elders — their involvement in human rights movements and the anti-apartheid movement and anti-segregation, etcetera — is a rich history that we need to learn from and we shouldn’t give up those people. On the other hand, we need to energize the movement, have a way of joy and energy and not fatigue and frustration because it can destroy the spirit of the movement.

The other observation is regarding the African American community, because I think we need to do much more work to speak to the community and to make the connections and the common ground with our struggle and their struggle. We’re not reaching out enough, although there are so many African Americans that I’ve met here and it’s really moving to see their commitment to Palestine and how their analysis sees the similarities common to oppression everywhere. I think we as Palestinians need to do more about this, which can be really effective for the movement-building.

MCM: Are there specific steps that you think the solidarity movement can take to make it broader and make it accessible to communities that aren’t currently well represented in the movement?

AK: I think what happened for instance yesterday with the panel discussion, this was one of the ways that can be really effective in speaking and what Aisha [Truss Miller] said was really amazing: we need go to the street and speak with people.

I think also with regards to choosing our campaigns, choosing our focus, we should take into consideration other communities. For instance, if you want to lead a campaign on divestment and boycott, then we need to speak about the violations of the company not only toward Palestinians. We need to make it more principled; the issue is not about Palestinians, it is about human rights, it’s about the dignity of the people, it’s about justice. For instance, if you take a company like G4S and G4S’s involvement in the repression of African Americans here, Latinos, immigrants and other communities — this is only one example, but I think we need to look more into making the struggle more universal and not just talking about the violations of Palestinians’ human rights.

MCM: Yesterday you mentioned that Palestinians in Palestine aren’t very aware of the solidarity work that is being done here, including the campus movement which is led in large part by Palestinians who were born here. What do you think can be done to bridge this gap?

AK: I think [this disconnect is] mostly because of the separation and segregation policies of the occupation and apartheid. But also I think we as Palestinians should do more to reach out to each other and to communicate, and what can be effective in that sense is using social media more effectively, because this is one of the tools that we have as Palestinians that is not subject to any of the barriers of the occupation or separation. I think this tool can be utilized better to inform Palestinians in Palestine about what’s happening in the solidarity movement, and vice versa.

MCM: Before you left for the US, you were summoned for interrogation at an Israeli police station in Akka (Acre). Can you briefly describe what happened?

AK: I was summoned for interrogation and the only reason that I decided to go is that if I did not go, they would come back and take me from the house and I wanted to spare my family this [experience]. There is a piece I wrote on my blog, and they claim that this piece was incitement for terrorism and violence against the organizers of a meeting that was initiated by the Israeli defense ministry with Christian religious and community leaders to encourage Christian youth to enlist in the Israeli army.

At the time when we learned about the meeting [with the defense ministry in October last year], we had a lot of anger and rage, and I wrote a piece raising questions and suggesting solutions. They think this is incitement because I’m writing against the plan itself, against the recruitment of Palestinian Christians and against the meeting itself, and criticizing those who participated in it. But [I was] also asking how we reached the point that those people participate [in such a meeting] and feel it’s normal to do it. So I’m also discussing things internally [within the Palestinian community]. And they claim it’s incitement.

MCM: You’ve written so much on your blog about a variety of things and you’re so active and visible. They know who you are and what you do, so why do you think it was this article in particular that they were interested in?

AK:This is part of a campaign they are doing to persecute Palestinians on this specific issue. Before the meeting [with the defense ministry] they interrogated two Palestinian men from Nazareth who talked publicly against the same meeting, and they took DNA from them. They are dealing with this file seriously. According to the news, the legal advisor of the state checked this file and recommended to the police an investigation of this case.

I think they have mainly two aims. They are [targeting] public, known activists in order to frighten others not to speak up against the recruitment of Palestinian Christians, so they may go on with the plan and the attempt to recruit Palestinians. And the second is to frighten us, to silence us. So it’s totally political persecution.

MCM: Do you put your interrogation experience into the wider pattern of what is happening to Palestinian activists who are also citizens of Israel?

AK: Because we are citizens, they deal with us in a different way [from Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza]. It’s the same system of political persecution, but they cannot put us on military trial, for instance, or administrative detention. So they always have to find cases and usually the cases are related to security. “Security” is the magic word used by Israel to legitimize whatever violation of human rights they do and they use it a lot with the Palestinians in ‘48 [Palestinian citizens of Israel].

MCM: Do you think there is, in the last few years, an increased repression of Palestinians activists in ‘48?

AK: I think the repression is taking different forms because for decades, the main policy of the state is silent ethnic cleansing, making Palestinians’ lives inside ‘48 unbearable so they will either leave or be obedient to the state, like forget about their cause and identity and just be a good citizen.

I talked about it yesterday — they create the problem and then they exploit it in a way that will serve their interests. They create the problem of unemployment and they use it to encourage Palestinians to do civil service. They create the problem of racism in the universities in the acceptance to different subjects and then they tell Palestinians that if you do civil service, you will be accepted, you will easily find jobs, etcetera. It’s mainly these two goals — either we leave or we become ‘good’ Arabs, ‘good’ citizens.

And repression is taking so many forms. For example, this issue of illegal weapons that we’re drowning in as Palestinians; the issue of poverty and unemployment; the issue of house demolition, in the Naqab [desert], for instance, which is really massive; the issue of racism and discrimination in [government] budgets. All of these are [forms of] repression but it’s not necessarily physical, like they raid your house or put you under administrative detention. But it’s targeting you, persecuting you as Palestinians — let alone all the racist laws that have been passed in the recent Israeli Knesset [Israel’s parliament], the one before this and over history; there are over 50 bills that discriminate against Palestinians.

MCM: You helped organize some of the direct actions that sprung up in the occupied West Bank in the last year. Can you talk about some of the tactics grassroots activists are using, whether there is coordination between villages, and where this movement is going next?

AK: I’ve just published a big article talking about the successes and failings of the popular resistance in the West Bank. What happened in recent years is that the model of popular resistance in the form of weekly protests has failed to break through to the Palestinian [society at large] and it remained limited within certain circles and local residents of the village [holding protests]. So we tried in recent months to go beyond those villages and try to implement different tactics such as direct actions where we surprise the occupation and make a challenge and disrupt the lives of settlers, by blocking roads or storming a supermarket.

One of the main problems that I also talked about [in the article] is there are so many actions happening, so many forms of resistance, but they are not fitting into the same vision and strategy. We are so fragmented and divided and we don’t have a united leadership or even uniting vision and strategy for the whole Palestinian people. Where does every part of the Palestinian people fit into this strategy, and what should the resistance look like, what’s effective in resistance? All these [individual] actions are not really building a cumulative effect; it can be more effective if they fit into one vision. What we need in this phase, in my eyes, as Palestinians as a whole, is to bypass the PA [Palestinian Authority] leadership and build a uniting vision and strategies for the resistance. But I don’t think resistance on the ground should stop until we have this vision. People will still resist and will still be steadfast and will still do things in different forms regardless if there is a vision or not. But I think it will be more effective if we have both.

MCM: Is there anything that you want to add, that solidarity activists should know about?

AK: You see amazing Palestinian activists involved in BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] and leading [the work] in many places, but other traditional Palestinian communities are totally disconnected from the BDS movement. This is something we need to put our finger on and find out and understand how these communities have lost hope for anything that can be effective in freeing Palestine. We need to find a way to reach those communities and revive the spirit of resistance and find a way to have them more involved and even leading the movement.

Tags: Abir Kopty BDS cross-mo

Monday, June 10, 2013

Glen Greenwald interviews Edward Snowden

Series: Glenn Greenwald on security and libertyPrevious | Index
Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations
The 29-year-old source behind the biggest intelligence leak in the NSA's history explains his motives, his uncertain future and why he never intended on hiding in the shadows

• Q&A with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: 'I do not expect to see home again'
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Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras in Hong Kong
The Guardian, Saturday 8 June 2013

Link to video: NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: 'I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things'
The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.

The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," he said.

Snowden will go down in history as one of America's most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world's most secretive organisations – the NSA.

In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: "I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions," but "I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant."

Despite his determination to be publicly unveiled, he repeatedly insisted that he wants to avoid the media spotlight. "I don't want public attention because I don't want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing."

He does not fear the consequences of going public, he said, only that doing so will distract attention from the issues raised by his disclosures. "I know the media likes to personalise political debates, and I know the government will demonise me."

Despite these fears, he remained hopeful his outing will not divert attention from the substance of his disclosures. "I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in." He added: "My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them."

He has had "a very comfortable life" that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves. "I'm willing to sacrifice all of that because I can't in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building."

'I am not afraid, because this is the choice I've made'

Three weeks ago, Snowden made final preparations that resulted in last week's series of blockbuster news stories. At the NSA office in Hawaii where he was working, he copied the last set of documents he intended to disclose.

He then advised his NSA supervisor that he needed to be away from work for "a couple of weeks" in order to receive treatment for epilepsy, a condition he learned he suffers from after a series of seizures last year.

As he packed his bags, he told his girlfriend that he had to be away for a few weeks, though he said he was vague about the reason. "That is not an uncommon occurrence for someone who has spent the last decade working in the intelligence world."

On May 20, he boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he has remained ever since. He chose the city because "they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent", and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US government.

In the three weeks since he arrived, he has been ensconced in a hotel room. "I've left the room maybe a total of three times during my entire stay," he said. It is a plush hotel and, what with eating meals in his room too, he has run up big bills.

He is deeply worried about being spied on. He lines the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping. He puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords to prevent any hidden cameras from detecting them.

Though that may sound like paranoia to some, Snowden has good reason for such fears. He worked in the US intelligence world for almost a decade. He knows that the biggest and most secretive surveillance organisation in America, the NSA, along with the most powerful government on the planet, is looking for him.

Since the disclosures began to emerge, he has watched television and monitored the internet, hearing all the threats and vows of prosecution emanating from Washington.

And he knows only too well the sophisticated technology available to them and how easy it will be for them to find him. The NSA police and other law enforcement officers have twice visited his home in Hawaii and already contacted his girlfriend, though he believes that may have been prompted by his absence from work, and not because of suspicions of any connection to the leaks.

"All my options are bad," he said. The US could begin extradition proceedings against him, a potentially problematic, lengthy and unpredictable course for Washington. Or the Chinese government might whisk him away for questioning, viewing him as a useful source of information. Or he might end up being grabbed and bundled into a plane bound for US territory.

"Yes, I could be rendered by the CIA. I could have people come after me. Or any of the third-party partners. They work closely with a number of other nations. Or they could pay off the Triads. Any of their agents or assets," he said.

"We have got a CIA station just up the road – the consulate here in Hong Kong – and I am sure they are going to be busy for the next week. And that is a concern I will live with for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be."

Having watched the Obama administration prosecute whistleblowers at a historically unprecedented rate, he fully expects the US government to attempt to use all its weight to punish him. "I am not afraid," he said calmly, "because this is the choice I've made."

He predicts the government will launch an investigation and "say I have broken the Espionage Act and helped our enemies, but that can be used against anyone who points out how massive and invasive the system has become".

The only time he became emotional during the many hours of interviews was when he pondered the impact his choices would have on his family, many of whom work for the US government. "The only thing I fear is the harmful effects on my family, who I won't be able to help any more. That's what keeps me up at night," he said, his eyes welling up with tears.

'You can't wait around for someone else to act'

Snowden did not always believe the US government posed a threat to his political values. He was brought up originally in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. His family moved later to Maryland, near the NSA headquarters in Fort Meade.

By his own admission, he was not a stellar student. In order to get the credits necessary to obtain a high school diploma, he attended a community college in Maryland, studying computing, but never completed the coursework. (He later obtained his GED.)

In 2003, he enlisted in the US army and began a training program to join the Special Forces. Invoking the same principles that he now cites to justify his leaks, he said: "I wanted to fight in the Iraq war because I felt like I had an obligation as a human being to help free people from oppression".

He recounted how his beliefs about the war's purpose were quickly dispelled. "Most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone," he said. After he broke both his legs in a training accident, he was discharged.

After that, he got his first job in an NSA facility, working as a security guard for one of the agency's covert facilities at the University of Maryland. From there, he went to the CIA, where he worked on IT security. His understanding of the internet and his talent for computer programming enabled him to rise fairly quickly for someone who lacked even a high school diploma.

By 2007, the CIA stationed him with diplomatic cover in Geneva, Switzerland. His responsibility for maintaining computer network security meant he had clearance to access a wide array of classified documents.

That access, along with the almost three years he spent around CIA officers, led him to begin seriously questioning the rightness of what he saw.

He described as formative an incident in which he claimed CIA operatives were attempting to recruit a Swiss banker to obtain secret banking information. Snowden said they achieved this by purposely getting the banker drunk and encouraging him to drive home in his car. When the banker was arrested for drunk driving, the undercover agent seeking to befriend him offered to help, and a bond was formed that led to successful recruitment.

"Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world," he says. "I realised that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good."

He said it was during his CIA stint in Geneva that he thought for the first time about exposing government secrets. But, at the time, he chose not to for two reasons.

First, he said: "Most of the secrets the CIA has are about people, not machines and systems, so I didn't feel comfortable with disclosures that I thought could endanger anyone". Secondly, the election of Barack Obama in 2008 gave him hope that there would be real reforms, rendering disclosures unnecessary.

He left the CIA in 2009 in order to take his first job working for a private contractor that assigned him to a functioning NSA facility, stationed on a military base in Japan. It was then, he said, that he "watched as Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in", and as a result, "I got hardened."

The primary lesson from this experience was that "you can't wait around for someone else to act. I had been looking for leaders, but I realised that leadership is about being the first to act."

Over the next three years, he learned just how all-consuming the NSA's surveillance activities were, claiming "they are intent on making every conversation and every form of behaviour in the world known to them".

He described how he once viewed the internet as "the most important invention in all of human history". As an adolescent, he spent days at a time "speaking to people with all sorts of views that I would never have encountered on my own".

But he believed that the value of the internet, along with basic privacy, is being rapidly destroyed by ubiquitous surveillance. "I don't see myself as a hero," he said, "because what I'm doing is self-interested: I don't want to live in a world where there's no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity."

Once he reached the conclusion that the NSA's surveillance net would soon be irrevocable, he said it was just a matter of time before he chose to act. "What they're doing" poses "an existential threat to democracy", he said.

A matter of principle

As strong as those beliefs are, there still remains the question: why did he do it? Giving up his freedom and a privileged lifestyle? "There are more important things than money. If I were motivated by money, I could have sold these documents to any number of countries and gotten very rich."

For him, it is a matter of principle. "The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to," he said.

His allegiance to internet freedom is reflected in the stickers on his laptop: "I support Online Rights: Electronic Frontier Foundation," reads one. Another hails the online organisation offering anonymity, the Tor Project.

Asked by reporters to establish his authenticity to ensure he is not some fantasist, he laid bare, without hesitation, his personal details, from his social security number to his CIA ID and his expired diplomatic passport. There is no shiftiness. Ask him about anything in his personal life and he will answer.

He is quiet, smart, easy-going and self-effacing. A master on computers, he seemed happiest when talking about the technical side of surveillance, at a level of detail comprehensible probably only to fellow communication specialists. But he showed intense passion when talking about the value of privacy and how he felt it was being steadily eroded by the behaviour of the intelligence services.

His manner was calm and relaxed but he has been understandably twitchy since he went into hiding, waiting for the knock on the hotel door. A fire alarm goes off. "That has not happened before," he said, betraying anxiety wondering if was real, a test or a CIA ploy to get him out onto the street.

Strewn about the side of his bed are his suitcase, a plate with the remains of room-service breakfast, and a copy of Angler, the biography of former vice-president Dick Cheney.

Ever since last week's news stories began to appear in the Guardian, Snowden has vigilantly watched TV and read the internet to see the effects of his choices. He seemed satisfied that the debate he longed to provoke was finally taking place.

He lay, propped up against pillows, watching CNN's Wolf Blitzer ask a discussion panel about government intrusion if they had any idea who the leaker was. From 8,000 miles away, the leaker looked on impassively, not even indulging in a wry smile.

Snowden said that he admires both Ellsberg and Manning, but argues that there is one important distinction between himself and the army private, whose trial coincidentally began the week Snowden's leaks began to make news.

"I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest," he said. "There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn't turn over, because harming people isn't my goal. Transparency is."

He purposely chose, he said, to give the documents to journalists whose judgment he trusted about what should be public and what should remain concealed.

As for his future, he is vague. He hoped the publicity the leaks have generated will offer him some protection, making it "harder for them to get dirty".

He views his best hope as the possibility of asylum, with Iceland – with its reputation of a champion of internet freedom – at the top of his list. He knows that may prove a wish unfulfilled.

But after the intense political controversy he has already created with just the first week's haul of stories, "I feel satisfied that this was all worth it. I have no regrets."

Sunday, June 9, 2013

End your illusion: Israeli government will never implement a two-state solution, top official says

from mondoweiss
Jun 08, 2013 11:03 am | Ira Glunts

Danny Danon in his office Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel (Flash 90)

In an interview given to the Times of Israel on Wednesday (June 5) and reported the following day, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said what most already know: The current Israeli government will never implement a two-state solution.

There has never been any discussion within the government about the two-state solution:

‘Look at the government: there was never a government discussion, resolution or vote about the two-state solution,’ Danon said. ‘If you will bring it to a vote in the government — nobody will bring it to a vote, it’s not smart to do it — but if you bring it to a vote, you will see the majority of Likud ministers, along with the Jewish Home [party], will be against it.’

Netanyahu is not in favor of a two-state solution despite his claim that he supports it because:

… the prime minister tied the creation of a Palestinian state to conditions he is certain the Palestinians will not agree to. ‘He knows that in the near future it’s not possible.’

For good measure, Danon states that Israel will continue to build in East Jerusalem regardless of what the international community thinks.

Speaking about the international community’s routine condemnations of Israeli construction in East Jerusalem, Danon declared that the government can do whatever it pleases, wherever it pleases.

‘The international community can say whatever they want, and we can do whatever we want,’ he said.
The Times of Israel article mentioned a number of powerful members of the current government who “are staunchly opposed to a two state solution, advocating instead the partial or complete annexation of the West Bank to Israel.” They are: Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Deputy Knesset Speaker Moshe Feiglin, and coalition chairman Yariv Levin.

Despite this reminder that the two-state solution is an illusion, there are still some that cling to the concept as “the only realistic option." They include such diverse figures as Tzipi Livni, John Kerry, Jeremy Ben-Ami and Norman Finkelstein. All of the afore-mentioned, except Finkelstein, envision the future Palestinian state as one with severely curtailed sovereignty.