Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The ethnic cleansing of Africans in Israel

David Sheen The Electronic Intifada 28 December 2015

Anti-African racism was peddled by both center-left Zionist Union candidate Isaac Herzog and right-wing Zionist incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu while campaigning ahead of the March election. Oren Ziv ActiveStills
Since 2012, the number of non-Jewish refugees from African countries in present-day Israel has shrunk from a peak of approximately 64,000 to fewer than 46,000.

Israel’s successful efforts to reduce the number of Africans living in territory it controls must be recognized for what it is: ethnic cleansing.

For the last four years, I have compiled an annual list of the public figures most responsible for Israel’s racist treatment of Africans.

The list reads as both an indictment of populist opinion-makers and a retrospective of the assaults on refugees that have taken place in the last 12 months.

9. Yisrael Katz - transport minister
In April this year, around 800 refugees drowned when the boat carrying them sank in the Mediterranean.

In the face of this horrific tragedy, a top Israeli minister chose to revel in the government’s successful efforts to keep refugees out. Yisrael Katz, a leading figure in the right-wing Likud party who heads both ministries for transportation and intelligence and atomic energy, wrote in a Facebook post:

“Europe is having a difficult time dealing with the migrants, and with creating solutions for this difficult issue. While there are differences between us (the migrants traveling to Europe must cross a sea while those heading for Israel have a direct overland connection), you can see the rectitude of our government’s policy to build a fence on the border with Egypt, which blocks the job-seeking migrants before they enter Israel. The elections are over — you can give us some credit now.”

The same week that Katz posted his morbid message, it emerged that among a group of African men who Islamic State militants in Libya had executed for not being Muslims were three Eritreans who Israel had previously deported for not being Jews.

Taking a cue from Katz, some Israelis responded to the news over social media with expressions of joy and calls for more of the same.

8. Ben-Dror Yemini - journalist
For years, Ben-Dror Yemini has used his regular column in Israel’s best-selling daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot to attack Africans, as well as Palestinians and progressive Israeli Jews. This August, one of his articles may have shattered all previous records for the depths to which an establishment journalist is willing to descend in support of Israel’s war on Africans.

In it, Yemini argues that African men should be transferred out of Israeli cities and into desert detention centers, in order to prevent romantic relationships between them and Jewish Israeli women, specifically, Black Jewish Israeli women. Yemini notes that this motive would be rejected as racist if it were stated aloud, so he advises against raising this point publicly.

Suggesting that Jews in south Tel Aviv were paying an “unbearable price” because of the Africans living among them, he claims that there are arguments for reducing the number of Africans in city centers that “cannot be presented because they are outside the rules of political correctness.”

7. Tie: Nissan Ben Hamo and Rafi Ben Shitrit - city mayors
In August, after Israel’s high court ordered the release of African refugees who had been held in the Holot detention center for more than a year, the government grudgingly agreed to let them go, but with a condition.

In the final days before the deadline decreed by the court, the government issued documents to 1,200 of those being released, declaring that they were not permitted to live or work in either Tel Aviv or the Red Sea resort of Eilat.

The decision to restrict entrance to the two cities which contain the largest African communities in Israel posed a serious challenge for the released internees. Barred from accessing their only real support system in Israel — family and friends — the refugees scrambled to find lodging for the night in smaller towns where they didn’t have close contacts.

Within hours of leaving Holot, 20 were arrested in Tel Aviv for violating the conditions of their release.

Residents in Tel Aviv protest against African refugees in August. Keren Manor ActiveStills
On the morning that the first 600 were released from Holot, Nissan Ben Hamo, the mayor or Arad, wrote on Facebook that he would not permit any of these Africans to settle in that city. Ben Hamo followed up his tough talk by posting police officers at entrances to the town with instructions to stop Africans coming in.

Ben Hamo also called upon residents to “maintain alertness” and threatened to mobilize the entire town to resist the arrival of Africans, potentially with physical force. He wrote on his Facebook page: “If we have to strengthen our struggle on this issue, I won’t hesitate to call on all residents to join the fight for the city’s well-being.”

Soon, the local authority of Bisan (Beit Shean), a town in the north of present-day Israel, issued a similar declaration that it would not permit African refugees to settle there. Rafi Ben Shitrit, the mayor, urged the town’s police commander to take “immediate action to prevent illegal infiltrators from staying in Beit Shean,” insisting that they were “not only unwanted but dangerous.”

6. Moshe Yaalon - defense minister
In August, Israeli soldiers shot and wounded three citizens of African states attempting to enter Israel from Egypt. When asked about the incident, the army provided several different accounts of the event that contradicted one another.

And when Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon was asked about the incident in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, he refused to comment.

Yaalon displayed a similar nonchalance about the shooting of an African a few months later.

In October, after a gunman opened fire at the central bus station in the southern city of Bir al-Saba (Beer Sheva), killing an Israeli soldier and wounding 11 others, an Israeli security guard shot an innocent passerby, Eritrean refugee Haftom Zarhum.

Other Israelis at the scene proceeded to kick Zarhum in the face and slam a large bench onto him as he writhed on the floor, cursing him all the while. The crowd then blocked medics who tried to evacuate him to the local hospital.

They were even interviewed on Israel’s Channel 2 and gleefully took credit for stomping Zarhum to death.

A week later, one of Zarhum’s attackers returned to Channel 2 and said that he had no regrets over his role in the incident.

And yet, Yaalon’s defense ministry decided that Zarhum would not be recognized as a victim of terrorism because he entered Israel “illegally.” Without this status, his surviving family members are not entitled to any Israeli government compensation.

More than two months have passed since Zarhum was killed. No charges have yet been filed against the men who were responsible for his death.

5. Issac Herzog - opposition leader
Another one of the ways that Israeli society becomes increasingly racist is when centrist parties like Labor adopt right-wing rhetoric in order to chase after right-wing votes.

In recent years, Labor has not played the foil to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but instead acceded to almost all of his hawkish proposals. Instead of standing firm against Israel’s lurch to the right, Labor has attempted to ply votes away from Likud with right-wing proposals.

That tendency has increased ever since Isaac Herzog was elected to lead the party in November 2013. It has been especially evident in Herzog’s solid support for Netanyahu’s military campaigns in Gaza and the West Bank, but also in his support for expelling Africans from Israel.

It was not always so. When the Knesset first voted to amend the country’s “anti-infiltration” law in January 2012 to sanction the roundup, detention and expulsion of African refugees, Herzog opposed the measure.

When the Knesset voted to amend the law a second time in December 2013, Herzog didn’t show up for the vote. And by the time the Knesset voted to toughen it a third time in December 2014, he voted in favor of the amendment, along with several other Labor lawmakers.

In May 2012, Herzog wrote an opinion piece, challenging arguments by human rights groups that Eritreans in Israel deserved protection as refugees.

In March 2015, Herzog repeated this refrain in an attempt to peel anti-African votes away from Netanyahu on the eve of the Israeli national elections, saying, “We need to negotiate with Eritrea on the return of the Eritreans back to Eritrea.”

This year, Labor led a successful effort to abolish the Knesset’s committee on foreign workers, one of the few forums in which the concerns of refugees could receive a hearing in parliament.

In September 2015, Labor publicly complained that Netanyahu’s government has not done nearly enough to expel Africans from the country. In a public statement, Herzog’s Labor Party wholeheartedly adopted the far-right’s propaganda points, insisting without any basis that most refugees in Israel have no valid claim to refugee status.

“The crisis of the refugees from Syria is not similar to the issue of the infiltrators from Africa who are mostly migrant workers,” the statement read. “If only Bibi’s government had created immigration laws, it would be possible to send back to their country those who are in Israel for their welfare and for work. But the Likud government is only good at talking, and it is responsible for the troubles of the residents of south Tel Aviv.”

4. Ayelet Shaked - justice minister
During her first term as a Knesset member, from 2013 to 2015, Ayelet Shaked headed the parliamentary “lobby to return the infiltrators to their countries,” a group dedicated to expelling all African refugees from Israel.

In her second term, Shaked was appointed justice minister, a position she has not shied away from using to advance the lobby’s objectives.

Each time Israel’s high court has struck down amendments to the “anti-infiltration” law as a violation of the country’s basic laws, right-wing lawmakers have raged against the judicial decisions and plotted to neuter the court’s ability to void legislation.

To this end, Shaked introduced a bill in the Knesset to limit the high court’s power to overturn laws. And as judges entered the eleventh hour of deliberations over the Knesset’s third amendment to the “anti-infiltration law” this year, Shaked began to upload videos to the Internet which purported to show African refugees in a negative light.

Shaked expressed a desire to pressure the judges into issuing a ruling that would leave the Africans under lock and key.

Within hours, Shaked removed one of the videos she had uploaded after it was pointed out to her that the footage had been filmed in Turkey, not Israel.

Ultimately, under threat of losing some of their powers, the high court judges agreed to let the government’s third amendment stand, with the caveat that refugees could only be detained for a year.

Disappointed that her victory was only partial, Shaked has begun to examine ways of filing criminal charges against Africans who enter Israel.

3. Gilad Erdan - public security minister
During Gilad Erdan’s brief term as interior minister, he secured the passage of the third amendment to the “anti-infiltration” law that enabled the incarceration of Africans in desert detention centers.

In the new Netanyahu government, Erdan heads the information, strategic affairs and public security ministries.

But before taking on his new roles, Erdan decided that any African who did not have a refugee status application pending must return to Africa, or be imprisoned indefinitely if they refused.

In July, an Israeli court threw out an appeal by human rights groups to quash this draconian directive.

A report by two groups working with refugees in Israel found that some of the Sudanese nationals that Israel had sent back to Sudan were being tortured by government forces upon their return.

For the remainder of 2015, Erdan’s attacks on refugees consisted not of legal injunctions, but rather of racist incitement.

In April, a massive earthquake shook Nepal. This tragic event was mainly a cause for consternation in Israel because the country is a popular destination for Israeli tourists, and also a popular source of surrogate mothers to bring babies to term for gay Israeli couples.

Then serving as interior minister, Erdan responded rapidly to the quake by ordering the airlift of Israeli citizens out of the danger zone, and to also bring along a small number of local women who were in the final stages of pregnancy with Israeli fetuses.

Appearing on a popular television news show to discuss the development, Erdan emphasized that the Nepalese women’s presence in the country was “temporary.”

“We won’t convert them [to Judaism] and let them stay here,” he said.

The show’s host retorted sarcastically, “Of course, after the birth they will obviously end up in Holot,” referring to Israel’s desert detention center for African refugees.

In response, Erdan burst out in hearty laughter.

Four months later, after Erdan had already left his post at the interior ministry, he admitted that the true purpose of the third amendment to the “anti-infiltration” law was to incarcerate Africans in order to put pressure on them to leave Israel.

As public security minister in the current government, Erdan has used news of Islamic State’s activities in Africa as a pretext to call for tightening the screws even further on refugees in Israel.

Without evidence, he has warned that African refugees could be Islamic State recruits, casting them as “a real security risk.” Erdan has prodded Netanyahu’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau into considering some African refugees as terrorists.

2. Silvan Shalom - interior minister
In Israel, the person with the most influence over the lives of refugees is the interior minister, responsible for deciding who is and who isn’t allowed to enter the country. For the bulk of 2015, that person was Likud legislator Silvan Shalom.

It came as no surprise when Shalom maintained the anti-African policies of his predecessors. At least as far back as 2011, Shalom publicly identified refugees as a “threat.” At that time, when citizens of African states accounted for 13 percent of the population of the southern city of Eilat, Shalom, then minister for development of the Naqab (Negev) and Galilee regions, proposed the building of a border fence to keep Africans out of Israel.

“The fence is critical for the defense of the city of Eilat from terror cells and of course from huge waves of infiltrators flooding the city,” Shalom said.

Though Shalom’s hardline stance came as no shock, the level of anti-Black racism that emanated from his own household managed to exceed the expectations of some outside observers.

Just a month into his term as interior minister, his wife, the broadcaster Judy Shalom Nir Mozes, publicly insulted the US president in a reductionist and racist tweet: “Do u know what Obama Coffee is? Black and weak.”

In August, Shalom decreed that any African refugee freed from Israel’s desert detention centers by a high court order would henceforth be forbidden from living or working in either Tel Aviv or Eilat, turning those cities into “sundown towns.”

Many Israeli cities have long operated as de facto sundown towns. Palestinian citizens of Israel are harassed and run out of these cities once the sun sets, ostensibly in order to prevent romances between Jews and people of other religions.

While some of the groups who chase non-Jews out of town after dark are vigilantes who operate independently, others work in concert with the police and the municipalities.

Also in August, in an effort to undercut the refugee claims of Eritreans, who make up three quarters of the asylum-seeker population in Israel, Shalom defended the dictatorship in Eritrea. “You apparently don’t know what is happening in the country,” he responded to the accusation that Eritrea is an autocratic regime, but admitted that his belief was based on testimony by Eritrea’s own ambassador to Israel.

“Of course. Who [else] would provide the information?” he said.

Before the month ended, Shalom authorized a new rule that would put almost every non-Jewish African living in Israel at risk of being rounded up and taken to the desert detention center Holot.

Prior to the new protocol, only Eritreans and Sudanese who had already lived in Israel for many years could be summoned to Holot. Shalom’s new criteria stipulated that any Eritrean or Sudanese in Israel can be detained in Holot, regardless of the date that they entered the country.

In November, Shalom’s ministry distributed the proposed text of a fourth amendment to the “anti-infiltration” law, seeking to increase the duration that refugees can be incarcerated at Holot. In addition, the new amendment specifies that even asylum-seekers who are parents to young children can now also be forced to live at Holot.

In the last days of December 2015, Shalom resigned his post and quit the Knesset after six women came forward and accused him of serious sex crimes.

1. Benjamin Netanyahu - prime minister
Just days before national elections were held in March, Prime Benjamin Netanyahu published a video recounting what he considered to be the greatest accomplishments of his last term in office.

Among these, he took credit for preventing the entry of African refugees or in his words, “infiltrators.”

“We shut off, completely closed off access to terrorists, to infiltrators to the State of Israel,” he said. “The only state that managed to control its borders.”

This was no idle boast. Eritreans and Sudanese make up more than 90 percent of the asylum-seekers living in Israel. And yet Israel has awarded refugee status to only four of the former and zero of the latter.

In the words of an editorial published by the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz in February, “Israel is the least moral country in the world when it comes to awarding asylum to those who deserve it.”

Once Netanyahu secured reelection, he set to the task of divvying out government ministries among party loyalists and coalition partners.

Among those appointed to serve in his new cabinet were all three Likud lawmakers who were featured speakers at a May 2012 anti-African rally in Tel Aviv that devolved into a full-on race riot: Danny Danon, Yariv Levin and Miri Regev.

For years, Netanyahu has led a team of ministers who demonize Africans in the minds of the Israeli public by associating them with terrorism and fatal diseases.

But Netanyahu knows that it isn’t appropriate for the head of the government of a self-styled Western democracy to cast all refugees as criminals.

So while he calls refugees “infiltrators” in Hebrew, his English-language statements mistranslate his slur word as “migrants.”

For four years running, Netanyahu has led Israel’s war on refugees: promoting racists to positions of power, ensuring the passage of anti-African legislation and inciting racial hatred against a defenseless community.

Haaretz accurately summed up Netanyahu’s anti-African legacy in an editorial it published in July, under the headline, “Israel thinks African asylum-seekers aren’t human beings.”

David Sheen is an independent writer and filmmaker. Born in Toronto, he now lives in Dimona in present-day Israel. Website: www.davidsheen.com. Twitter: @davidsheen

Friday, December 25, 2015

message to Diaspora Jews: Don't become accomplices to Israel's crimes

I tell my audiences exactly what they don't want to hear – and to Jews outside Israel I say: Don't make aliyah.

Amira Hass

21.12.2015 | 03:52

“I should warn you. Amira Hass is a Zionist,” a pro-Palestinian activist in South Africa wrote about me two months ago. When she left the room, her fuming eyes already conveyed that what I had said in my conversation with her and her colleagues had gone beyond the party line. For example, I didn’t come out in favor of the magic, one-state solution and didn’t define the wars against Gaza as genocide.

I also told that same audience that it is not enough to analyze the colonial roots of Israel. The historical context must also include the Nazi industry of murder and the fact that most countries refused to take in large numbers of Jewish refugees.

The thing that apparently angered them most was that I dared claim that the use of weapons does not advance the Palestinians’ cause today. It was not because of my Israeli identity that I was critical of the worship of the armed struggle and wars, I clarified, but rather out of a feminist and socialist worldview. I disparaged the lethal male mimicry (whether among soldiers or between Palestinians and soldiers) of competing over “whose is bigger.” The Israelis’ is bigger. Their capacity for destructive revenge is bigger so other means need to be found in the struggle. After all, there is also revolutionary responsibility for preventing more devastation and destruction, and not just understanding the human need of the oppressed for revenge.

I tell every audience also what it doesn’t want to hear. I tell Zionists how surprising it is that Palestinian acts of violence are so few compared to the systematic and humiliating violence that Israelis authorities employ against them. At a pro-Palestinian conference in the Netherlands about two years ago, I said that the Jewish linkage to the Holy Land cannot be ignored, which also prompted fuming eyes, as if I had never written against the dispossession and expulsion of Palestinians.

In meetings with socialist Zionist youth in South Africa I told them they should not immigrate to Israel. As the other Whites, they still benefited from past privilege of criminal proportions in South Africa, so they should stay in their country and fight to genuinely curb the crimes of apartheid. Fully consciously exploiting additional privilege and moving to Israel would be choosing to participate in another crime.

I said something similar on a panel that I moderated at the HaaretzQ conference in New York last week that dealt with struggles for equality. The audience comprised mostly liberal Zionists. The newspaper’s representatives made it clear that Haaretz is a Zionist publication, that its opposition to the occupation stems from Zionist principles. I found it appropriate to distinguish myself from this stance.

Zionism preaches in favor of the immigration of Diaspora Jews to Israel. Every liberal Zionist Jew living well in the Diaspora needed to know that even without “making aliyah,” Israel was granting them rights denied to Palestinians who were born in the country or whose parents were. Diaspora Jews have the right to visit Israel, to acquire Israeli citizenship, to live and work on either side of Israel’s pre-1967 border with the West Bank, to marry an Israeli, travel between Israel and the United States and not lose their rights in either country.

Everything Israel provides Diaspora Jews, it denies the Palestinians. Most of the Palestinians who live abroad are not even entitled to visit the land of their mothers and grandmothers (their real ones; not imaginary ones from thousands of years ago). Those who are allowed to visit are subject to restrictions: Some can’t leave the West Bank, others are not allowed to enter the West Bank, most are barred from going to Gaza.

Israel is not only barring them from returning to their country. It is also preventing them from settling down in the enclaves of the West Bank. Palestinians who have fled or are trying to flee the nightmare of the Syrian slaughterhouse can’t even dream about the most rational of options: taking refuge in their country of origin.

As a rule, Israel bars Palestinians in the Gaza Strip from traveling abroad, to Israel or to the West Bank. It bars them from living in the West Bank and bars West Bank Palestinians from living in about 60 percent of West Bank territory. Jews from Brooklyn or Tel Aviv can settle tomorrow in the Jewish settlement of Ofra. Residents of the Palestinian village of Silwad, whose land was stolen for Ofra, are not entitled to settle in Jaffa or to establish a community on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Palestinian citizens of Israel lose their social rights if they dare live in the West Bank.

People born in Jerusalem are expelled from the country and lose their residency status if they dare marry and work in the U.S. By the way, Israel also prohibits them from living in Kafr Qasem inside Israel, or in Be’er Sheva. They are only allowed to live in the ghettos that we created for them in the united city.

Israel uses Jewish immigration to excuse and deepen the dispossession. Immigrants to Israel become conscious collaborators with the increasingly extreme apartheid policy. Apartheid is considered a crime. We who were born in this country are collaborators against our will. All that remains for us is to use our privileges to fight the regime of privileges and, as much as possible, reduce the level of our collaboration with the dispossession. This course of action is not unique to us. Israel is not the only evil regime in the world creating rights for some groups and depriving others of them. But Israel, by default, is our home.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Logic of the Police State

from Tom Dispatch

People Are Waking Up to the Darkness in American Policing, and the Police Don’t Like It One Bit
By Matthew Harwood

If you’ve been listening to various police agencies and their supporters, then you know what the future holds: anarchy is coming -- and it’s all the fault of activists.

In May, a Wall Street Journal op-ed warned of a “new nationwide crime wave” thanks to “intense agitation against American police departments” over the previous year. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie went further. Talking recently with the host of CBS’s Face the Nation, the Republican presidential hopeful asserted that the Black Lives Matter movement wasn’t about reform but something far more sinister. “They’ve been chanting in the streets for the murder of police officers,” he insisted. Even the nation’s top cop, FBI Director James Comey, weighed in at the University of Chicago Law School, speaking of “a chill wind that has blown through American law enforcement over the last year.”

According to these figures and others like them, lawlessness has been sweeping the nation as the so-called Ferguson effect spreads. Criminals have been emboldened as police officers are forced to think twice about doing their jobs for fear of the infamy of starring in the next viral video. The police have supposedly become the targets of assassins intoxicated by “anti-cop rhetoric,” just as departments are being stripped of the kind of high-powered equipment they need to protect officers and communities. Even their funding streams have, it’s claimed, come under attack as anti-cop bias has infected Washington, D.C. Senator Ted Cruz caught the spirit of that critique by convening a Senate subcommittee hearing to which he gave the title, “The War on Police: How the Federal Government Undermines State and Local Law Enforcement.” According to him, the federal government, including the president and attorney general, has been vilifying the police, who are now being treated as if they, not the criminals, were the enemy.

Beyond the storm of commentary and criticism, however, quite a different reality presents itself. In the simplest terms, there is no war on the police. Violent attacks against police officers remain at historic lows, even though approximately 1,000 people have been killed by the police this year nationwide. In just the past few weeks, videos have been released of problematic fatal police shootings in San Francisco and Chicago.

While it’s too soon to tell whether there has been an uptick in violent crime in the post-Ferguson period, no evidence connects any possible increase to the phenomenon of police violence being exposed to the nation. What is taking place and what the police and their supporters are largely reacting to is a modest push for sensible law enforcement reforms from groups as diverse as Campaign Zero, Koch Industries, the Cato Institute, The Leadership Conference, and the ACLU (my employer). Unfortunately, as the rhetoric ratchets up, many police agencies and organizations are increasingly resistant to any reforms, forgetting whom they serve and ignoring constitutional limits on what they can do.

Indeed, a closer look at law enforcement arguments against commonsense reforms like independently investigating police violence, demilitarizing police forces, or ending “for-profit policing” reveals a striking disregard for concerns of just about any sort when it comes to brutality and abuse. What this “debate” has revealed, in fact, is a mainstream policing mindset ready to manufacture fear without evidence and promote the belief that American civil rights and liberties are actually an impediment to public safety. In the end, such law enforcement arguments subvert the very idea that the police are there to serve the community and should be under civilian control.

And that, when you come right down to it, is the logic of the police state.

Due Process Plus

It’s no mystery why so few police officers are investigated and prosecuted for using excessive force and violating someone’s rights. “Local prosecutors rely on local police departments to gather the evidence and testimony they need to successfully prosecute criminals,” according to Campaign Zero . “This makes it hard for them to investigate and prosecute the same police officers in cases of police violence.”

Since 2005, according to an analysis by the Washington Post and Bowling Green State University, only 54 officers have been prosecuted nationwide, despite the thousands of fatal shootings by police. As Philip M. Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green, puts it, “To charge an officer in a fatal shooting, it takes something so egregious, so over the top that it cannot be explained in any rational way. It also has to be a case that prosecutors are willing to hang their reputation on.”

For many in law enforcement, however, none of this should concern any of us. When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order appointing a special prosecutor to investigate police killings, for instance, Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, insisted: “Given the many levels of oversight that already exist, both internally in the NYPD [New York Police Department] and externally in many forms, the appointment of a special prosecutor is unnecessary.” Even before Cuomo’s decision, the chairman of New York’s District Attorneys Association called plans to appoint a special prosecutor for police killings “deeply insulting.”

Such pushback against the very idea of independently investigating police actions has, post-Ferguson, become everyday fare, and some law enforcement leaders have staked out a position significantly beyond that. The police, they clearly believe, should get special treatment.

“By virtue of our dangerous vocation, we should expect to receive the benefit of the doubt in controversial incidents,” wrote Ed Mullins, the president of New York City’s Sergeants Benevolent Association, in the organization’s magazine, Frontline. As if to drive home the point, its cover depicts Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby under the ominous headline “The Wolf That Lurks.” In May, Mosby had announced indictments of six officers in the case of Freddie Gray, who died in Baltimore police custody the previous month. The message being sent to a prosecutor willing to indict cops was hardly subtle: you’re a traitor.

Mullins put forward a legal standard for officers accused of wrongdoing that he would never support for the average citizen -- and in a situation in which cops already get what former federal prosecutor Laurie Levenson calls “a super presumption of innocence." In addition, police unions in many states have aggressively pushed for their own bills of rights, which make it nearly impossible for police officers to be fired, much less charged with crimes when they violate an individual’s civil rights and liberties.

In 14 states, versions of a Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR) have already been passed, while in 11 others they are under consideration. These provide an “extra layer of due process” in cases of alleged police misconduct, according to Samuel Walker, an expert on police accountability. In many of the states without a LEOBR, the Marshall Project has discovered, police unions have directly negotiated the same rights and privileges with state governments.

LEOBRs are, in fact, amazingly un-American documents in the protections they afford officers accused of misconduct during internal investigations, rights that those officers are never required to extend to their suspects. Though the specific language of these laws varies from state to state, notes Mike Riggs in Reason, they are remarkably similar in their special considerations for the police.

“Unlike a member of the public, the officer gets a ‘cooling off’ period before he has to respond to any questions. Unlike a member of the public, the officer under investigation is privy to the names of his complainants and their testimony against him before he is ever interrogated. Unlike a member of the public, the officer under investigation is to be interrogated ‘at a reasonable hour,’ with a union member present. Unlike a member of the public, the officer can only be questioned by one person during his interrogation. Unlike a member of the public, the officer can be interrogated only ‘for reasonable periods,’ which ‘shall be timed to allow for such personal necessities and rest periods as are reasonably necessary.’ Unlike a member of the public, the officer under investigation cannot be ‘threatened with disciplinary action’ at any point during his interrogation. If he is threatened with punishment, whatever he says following the threat cannot be used against him.”

The Marshall Project refers to these laws as the “Blue Shield” and “the original Bill of Rights with an upgrade.’’ Police associations, naturally, don’t agree. "All this does is provide a very basic level of constitutional protections for our officers, so that they can make statements that will stand up later in court," says Vince Canales, the president of Maryland's Fraternal Order of Police.

Put another way, there are two kinds of due process in America -- one for cops and another for the rest of us. This is the reason why the Black Lives Matter movement and other civil rights and civil liberties organizations regularly call on states to create a special prosecutor’s office to launch independent investigations when police seriously injure or kill someone.

The Demilitarized Blues

Since Americans first took in those images from Ferguson of police units outfitted like soldiers, riding in military vehicles, and pointing assault rifles at protesters, the militarization of the police and the way the Pentagon has been supplying them with equipment directly off this country’s distant battlefields have been top concerns for police reformers. In May, the Obama administration suggested modest changes to the Pentagon’s 1033 program, which, since 1990, has been redistributing weaponry and equipment to police departments nationwide -- urban, suburban, and rural -- in the name of fighting the war on drugs and protecting Americans from terrorism.

Even the idea that the police shouldn’t sport the look of an occupying army in local communities has, however, been met with fierce resistance. Read, for example, the online petition started by the National Sheriffs' Association and you could be excused for thinking that the Obama administration was aggressively moving to stop the flow of military-grade equipment to local and state police agencies. (It isn’t.) The message that tops the petition is as simple as it is misleading: “Don’t strip law enforcement of the gear they need to keep us safe.”

The Obama administration has done no such thing. In May, the president announced that he was prohibiting certain military-grade equipment from being transferred to state and local law enforcement. “Some equipment made for the battlefield is not appropriate for local police departments,” he said. The list included tracked armored vehicles (essentially tanks), bayonets, grenade launchers, camouflage uniforms, and guns and ammo of .50 caliber or higher. In reality, what use could a local police department have for bayonets, grenade launchers, or the kinds of bullets that resemble small missiles, pierce armor, and can blow people’s limbs off?

Yet the sheriffs' association has no problem complaining that “the White House announced the government would no longer provide equipment like helicopters and MRAPs [mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles] to local law enforcement.” And it’s not even true. Police departments can still obtain both helicopters and MRAPs if they establish community policing practices, institute training protocols, and get community approval before the equipment transfer occurs.

“Helicopters rescue runaways and natural disaster victims,” the sheriff’s association adds gravely, “and MRAPs are used to respond to shooters who barricade themselves in neighborhoods and are one of the few vehicles able to navigate hurricane, snowstorm, and tornado-strewn areas to save survivors.”

As with our wars abroad, think mission creep at home. A program started to wage the war on drugs, and strengthened after 9/11, is now being justified on the grounds that certain equipment is useful during disasters or emergencies. In reality, the police have clearly become hooked on a militarized look. Many departments are ever more attached to their weapons of war and evidently don’t mind the appearance of being an occupying force in their communities, which leaves groups like the sheriffs' association fighting fiercely for a militarized future.

Legal Plunder

In July, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arizona sued law enforcement in Pinal County, Arizona, on behalf of Rhonda Cox. Two years before, her son had stolen some truck accessories and, without her knowledge, fitted them on her truck. When the county sheriff’s department arrested him, it also seized the truck.

Arriving on the scene of her son’s arrest, Cox asked a deputy about getting her truck back. No way, he told her. After she protested, explaining that she had nothing to do with her son’s alleged crimes, he responded “too bad.” Under Arizona law, the truck could indeed be taken into custody and kept or sold off by the sheriff’s department even though she was never charged with a crime. It was guilty even if she wasn’t.

Welcome to America’s civil asset forfeiture laws, another product of law enforcement’s failed war on drugs, updated for the twenty-first century. Originally designed to deprive suspected real-life Scarfaces of the spoils of their illicit trade -- houses, cars, boats -- it now regularly deprives people unconnected to the war on drugs of their property without due process of law and in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Not surprisingly, corruption follows.

Federal and state law enforcement can now often keep property seized or sell it and retain a portion of the revenue generated. Some of this, in turn, can be repurposed and distributed as bonuses in police and other law enforcement departments. The only way the dispossessed stand a chance of getting such “forfeited” property back is if they are willing to take on the government in a process where the deck is stacked against them.

In such cases, for instance, property owners have no right to an attorney to defend them, which means that they must either pony up additional cash for a lawyer or contest the seizure themselves in court. “It is an upside-down world where,” says the libertarian Institute for Justice, “the government holds all the cards and has the financial incentive to play them to the hilt.”

In this century, civil asset forfeiture has mutated into what’s now called “for-profit policing” in which police departments and state and federal law enforcement agencies indiscriminately seize the property of citizens who aren’t drug kingpins. Sometimes, for instance, distinctly ordinary citizens suspected of driving drunk or soliciting prostitutes get their cars confiscated. Sometimes they simply get cash taken from them on suspicion of low-level drug dealing.

Like most criminal justice issues, race matters in civil asset forfeiture. This summer, the ACLU of Pennsylvania issued a report, Guilty Property, documenting how the Philadelphia Police Department and district attorney’s office abused state civil asset forfeiture by taking at least $1 million from innocent people within the city limits. Approximately 70% of the time, those people were black, even though the city’s population is almost evenly divided between whites and African-Americans.

Currently, only one state, New Mexico, has done away with civil asset forfeiture entirely, while also severely restricting state and local law enforcement from profiting off similar national laws when they work with the feds. (The police in Albuquerque are, however, actively defying the new law, demonstrating yet again the way in which police departments believe the rules don’t apply to them.) That no other state has done so is hardly surprising. Police departments have become so reliant on civil asset forfeiture to pad their budgets and acquire “little goodies” that reforming, much less repealing, such laws are a tough sell.

As with militarization, when police defend such policies, you sense their urgent desire to maintain what many of them now clearly think of as police rights. In August, for instance, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu sent a fundraising email to his supporters using the imagined peril of the ACLU lawsuit as clickbait. In justifying civil forfeiture, he failed to mention that a huge portion of the money goes to enrich his own department, but praised the program in this fashion:

"[O]ver the past seven years, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office has donated $1.2 million of seized criminal money to support youth programs like the Boys & Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts, YMCA, high school graduation night lock-in events, youth sports as well as veterans groups, local food banks, victims assistance programs, and Home of Home in Casa Grande."

Under this logic, police officers can steal from people who haven’t even been charged with a crime as long as they share the wealth with community organizations -- though, in fact, neither in Pinal County or elsewhere is that where most of the confiscated loot appears to go. Think of this as the development of a culture of thievery masquerading as Robin Hood in blue.

Contempt for Civilian Control

Post-Ferguson developments in policing are essentially a struggle over whether the police deserve special treatment and exceptions from the rules the rest of us must follow. For too long, they have avoided accountability for brutal misconduct, while in this century arming themselves for war on America’s streets and misusing laws to profit off the public trust, largely in secret. The events of the past two years have offered graphic evidence that police culture is dysfunctional and in need of a democratic reformation.

There are, of course, still examples of law enforcement leaders who see the police as part of American society, not exempt from it. But even then, the reformers face stiff resistance from the law enforcement communities they lead. In Minneapolis, for instance, Police Chief Janeé Harteau attempted to have state investigators look into incidents when her officers seriously hurt or killed someone in the line of duty. Police union opposition killed her plan. In Philadelphia, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey ordered his department to publicly release the names of officers involved in shootings within 72 hours of any incident. The city’s police union promptly challenged his policy, while the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill in November to stop the release of the names of officers who fire their weapon or use force when on the job unless criminal charges are filed. Not surprisingly, three powerful police unions in the state supported the legislation.

In the present atmosphere, many in the law enforcement community see the Harteaus and Ramseys of their profession as figures who don’t speak for them, and groups or individuals wanting even the most modest of police reforms as so many police haters. As former New York Police Department Commissioner Howard Safir told Fox News in May, “Similar to athletes on the playing field, sometimes it's difficult to tune out the boos from the no-talents sipping their drinks, sitting comfortably in their seats. It's demoralizing to read about the misguided anti-cop gibberish spewing from those who take their freedoms for granted.”

The disdain in such imagery, increasingly common in the world of policing, is striking. It smacks of a police-state, bunker mentality that sees democratic values and just about any limits on the power of law enforcement as threats. In other words, the Safirs want the public -- particularly in communities of color and poor neighborhoods -- to shut up and do as it’s told when a police officer says so. If the cops give the orders, compliance -- so this line of thinking goes -- isn’t optional, no matter how egregious the misconduct or how sensible the reforms. Obey or else.

The post-Ferguson public clamor demanding better policing continues to get louder, and yet too many police departments have this to say in response: Welcome to Cop Land. We make the rules around here.

Matthew Harwood is senior writer/editor of the ACLU. His work has appeared at Al Jazeera America, the American Conservative, the Guardian, Guernica, Salon, War is Boring, and the Washington Monthly. He is a TomDispatch regular.

Monday, December 14, 2015

It's Too Late to Turn Off Trump We can't change the channel on the culture he's exposed

BY MATT TAIBBI December 9, 2015

"Trump represents something of a quandary for the media," says an article recently published by the 'LA Times.'
Some people in the news business are having second thoughts this week about their campaign strategy. They're wondering if they created a monster in Donald Trump.

The LA Times published a piece about how the tone of Trump's TV appearances has changed, now that's he's fully out of the closet as an aspiring dictator, with his plans to ban all Muslims and close the Internet and whatever else he's come up with in the last ten minutes.

Trump; media; republican; primary America Is Too Dumb for TV News »
The paper noted that the candidate had unusual trouble on Morning Joe, a show that usually doubles as Trump's weekly spa treatment:

"Typically, the billionaire TV personality is able to bluster his way through morning talk shows. But Trump had an unusually contentious appearance Tuesday morning on MSNBC's 'Morning Joe,' where co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski grilled him on his proposals to keep Muslims out of the U.S....

"'It certainly puts the burden on the people conducting the interviews to be tougher the more controversial his comments are,' Scarborough told The Times after the exchange."

The paper went on to dig in to the ethics of covering Trump:

"Trump represents something of a quandary for the media, especially TV networks. Privately, TV news producers acknowledge that Trump has turbocharged their ratings…"

Essentially, TV news producers are wondering: "How do we keep getting the great ratings without helping elect the Fourth Reich?"

In the same piece, Joe Scarborough said the problem was that Trump gives such great access to the media, just like John McCain did in 2000. "When John McCain was letting members of the press on his Straight Talk Express bus," Scarborough explained, "other Republicans always said he got the benefit of the doubt."

In other words, Trump is so open and accommodating with the press that it makes it hard for reporters to hammer his insane ideas. Scarborough doesn't seem to realize it, but that's a pretty damning admission.

There are some people now who are urging the media to ignore Donald Trump, and simply not cover him. But it's a little late for that.

The time to start worrying about the consequences of our editorial decisions was before we raised a generation of people who get all of their information from television, and who believe that the solution to every problem is simple enough that you can find it before the 21 minutes of the sitcom are over.

Or before we created a world in which the only inner-city black people you ever see are being chased by cops, and the only Muslims onscreen are either chopping off heads or throwing rocks at a barricades.

This is an amazing thing to say, because in Donald Trump's world everything is about him, but Trump's campaign isn't about Trump anymore. With his increasingly preposterous run to the White House, the Donald is merely articulating something that runs through the entire culture.

It's hard to believe because Trump the person is so limited in his ability to articulate anything. Even in his books, where he's allegedly trying to string multiple thoughts together, Trump wanders randomly from impulse to impulse, seemingly without rhyme or reason. He doesn't think anything through. (He's brilliantly cast this driving-blind trait as "not being politically correct.")

Donald Trump
Mark Peterson/Redux
It's not an accident that his attention span lasts exactly one news cycle. He's exactly like the rest of America, except that he's making news, not following it – starring on TV instead of watching it. Just like we channel-surf, he focuses as long as he can on whatever mess he's in, and then he moves on to the next bad idea or incorrect memory that pops into his head.

Lots of people have remarked on the irony of this absurd caricature of a spoiled rich kid connecting so well with working-class America. But Trump does have something very much in common with everybody else. He watches TV. That's his primary experience with reality, and just like most of his voters, he doesn't realize that it's a distorted picture.

If you got all of your information from TV and movies, you'd have some pretty dumb ideas. You'd be convinced blowing stuff up works, because it always does in our movies. You'd have no empathy for the poor, because there are no poor people in American movies or TV shows – they're rarely even shown on the news, because advertisers consider them a bummer.

Politically, you'd have no ability to grasp nuance or complexity, since there is none in our mainstream political discussion. All problems, even the most complicated, are boiled down to a few minutes of TV content at most. That's how issues like the last financial collapse completely flew by Middle America. The truth, with all the intricacies of all those arcane new mortgage-based financial instruments, was much harder to grasp than a story about lazy minorities buying houses they couldn't afford, which is what Middle America still believes.

Trump isn't just selling these easy answers. He's also buying them. Trump is a TV believer. He's so subsumed in all the crap he's watched – and you can tell by the cropped syntax in his books and his speech, Trump is a watcher, not a reader – it's all mixed up in his head.

He surely believes he saw that celebration of Muslims in Jersey City, when it was probably a clip of people in Palestine. When he says, "I have a great relationship with the blacks," what he probably means is that he liked watching The Cosby Show.

In this he's just like millions and millions of Americans, who have all been raised on a mountain of unthreatening caricatures and clichés. TV is a world in which the customer is always right, especially about hard stuff like race and class. Trump's ideas about Mexicans and Muslims are typical of someone who doesn't know any, except in the shows he chooses to watch about them.

This world of schlock stereotypes and EZ solutions is the one experience a pampered billionaire can share with all of those "paycheck-to-paycheck" voters the candidates are always trying to reach. TV is the ultimate leveling phenomenon. It makes everyone, rich and poor, equally incapable of dealing with reality.

That's why it's so ironic that some people think the solution to the Trump problem is turning him off. What got us into this mess was the impulse to change the channel the moment we feel uncomfortable. Even if we take the man off the air, the problem he represents is still going to be there, just like poverty, corruption, mass incarceration, pollution and all of the other things we keep off the airwaves.

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/its-too-late-to-turn-off-trump-20151209#ixzz3uLcNLGfs
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Monday, December 7, 2015

The Fantasy about a two-state "solution" is starting to evaporate

Barak Ravid Dec 07, 2015 Haaretz

The U.S. Has Realized What Israel Really Wants Is a 1.5-state Solution
The conclusion reached by Obama administration officials, as well as those who might hold key positions in the Clinton administration, is that the Democratic Party and the Israeli government are living on parallel universes that are drifting apart.

Hillary Clinton: The alternative to Abbas might be ISIS
Netanyahu tells Saban Forum: Solution is not one state, but a demilitarized Palestinian state
Kerry at Saban Forum: Current trends are leading to a one-state reality

WASHINGTON – One thing that stood out during the three days of discussions at the Saban Forum were the stunned glances that the American participants, the vast majority of whom came from the Democratic side of the U.S. political map, exchanged with each other as they heard what representatives of the Israeli right had to say. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Beiteinu party chairman Avigdor Lieberman left their American listeners with feelings that ranged between frustration, shock and helplessness.
The lip service that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to pay to the two-state solution no longer makes any impression on almost anyone in Washington. Senior officials in the U.S. administration and the Democratic Party listened to the senior Israeli government officials from the Likud and Habayit Hayehudi parties and understood that their real policy, in the best case, is a one-and-a-half-state solution – one in which Israel controls most of the West Bank and the Palestinians have an autonomous zone comprised of several cantons.
The speech by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, which brimmed with frustration, is the best possible example of this. During a monologue that was all about letting off his pent-up steam, he urged his audience to stop pretending. The series of questions he posed in his speech about the Netanyahu government’s policy on the Palestinian issue came straight from the heart of a man who loves Israel with all his might. They were questions that most Israeli cabinet ministers ignore, or else dismiss offhandedly by saying, “Trust us, it’ll be okay.”

After three years of nonstop efforts, albeit sometimes clumsy ones, to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough, Kerry seemed to be throwing up his hands. “It’s up to both sides to take the steps necessary to make peace possible,” he said, noting that if that happens, the U.S. would be ready to help. Even if he didn’t say so explicitly, his message to both Israelis and Palestinians was, “I’m done. You’ll have to manage by yourselves.”
It's safe to assume that Netanyahu and his aides are hoping that a Republican president will win the 2016 election. Such a scenario is within the realm of possibility, but it is more likely at this time that Netanyahu will find Hillary Clinton in the White House. The former secretary of state's speech at the Saban Forum on Sunday showed that her policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict won't be much different from that of Obama and Kerry. 
She has been dealing with the issue for the past 20 years, and isn't giving the impression that she intends to stop. Despite the fact that she is in the middle of an election campaign, her dependence on donors and the concern that her Republican rivals could peg her as an anti-Israel candidate, Clinton didn't shy away from making clear where she stands on issues like settlement construction, the two-state solution and Israel's need to take initiative and confidence building steps toward the Palestinians. 

The conclusion reached by many senior members of the Obama administration, as well as those who might hold key positions in the Clinton administration, is that the Democratic Party in the U.S. and the Israeli government are two entities living in parallel universes that are drifting apart and are unlikely to converge. A similar feeling is harbored by numerous senior officials in Jerusalem and the Israeli right. The American side can't understand why Israel isn't obsessively searching for a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, while the Israeli side can't understand why the entire world is so obsessed with the Palestinian issue. 
This is especially disconcerting in light of the fact that this attitude is held by a party that represents at least half of Americans. It is even more worrying that most U.S. Jews, who identify with the Democratic Party, who voted for Obama and will vote for Clinton, also feel this way. They are shocked by Israeli government ministers' remarks. They either can't understand where the Israeli government is heading, or they do understand but prefer to block it out and accept this as a nightmare that will pass.  
One can't help but wonder whether the ties between Israel and the U.S. can remain as strong and strategic as they are today after another decade or two of diplomatic deadlock in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Without separation between Israel and the Palestinians, amid a one-and-a-half-state reality, is it still possible to maintain the two myths accompanying Israel-U.S. relations – shared interests and shared values? 

read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.690434?utm_content=U.S.+realizing+what+Israel+really+wants+is+a+1.5-state+solution&utm_medium=Daily&utm_source=email&utm_campaign=newsletter