February 29, 2024

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02/29 Links: US, Taliban sign historic deal aimed at ending war in Afghanistan; Israeli who recovered in Japan develops coronavirus again


From Ian:

US, Taliban sign historic deal aimed at ending war in Afghanistan
The United States signed a peace agreement with Taliban militants on Saturday aimed at bringing an end to 18 years of bloodshed in Afghanistan and allowing US troops to return home from America’s longest war.

Under the agreement, the US would draw its forces down to 8,600 from 13,000 in the next 3-4 months, with the remaining US forces withdrawing in 14 months. The complete pullout, however, would depend on the Taliban meeting their commitments to prevent terrorism.

President George W. Bush ordered the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Some US troops currently serving there had not yet been born when the World Trade Center collapsed on that crisp, sunny morning that changed how Americans see the world.

It only took a few months to topple the Taliban and send Osama bin Laden and top al-Qaeda militants scrambling across the border into Pakistan, but the war dragged on for years as the United States tried to establish a stable, functioning state in one of the least developed countries in the world. The Taliban regrouped, and currently hold sway over half the country.

The US spent more than $750 billion, and on all sides, the war cost tens of thousands of lives lost, permanently scarred and indelibly interrupted. But the conflict was also frequently ignored by US politicians and the American public.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended the ceremony in Qatar, where the Taliban have a political office, but did not sign the agreement. Instead, it was signed by US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Pompeo called on the Taliban to “keep your promises to cut ties with Al-Qaeda.”

Martin Kramer: The Trump Plan Will Be “Transformative” for Palestinians

Martin Kramer, chair of the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Department at Shalem College in Jerusalem and the Koret Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, spoke to Middle East Forum Radio host Gregg Roman on February 5 about President Trump’s “deal of the century” plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

According to Kramer, the importance of the Trump proposal “transcends whether either of the parties accept it” because “it’s not a peace plan, it’s a partition plan … the proposal of a third party, looking from the outside, that has some authority.” The Palestinians refused to accept partition plans put forth by the British in 1937 and by the United Nations in 1947, yet both had “historic effects,” notably culminating in the establishment of Israel. The details of these plans were largely irrelevant – it was their underlying assumptions and core principles that proved enduring.

The same is true of the “deal of the century.” Details of the plan are flexible and sure to be superseded by future negotiations. The important focus should be on the assumptions and principles of the plan.

A key assumption of the Trump initiative, according to Kramer, is that “history only goes in one direction.” Previous peace plans, he noted, were based on expectations of “massive movement of peoples” as part of a final settlement – removing thousands of settlers from their settlements in today’s Israel and absorbing a large number of descendants of Palestinian refugees from other countries into the West Bank and Gaza – which “is not going to happen.”

A core principle of the Trump plan is that “everyone stays in place” – a reality that Palestinians must eventually come to accept. “Much of the responsibility for the predicament of the Palestinians today relies not just on them, but on their … supposed friends who … promised they would deliver to them on fantasies which were completely detached from reality.”

Khaled Abu Toameh: Palestinians: No secret talks with Trump administration

The Palestinian Authority on Saturday denied having any contacts with the US administration regarding US President Donald Trump’s recently unveiled plan for peace in the Middle East.

The denial came in response to remarks by US Ambassador David Friedman, who told the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera network that the Trump administration has “back channels” talks with some Palestinians.

Friedman did not reveal the identity of the Palestinians involved in the alleged talks with the US administration.

He also said there is recognition that some parts of the Trump plan are good for the Palestinians, such as the two-state solution, a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem, connecting the West Bank with the Gaza Strip and investment in infrastructure and increasing the size of land offered to the Palestinians.

The PA, which has been boycotting the Trump administration since December 2017, when the US president recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, reiterated its rejection of the Trump plan and denied having back channels with the US administration.

“I dare Friedman to reveal a name of a single Palestinian official who is in contact with President Trump’s administration,” said PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat.

Referring to Friedman’s talk about a Palestinian capital, Erekat said that the Trump plan “specified that Abu Dis and Kufr Aqab can be named as Palestine’s capital.”

Erekat added: “East Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine, is the Old City of Jerusalem, including Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Musrara, and Salah Edin Street. Lies and distortions of one of the authors of the conspiracy of the century are doomed to failure.”

Israeli who recovered in Japan develops coronavirus again

Friday saw a worrisome spike in Israeli coronavirus cases, as four more citizens were diagnosed with the novel coronavirus in Israel, the Health Ministry reported.

Shimon Dahan returned from quarantine in Japan after having having been presumed to be “recovered”, following his infection with the virus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship and subsequent quarantine in Tokyo.

The man flew home to Israel after he was released from quarantine and is the third to be diagnosed as having the virus among the passengers who were brought back from the beleagered cruise ship.

Dahan’s sister, Rachel Biton, who was the first to be released from quarantine in Japan, was sent home to Israel on Tuesday after recovering from the virus.

A spokesperson for the family says they are not currently responding to the issue, as they are still waiting to receive answers to the many questions that came as a result of the report.

“If there is anything to say about the matter, you will be notified after the Sabbath.”

Dahan flew home to Israel on two commercial flights, both with Turkish Airlines: flight TK53 from Tokyo via Istanbul, and flight TK784 from Istanbul to Tel Aviv, which landed in Israel at 8:55.

All passengers who were on either flight must enter a home quarantine immediately for the next 14 days and report to the Health Ministry.

Netta Barzilai cancels performance over coronavirus fears

Netta Barzilai canceled her performance in Croatia’s national pre-Eurovision song contest on Saturday over fears of the novel coronavirus, Channel 12 reported Saturday afternoon.

According to Channel 12, Barzilai, who brought the Eurovision Song Contest to Israel after winning it in 2018, decided to cancel her performance in the show after several cases were discovered in Croatia on Tuesday.

While the Croatian show is expected to take place as usual, Barzilai’s PR manager Ofer Menahem told Channel 12 that “canceling the performance in Croatia was done by joint agreement with the Croatians following the growing coronavirus-related developments in the state.

“For that reason, we have decided together to cancel one performance so as not to put ourselves and our loved ones in danger.”

It should be noted that Barzilai, who is better knows as simply “Netta,” is not suspected of having contracted the novel coronavirus.

UAE Tour final stages cancelled due to coronavirus

The two final stages of the 2020 UAE Tour were canceled by the cycling’s governing body Union Cycliste Internationale after two Italian “staff members” on the tour were suspected of contracting the coronavirus.

The tour, featuring 140 of the sport’s biggest stars as well as an Israel-based cycling team Israel Start-Up Nation, was brought to a screeching halt following the two viral tests which were given “in the interests of the health of riders and their staff.”

The W Abu Dhabi and the Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi, both on Yas Island in the United Arab Emirates’ capital, said they had been placed under lockdown as authorities screened all guests over concerns they might have interacted with the Italians.

“This means that no one can leave or enter the property until it is deemed safe to do so,” said a spokesman for the W Abu Dhabi said.

On Thursday, riders including four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome took to

Twitter to say they were confined to their hotel rooms. “We are all awaiting testing and will remain in the hotel until further notice,” Froome posted.

UAE authorities reported the positive diagnosis of the Italians on Thursday.

But cycling’s governing body UCI said the two cases of the illness among two staff members of one of the participating teams were only suspected ones. It was not immediately clear which of the two hotels the Italians were staying at. One of them was accommodating participants in the race and the other the media following it.

MEMRI: Turkish Government Reacts To Syrian Idlib Strike That Killed 33 Turkish Soldiers: Defense Minister Says Attack Happened ‘Even Though Our Units’ Positions Were Coordinated With Russian Federation Authorities’; Politician Vows To Bus Syrian Refugees To Europe’s Border; Social Media Accounts Are Examined For ‘Terror Organization Propaganda’

On February 28, 2020, Turkish presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın said in a statement that 33 Turkish soldiers had been killed in a Syrian strike in Idlib the day before. He further said: “Our army will certainly bring the Assad regime, which has blood on its hands, to account. The crisis in Idlib has surpassed all limits.”[1] The strike came amid escalating violence in Idlib between the Turkish and Syrian militaries, and also only days ahead of a deadline that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan set when he said on February 15: “The solution in Idlib is for the [Syrian] regime to stop its aggression and withdraw to the border in the agreements. Otherwise we will do this job before February is over.”[2]

Attorney General’s Office Investigates Social Media Accounts That “Contradict The Reality” For “Terror Organization Propaganda”

While the official government count of the number of Turkish soldiers killed in the strike is 33, higher numbers have been given on Turkish social media. One online news outlet claimed to have spoken to a soldier who said that he had counted 165 dead.[3] The attorney general’s office in Ankara announced that social media posts about the attack that have “provocative purposes” and that “contradict the reality” were being investigated for crimes including “making terror organization propaganda.”[4] The Counter-Cyber Crimes Directorate of the Directorate of Security announced that it had begun investigating provocative posts on social media and that “proceedings” had begun concerning 91 social media accounts.[5]

The NetBlocks internet observatory reported that in Turkey on February 27 “Social platforms Twitter, Facebook and Instagram became unreachable at 11:30 p.m. local time (8:30 p.m. UTC) via national provider Turk Telecom (AS9121) and subsequently other leading service providers. Data show that YouTube and WhatsApp messaging backend servers were also partially restricted at the same time or shortly after. The restrictions are technically consistent with techniques used to filter content in Turkey, with SNI and DNS filters in use varying by provider.” It later reported: “The observed core incident duration is in excess of 16 hours with impact to subscribers spanning an 18-hour period.”[6]

BBC: Iran’s virus death toll is at least 210 — six times higher than it says

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 210 people in Iran, according to a report Friday, more than six times higher than the death count reported by Iranian authorities.

Citing unnamed sources at Iranian hospitals, BBC Persian reported that the highest number of dead were in the capital Tehran and Qom, a Shiite holy city where the virus first emerged in Iran.

The locations of the hospitals were not specified in the report.

Iran’s health ministry, which earlier Friday reported a death toll of 34, rejected the report.

Health ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur accused BBC Persian of joining the Islamic republic’s regional enemies in a “race to spread lies” about Iran.

“Iran’s exemplary transparency in publishing information on the coronavirus has stunned many people,” Jahanpur tweeted.

Jahanpour said 143 cases had been detected over the past 24 hours, increasing the total of confirmed infections to 388.

Among the new cases, 64 were in Tehran while the number of provinces hit by the outbreak rose to 24, Jahanpour said.

“We are currently in a phase in which infections are increasing,” he said, predicting that the situation “will continue for some days, even weeks.”

US Grants Sanctions Waiver for Humanitarian Trade to Iran

The United States on Thursday granted a license to allow for certain humanitarian trade transactions with Iran’s sanctioned central bank, a move it said was in step with the formalization of a Swiss humanitarian trade channel.

The newly created channel, which the US Treasury Department said became fully operational on Thursday as it granted the license, would allow for companies to send food, medicine and other critical supplies to Iran.

Yisrael Medad: Bernie’s Kibbutz – A Research Challenge

As we know, the known extent of Senator Bernie Sanders’ Israel connection was a stay of a few months at Kibbutz Sha’ar HaAmakim in 1963. A report notes he was “a guest”. In other words, he may not have been a volunteer picking apples or pears but there was a specific reach-out, either by him or by the kibbutz or the Mapam Marxist party that supervised the affairs of the kibbutz, a member of Mapam’s Kibbutz Artzi Federation. But that is just a supposition.

On the other hand, married couples usually did not come together as part of the ethos of going to kibbutz was the less-than-stringent sexual mores practiced at such places.

Perhaps either he or his then wife, Deborah Shiling now Messing, have friends or relatives there? It is claimed his older brother, Larry, was spending some time there. Had either of them been a member of the HaShomer HaTzair Zionist youth movement that commited its member to settle on kibbutz? If, indeed, his brother was there, perhaps he was in HaShaomer HaTzair and Bernie followed.

Sha’ar Ha’Amakim celebrated 25 years of its founder settling on the land and the headline of the article in the Mapam daily, “Al HaMishmar, of May 27, 1958, reviewing its history, read “25 Years to the Settlement”. As noted in The Forward, “The kibbutz founders had a strong admiration for the Communist system in the Soviet Union.”

But the author of that article, Aharon Cohen, adds another mystery to Sanders’ kibbutz stay. His biography includes several interesting aspects. He set up Hakibbutz Ha’artzi’s Arab Department. Mapam advocated an undivided and Socialist Palestine and he went around lecturing and publishing articles in favor of good relations with Arabs.

Bernie, ‘Proud To Be Jewish,’ Skips AIPAC. Instead, He’s Appearing With Israel-Hating Rapper

On Sunday, Senator Bernie Sanders, who has been boasting recently that he is “proud to be Jewish” despite his constant association with virulent Israel-haters such as Rep. Ilhan Omar and Linda Sarsour, will skip the AIPAC conference, which is devoted to the support of the state of Israel, and instead hold a rally in Los Angeles, joined by another Israel-hater, Public Enemy’s Chuck D.

The Bernie Doctrine: Praise the Commies, Trash the Jews | SUPERcuts! #743

Sanders would beat Trump 65-30% among US Jewish voters, new poll finds

Democratic presidential frontrunner Bernie Sanders would overwhelmingly outperform US President Donald Trump with Jewish voters in a head-to-head match-up this fall, according to new polling from the non-partisan Jewish Electorate Institute (JEI).

The self-proclaimed democratic socialist would defeat Trump with the demographic group 65% to 30%, despite only 52% of American Jews having a favorable view of Sanders and 45% having an unfavorable view of him, the survey found.

Trump is far more unpopular with the US Jewish community. Sixty-six percent of the poll’s respondents disapprove of the job he’s doing in office.

Indeed, according to JEI, every 2020 Democratic presidential candidate would defeat Trump handily with Jewish voters in a general election.

Former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg would win 69% to 31%; Bloomberg 67% to 28%; Biden 67% to 31%; and Warren 65% to 32%.

But Sanders leads the pack after winning the New Hampshire primary and Nevada caucuses and claiming the highest number of pledged delegates to date.

Sanders advisor: We won’t have a problem working with the Israeli government

Matt Duss, a foreign policy advisor to Sen. Bernie Sanders, discussed the 2020 frontrunner’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and relations with Israel during the Quincy Institute leadership forum, held in conjunction with Foreign Policy, in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.

Vocal and critical: “Senator Sanders has been clear about the principles that he supports and the goal and it’s a goal that is shared by — I think — a clear majority of Americans,” Duss said. “I think he’s been willing to be more critical of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu in particular, as he has been more vocal and critical about right-wing nationalists around the world, recognizing that is a global trend that is very problematic for those of us who support human rights and democracy. At the end of the day, the Israeli government is full of professionals who understand Israel’s security needs. There are longstanding relationships at various levels between the U.S. and Israel. And we don’t think we’ll have a problem moving forward in trying — trying at least — and probably finding very quickly some common ground.”

Jerusalem reaction: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted on Wednesday to Sanders’s constant attacks against him, most recently calling him a “reactionary racist” during Tuesday night’s debate in South Carolina. “What I think about this matter is that he is definitely wrong,” Netanyahu said during an interview with Army Radio. “No question about it.” Netanyahu pointed out that the reason he withstood pressure from the Obama administration for eight years was because he was able to influence U.S. public opinion, “and if we will be pressured into doing dangerous things, I will know how to oppose that — and I am not afraid of a showdown.”

Labour asked Facebook to ban left-wing antisemitic social media groups that support the Party

The Labour Party has asked Facebook to ban left-wing antisemitic groups on its platform that support the Party.

It is understood that staff at the Party’s governance and legal unit contacted the social media giant last year to ask that eleven groups be moderated or removed because they contained antisemitic material.

The material is believed to include conspiracy theories about Jews, Holocaust denial and explicit expressions of anti-Jewish hatred.

In a meeting last October, Party staff handed over four reports containing hundreds of pieces of evidence to Facebook, and one of the groups, “Truthers Against Zionist Lobbies”, was shut down in December after an intervention by the celebrity antisemitism campaigner Rachel Riley. In a February meeting, the staff reiterated their request to Facebook and provided supplementary evidence.

The administrators are not believed to be current Labour members, although some may have been suspended or expelled by the Party.

In a statement, Facebook said that its standards “make very clear that there is absolutely no place for hate speech” on its platform.

The revelation comes as it also emerged that the largest Facebook group supporting the Labour leadership candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey is reportedly replete with antisemitic material.

BBC Radio 4’s promotion of an ‘epic novel’ and an appealing narrative

In other interviews McCann has stated that before he spent a week in Israel and the Palestinian controlled territories in 2015 he was “completely ignorant of what was going on there” and at 11:29 listeners hear a little about his learning process, which apparently included consultation with “one of my great heroes” the political activist Raja Shehadeh and reading Mahmoud Darwish.

Perhaps the most revealing part of the interview concerns McCann’s view – exaggerated in the opinion of this reviewer – of the importance of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

“I think it is one of the central questions as to who we are and where we are and I think we all identify with it in some way, in a way that’s different to other conflicts. There’s something about Jerusalem, there’s something about that being the birthplace of so many things that we’re drawn to and confused by and we’re wondering why all this is happening.”

The Guardian’s review of the novel states:
“For all its grief, Apeirogon is a novel that buoys the heart. The friendship of Bassam and Rami is a thing of great and sustaining beauty. There’s a picture of the two of them, asleep together on a train in Germany, travelling from one speaking engagement to the next. They lean against each another, Rami – the older man – supporting the smaller Bassam as he sleeps. This, the novel suggests, is the solution to the conflict: something as simple and easy as friendship, as the acknowledgement of a shared experience, as love.”

The reassuring notion that “something as simple as friendship” and “love” are the solution to the conflict of course avoids the basic fact that Smadar Elhanan was murdered – along with two other teenage girls who are not mentioned in this programme – by Hamas suicide bombers in an attack intended to kill human beings simply because of their Israeli identity.

The reduction of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the tidy and appealing narrative promoted in McCann’s book perhaps explains why the BBC – itself no stranger to the promotion of simplistic narratives concerning that issue – decided to dedicate two weeks of radio broadcasts to a novel which frames that conflict in terms far more palatable and comfortable to its audiences than actually exist.

Talent agency ‘Money Management’ defends then removes antisemitic Fagin image from website

The talent agency Money Management, which represents numerous celebrity clients, defended the use of an antisemitic caricature on its website, before apparently removing it.

The caricature, based on the Jewish character Fagin from the Charles Dickens novel, Oliver Twist, featured on the company’s website and apparently was also recently offered as part of an auction lot called “Antisemitism and Nazi propaganda”. It was also not lost on visitors to the website that the company’s name incorporates the word ‘money’ as well.

The company’s director defended the image, saying that he is a third generation Holocaust survivor and that he loved the Oliver! musical songs, including “You’ve got to pick-a-pocket or two”, which he noted was composed by a Jewish musician. He accused critics of having rushed to judgment.

However, the website now no longer appears to feature the image.

Serbian MPs Vote for New Holocaust Memorial in Belgrade

A total of 159 out of 250 MPs in the Serbian parliament voted this week for the establishment of a memorial center at the Staro Sajmiste (Old Trade Fair) site to remember those killed at the Nazi concentration camp in the country’s occupied capital of Belgrade during World War II.

Under the legislation passed on Monday, the memorial center will collect and exhibit material from museums and archives in order to ensure a “lasting memory of the victims of the Holocaust,” the website Balkan Insight reported on Friday.

Some 10,000 Serbs, 7,000 Jews and at least 60 Roma died at Staro Sajmiste in 1941 and 1942. The camp was run by the Waffen SS, but the Serbian police carried out the arrests of the Jews.

After the war, nothing was done to preserve the site of the former concentration camp. A monument to the victims was erected nearby in 1995.

The buildings have been used for a variety of purposes, housing artists, a restaurant and a gym. Controversially, an office of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s governing Progressive Party was opened there in 2018.

Orthodox rapper Nissim Black reintroduces himself to the world

Alma via JTA — Nissim Black knows that wherever he goes, he’s going to turn heads.

“There’s always these questions,” the rapper explains to me from his home in Israel. “Like, ‘Well, are you still black? How black are you? How does that work? But you’re also Jewish? Jews are white?’ No they’re not!”

The questions annoy him, and rightfully so. Yes, he’s black and Jewish and Orthodox. No, that combination does not make him any less of any of those identities.

His new single, “Mothaland Bounce,” sets the record straight.

“I wanted to be able to just sort of lay it all out there, and make a statement, so I could at least limit the questions,” he says.

In many ways, the song serves as a declaration of who he is. Even though he’s been active as a rapper since 2006, “Mothaland Bounce” is a re-introduction of sorts: He’s black, Jewish, from Seattle, living in Jerusalem and “Hitler’s worst nightmare” (arguably my favorite lyric in the entire song).

Making “Mothaland Bounce” was a “relief,” Black says. “I’ve been spending time with a friend of mine in LA, and he [told me], ‘Back in ‘hood, everybody feels like you just forgot about them.’ I’m living in a different world. I’m living in Jerusalem, I’m across the world. Even though I keep up with some family, I’m not as involved right now. People feel like I may have left that struggle, [but] it’s not really true, you know what I’m saying? It’s just a different type of struggle, but I’m still there in the struggle. I’m still with the people.”

The video for “Mothaland Bounce” pays homage to his past and his present; the visuals are inspired by one of Black’s favorite films, “Coming to America.” (In the iconic film, Eddie Murphy’s character arrives in America from the wealthy, fictional African nation of Zamunda.) The video ends with Black in a barbershop, where the barber asks him to take off his hat — when he does, he reveals a kippah underneath. The barber goes, “Another one?!” It’s funny, Jewish and pays homage to the barbershop scenes in “Coming to America.”

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