BEIRUT and AMMAN//On a summer evening five months into the Syrian uprising, a well-dressed man, a little heavy-set but younger looking than his 50 years, sat quietly at the bar of the Four Seasons Hotel in Damascus, having a drink and smoking a cigar.
An unremarkable looking figure, similar to any other member of the narrow elite grown rich in Syria’s vigorous, family-run kleptocracy. But this man was set apart by a particular hardness on his face, framed by dark, neatly trimmed stubble along the jawline, and an intense hostility in his eyes.
Most Syrians wouldn’t have known him by sight but they all know his name: Atef Najib, the man who ignited the revolution.
And they would not have been surprised to find him lounging in the dimly lit opulence of the Four Seasons that summer. He was supposedly under investigation by a special committee, headed by an independent judge, over involvement in torture and several killings. But, as a cousin of President Bashar Al Assad, he could enjoy his night out with complete impunity.
Even if the investigating committee was more than a hollow fiction and even if there was such a thing as an independent judge in Syria, neither would dare touch him.
Despite his pivotal role in sparking the Syrian revolt, the public record on Najib is threadbare. He is a first cousin of Assad and was the head of political security in Deraa, a low-rise city of industrious farmers and traders on the border with Jordan, where simmering disaffection burst into the open on March 18, 2011.
There were small protests elsewhere in Syria that Friday, and there had been isolated outbreaks of public dissent over the previous week, but they were handled with a certain deft, constrained ruthlessness. Beatings, arrests and threats but not murder. In Deraa under Najib, it was different – and it exploded.
He had, with characteristic arrogance, already laid the groundwork to set Syria aflame, most notably by insulting a group of local men who had gone to ask that he set free 18 boys, detained for writing “Doctor, your turn next” on a school wall.
The teenagers were tortured for daring to suggest that Assad – an ophthalmologist – was heading the way of other, recently deposed regional dictators.
Najib told the boys’ worried fathers to “forget about them”. There are two versions of what he said after that. One, told by regime sympathisers willing to discuss the incident, grudgingly admits that “two or three” of the young prisoners were physically abused, but holds that Najib told the men their failure to teach their children manners meant the job had fallen to him.
The other account, the one that has entered into Deraa lore, is that Najib told the men go home and have new children and, if they lacked the virility to do so, that they should send their wives to his office and he would ensure they left pregnant. It was all too much for a proud people to take.
In response came the fateful March 18 protests demanding Najib be sacked and punished. His security forces answered by shooting into the crowd of unarmed civilians, killing three people. That day was the start of a grassroots revolution and a bloodletting that, now entering its fourth year and with more than 140,000 dead, shows no sign of abating.
“When it started, you could say it was a revolution against Atef Najib. There were lots of other issues, but he was the reason people went out, he pushed them past the point of no return,” said a member of an influential Deraa family with close ties to the regime. “It became a revolution against Bashar but right at the beginning they just wanted Najib gone. Everyone hated him”.
For his role in those opening acts of violence, Najib was placed on the economic sanctions lists by the EU and US, documents that are notable for their dearth of information. The brief US entry is the most detailed: NAJIB, Atif (aka NAJEEB, Atef; aka NAJIB, Atef); Place of Birth, Jablah, Syria; Brigadier General; Position: Former head of the Syrian Political Security Directorate for Deraa Province.
Some of the most infamous members of the Assad cabal have more or less well-known biographies, their pictures posted online, without their consent perhaps, but they are there, exposed: Rami Makhlouf, Maher Al Assad, Rostom Ghazali, Asef Shawkat, Ali Mamluk.
Najib, like other powerful officers in the secret police fraternity, preferred the shadows. Away from the facade of Syria’s government ministries, courtrooms and state-run television, he was part of the opaque world of the mukhabarat (secret police), Assad family members and ultra-loyalists who really run the country but who, for the sake of a certain decorum, pretend not to. He didn’t like to have his photo taken.
By 1965, Hafez Al Assad, the son of a peasant from Syria’s impoverished Alawite community in the mountain region on the Mediterranean coast, had already moved far beyond his humble origins to lead the country’s air force and hold a place in the Baath party’s ruling National Command.
That year, his second son, Bashar Al Assad, was born. Around the same time – most likely in 1964 or 1965 – Hafez and his wife Anisa, another Alawite from similarly inauspicious origins, had also gained a nephew, Atef Najib.
Anisa’s sister, Fatima Makhlouf, had married Najib Ala’a, a small-time businessman from Jablah, a coastal town 14km from Qurdaha, the Assad family’s ancestral home. He sold petrol by the side of the road, less a garage than a couple of fuel storage drums to serve the few passing motorists.
Najib Ala’a was a Sunni; intermarriage between the sects was common, although not always viewed kindly (“We don’t like our women marrying Sunnis because they bring up the children according to the father’s religion and they’re all extremists in the end,” as an Alawite mukhabarat officer would later put it). Fatima Makhlouf and Najib Ala’a would go on to have five children, two daughters, three sons. All would benefit from the coup d’etat of 1970 that brought their uncle, Hafez Al Assad, “the eternal leader”, to power.
Fatima’s and Anisa’s brother, Mohammad Makhlouf, was the most successful at exploiting the link to his brother-in-law the president, becoming his personal financial adviser and building a vast business empire that would, under his son, Rami Makhlouf, blossom into monopolies worth billions of dollars.
Najib Ala’a, the former petrol seller, also a brother-in law to Hafez, cashed in on the connection as well but not to the same degree and, according to accounts from friends of the family and Syrians familiar with the workings of the regime, his clumsy moneymaking ventures became something of an annoyance and embarrassment to Hafez.
“He would use his family connections to make money in corrupt ways, but not cleverly, and he ended up making trouble for Hafez, there was some friction there, he fell out of favour and may have been put in prison for a month or so, just as a warning,” said a former friend of one of Najib Ala’a’s sons.
The path of Atef Najib, a volatile, aggressive man prone to outbursts of anger, had distinct echoes of that previously trodden by his father.
As a teenager, Atef Najib went to military college and was closer to Bacel Al Assad, Hafez’s eldest son and the man then being groomed to replace him as president, than he was to Bashar, a shy, gawky teenager. Bacel and Atef had similar characters: brash, fearless and feared – they both loved to drive recklessly in fast cars; a crash would kill Bacel in 1994.
Atef Najib joined the intelligence services but ended up at odds with his superiors, and, as his father had, annoying his powerful cousin and uncle. In the early 1990s, he was suspended from his duties.
“Bacel kicked him out of the intelligence services around 1992. He was insulting to people, using very bad words, kidnapping girls, firing off guns. He was so arrogant they couldn’t handle him. Hafez was also angry at Najib’s behaviour,” said a former friend of the Assad family.
For about six years, with his career in the mukhabarat apparently over, Najib languished, “sitting in the house”, according to the former friend, until, with Bashar on the brink of taking over the presidency from his ailing father, Fatima Makhlouf, Atef’s mother, managed to talk the Assads into taking him back. Her errant son, now 34 years old, had matured and was fit for duty, she said. He was reinstated at his old rank, and reassigned to political intelligence in Damascus, working out of their foreboding cement block office in Mezzeh.
The responsibilities of Syria’s myriad intelligence agencies are vague and overlapping, with officers spying on each other as well as the public. At political intelligence in the capital, Atef Najib specialised in monitoring the police and making sure that political parties – all were illegal except those supporting the regime – stayed in line.
Najib would drive around the capital in an invariably new car from his growing collection of BMWs and Jaguars, sometimes meeting the people he sought to control over lunch in expensive restaurants, if they were being cooperative, or summoning them to his office if they needed to be brought into line.
“Sometimes he’d be nice and the next minute terrible, he was up and down, just a very volatile man,” said a Syrian businessman who was questioned by Atef Najib more than once during the period. He also described him as “filthy rich”.
“There are some people in the regime it pays you to meet and have a close relationship with. There is a reasonableness to them, you can work with them. And then there are others who you don’t want to go near because nothing good will come of it – Atef Najib was one of those,” the businessman said.
Najib’s family connections ensured he had power and wealth but his reputation for violent instability meant some regime insiders saw him as more of a liability than an asset.
In 2002, Ghazi Kanaan, a distant relative of Atef Najib, was summoned back from his 20-year stint as Syria’s feared intelligence chief in Lebanon and put in charge of political security in Damascus. He had little time for Najib and sidelined him within the bureau, where his opponents had nicknamed him “the animal”.
“Atef was nothing special, he was conceited, he thought a great deal of himself, more than anyone else did. He was related to the Assads, that was his talent,” said a former mukhabarat officer who knew the Najib family.
“He wasn’t particularly violent or corrupt, just the normal levels for someone in his position.”
Only after Kanaan’s death in 2005 – a self-inflicted gunshot, according to the Syrian authorities – did Najib’s career regain momentum. Within three years he was sent to Deraa to head the governorate’s political security branch.
In Deraa, Najib quickly set about establishing his own fiefdom. “His reputation preceded him. We were told: ‘You’re getting a man there is no talking to, you’re getting a real criminal.’ But the big families in Deraa had good connections to the regime and plenty of money, so they thought they’d be able to bribe him as they bribed any other officer,” said a Deraa resident from one of those influential families.
But instead of simply taking those bribes and an easy living, Najib insisted on control. He muscled in on the territory of other security chiefs in the area, built his own network of spies and spread personnel loyal to him throughout the province.
“He had informants everywhere, there was an atmosphere that his soldiers were listening in on everything, even in the elementary schools. He insisted on being the first to know about any problem that might be developing. Teachers were sending weekly reports up to him about the political convictions of even their young students,” the well-connected Deraa resident said.
“There were security officers in Deraa who were afraid even in their homes,” explained another Deraa resident who was close to the city’s security apparatus and business elite. “One senior officer I was close to told me he was convinced Najib had put cameras in his house so he could spy on him even there. ‘Walls have ears, he’s listening,’ they’d say.”
In the guise of fighting corruption, Najib moved to block established networks for transporting goods, both legal and illegal, replacing them with his own monopoly on the movement of goods across the border, flows of money and information, and exploitation of water rights – crucial in a farming community – according to yet another Deraa resident involved in business in the province.
“It didn’t stop the corruption, it just concentrated it in his hands,” said the relative of a powerful smuggler operating in Deraa at the time. “Smuggling and money-laundering all still happened, it was just all through certain big merchants and that is where Atef Najib got his money from.”
Paranoia infected Najib himself. Even before the revolution, he was rarely seen in public and would move in a high-security motorcade, convinced his enemies wanted to assassinate him. His food was shipped from Damascus because he feared poisoning.
“Things hadn’t been as bad in Deraa since the 1980s, he reintroduced that mentality, we thought that was all in the past but he brought it back – he brought back the iron fist,” said the well-connected Deraa resident, who once met Najib. “He was considered the absolute power in the province, he was in charge of the fate of 1.2 million people,” he said. “Atef Najib used to tell us, ‘In Deraa, I am God’.”
Deraa had long had a reputation as being solidly pro-Assad, with many regime figures recruited from the area. Najib’s imperious reign was instrumental in turning it against the ruling family.
After the killings of March 18, Assad followed a double strategy of mild conciliation and brutal crackdown that would quickly ignite a full-blown rebellion in the country his family had ruled since 1970. He refused to travel to Deraa personally and instead sought to defuse anger there with delegations, which were invariably told that Najib must be punished for the torture of the schoolboys and held responsible for the shootings.
The regime also moved to crush the growing dissent before it could build momentum. On March 23, Faisal Kalthoum, the governor of Deraa, was sacked, supposedly a gesture at reform. The same day, soldiers raided the Omari Mosque in Deraa’s old city, killing nine people. They said it had become a den of plotters involved in a foreign conspiracy against the homeland.
Four days later in parliament, Yousef Abu Rumiah, a Syrian MP from Deraa, took the unprecedented step of demanding that Assad ensure Najib be punished, saying his security forces had “killed people indiscriminately”. Those remarks were edited out of parliamentary footage shown on state TV.
On April 9, with 170 people killed in just 23 days, an unnamed regime “security source” told the media that Najib and Kalthoum had been referred to court for investigation. In June, Judge Mohammed Deeb Al Muqatran, the head of a special judicial committee set up to investigate allegations against security officers, banned Najib from travelling abroad. “No one has immunity, whoever he is,” state media quoted the judge as saying.
In the months after those first Deraa shootings, Assad received visiting delegations, including a group of clerics who pleaded that he take action against Najib, telling the president that transparent justice against a member of his family would send a powerful message and restore confidence in the regime. According to accounts of that meeting, Assad told them he couldn’t arrest his cousin because no formal complaint had ever been made to the police and, therefore, no case had been opened. “I cannot just punish a person,” Assad told them.
“Atef was moved to a different position, but there was no punishment. He was in Deraa as Bashar’s envoy, he was doing exactly the work Bashar sent him there to do. Why would he be punished for that?” said a former senior mukhabarat officer.
Much of Deraa city has been destroyed. In April last year, the stone minaret of the Omari mosque, which dates to the 7th century, was felled in what appears to have been a deliberate act of demolition by regime forces. A video shows it collapsing into rubble as a tank passes. Large parts of the city and surrounding province are now in the hands of rebels but regime forces remain strong in the southern region. Neither side appears close to victory.
“The regime doesn’t regret what he did, regime people don’t think he made mistakes or anything of the sort. They look at him, many people in the regime, and believe he is a hero for what he did,” said a Syrian who knew Najib and who remains in touch with Assad loyalists.
He cited a “very high-level official in Damascus” as saying that they should erect a statue of Najib: “The man is a hero. He really was the first one to discover the conspiracy against Syria, he saw it before the rest of us,” the official said.
In the summer of 2011, supposedly under investigation, Najib was glimpsed in expensive restaurants and the Four Seasons in Damascus. He is believed to still work for the security services in some capacity.
A Syrian who met Najib numerous times may have been speaking of the whole regime when he said: “A mistake people make is to think people like Atef Najib are just ignorant, violent thugs but that underestimates them.
“Atef Najib was smart, he was clever like the devil is clever. When it comes to their business, they get right down to the hard edge of things, when it comes to survival they have amazing instincts. A big mistake people made is to think they are all stupid. They’re not.”
Phil Sands reported from Beirut, Suha Ma’ayeh from Amman and Justin Vela from the UAE.
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With the eyes of the world on Ukraine, an escalated campaign of barrel
bombings by the regime of Bashar al-Assad has led to the indiscriminate
killing of men, women and children in Syria.
Tony Benn, the former British Cabinet minister, longtime Parliament member and antiwar activist, has died at the age of 88. He was the longest-serving member of Parliament in the history of Britain’s Labour Party, serving more than half a century. He left Parliament in 2001, saying he planned to “spend more time on politics.” In 2009 he appeared on Democracy Now! to talk about the war in Afghanistan and Britain’s fight for a nationalized healthcare system. “You’ve got to judge a country by whether its needs are met and not just by whether some people make a profit,” Benn said. “I’ve never met Mr. Dow Jones, and I’m sure he works very, very hard with his averages — we get them every hour — but I don’t think the happiness of a nation is decided by the share values in Wall Street.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We wrap up now with this latest news that just came in hours ago, and this is the death of Tony Benn. Today we remember Tony Benn. The former British Cabinet minister, longtime member of Parliament, antiwar activist has died at the age of 88, the longest-serving member of Parliament in the history of Britain’s Labour Party, serving more than half a century. He left Parliament in 2001, saying he planned to “spend more time on politics.”
Sharif Abdel Kouddous and I interviewed Tony Benn in 2009, one day after he led a protest against the war in Afghanistan in London. At the rally, Benn and others read the names of British soldiers and Afghan civilians who died in the war. I began by asking Tony Benn about the protest and Afghanistan.
TONY BENN: Well, it was a solemn occasion, and the names were read.
But, you see, I think you have to understand the history of this. Britain invaded Afghanistan in 1839, captured Kabul, and was defeated the following year, and 15,000 British troops were killed in the retreat. Britain invaded Afghanistan in 1879. Britain was in Afghanistan in 1919. The Russians were in Afghanistan. I led a delegation to the Russian ambassador in London to protest that. The United States government, President Bush, the first one, funded Osama bin Laden to fight the Russians to get them out of Afghanistan.
And the situation we’re in now is very straightforward. The United States and NATO, 40 countries with 64,000 troops, in eight years have been unable to defeat the Taliban. And this is a Vietnam War for America and for the rest of the—well, for the people involved, soldiers and civilians on both sides, it’s an absolute tragedy.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And Obama defended the war yesterday, calling it “a war of necessity.” Your response to that?
TONY BENN: Well, I think you just have to ask yourself the question: Is it a war on terror, or is it a war on Afghanistan? It’s a war on Afghanistan. And to call it a war on terror just entitles you to do what you like. And I don’t think it’s going to succeed.
The other thing I have in mind is very simple. A few years ago, London was bombed by terrorists. And how did it end—from northern Ireland. How did it end? It ended when we talked to Gerry Adams, who was the IRA leader in prison. Nelson Mandela was denounced as a terrorist by Mrs. Thatcher, and peace came in South Africa when the South African government talked to Mandela, and he came out and became president. I mean, history tells you, and Churchill put it very clearly: Jaw-jaw, talking, is better than war-war. And there will have to be negotiations with al-Qaeda and Taliban to secure the end of this conflict. Of that, I have no doubt whatsoever.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Tony Benn, we also wanted to talk to you about the issue of healthcare.
AMY GOODMAN: Tony Benn, you’re a former Cabinet minister, longest-serving MP in the history of the British Labour Party. Explain your system in Britain and what the battle looks like to you across the Atlantic in the United States.
TONY BENN: Well, I mean, for me—and I love, know America. I’m married to an American, known America for 70 years. It’s amazing. I think most people in Britain just regard it as being uncivilized for a great, rich country to ignore the health of 47 million people. And I don’t say that as an insult; we just don’t understand it.
It was set up in Britain in 1948, 61 years ago. And I have with me the statement made by the government at the time. “Your new National Health Service begins on the 5th of July. […] How do you get it?
“It will provide you with all medical, dental, and nursing care. Everyone—rich or poor, man, woman or child—can use it or any part of it. There are no charges, except for a few special items. There are no insurance qualifications. But it is not a ‘charity’. You are all paying for it, […] as taxpayers, and it will relieve your money worries in time of illness.”
And, I mean, my family has benefited enormously. I had an operation a few days ago in London. I’ve got a pacemaker put in under the Health Service. My wife died of cancer and for four years had the most brilliant healthcare.
And I suppose one way of looking at it is this: There’s a lot unemployment in the United States, as there is in Britain, and one way of creating jobs would be to build hospitals, recruit nurses, train doctors, and then meet the health needs of the country, as well.
I just don’t understand what’s being said. Well, I do understand, because I know the people who are saying it. But it’s absolutely no relation to the Health Service in Britain or the needs of the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, any thoughts on the comparison of the debate you’re seeing today with what happened before the British—the National Health Service was ushered in in Britain? Are you seeing an echo of it?
TONY BENN: Yes, in a way. I mean, some of the doctors were opposed to it, but they all came around. Some of the consultants said, “We don’t want to be civil servants.” But they’re not civil servants. You had a little bit of it.
But I’ll tell you what really changed it, and it takes you back to the 1930s. We had mass unemployment, as you did in the United States. And I was a pilot in the Royal Air Force in the war, and we were discussing on a troop ship coming home once how we would deal with the problems of unemployment. And one lad got up, and he said something I’ve never forgotten. He said, “In the 1930s we had mass unemployment, but we don’t have unemployment when we’re killing Germans.” He said, “If you can have full employment by killing Germans, why can’t you have full employment by building hospitals, building schools, recruiting teachers, recruiting nurses, recruiting doctors?” And that’s how we got it.
We took the view that a government had a responsibility to focus on the needs of a nation in peacetime in the way in which it does in wartime. And if that principle is followed, then all the ideological language can be set aside. You’ve got to judge a country by whether its needs are met, and not just by whether some people make a profit. I’ve never met Mr. Dow Jones, and I’m sure he works very, very hard with his averages—we get them every hour—but I don’t think the happiness of a nation is decided by the share values in Wall Street.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Tony Benn appearing on Democracy Now! in 2009. He has died at the age of 88.
essay by Antony Loewenstein in New Matilda is here:
As the BDS campaign starts to gain traction, accusations of anti-semitism should be treated gravely – whether from pro-Palestine advocates or Israel’s defenders, writes Antony Loewenstein
The charges of racism were serious. University orientation weeks, reported Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper, The Australian, in early March, “have been marred by a series of alleged anti-semitic incidents”.
Socialist Alternative stood accused, according to the Australian Union of Jewish Students, of expressing hateful comments towards Jewish students, praising Hamas and calling for “death to the Zionist entity” at the Australian National University and the University of New South Wales.
The reliability of the allegations of anti-semitism has not yet been assessed but, if they are found to be true, those responsible must be opposed. A spokesperson from Socialist Alternative tells me that his organisation categorically denies all of the allegations.
Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne, a man who never misses an opportunity to fight a culture war he can’t win, accused backers of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel of making anti-semitism “a fashionability among highly ignorant sections of the far Left”. He wanted universities to “step in and take a very firm line” against racism on campus. “Free speech does not extend to ugly threats and physical harassment,” he argued.
It’s time to call this co-ordinated campaign of the local Zionist lobby and the Murdoch press for what it is; a cheapening of real anti-semitism and a clear attempt to brand all critics of Israel as Jew haters. It’s a tactic imported from America and Europe, articulated from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu down, that aims to neuter opponents of the Jewish state’s brutal, military occupation as deluded and anti-semitic.
The rhetoric is increasing as BDS scores impressive wins globally — countless European firms are changing their business practices towards Israel in rejecting the occupation — and has entered the mainstream as a legitimate tool to oppose Israeli policies.
Israel supporters have long believed that better PR will solve its problems, as if, for example, there’s any way to positively spin dozens of Israeli teens announcing their refusal to serve in the IDF due to its deleterious effect on Israeli society and Palestinian lives.
It’s a small but deeply courageous step in a society that still idolises a human rights abusing army (Amnesty’s new report details countless examples of the IDF killing Palestinian civilians in cold blood).
None of these profound shifts should escape the debate in Australian, where the Federal Government refuses to condemn illegal Israeli colonies in the West Bank.
The establishment Zionist lobby has tried for decades, with a degree of success, to insulate the Jewish community from the realities of occupying Palestine.
The advent of the internet and social media, along with a more critical young population who won’t be easily bullied into support for Israel because of the Holocaust, are changing the landscape. Hence the need to use old, tired tactics. Parroting Netanyahu’s fear-mongering over Iran and Arabs is increasingly treated worldwide with the contempt it deserves.
The old men who run the Jewish community may catch on one day that it isn’t enough to run an hackneyed style enemies list against opponents; countless journalists and editors will tell you of the bullying calls, letters and emails employed by the Zionist community against critical coverage. It only sometimes now works.
It’s a failing style even called out by The Australian’s Middle East correspondent John Lyons in a recent, robust defence of his stunning ABC TV 4 Corners story on Palestine, accusing distant, self-appointed Zionist leaders of being little more than blind defenders of Israeli government policy. Pundits take note: whenever quoting such people remember to whom they pledge partial allegiance and ask about their funding sources.
Any form of racism must be completely condemned, whether it’s directed at Jews, Muslims, Christians or other minorities. But the way in which a state and community deals with racism is a more pressing the question. After years of falsely accusing critics of Israel of anti-semitism — Sydney University’s Jake Lynch is the latest person to face the predictable and costly wrath of an Israeli-government endorsed legal case against his ethically justified backing of BDS — the organised Zionist establishment lacks credibility in crying about opposing racism, when it so flagrantly encourages demonisation of Israel’s critics along racial lines.
They have a morally compromised voice by being occupation backers themselves. How dare they claim to cry over an alleged rise in real anti-semitism (mostly online) while at the same time shedding crocodile tears against the growing BDS movement? Perhaps they should learn some humility and recognise what their beloved state has become known for globally: repressing Palestinians.
Politically, the Abbott government has pledged to remove section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in an attempt, in their words, to increase free speech (a position loudly backed by The Australian).
Federal Attorney George Brandis said on ABC TV’s Q&A this week, defending his administration’s proposed changes that are opposed by the Jewish community and many other ethnic groups, that the current drafting in section 18C restricts the rights of all peoples to speak and be offensive. Now that there are signs that Brandis may be back-tracking on a complete repeal of the section, it’s really only the Murdoch press that bangs on about “free speech” while denying the same rights to many of its critics.
Despite all this, I’ve argued elsewhere, in opposition to many on the Left who believe the legislation should remain unchanged, that although all speech has limits, a robust democracy should legally tolerate insults over race. But the vast bulk of “discussion” over 18C has been at a desultory level.
Take the recent Australian Jewish News article by Fergal Davis, a senior lecturer in law at the University of NSW. He backed maintaining the current 18C legislation and then wistfully argued that the Abbott government could be the champions of human rights because “we must convince Australians that human rights are not ‘left wing’; they are at the heart of the fair go.” Nice sentiments, but utterly removed from reality. Davis ignores the new government’s shocking treatment of asylum seekers and refusal to seriously condemn abuses at the UN by allies Sri Lanka, Israel and Egypt.
The real questions for the Murdoch press, Zionist establishment, Abbott ministers and other supposed defenders of open speech are as follows: will you follow the path of many politicians in the US, both Democrat and Republican, who are increasingly trying to criminalise civilian backing for BDS? How serious is your commitment to free speech? How willing are you to preach tolerance and acceptance while believing that certain issues, such as legitimate criticisms of Israel (defined by whom will always be the question?) are beyond the pale and anti-semitic?
Away from the huffing and puffing of self-described friends of Israel lies the real limits of insulating Israel from criticism. Trying to stop BDS, through the courts, laws, parliament or defamatory attacks, will change nothing on the ground for Palestinians, and countless people around the world now know it. Israel and its dwindling band of Zionist backers in Australia and worldwide are desperately hanging onto 20th century tactics to fight modern opposition to a racially based state.
The Northeastern University chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine has become the latest student group to face reprimand for organizing around the Palestinian cause. Northeastern has suspended the group until 2015, barring it from meeting on campus and stripping it of any university funding. The move comes just weeks after student activists distributed mock eviction notices across the campus during Israeli Apartheid Week. The notices were intended to resemble those used by Israel to notify Palestinians of pending demolitions or seizures of their homes. We speak to Northeastern Students for Justice in Palestine member Max Geller and Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of the new book, “The Battle for Justice in Palestine.” His new book includes a chapter titled “The War on Campus.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The Northeastern University chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine has become the latest student group to face reprimand for organizing around Palestinian issues. Northeastern University has just suspended the group until 2015, barring it from meeting on campus and stripping it of any university funding. The moves comes just weeks after student activists distributed mock eviction notices across the campus during Israeli Apartheid Week. The mock notices were intended to resemble ones used by Israel to notify Palestinians of pending home demolitions or property seizures.
AMY GOODMAN: Northeastern University accused the student group of disregarding university policies over an extended period of time. Michael Armini, Northeastern’s senior vice president of external affairs, said, quote, “The issue here is not one of free speech or the exchange of disparate ideas. Instead, it is about holding every member of our community to the same standards, and addressing SJP’s non-compliance with longstanding policies to which all student organizations at Northeastern are required to adhere.”
We’re joined now by two guests. Max Geller is with us, Northeastern University School of Law student and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine. And Ali Abunimah is with us in studio, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, author of a brand new book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine. His new book includes a chapter headlined “The War on Campus.” read on and see the video here
March 13, 2014 at 1:23 AM
Top-secret documents reveal that the National Security Agency is dramatically expanding its ability to covertly hack into computers on a mass scale by using automated systems that reduce the level of human oversight in the process.
The classified files – provided previously by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – contain new details about groundbreaking surveillance technology the agency has developed to infect potentially millions of computers worldwide with malware “implants.” The clandestine initiative enables the NSA to break into targeted computers and to siphon out data from foreign Internet and phone networks.
Classification markings on the Snowden documents indicate that NSA has shared many of its files on the use of implants with its counterparts in the so-called Five Eyes surveillance alliance – the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.
The covert infrastructure that supports the hacking efforts operates from the agency’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, and from eavesdropping bases in the United Kingdom and Japan. GCHQ, the British intelligence agency, appears to have played an integral role in helping to develop the implants tactic.
The NSA has a diverse arsenal of malware tools, each highly sophisticated and customizable for different purposes.
One implant, codenamed UNITEDRAKE, can be used with a variety of “plug-ins” that enable the agency to gain total control of an infected computer.
An implant plug-in named CAPTIVATEDAUDIENCE, for example, is used to take over a targeted computer’s microphone and record conversations taking place near the device. Another, GUMFISH, can covertly take over a computer’s webcam and snap photographs. FOGGYBOTTOM records logs of Internet browsing histories and collects login details and passwords used to access websites and email accounts. GROK is used to log keystrokes. And SALVAGERABBIT exfiltrates data from removable flash drives that connect to an infected computer.
The media impact having been considerable, you have no doubt learned that we were NOT able to enter the Gaza Strip where we had been invited by a number of women’s associations on the occasion of International Women’s Day.
Most of us had been held up at the Cairo airport by the Egyptian government, which had despicably carried out Israeli orders, thus showing to the world that it fully collaborates in the Gaza blockade.
The boarder between Egypt and the Gaza Strip is effectively hermetically sealed, and not for security reasons. In reality, as the young people of Gaza, who have in their turn launched an appeal for help (as has the Palestinian Center for Human Rights), have written, security is just a pretext, because the Egypt-Israeli boarder at Taba, where incidents have occurred has not been closed a single day!
But look at what the lackeys of the Israeli occupation have won by blocking us in Cairo!
A huge demonstration that lasted 48 hours at the airport in plain vue of Egyptian passengers and air personnel, who, to the great displeasure of those carrying out the dirty work, showed us their approval and encouragement, proving that they are not the dupes of governmental anti-Palestinian propaganda.
The dozens of women from different countries transformed the checkpoint into a truly public scene and made fools of their jailers in front of the world, as you can judge from these images: http://www.europalestine.com/spip.php?article9150
The Palestinians who had been waiting for us told us how proud they were of our resistance and our solidarity. More than just a visit of a few days, what those women expect of us, all of us, is that we help them to open the huge prison in which they find themselves, that we help them to no longer have to depend on the charity of European or other institutions, that we help them to break the silence about this 21st century concentration camp, that we help them to recover their freedom.
So we invite you to continue the fight for this liberation with them and with us by all the means at our disposal: the boycott campaign against Israel, the public expression of our indignation, our votes for only those electoral candidates who denounce the blockade and who will watch out that businesses in their cities do not sell products illegally exported by the Israeli occupier.
And we can equally demand of all elected officials, of all political parties, of all associations who say “never again” to officially invite Palestinian women from the Gaza Strip to come visit France.
If you wish to debate with us and with the women of Gaza, we invite you to an important meeting on Saturday, 22 March at 17h00 at the Résistances bookstore in Paris. The program will include a videoconference with the women of Gaza and the screening of films showing our being blocked in Cairo and the campaign against the Gaza blockade. All will take place in the presence of a number of women from the Coalition who will give testimony.
Also we wish to inform you that donations received for the benefit of women’s associations in Gaza before our departure will be rapidly transferred to them. We will keep you informed of their exact use.
More information and videos on http://www.europalestine.com
Voir aussi : Quelle ambiance ! Merci Donna pour ces deux vidéos !
Voir aussi : Témoignage de Donna en texte et en images :