A new authoritarian axis demands an international progressive front

There is a global struggle taking place of enormous consequence. Nothing less than the future of the planet – economically, socially and environmentally – is at stake.

Bernie Sanders

At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, when the world’s top 1% now owns more wealth than the bottom 99%, we are seeing the rise of a new authoritarian axis.

While these regimes may differ in some respects, they share key attributes: hostility toward democratic norms, antagonism toward a free press, intolerance toward ethnic and religious minorities, and a belief that government should benefit their own selfish financial interests. These leaders are also deeply connected to a network of multi-billionaire oligarchs who see the world as their economic plaything.

It should be clear by now that Donald Trump and the rightwing movement that supports him is not a phenomenon unique to the United States. All around the world, in Europe, in Russia, in the Middle East, in Asia and elsewhere we are seeing movements led by demagogues who exploit people’s fears, prejudices and grievances to achieve and hold on to power.

This trend certainly did not begin with Trump, but there’s no question that authoritarian leaders around the world have drawn inspiration from the fact that the leader of the world’s oldest and most powerful democracy seems to delight in shattering democratic norms.

We must understand that these authoritarians are part of a common front. They are in close contact with each other, share tactics and, as in the case of European and American rightwing movements, even share some of the same funders. The Mercer family, for example, supporters of the infamous Cambridge Analytica, have been key backers of Trump and of Breitbart News, which operates in Europe, the United States and Israel to advance the same anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim agenda. Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson gives generously to rightwing causes in both the United States and Israel, promoting a shared agenda of intolerance and illiberalism in both countries.

In order to effectively combat the rise of the international authoritarian axis, we need an international progressive movement that mobilizes behind a vision of shared prosperity, security and dignity for all people, and that addresses the massive global inequality that exists, not only in wealth but in political power.

The Guardian

Tales from Gaza: What is life really like in ‘the world’s largest outdoor prison’?

With its sandy beaches and sumptuous seafood, it could be a holiday resort. But life in Gaza, post-Israeli sanctions and with 50 per cent unemployment, has never been more difficult. Alistair Dawber meets the people trying to survive on the Palestinian coast.

By Alistair Dawber in The Independent

The guide books warn that it’s very unstable and that tourists shouldn’t go there; the Foreign Office tells Brits that there’s a high threat from terrorism – don’t visit any part of the territory, it says, and if you do, there is no ‘our man’ there to help you out.

In truth, it is pretty difficult to get into Gaza anyway. Unless you are a journalist or work for an NGO, the likelihood is that you will get stopped at Israel’s airport-terminal-like border post at Erez, which governs who is allowed to enter the Palestinian territory and, more importantly in Israeli eyes, who is allowed out.

But once you do get permission to go to Gaza, you realise that it is not like anywhere else. After getting the necessary stamps in your passport, you take a long walk through an 800-metre or so long cage, overlooked by Israeli army gun posts and balloons fixed with cameras that keep an eye over what’s going on. Locals call it “the world’s biggest prison”, and it’s not difficult to understand why.

Palestinian Abu Ameera poses for a photograph with children at Shati refugee camp Saleh Jadallah

Gaza is about 5,000 years old and one of the world’s oldest cities. In that time it has been both a thriving port and, as it is today, a sprawling mess of refugee camps and poverty. According to the United Nations, 1.5 million people call it home, making Gaza one of the most densely populated areas on the planet. Of the 1.5 million inhabitants, 1.1 million are refugees; those who lived in what is now Israel before 1948 refuse to give up the belief that one day they’ll return to their former homes.

Read more at The Independent

Why Bankrolling Israel Prevents Peace in the Middle East

An Israeli soldier stands beside a tank in Avivim near the Israel-Lebanon border (Reuters/Baz Ratner)

We Americans have funny notions about foreign aid. Recent polls show that, on average, we believe 28 percent of the federal budget is eaten up by it, and that, in a time of austerity, this gigantic bite of the budget should be cut back to 10 percent. In actual fact, barely 1 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid of any kind.

In this case, however, truth is at least as strange as fiction. Consider that the top recipient of US foreign aid over the past three decades isn’t some impoverished land filled with starving kids, but a wealthy nation with a per-head gross domestic product on par with the European Union average, and higher than that of Italy, Spain or South Korea.

Consider also that this top recipient of such aid—nearly all of it military since 2008—has been busily engaged in what looks like a nineteenth-century-style colonization project. In the late 1940s, our beneficiary expelled some 700,000 indigenous people from the land it was claiming. In 1967, our client seized some contiguous pieces of real estate and ever since has been colonizing these territories with nearly 650,000 of its own people. It has divided the conquered lands with myriad checkpoints and roads accessible only to the colonizers and is building a 440-mile wall around (and cutting into) the conquered territory, creating a geography of control that violates international law.

“Ethnic cleansing” is a harsh term, but apt for a situation in which people are driven out of their homes and lands because they are not of the right tribe. Though many will balk at leveling this charge against Israel—for that country is, of course, the top recipient of American aid and especially military largesse—who would hesitate to use the term if, in a mirror-image world, all of this were being inflicted on Israeli Jews?

Read more at The Nation

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Bill de Blasio Is Wrong to Pander to AIPAC

The powerful right-wing lobby doesn’t represent most American Jews, and it’s no longer the only game in town.

(AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Last summer, this magazine enthusiastically endorsed Bill de Blasio in his campaign for mayor of New York City, praising “his commitment to reimagining the city in boldly progressive, egalitarian terms.” Later we celebrated his landslide victory, and we still stand firmly behind him on the issues most critical to the future of New York.

So it was especially dismaying to learn that, less than a month after he assumed office, the mayor who had promised a more inclusive and transparent administration than that of his predecessor delivered a speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in a gala not listed on his public schedule and not open to reporters. De Blasio pandered to the powerful right-wing lobby, assuring attendees that “City Hall will always be open to AIPAC…when you need me to stand by you in Washington or anywhere, I will answer the call and I will answer it happily, because that’s my job.”

Deplorable? Yes. Surprising? Hardly. Perhaps the most depressing feature of this ritual of abjection is its predictability—the fact that for decades, this has been standard operating procedure for many American politicians, even ones who are steadfast on core progressive issues like de Blasio. Office-seekers learn to assume early in their career that if they don’t pledge fealty to AIPAC, retribution will be swift and their political life could be a short one. So rather than test the limits of the lobby’s power, most of them go along.

AIPAC’s dominion—reinforced by Christian Zionists and the usual cast of neocon hawks—is destructive on many fronts. Not only has it prevented a just resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict by enforcing lockstep US support for the most retrograde elements in Israel; in recent years it has, in league with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, been doing everything it can to provoke US conflict with Iran. Now, when a conciliatory new government in Tehran is seeking rapprochement with Washington—the best hope for US and regional security in more than three decades—AIPAC and its allies have been pressing Congress for renewed sanctions precisely in order to kill that hope, which could set Washington on the path to war.

However, it’s important to recognize that many of the assumptions that underpin AIPAC’s influence don’t carry the force they used to. Praising what he called the “deep connection” between New York and Israel, de Blasio pointed out that New York is “home to the largest Jewish community outside the state of Israel,” as if Jewishness and Zionism (and, by implication, Zionism of the AIPAC sort) were indivisible. But polls consistently show that among Jews, Israel actually ranks very low on the list of political priorities, as do the long-running tensions with Iran. Of far greater concern are the economy, the growing gap between rich and poor, the struggle for social justice—the same issues that animated de Blasio’s mayoral campaign and propelled him to victory. Apart from the question of what Jewish New Yorkers want is that de Blasio is the mayor of, and should speak for, all New Yorkers, including the hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Arabs, not to mention Christians, Buddhists, atheists and others, who live, work, pay taxes and vote in the city.

Read more at The Nation

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Wine Cellar, Well Aged, Is Revealed in Israel

A storage room unearthed from the ruins of a 1700 B.C. Canaanite palace in northern Israel held the remains of 40 ceramic jars.

Digging this summer at the ruins of a 1700 B.C. Canaanite palace in northern Israel, archaeologists struck wine.

Near the banquet hall where rulers of a Middle Bronze Age city-state and their guests feasted, a team of American and Israeli researchers broke through to a storage room holding the remains of 40 large ceramic jars. The vessels were broken, their liquid contents long since vanished — but not without a trace.

A chemical analysis of residues left in the three-foot-tall jars detected organic traces of acids that are common components of all wine, as well as ingredients popular in ancient winemaking. These included honey, mint, cinnamon bark, juniper berries and resins used as a preservative. The recipe was similar to medicinal wines used for 2,000 years in ancient Egypt and probably tasted something like retsina or other resinous Greek wines today.

So the archaeologists who have been exploring the Canaanite site, known as Tel Kabri, announced on Friday that they had found one of civilization’s oldest and largest wine cellars. The storage room held the equivalent of about 3,000 bottles of red and white wines, they said — and they suspected that this was not the palace’s only wine cellar.

“This is a hugely significant discovery,” said Eric H. Cline, a co-director of the Tel Kabri excavations, in a statement issued by George Washington University, where he is chairman of the department of classical and Near Eastern languages and civilizations. “It’s a wine cellar that, to our knowledge, is largely unmatched in its age and size.”

Dr. Cline and the other co-director, Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa in Israel, described their findings Friday in Baltimore at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. Another member of the team, Andrew Koh of Brandeis University, reported the results of the organic residue analysis, emphasizing the quantity of the samples and thoroughness of the testing. The researchers had to work fast to examine the residues before they became contaminated on exposure outside the storage room.

The archaeologists said that much of the palace, including the banquet hall and the wine storage room, was destroyed 3,600 years ago in some violent event, perhaps an earthquake. The wine cellar was covered with thick debris of mud bricks and plaster. That and the fact that no subsequent buildings were erected on top of the site have made Tel Kabri an inviting place for archaeological studies.

In first, Syrian woman gives birth in Israeli hospital

Lazar Berman

For the first time, a Syrian refugee gave birth in an Israeli hospital on Sunday. The woman, a 20-year-old nurse, came across the border alone, and gave birth to a healthy 3.2-kilogram (7 pound) boy.

When the woman felt the baby coming, she was stuck in her home near Quneitra, with no access to a Syrian hospital and no medical care in the town. So she decided to take a huge risk for the sake of her unborn child, and made her way to the border.

“I feared for the baby’s welfare if the birth went through complications at home,” she said. “To my joy, the Israeli army saw I was suffering from terrible pains, and picked me up and transferred me to the hospital.”

When the IDF found her on the border Saturday night, she was already in labor. They brought her to Ziv Medical Center in Safed, where many of the dozens of Syrian medical cases brought into Israel are treated.

Since she came across the border with no family, midwives at the hospital took their place, holding her hands and coaching her through the birth. “At the end of the birth she thanked everyone and hugged everyone with joy,” one of the nurses said.

“The team of Israeli midwives and doctors treated me with sensitivity and respect,” noted the mother.

“She received warm and embracing care from the entire birthing staff,” said Mira Eli, a nurse in the birthing room at Ziv, “just like every mother needs — and even more.”

Read more at The Times Of Israel

A visual history of Palestinian refugees | Al Jazeera America

Displaced by the tumult in Israel and its environs, most Palestinians have lived as refugees for the last 65 years

Palestine, 1948. Refugees return to their village after surrendering in the war against Israel. The conflict forced 85% of the Palestinian population living in what became Israel to leave their homes. Their right to return was written into the a UN resolution that year, but 65 years later, this issue has yet to be resolved. AFP/Getty Images

See more at Al Jazeera America

Palestinian in Kafkaesque battle over family’s hotel

Borders change, Israeli officials deny responsibility and confiscate and re-confiscate the property that Ali Ayad hasn’t been allowed to set foot on since 2004.

For all of his 59 years, Ali Ayad’s life has revolved around the 1-acre plot overlooking Jerusalem that is home to what used to be the Cliff Hotel. (Edmund Sanders / Los Angeles Times / August 27, 2013)

ABU DIS, West Bank — The year Ali Ayad was born, his father broke ground on a majestic home perched on a bluff overlooking Jerusalem, with views of the Dead Sea in one direction and the golden Dome of the Rock in the other.

For all of his 59 years, Ayad’s life has revolved around the 1-acre plot. He played under the olive trees as a boy and became manager after the home was converted into the Cliff Hotel.

He met his Norwegian wife from behind the reception desk, married her in the dining room and raised two daughters amid the daily bustle of visiting tourists and diplomats.

But the idyllic life turned into what he describes as a Kafkaesque nightmare a decade ago after Israel seized control of the hotel. Using a combination of military orders and a controversial absentee-owner law, the government kicked him off the property, banned him from returning and then confiscated it as abandoned.

Israel informed Ayad, who has always been identified by Israel as a West Bank resident, that his former home was inside the Jerusalem city limits, even though for decades the municipality refused to provide public services because it said the property was in the West Bank town of Abu Dis.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times.