India digest: Third Party Landslide, transgendered communities and insight into village life

So this happened in India yesterday:

The Hindu (newspaper with a largely South Indian readership) writes: AAP ki sarkar: Kejriwal Rules Delhi

The Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Tuesday swept to power with 67 seats in the 70-member Delhi Assembly, leaving only three to the Bharatiya Janata Party and nil to the Congress.The Congress had been in power for three consecutive terms in the State until 2013 and the BJP had won all seven Lok Sabha seats in May 2014.

To put this in US terms, it would be similar to one of Noam Chomsky’s acolytes splitting with him (as Kejriwal split with the activist Anna Hazare), forming a political party, and winning 95% of the seats in Washington DC and it’s suburbs (Delhi’s population is 10 million, about 0.8% of India’s.When they first ran for office in 2013, AAP won 28 of 70 seats in New Delhi’s legislative assembly, the BJP won slightly more but the AAP formed the government with support from Congress. Kejriwal resigned when it was clear he could not pass his anti-corruption agenda. At the time, he got a lot of flak for resigning, but the strategy seems to have been sound. It looks like every Delhiite who hesitated to vote for AAP for fear of “wasting” their votes overcame that hesitation in this cycle.

The AAP’s platform is decidedly populist, and they’ve won in large part on the strength of a promise to crack down on petty corruption. To emphasize the “cleaning house” theme, they chose a broom as their symbol (India’s political parties have campaigned with recognizable symbols to make life easier for illiterate voters). The AAP also had an interesting candidate selection strategy. Unlike the BJP/Congress who tend to reward party loyalists with nominations, the AAP picked younger candidates, many of them new to politics. They also relied heavily on campaign contributions from small donors. In contrast, most campaigns in India are financed with suitcases full of cash (seriously).

Here’s how other media outlets are covering the election:

NYTimes: India’s Aam Aadmi Party Sweeps Elections in Delhi

Mr. Kejriwal’s vow to crack down on small-scale corruption has particular resonance among slum dwellers. The vast majority of Delhi’s cycle rickshaw drivers and street hawkers, for example, do not have permits and are routinely pressured for small bribes by constables who often pay bribes to land their jobs.

Hindustan Times (North Indian readership and is Delhi’s local paper): Delhi election results: BJP trounced by Kejriwal’s AAP in blow to Modi, Cong fails to open account

The closely fought election saw a record turnout of 67.10% and 8.9 million of the city’s 13.3 million-strong electorate cast their votes.The 2013 elections had produced a hung assembly, and the AAP (with 28 MLAs) formed a government with the outside support of eight Congress legislators.

The AAP rode to victory on promises of cheaper electricity and water, and probity in government. The party also has a strident position against Delhi’s famed culture of privilege; in its last stint, one of its more popular moves was the outlawing of red beacons on official cars.

Its culture of handouts runs counter to the ruling principles of the BJP at the Centre, which espouses a market-friendly approach and wants to cut subsidies. Stock markets, which had fallen sharply on Monday after investors took fright from the exit polls, recovered in early trade as people chose to look ahead to this month’s union Budget.

The Guardian: Anti-corruption party sweeps Delhi elections in blow for Narendra Modi

The AAP held power briefly a year ago but resigned from government after a chaotic 49 days which saw Kejriwal slash the prices of power and water, reject police security details and take part in street protests.“Some say I am an anarchist, that I am spreading anarchy. I am willing to agree to that,” the then chief minister told reporters as he scuffled with police at one demonstration.

Local voters, particularly the poor in the sprawling metropolis, appear to have been willing to give the party another chance. The party’s symbol is a broom – a reference to its origins as an anti-graft campaign group. Key poll pledges included cheaper utility bills, a major attraction for those hit hard by soaring inflation in recent years.

Surveys show that those at the bottom of India’s tenacious social hierarchy of caste also support the AAP, as well as the capital’s large Muslim community.

The Times of India (national readership with a Bombay base): Delhi election results 2015: Don’t get such happiness daily, auto drivers sayTransgender issues and village life below the fold…

Meanwhile, in the world of letters, Granta published their Indian fiction issue (130) yesterday and two pieces stood out to me:

First, I urge everyone to read Snigdha Poonam’s revealing essay about an enterprising young man in an impoverished state in India (incidentally home to part of my family).  It’s titled The Fixer, go read it.

Second, Mona’s Story by Urvashi Butalia recounts the story of a trans-gendered man (Ahmed) who joined India’s large hijra community (eunuchs) and eventually surgically changed their gender to become Mona. The story is compelling and eye-opening, but one paragraph exemplified the chasm between the author and her subject:

What was it with all these men wanting to be women, I wondered. Here I was, a woman who thinks of herself as empathetic and quite open, surrounded by men who were doing their best to switch over to ‘my’ side, and I felt out of place, as if I did not belong. I was reminded of a conversation I’d once had with an Australian friend of mine, a lesbian and a feminist, as she and I stood and watched some hijras dance at a women’s conference. ‘I hate all this,’ she’d said to me. ‘We’ve fought so long and hard to carve out a little space for ourselves in society, to be able to make our voices heard, and here are these men pretending to be women, and they’ve come and taken it over.’ Until she said it in so many words, I hadn’t actually thought of it like that. Instead, I’d been wondering about what the experience of maleness and femaleness meant for the Monas of this world and how someone like me could understand it. Typically, Mona had the answer. ‘Arrey,’ she said, ‘why do you worry so much about this? What is there to think? I’m human, you’re human, I’m a woman but sometimes I can be a man – I don’t like being one, but sometimes it’s useful. And anyway, we have something more in common and that is that both you and I, we’re bachelors.’

Personally, I’m with Mona on this one and was taken aback by the author and the “Australian friend”‘s view. In some ways, India’s institutions are ahead of it’s society, the Supreme Court recognized transgendered people as a third gender last year.

Obama’s nuanced, thoughtful remarks at Prayer Breakfast have the right in an uproar

The Washington Post reports he said the following at the National Prayer Breakfast:

“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history,” he told the group, speaking of the tension between the compassionate and murderous acts religion can inspire. “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

which is a pretty standard comment on DKos. The predictable Republican response (drum-roll):

Some Republicans were outraged. “The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime,” said former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore (R). “He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.”

and then further on

Obama emphasized the need to respect minorities in his speech Thursday, saying it was part of the obligation Americans face as members of a diverse and open society, “And if, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults — and stand shoulder to shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are the targets of such attacks.”

DKos diaries Obama may have been lurking on:Yes, ISIS Burned a Man Alive: White Americans Did the Same Thing to Black People by the Thousands

Religious freedom gives me the constitutional right to violate your constitutional rights. Right?

ISIS is largely a figment of our imagination

Gunmen kill 12 at Paris headquarters of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo

and I leave you with this:

“We welcome the scrutiny of the world — because what you see in America is a country that has steadily worked to address our problems and make our union more perfect,” Obama said. “America is not the same as it was 100 years ago, 50 years ago or even a decade ago. Because we fight for our ideals and are willing to criticize ourselves when we fall short.”But each of these admissions of fault — whether it is Obama’s acknowledgment during his 2009 Cairo speech that the United States was involved in the 1953 coup overthrowing the government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh or the suggestion that America has “a moral responsibility to act” on arms control because only the United States had “used a nuclear weapon” — has drawn sharp criticism from opponents.

6:31 AM PT: Since this has sparked some discussion in the media, and more importantly made it to the DKos rec list, I’m adding the entire text of Obama’s remarks below the fold so we can understand the context, avoid selective quotes and also because it is quite an awesome speech. I would urge you to read it in its entirety.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Well, good morning.  Giving all praise and honor to God.  It is wonderful to be back with you here.  I want to thank our co-chairs, Bob and Roger.  These two don’t always agree in the Senate, but in coming together and uniting us all in prayer, they embody the spirit of our gathering today.I also want to thank everybody who helped organize this breakfast.  It’s wonderful to see so many friends and faith leaders and dignitaries.  And Michelle and I are truly honored to be joining you here today.

I want to offer a special welcome to a good friend, His Holiness the Dalai Lama — who is a powerful example of what it means to practice compassion, who inspires us to speak up for the freedom and dignity of all human beings.  (Applause.)  I’ve been pleased to welcome him to the White House on many occasions, and we’re grateful that he’s able to join us here today.  (Applause.)

There aren’t that many occasions that bring His Holiness under the same roof as NASCAR.  (Laughter.)  This may be the first.  (Laughter.)  But God works in mysterious ways.  (Laughter.)   And so I want to thank Darrell for that wonderful presentation.  Darrell knows that when you’re going 200 miles an hour, a little prayer cannot hurt.  (Laughter.)  I suspect that more than once, Darrell has had the same thought as many of us have in our own lives — Jesus, take the wheel.  (Laughter.) Although I hope that you kept your hands on the wheel when you were thinking that.  (Laughter.)

He and I obviously share something in having married up.  And we are so grateful to Stevie for the incredible work that they’ve done together to build a ministry where the fastest drivers can slow down a little bit, and spend some time in prayer and reflection and thanks.  And we certainly want to wish Darrell a happy birthday.  (Applause.)  Happy birthday.

I will note, though, Darrell, when you were reading that list of things folks were saying about you, I was thinking, well, you’re a piker.  I mean, that — (laughter.)  I mean, if you really want a list, come talk to me.  (Laughter.)  Because that ain’t nothing.  (Laughter.)  That’s the best they can do in NASCAR?  (Laughter.)

Slowing down and pausing for fellowship and prayer — that’s what this breakfast is about.  I think it’s fair to say Washington moves a lot slower than NASCAR.  Certainly my agenda does sometimes.  (Laughter.)  But still, it’s easier to get caught up in the rush of our lives, and in the political back-and-forth that can take over this city.  We get sidetracked with distractions, large and small.  We can’t go 10 minutes without checking our smartphones — and for my staff, that’s every 10 seconds.  And so for 63 years, this prayer tradition has brought us together, giving us the opportunity to come together in humility before the Almighty and to be reminded of what it is that we share as children of God.

And certainly for me, this is always a chance to reflect on my own faith journey.  Many times as President, I’ve been reminded of a line of prayer that Eleanor Roosevelt was fond of. She said, “Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength.”  Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength.  I’ve wondered at times if maybe God was answering that prayer a little too literally.  But no matter the challenge, He has been there for all of us.  He’s certainly strengthened me “with the power through his Spirit,” as I’ve sought His guidance not just in my own life but in the life of our nation.

Now, over the last few months, we’ve seen a number of challenges — certainly over the last six years.  But part of what I want to touch on today is the degree to which we’ve seen professions of faith used both as an instrument of great good, but also twisted and misused in the name of evil.

As we speak, around the world, we see faith inspiring people to lift up one another — to feed the hungry and care for the poor, and comfort the afflicted and make peace where there is strife.  We heard the good work that Sister has done in Philadelphia, and the incredible work that Dr. Brantly and his colleagues have done.  We see faith driving us to do right.

But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon.  From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it.  We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism  — terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.

We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.

So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history.  And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.  Michelle and I returned from India — an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity — but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs — acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.

So this is not unique to one group or one religion.  There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.  In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try.  And in this mission, I believe there are a few principles that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe.

And, first, we should start with some basic humility.  I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt — not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.

Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth — our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments.  And we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing and we’re staggering and stumbling towards Him, and have some humility in that process.  And that means we have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty.  No God condones terror.  No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives, or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number.

And so, as people of faith, we are summoned to push back against those who try to distort our religion — any religion — for their own nihilistic ends.  And here at home and around the world, we will constantly reaffirm that fundamental freedom — freedom of religion — the right to practice our faith how we choose, to change our faith if we choose, to practice no faith at all if we choose, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination.

There’s wisdom in our founders writing in those documents that help found this nation the notion of freedom of religion, because they understood the need for humility.  They also understood the need to uphold freedom of speech, that there was a connection between freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  For to infringe on one right under the pretext of protecting another is a betrayal of both.

But part of humility is also recognizing in modern, complicated, diverse societies, the functioning of these rights, the concern for the protection of these rights calls for each of us to exercise civility and restraint and judgment.  And if, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults — (applause) — and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are the targets of such attacks.  Just because you have the right to say something doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t question those who would insult others in the name of free speech.  Because we know that our nations are stronger when people of all faiths feel that they are welcome, that they, too, are full and equal members of our countries.

So humility I think is needed.  And the second thing we need is to uphold the distinction between our faith and our governments.  Between church and between state.  The United States is one of the most religious countries in the world — far more religious than most Western developed countries.  And one of the reasons is that our founders wisely embraced the separation of church and state.  Our government does not sponsor a religion, nor does it pressure anyone to practice a particular faith, or any faith at all.  And the result is a culture where people of all backgrounds and beliefs can freely and proudly worship, without fear, or coercion — so that when you listen to Darrell talk about his faith journey you know it’s real.  You know he’s not saying it because it helps him advance, or because somebody told him to.  It’s from the heart.

That’s not the case in theocracies that restrict people’s choice of faith.  It’s not the case in authoritarian governments that elevate an individual leader or a political party above the people, or in some cases, above the concept of God Himself.  So the freedom of religion is a value we will continue to protect here at home and stand up for around the world, and is one that we guard vigilantly here in the United States.

Last year, we joined together to pray for the release of Christian missionary Kenneth Bae, held in North Korea for two years.  And today, we give thanks that Kenneth is finally back where he belongs — home, with his family.  (Applause.)

Last year, we prayed together for Pastor Saeed Abedini, detained in Iran since 2012.  And I was recently in Boise, Idaho, and had the opportunity to meet with Pastor Abedini’s beautiful wife and wonderful children and to convey to them that our country has not forgotten brother Saeed and that we’re doing everything we can to bring him home.  (Applause.)  And then, I received an extraordinary letter from Pastor Abedini.  And in it, he describes his captivity, and expressed his gratitude for my visit with his family, and thanked us all for standing in solidarity with him during his captivity.

And Pastor Abedini wrote, “Nothing is more valuable to the Body of Christ than to see how the Lord is in control, and moves ahead of countries and leadership through united prayer.”  And he closed his letter by describing himself as “prisoner for Christ, who is proud to be part of this great nation of the United States of America that cares for religious freedom around the world.”  (Applause.)

We’re going to keep up this work — for Pastor Abedini and all those around the world who are unjustly held or persecuted because of their faith.   And we’re grateful to our new Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Rabbi David Saperstein — who has hit the ground running, and is heading to Iraq in a few days to help religious communities there address some of those challenges.  Where’s David?  I know he’s here somewhere.  Thank you, David, for the great work you’re doing.  (Applause.)

Humility; a suspicion of government getting between us and our faiths, or trying to dictate our faiths, or elevate one faith over another.  And, finally, let’s remember that if there is one law that we can all be most certain of that seems to bind people of all faiths, and people who are still finding their way towards faith but have a sense of ethics and morality in them — that one law, that Golden Rule that we should treat one another as we wish to be treated.  The Torah says “Love thy neighbor as yourself.”  In Islam, there is a Hadith that states: “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”  The Holy Bible tells us to “put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”  Put on love.

Whatever our beliefs, whatever our traditions, we must seek to be instruments of peace, and bringing light where there is darkness, and sowing love where there is hatred.  And this is the loving message of His Holiness, Pope Francis.  And like so many people around the world, I’ve been touched by his call to relieve suffering, and to show justice and mercy and compassion to the most vulnerable; to walk with The Lord and ask “Who am I to judge?”  He challenges us to press on in what he calls our “march of living hope.”  And like millions of Americans, I am very much looking forward to welcoming Pope Francis to the United States later this year.  (Applause.)

His Holiness expresses that basic law:  Treat thy neighbor as yourself.  The Dalai Lama — anybody who’s had an opportunity to be with him senses that same spirit.  Kent Brantly expresses that same spirit.  Kent was with Samaritan’s Purse, treating Ebola patients in Liberia, when he contracted the virus himself. And with world-class medical care and a deep reliance on faith — with God’s help, Kent survived.  (Applause.)

And then by donating his plasma, he helped others survive as well.  And he continues to advocate for a global response in West Africa, reminding us that “our efforts needs to be on loving the people there.”  And I could not have been prouder to welcome Kent and his wonderful wife Amber to the Oval Office.  We are blessed to have him here today — because he reminds us of what it means to really “love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Not just words, but deeds.

Each of us has a role in fulfilling our common, greater purpose — not merely to seek high position, but to plumb greater depths so that we may find the strength to love more fully.  And this is perhaps our greatest challenge — to see our own reflection in each other; to be our brother’s keepers and sister’s keepers, and to keep faith with one another.  As children of God, let’s make that our work, together.

As children of God, let’s work to end injustice — injustice of poverty and hunger.  No one should ever suffer from such want amidst such plenty.  As children of God, let’s work to eliminate the scourge of homelessness, because, as Sister Mary says, “None of us are home until all of us are home.”  None of us are home until all of us are home.

As children of God, let’s stand up for the dignity and value of every woman, and man, and child, because we are all equal in His eyes, and work to send the scourge and the sin of modern-day slavery and human trafficking, and “set the oppressed free.”  (Applause.)

If we are properly humble, if we drop to our knees on occasion, we will acknowledge that we never fully know God’s purpose.  We can never fully fathom His amazing grace.  “We see through a glass, darkly” — grappling with the expanse of His awesome love.  But even with our limits, we can heed that which is required:  To do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

I pray that we will.  And as we journey together on this “march of living hope,” I pray that, in His name, we will run and not be weary, and walk and not be faint, and we’ll heed those words and “put on love.”

May the Lord bless you and keep you, and may He bless this precious country that we love.

Thank you all very much.  (Applause.)

What it Takes to believe this meme about Obama’s response to Chris Kyle and Whitney Houston’s deaths

One of the eye-opening things about social media is that people feel compelled to share views they would not air in a real world public setting. You get to learn what people find believable and where their biases may lie. So I found someone on my feed had decided this was completely believable given what they knew about the world:

It took me about ten seconds to find that the claims had been thoroughly debunked at Snopes and elsewhere, and that “Obama ordered flags flown at half-mast at Whitney Houston’s death” is well on its way to becoming an essential part of whisper campaigns among self described “conservative patriots”.

It was, of course, Chris Christie who ordered NJ flags flown at half-mast to honor Whitney when she died (she’s from NJ). This was somewhat controversial even then.

Defending Chris Kyle against alleged insults seems to have become a bit of a cottage industry for the reactionary right:

The strange thing is that Obama has made enormous efforts to raise awareness of PTSD and the mental health challenges that returning veterans face (Chris Kyle was shot by a veteran who may have been suffering PTSD). But why would you stop to think when it’ll probably stop the delicious foaming you want in your mouth.

This Chris Kyle meme has a lot of catching up to do if it wants to rival the all-time fake outrage leader:

It’s April 15: Can I Take a Tax-Deduction on My Donation to Israeli Settlements in Palestine?

Haaretz reports today on the news that Israeli authorities have requested bids to construct 450 housing units in settlements beyond the 1967 borders. The piece is titled: U.S. says Israeli settlement unit tenders will ‘inflame tensions’

Among other tidbits is this interesting reward for bad-behavior:

The plans also call for 114 units in East Migron, a new neighborhood born out of an agreement by which settlers would evacuate an outpost built on private Palestinian land and move to a new residential area east of the settlement of Adam. Residents violated the deal, and in the end were given an area closer to Migron.

Meanwhile, Eric Goldstein writes in Foreign Policy about how much of the settlement building is supported by funds from US-based charities that may be running afoul of US tax law: Can I Take a Tax-Deduction on My Donation to Israeli Settlements in Palestine?

Since Netanyahu took office in March 2009, the population of Israeli settlements has grown dramatically. According to recently released Israeli government data, from the beginning of 2009 until the beginning of 2014, the settlement population grew 23 percent — more than double the rate of the overall Israeli population, which expanded 9.6 percent. In late December, another 380 new housing units in East Jerusalem settlements were approved.This growth is partly being funded by millions of dollars from tax-exempt American charities, which help expand and support settlements. Even though this revenue stream arguably violates Internal Revenue Service rules, neither Congress nor the Obama administration has done anything to stop it.

Israeli officials claim disingenuously that Jewish citizens are merely buying property in Arab neighborhoods. In reality, the Israeli government has collaborated closely with organizations like Elad to boost the presence of Israelis in occupied Palestinian territory, a policy that could complicate the path to any eventual solution to the conflict based on a partition of the land.The Klugman Report, commissioned by the Israeli government in 1992 and produced by a committee headed by Haim Klugman, then director general of the Justice Ministry, revealed that Elad gained its foothold in Silwan by persuading the government to evict Palestinian families from their homes and transfer their property to Elad. This government decision was based in part on allegedly fraudulent evidence purporting to show that the land belonged to the state. Israel Nature and Parks Authority also gave Elad a contract to assist in the administration of an archeological site in Silwan, further expanding Elad’s control over the neighborhood.

In occupied East Jerusalem, Israel has built more than 50,000 housing units for Jewish Israelis in areas it declared state land. Israel still severely restricts the 39 percent of Jerusalem’s population who is Palestinian from building there, partly to implement the Jerusalem municipality’s policy of achieving a “demographic balance” of 70 percent Israeli Jews to 30 percent Palestinians in the contested city.The role of American charities in supporting settlement construction has long been known — even if, in the words of Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, “it was a thing you didn’t talk about in polite company.” Breaking this taboo, Marc Ginsberg, a former U.S. ambassador to Morocco, and others have recently called on the Obama administration to stop the spigot of tax-free dollars coming from, as Ginsberg writes, “international and American ‘philanthropies’ that fund these settlements.” Internal Revenue Service rules prohibit tax-exempt organizations from engaging in, planning, or sponsoring illegal acts or acts contrary to established U.S. public policy, such as discrimination. Funding settlement expansion likely falls within that category: The United States has long called settlements “illegitimate,” and there is no question that they violate the Fourth Geneva Convention’s prohibition on transfer of civilians to occupied territory.

Some older stories that are related:

Large-scale fraud halts land deals in West Bank settlement of Beit El

Full Haaretz expose / How the state helped right-wing groups settle East Jerusalem

The last article describes how Israeli authorities have used the 1948 “Absentee Property Law” to expropriate Palestinian land in East Jerusalem.

B’Tselem reports on Israeli precision bombs that destroyed 70 homes in Gaza, killing entire families

B’Tselem (The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) issued a report today titled Black Flag: The legal and moral implications of the policy of attacking residential buildings in the Gaza Strip, summer 2014. It leads with the following two quotes:

I lost my whole family, and my home. I have nothing left. No photos, not the things my family and I used. I lost everything. I have nothing left. I lost everything in seconds. I lost everything.
Muhammad Nader ‘Ata al‐Agha, 19, student, resident of Ma’an/Khan Yunis.No other country and no other army in history have gone to greater lengths to avoid casualties among the civilian population of their enemies
Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel

The report examines the IDF policy of precision bombing homes to assassinate specific individuals which almost inevitably kills families residing there.

In one of the many such “precision bombing” incidents, 24 members of the Abu Jame’ family were killed. Sixteen children under the age of 10 were among the dead. The target was an unrelated member of Hamas visiting the family over the Ramadan holidays.

In another case, Henk Zanoli returned a ‘Righteous among the Nations medal’ he had received for his family’s action in sheltering Jewish refugees when six members of his extended family were killed (including a 12-year old boy and a 70-year old woman).  The target was a person visiting them that day who the IDF claims was in Hamas’s military wing.

Here’s how B’Tselem describes these policies (emphasis mine):

On the first day of the fighting, the military attacked the Kaware’ family home. The house collapsed. Nine people, including five children aged 7 to 14, were killed. This was just the first of dozens of air, sea and ground strikes, which would become one of the appalling hallmarks of the fighting in Gaza this summer: bombings in which hundreds of people were killed – constituting more than a quarter of all of the Palestinians killed in the fighting. Time and again Palestinian families suffered much grievous loss of life. In a single instant, so many families were ruined, with the wreckage of their lives mirroring the devastation of their homes.These attacks were not carried out on the whim of individual soldiers, pilots or commanders in the field. They are the result of a policy formulated by government officials and the senior military command. These officials backed the policy of attacking homes, reiterating the argument that the attacks conform to international humanitarian law (IHL) and eschewing any responsibility for harm to civilians.

For the purpose of this report B’Tselem investigated 70 incidents in each of which at least three people were killed while inside their home. A total of 606 Palestinians were killed in such incidents, the vast majority of whom took no part in the fighting: more than 70% were either under 18, over 60 or women. An examination of these cases indicates that, at least in some cases, the military’s actions ran contrary to IHL provisions and, in other cases, there is grave concern that they did so. B’Tselem’s research indicated three main reasons that led to the death of so many civilians:

A. Broad definition of what constitutes a “military objective” that may be targeted […]

B. Flexible interpretation of the concept of lawful “collateral damage” […]

C. Warning absent or ineffective […]

Killing entire families to assassinate a single person was very controversial when first employed in 2002, but this policy is no longer controversial in the IDF command structure and is no longer broadly debated in Israel (much like our own country’s use of drones). The report is well worth a read since it evaluates all the various justifications presented by the Israeli government. It also presumably lays the ground-work for a claim that this policy constitutes a war crime. Though the IDF has launched investigations of specific incidents, the policy itself is in question here. As B’Tselem notes, home demolitions are themselves considered illegal under international law.

Officials eschewed responsibility for the immense harm to civilians, placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of Hamas. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that Israel’s “security forces are doing everything in their power to avoid harming civilians and if innocents are hurt, it is because Hamas deliberately hides behind Palestinian civilians”.This argument is unacceptable. True, Hamas and other organizations operating in the Gaza Strip do not abide by IHL, nor do they purport to do so. As B’Tselem stated both during and after the fighting, Hamas has breached these provisions, and particularly its duty to distinguish between civilian objects and military targets. Not only did Hamas fire at Israeli civilians and civilian targets, it did so from within the civilian population. Hamas operatives fired from sites located near civilian dwellings, concealed weapons and munitions inside them and dug tunnels under them.

Given this reality, the issue at hand is what conclusions policymakers may draw from it. The prime minister’s statements indicate he believes that Hamas and the military share the responsibility to take precautions. Yet this interpretation is designed to block, a priori, any allegations that Israel breached IHL provisions. Accepting it would mean that there are no restrictions whatsoever on Israeli action and that whatever method it chooses to respond to Hamas operations is legitimate, no matter how horrifying the consequences. This interpretation is unreasonable, unlawful, and renders meaningless the principle that IHL violations committed by one party do not release the other party from its obligations toward the civilian population and civilian objects.

It concludes:

Fighting Hamas is, in fact, extremely challenging: How can military targets be distinguished from civilian objects in these circumstances? How is it possible to avoid harming civilians who are not taking part in the fighting, when Hamas operatives fire at Israel from within populated areas? B’Tselem does not purport to offer the Israeli government or the military any operative plans for conducting armed conflict in Gaza: that is not the role of a human rights organization. The government is responsible for responding to these challenges in ways that maintain humanity and uphold the law.It is clear that the policy described in this report is not a legitimate response to this challenge. Even if political and military leaders thought this policy would bring an end to attacks on Israeli communities, they should not have implemented it because of its foreseeable, horrifying consequences as well as because of the black flag of illegality flying over it.

As a thought experiment, you could reverse the analysis and start with “Fighting a far more powerful military force, such as the IDF, is in fact, extremely challenging…”

Meanwhile, in other news from I/P:

Tariq Abu Khdeir, a 15 year-old American teen was severely beaten by Israeli police in July, the officers claimed he “resisted arrest”. Tariq’s cousin, 16 year-old  Muhammad Abu Khdeir was kidnapped and burned alive by Jewish extremists, likely as vengeance for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli students in the West Bank by members of Hamas.

Tariq has now been cleared of all wrongdoing. One of the police officers was criminally charged over the beating and an investigation found evidence “supporting the guilt of the police officer suspected of severe violent crimes”.

I wonder what would have happened if Tariq did not have US citizenship and the American consulate watching over him, or the beating had not been caught on camera?

We don’t have to subsist in ignorance, B’Tselem does a pretty good job documenting beatings and abuse meted out by Israeli forces policing the occupation, and Breaking the Silence has been documenting the occupation from the soldier’s point of view for years.

Why are Republicans talking inequality and climate change?

Republicans who only three months ago were screaming class warfare at any mention of inequality have suddenly found religion and are lamenting the fact that economic gains in the US have gone to the wealthiest for decades.

Talk of Wealth Gap Prods the G.O.P. to Refocus (NY Times) and Washington’s Economic Focus Turns to Middle-Class Angst(WSJ).

Mitt Romney wants to “end the scourge of poverty”, Jeb Bush says “the last eight years have been pretty good ones for top earners, they’ve been a lost decade for the rest of America”. You can trace the rise of inequality in America back to the moment Republicans started focusing on bringing the capital gains rate down. The GOP haven’t been through enough stages of grief to admit that yet.

They have nevertheless, finally acknowledged that Climate Change is Real.

The Senate on Wednesday voted that “climate change is real and is not a hoax” as Democrats used the Keystone XL pipeline debate to force votes on the politically charged issue ahead of the 2016 elections.The “hoax” amendment to the pipeline bill from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) passed 98-1, with only Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, the chairman of the Senate Republican campaign arm, voting “no.”

They’ve even given up on their own litmus tests and dropped their abortion bill.

What’s driving all this change of heart just two months after an election where every Republican was as reactionary as Franco?

That’s easy, they know that bashing the poor does well in mid-terms, not so well in presidential election years when a more diverse citizenry comes out to vote. In other words, it’s all about 2016.

The fault dear friends, is that we’ve failed miserably to increase the number of voters participating in mid-terms. When we make election day a public holiday and switch to universal voter registration, the GOP will realize they have to be reasonable throughout the four year election cycle.

Israel plans to build West Bank settlements to house Jewish immigrants from France

Israel’s Construction Minister Uri Ariel is proposing expanding West Bank settlements to house Jewish immigrants from France (Times of Israel). There is some opposition and the proposal is scheduled to be reviewed next week (JPost), which quotes Ariel:

“Israel is the home of world Jewry. At this time when anti-Semitism is once more breaking out, we must act to allow for the smooth absorption of new immigrants,” Ariel said.“There is no doubt that the Jews of France, who already deeply identify with the Zionist settlement enterprise in the West Bank, will want to settle one of the Judea and Samaria communities once they arrive in Israel,” Ariel said.

In the background, there is a lot of discussion over the calls from French Jews to immigrate to Israel:Haaretz: Why Israeli call for French Aaliyah is so Offensive
NY Times: Do France’s Jews have a Future?

To quote the Op-Ed in Haaretz:

The old anti-Semitism that led up to the destruction of a third of all global Jewry was based on the rejection of the concept of the European Jew. Jews were never accepted as equal citizens, be they German Jews, Austrian Jews, Polish Jews or French Jews. When the fascists rose to power, they picked on the eternal otherness of the Jew to demonstrate that these were a people apart, different and despised. The alienation and dehumanization of the Jew was a direct rejection of the Jewish place in the nation state….

Unlike the anti-Semitism of old, the solution is not an abandonment of one’s home. The state is not rejecting Jews; in fact, it is trying to protect them, at least in the case of France. The fact that thousands of police are deployed to protect Jewish schools doesn’t detract from the terrifying reality in the aftermath of the attacks. There are deep systemic problems that need both physical and educational solutions if multiculturalism and pluralism are to win out. But we should not kid ourselves that the violence against Jews today is the same as it was in the 1930s.

This new reality explains why Israeli politicians’ call for French aliyah is so hurtful to France and its Jews. The correct response to the attacks came from President Reuven Rivlin, who should have been the dignitary representing Israel at the Paris unity march instead of politicians jockeying for votes. Rivlin stated that aliyah should be “born out of a positive Jewish identity, out of Zionism, and not because of anti-Semitism.”

For a bit of historical perspective, there’s a piece from March 9, 1960 in the NY Times: American Settlers in Israel Balk at inviting more from the US

The draft resolution that caused the protest called upon “American and Canadian Jews to come and settle in Israel and join the ranks of those who preceded them in building up the country.”Such resolutions are normally adopted automatically in Israel.

“How can we invite people?” exclaimed Arthur Ross, a textile merchant formerly of Brooklyn. “We have no jobs or houses to offer them!”

Ariel Markus, formerly of New York commented that immigrants might suffer a little, “but it won’t hurt them.”

and on October 24, 1949 in the NY Times again: Israel, Charging Iraqi Persecutions, Urges U. S. and Britain to Intervene

Israel has made urgent appeals to the United States and Britain for their immediate intervention against “persecution” of Jews in Iraq, it was announced here tonight. The Government said that anti-Jewish acts in Iraq were “liable to rekindle the flames of conflict in the Middle East.”…

Reports of a pogrom in Iraq, which the Israeli Government said it has confirmed, coincide with a reported offer by Iraq to exchange 100,000 Iraqi Jews for a similar number of Palestinian refugees.

most of the rest of the article discusses the arrest of Iraqi Jews on unknown charges and their detention in “Abu Grib” prison (the more things change, the more they stay the same). Both are worth a read if you have access to the Times archives.Meanwhile, there’s another debate brewing about Defending France and Free Speech (Bloomberg piece on prosecutions of “support for terrorism”:

In schools last week, there were about 100 incidents where (mostly Muslim) students refused to take part in a minute of silence to honor the magazine’s dead. Forty of these cases were referred to the police for potential prosecution, according to Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, because the words spoken amounted to “glorifying terrorism.”

The NY Times writes in French Rein in Speech Backing Acts of Terror.:

But French law does prohibit speech that might invoke or support violence….

The accused did not have to threaten actual violence to run afoul of the law. According to Mr. Cabut, who brought the case in Bourgoin-Jalieu, the man shouted, “They killed Charlie and I had a good laugh. In the past they killed Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Mohammed Merah and many brothers. If I didn’t have a father or mother, I would train in Syria.”

If you’re going to prosecute “speech that might invoke or support violence”, every person carrying a “support our troops” bumper-sticker is liable for prosecution, as is anyone supporting the police shooting suspects. And what do you do about a six-year old threatening to beat another six-year old up in the playground? Perhaps statements supporting violence by the state are “protected speech”?This is why regulating speech is fraught with so many issues and the rushed prosecutions in France are likely a mistake.

A few other tangents below the fold:

Ilene Prusher wrote a very nuanced piece in Haaretz: Why did Hamas condemn the Charlie Hebdo attacks?

To date, Hamas has so far limited itself to national aspirations only. It may think global, but it acts local. It hasn’t carried out known acts of terrorism beyond Israel, and has not participated, at least from any discernable account, in the global jihadist ideology that calls for the reestablishment of the caliphate.In fact, Palestinians who find themselves unsatisfied with Hamas’ “limited” nationalist goals have sometimes left the movement for Islamic groups with a more global focus, such as Hizb Ut-Tahrir, founded by a Palestinian from a village near Haifa. And, of course, some Palestinians and even Israeli-Arabs have joined radical jihadist groups with an even more violent outlook, including the Islamic State and al Qaeda in Iraq.

“Hamas condemns the desperate attempts of Prime Minister Netanyahu to link our movement on the one side, and terrorism throughout the world on the other side… These miserable attempts are doomed to fail,” Hamas said in a statement. In the Hamas release, provided in French to Agence-France Press, the group said that it “condemns the attack against Charlie Hebdo magazine and insists on the fact that differences of opinion and thought cannot justify murder.”

Hamas has been lobbying for more international legitimacy as a way to get funds to the Gaza Strip, and is worried about the slow progress on this front. There have been reports surfacing in the past week that Hamas leader Khaled Mashal was asked to leave Qatar and is seeking a new base. Hamas denies those reports. But it is clear that Qatar, once seen as a moderate country, was beginning to take on the taint of an extremist Gulf outpost because of its backing of Hamas, and seems keen to back down from that image. All of this adds up to a Hamas in which political expediency is much more attractive just now than jihadist ideology in Europe.

I’m wondering whether the columnist’s analysis above would count as “supporting terrorism” under the French law?At the always perceptive 972mag: U.S. Consulate desegregates security staff, Israeli guards quit in protest

A number of Israeli guards working for the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem quit in protest of a decision to arm and train Palestinian guards employed by the Consulate recently, according to Ynet.Unnamed “sources,” presumably the disgruntled Israeli guards themselves, accused the Consulate’s chief security officer of “raising an armed militia of Palestinians,” according to the report.

Israel demands that armed non-American guards be IDF combat veterans, according to the report.

The American consulate, like a host of other countries’ consulates in Jerusalem, primarily serves the Palestinian territories and its officials regularly travel to Palestinian areas in the West Bank.

perhaps this has something to do with this incident: Israeli settlers stone two cars belonging to US consulate staffLastly, Yassi Sarid in Haaretz asks: Israel, Do you remember what you did last summer?. He’s wondering why all discussion of the destruction wreaked on Gaza has disappeared from the public sphere in Israel.