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Celebrities and Los Angeles City Leaders Call for Brunei Boycott

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  • Celebrities including George Clooney, Elton John, Ellen DeGeneres, and Aria Grande have called for a boycott of hotels owned by Brunei following the implementation of the new law that punishes gay sex by stoning people to death publicly.
  • The law goes into effect April 3 and has garnered massive backlash from the international community and human rights organizations.
  • Some have criticized the boycott as “tokenism” and “tantamount to Islamophobia,” while the Trump administration has refused to condemn Brunei, only expressing “concern.”

Brunei’s New Law

Numerous celebrities have called for boycotts of nine international hotels owned by Brunei in protest of a new law that punishes gay sex and adultery with death by public stonings.

The law, which is part of the country’s new Sharia Penal Code, is set to go into effect on April 3. The law also has a provision that punishes theft with amputation. The law applies to Brunei’s Muslim majority, as well as non-Muslims, foreigners visiting the country, and even children.

Brunei’s leader Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who has full executive power, has been gradually implementing the Penal Code since 2014. When Bolkiah first started enacting the Code, he was met with a wide array of international backlash.

In addition to criticism from international human rights organizations, there was also boycotts and calls for divestment from some of Brunei’s sovereign wealth fund investments. This included the upscale Beverly Hills Hotel, which attracted protests and celebrity boycotts.

The backlash actually did delay the sultan from carrying out some of the most extreme measures for a while, but once the outrage died down and people started forgetting about it, the sultan quietly continued to push ahead with these provisions.

The sultan enacted the measures so quietly that barely anyone noticed when Brunei’s attorney general released an announcement back in December, saying the law allowing death by stoning will go into effect on April 3.

Nearly four months later, the international community had just started to pick up on the story. Since then, it has spread and spread.

Celebrities Call for #BoycottBrunei

Leading up to April 3, there was a massive response from celebrities and others criticizing Brunei, and calling for people to boycott all the hotels owned by the sultan.

On Thursday, George Clooney published an op-ed in Deadline, asking people to boycott the nine hotels owned by the sultan all over the world, writing:

“Every single time we stay at or take meetings at or dine at any of these nine hotels we are putting money directly into the pockets of men who choose to stone and whip to death their own citizens for being gay or accused of adultery.”

“Brunei is a Monarchy and certainly any boycott would have little effect on changing these laws. But are we really going to help pay for these human rights violations?” Continued Clooney, “Are we really going to help fund the murder of innocent citizens?”

Following the publication of the op-ed, Elton John commended Clooney in a series of tweets.

On the eve of the law taking effect, Ellen DeGeneres also called for boycotts in a tweet, writing, “We need to do something now.”

Ellen also made the same post on her Instagram, which was picked up and shared by others, including Ariana Grande, who posted the list of hotels to boycott on her Instagram story.

Response

Unfortunately, the boycott has not stopped Brunei.

On Saturday, Brunei released a statement defending the Penal Code, saying the purpose of sharia law is for “criminalizing and deterring acts that are against the teachings of Islam,” Continuing, “it also aims to educate, respect and protect the legitimate rights of all individuals, society or nationality of any faiths and race.”

Additionally, not everyone is on board with the boycott.

“The people of Brunei are not backwards,” said Mustafa Izzuddin, a fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, a think tank in Singapore, “They would see these boycotts [by Clooney and others] as tantamount to Islamophobia. If you polled right now, Clooney wouldn’t be very popular in Brunei. They might boycott his movies.”

Bill Maher also criticized Clooney on Real Time on Friday night, describing the boycott as “chickenshit tokenism.”

“What about Saudi Arabia? If you really want to get back at them, stop driving. Don’t use oil.” Said Maher, “It’s Sharia Law, which is some version of the law in most Muslim-majority countries. And if you want to be against that, you know, speak openly and honestly about standing up for liberal principles.”

Clooney indirectly responded to Maher’s comments and others who have been critical of the boycott in a second op-ed published on Monday.

“For those that want to play ‘what-about-isms,’ what about Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Somalia? There’s a long list. Well then, get to it. We all do what we can.” Wrote Clooney, “And we do it by chasing their finances and confronting the establishments that they’re laundering money through.”

Clooney also made the argument that speaking out against Brunei sends an important message to other countries.

“The most dangerous issue is Brunei’s neighbors.” He wrote, “And if Brunei isn’t met with loud, forceful resistance that shakes their business establishments, then anything is possible.”

LA City Officials Call for Boycotts

To Clooney’s credit, the push from celebrities has already made an impact on the outside world.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles City leaders called for a boycott of both the hotels located in LA. City Councilman Paul Koretz, LA Controller Ron Galperin, and the head of Equality California Rick Zbur said in a news conference on Tuesday that they will discourage residents and tourists from staying at the hotels through formal measures.

Councilman Koretz also said he would introduce a resolution at an upcoming LA City Council meeting.

The three leaders added that they would look for other ways to combat Brunei’s Penal Code, like discouraging people from holding meetings and events at the hotels, passing further legislation, and asking the Trump administration to take action to stop Brunei.

Regarding their last point, many are waiting to see what the Trump administration will do.

Back in February, the Trump administration announced it was launching a global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality.  Many people criticized the announcement as empty, citing Trump’s record on LGBTQ issues.

Trump himself seemed to not even know about the announcement when he was asked about it in a press conference.

Since the Brunei story started gaining traction in recent weeks, the Trump administration has been largely silent.

On Friday, the Daily Beast published an article saying that the State Department declined to clarify its position on Brunei for nearly 24 hours after the Daily Beast had sent them an inquiry. Then, “minutes after” the Daily Beast published a story noting the Department’s silence, they were finally sent a statement “saying the U.S. was ‘concerned’ about the new law.”\

However, according to the article, “When asked by The Daily Beast, Pompeo and the Department of State declined to directly condemn, or state an objection to, the stoning to death of LGBT people.”

Since then, the State Department has not made any new statements on the matter, and only published the same statement they gave the Daily Beast.

See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (Fox News) (NPR)

International

Tlaib Will Not Visit West Bank After Israel Reverses Travel Restriction Against Her

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  • Rep. Rashida Tlaib announced that she will not go see her family in the West Bank after Israel rescinded a previous travel restriction they had placed on her.
  • That restriction, announced by Israel on Thursday, blocked Tlaib and Rep. Ilham Omar from visiting Israel on a scheduled trip due to their support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.
  • Tlaib, who had planned to visit her grandmother during the visit, appealed the decision on humanitarian grounds and was granted her request to see her family after promising that she would not promote the boycotts against Israel on her trip.
  • Tlaib ultimately decided not to go to Israel, writing on Twitter, “I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in.”

Israel Reverses Restriction

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) said Friday she will not visit her family in the West Bank hours after Israel reversed a decision made the day before to block her from entering the country.

On Thursday, Israel announced it would bar Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from visiting the country during a planned trip because of their support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Israeli officials had originally said they would allow the two congresswomen to visit on their trip, which was set to start Sunday.

They later backtracked after President Donald Trump prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to block the two women from entering.

Tlaib had also planned to visit her grandmother and other family members who live in the West Bank.

Tlaib’s Letter & Statement

Following Israel’s announcement Thursday, Tlaib wrote a letter to Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri to appeal the decision.

“I would like to request admittance to Israel in order to visit my relatives, and specifically my grandmother, who is in her 90s,” Tlaib wrote. “This could be my last opportunity to see her. I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit.”

Deri agreed on Friday to grant Tlaib’s request on humanitarian grounds, but shortly after, Tliab announced that she would be canceling her trip to the West Bank.

“The Israeli government used my love and desire to see my grandmother to silence me and made my ability to do so contingent upon my signing a letter,” Tlaib wrote in a statement. “I have therefore decided to not travel to Palestine and Israel at this time.”

“When I won the election to become a United States Congresswoman, many Palestinians, especially my grandmother, felt a sense of hope, a hope that they would finally have a voice,” she continued.

“I cannot allow the Israeli government to take that away from them or to use my deep desire to see my grandmother, potentially for the last time, as a political bargaining chip.”

Tlaib also echoed parts of her statement in a post on Twitter. Referring to her grandmother, Tlaib wrote, “Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me.” 

“I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in–fighting against racism, oppression & injustice,” she continued.

A Complicated Double-Bind

Israeli Interior Minister Deri reacted strongly to Tlaib’s decision.

“I approved her request as a gesture of goodwill on a humanitarian basis, but it was just a provocative request, aimed at bashing the State of Israel,” he wrote in a tweet. “Apparently her hate for Israel overcomes her love for her grandmother.”

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However, others have argued that the situation is more nuanced. Nour Odeh, who had helped plan Tlaib’s trip, told NPR that Tlaib’s decision reflects a broader conflict many Palestinians face.

“Palestinians of all walks of life are put in the impossible situation of having to choose between championing their principles, between defending their cause for freedom, between speaking their mind — and enjoying the basic humanitarian conditions that everybody is entitled to, including having access to their families,” Odeh said.

Tlaib’s Family Responds

Members of Tlaib’s family who spoke to U.S. journalists made similar points. The congresswoman’s uncle, Bassem Tlaib, who lives in the West Bank, told NPR that his village had been preparing for her arrival.

“We have mixed feelings now; we’re happy she didn’t accept the Israeli demands but we’ll miss her,” he said. “Israel does not want us to show our allies in the US how the Israeli occupation treats us. They want our lives to be a secret.”

Tlaib’s grandmother, Muftiyah Tlaib, also told the Washington Post that while she did not understand why her granddaughter could not come visit her, she was still proud of her.

“Who wouldn’t be proud of a granddaughter like that?” she said. “I love her and am so proud of her.”

She told the Post that the planned visit would have been the first time the two have seen each other since around 2007.

“My family and I have cried together throughout this ordeal; they’ve promised to keep my grandmother alive until I can one day reunite with her,” Tlaib said in her statement.

“It is with their strength and heart that I reiterate I am a duly elected United States Congresswoman and I will not allow the Israeli government to humiliate me and my family or take away our right to speak out.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Vox)

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Netanyahu Blocks Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib From Entering Israel

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  • Israel announced that it will not let Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib enter the country for a previously planned trip.
  • The move comes after it was reported that President Donald Trump told his aides he wanted Israel to prevent the congresswomen from entering the country earlier this week.
  • Trump’s Press Secretary denied the reports Thursday morning, but then an hour later Trump tweeted, “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people.”
  • Democrats and several U.S.-based Israeli organizations condemned the move, which many believe will create a rift between Israel and the Democratic party.

Israel Bars Omar and Tlaib

Israel has banned Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from entering the country for a previously planned trip, Israeli officials announced Thursday.

The two representatives were scheduled to leave on Sunday for a privately organized trip to both Israel and Palestine, where they were expected to tour holy sites and meet with activists and humanitarian leaders. No official meetings were scheduled.

Tlaib, whose family is from Palestine, was also planning to stay a few days longer to visit her grandmother who lives in the West Bank.

The two congresswomen were denied entry because of their support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, a position that they both have frequently been criticized for.

The goal of the BDS movement is to pressure Israel to change its treatment of Palestinians by protesting Israel and it’s West Bank settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.

Those who support the movement compare it to the boycotts of South Africa during apartheid, while opponents of the movement say it is anti-Semitic and undermines Israel as a Jewish state.

In 2017, Israel passed a law allowing them to deny entry to people who support the BDS movement, a move that many human rights activists and others condemned.

Mixed Messages 

Despite the fact that Israel has that law, barring Omar and Tlaib from going to the country entirely is unprecedented. It also marks is a significant reversal.

Last month, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer said that Israel would not deny the two congresswomen from visiting. 

“Out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel,” Dermer said in a statement.

However, last week, Axios reported that President Trump had told his aides that he thought Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should bar the two women from entering the country.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham denied Axios’ report on Saturday. 

“The Israeli government can do what they want,” she said. “It’s fake news.”

Then on Wednesday, it was reported that Netanyahu was holding meetings with cabinet officials to reach a final decision about whether or not to allow the Omar and Tlaib to visit. 

According to reports, Israeli officials told U.S. lawmakers said they would announce the decision Wednesday but later postponed the announcement to Thursday after receiving backlash from Democratic leadership and a few U.S.-based pro-Israel organizations who warned them the move would be inconsistent with Israel’s claims that they are a tolerant and open democracy.

On Thursday morning, amid reports that Netanyahu was reconsidering the decision to let the congresswomen visit because of Trump, Grisham told CNN that “the reports Trump told Netanyahu he thought the two congresswoman should be barred were ‘inaccurate.’”

However, about an hour later, Trump seemed to contradict that statement in a tweet, writing “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people,

Responses Condemning Israel’s Decision

Following Israel’s announcement, many responded criticizing the move.

“Israel doesn’t advance its case as a tolerant democracy or unwavering US ally by barring elected members of Congress from visiting because of their political views,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) wrote on Twitter.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also called for Israel to reverse its decision to bar Omar and Tlaib in a tweet.

A number of other Democratic representatives also took to social media to condemn the move as well.

Others pointed to Trump’s tweet from last month, where he said the four congresswomen in the “Squad,” including Tlaib, should “go back” to the countries they came from. Tlaib and two of the other members of the Squad were born in the U.S., and all four are U.S. citizens.

“First he tells Congresswoman Tlaib to ‘go back’ to ‘her’ country, and then he tells that country not to let her in,” Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) wrote in a tweet.

U.S.-Based Israeli Groups Respond

Notably, a number of U.S.-based Israeli organizations criticized Israel’s decision.

The American Jewish Coalition, which advocates for closer U.S.-Israel ties, tweeted a statement saying: “AJC believes that, out of two less-than-ideal options, neither of which was risk-free, Israel did not choose wisely by reversing its original decision.”

Israel Policy Forum, a New-York based Jewish organization also shared a series of tweets, arguing that any of member of Congress should be able to visit Israel and calling on Netanyahu to reverse the decision, which they also said created a “dangerous precedent.”

Perhaps most notable was the response from AIPAC, which is one of the most powerful pro-Israel lobbies.

“We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib’s calls for a one-state solution,” the group wrote on Twitter. “We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”

Responses Supporting Israel’s Decision

There were also people who supported Israel’s decision. Conservative commentator Steven Crowder argued in a tweet that the congresswomen “were going to actively lobby AGAINST Israel. Bibi made the right call.”

Fox News host and commentator Mark Levin also responded in a tweet, writing, “Israel is right to deny entry to its country by these two bigots.”

Netanyahu, for his part, addressed the decision in a statement. 

“As a vibrant and free democracy, Israel is open to all its critics and criticism, with one exception: Israeli law prohibits the entry of people who call and operate to boycott Israel,” he said.

Israel’s Interior Minister Aryeh Deri also backed up the decision.

“The State of Israel respects the U.S. Congress, as part of the close alliance, but it is inconceivable that anyone who wishes to harm the State of Israel will be allowed,” he said in a statement.

Deri added that he would “consider” letting Tlaib go visit her family.

Tlaib & Omar Respond

Tlaib and Omar both responded to the actions taken by Israel later on Thursday.

Tlaib shared a picture of her grandmother in a tweet, and wrote, “The decision by Israel to bar her granddaughter, a U.S. Congresswoman, is a sign of weakness b/c the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening.”

Omar also responded on Twitter.

“It is an affront that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, under pressure from President Trump, would deny entry to representatives of the U.S. government,” she wrote in a statement.

“The irony of the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East making such a decision is that it is both an insult to democratic values and a chilling response to a visit by government officials from an allied nation,” she added.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Vox) (Fox News)

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Volkswagen and Philadelphia Ads Banned in U.K. Under New Gender Stereotyping Rules

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  • Two commercials for Volkswagen and Philadelphia cream cheese have become the first to be banned under the U.K.’s new rules against perpetuating gender stereotypes in ads. 
  • One commercial showed a woman caring for a baby juxtaposed with clips of males performing adventurous activities, while the other showed two new fathers briefly losing their children at a restaurant after becoming distracted by food. 
  • Some are happy to see the new rules go into effect, but critics are concerned the Advertising Standards Authority is taking on the role of the “morality police.” 

ASA Bans VW and Philadelphia Ads 

Advertisements for Volkswagen and Philadelphia cream cheese have become the first two commercials to be banned under the United Kingdom’s new rules that crack down on sexist stereotypes.

Viewers complained about the commercials to the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), arguing that the ads perpetuated gender stereotypes. After conducting its own investigation, the organization agreed and issued its decision to ban the ads in their current form on Wednesday.

New guidelines that address gender stereotyping in ads were introduced last year and went into effect in June. The rules now say that ads in the U.K., “must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offense.”

Volkswagen Commercial  

The Volkswagen commercial opens with a shot of a couple sleeping in a tent beside a cliff, presumably after a day of climbing. However, in the shot, the male climber is shown turning off the light inside the space while the female climber is asleep. 

The ad then goes on to show males performing adventurous acts. Two male astronauts are shown in space and another male athlete with a prosthetic leg is seen doing a long jump. During all of this, text appears on screen that says: “When we learn to adapt we can achieve anything.” The ad then cuts to a mother sitting on a park bench next to a stroller. 

The commercial spawned three viewer complaints that prompted the ASA investigation. Volkswagen defended its commercial saying that the core message of the ad “was centered on the ability of the human spirit to adapt to challenges and change brought about by circumstances.”

The company also argued that the characters were shown performing acts that were not stereotypical to one gender. For instance, they noted that the female climber was sleeping, the first astronaut was eating an apple, and the second was reaching for a drink.

However, on the ASA’s assessment, it said that complaints were more than likely focused on the occupations of the characters as well as the direct contrast between how males and females were depicted. 

They also pointed to the scene of the mother with the stroller and said, “We acknowledged that becoming a parent was a life-changing experience that required significant adaptation, but taking care of children was a role that was stereotypically associated with women.”

Finally, the organization concluded: “By juxtaposing images of men in extraordinary environments and carrying out adventurous activities with women who appeared passive or engaged in a stereotypical care-giving role, we considered that the ad directly contrasted stereotypical male and female roles and characteristics in a manner that gave the impression that they were exclusively associated with one gender.”

Philadelphia Cream Cheese Ad 

The second banned commercial was for Philadelphia cream cheese. The ad showed two new fathers looking after their children at a restaurant with a conveyer belt. The men quickly become distracted by the food in front of them and lose sight of their kids, who are circling the restaurant on the belt.

Once they realize what they’ve done, both fathers pick up their children.  “Let’s not tell mom,” one dad says to his child.

According to the ASA, over 125 viewers complained about this ad. Mondelez International, the company that produces Philadelphia cream cheese, argued that the ad showed a positive image of males with a responsible and active role in childcare in today’s society.

It claimed that it chose to feature a pair of fathers to avoid a stereotype of mothers being responsible for children. The company said the ad did not show a harmful stereotype but instead “depicted an example of a momentary lapse in concentration by somewhat overwhelmed and tired new parents which was quickly realized and rectified.”

“We acknowledged the action was intended to be light-hearted and comical and there was no sense that the children were in danger,” the ASA said in its ruling.

“We considered, however, that the men were portrayed as somewhat hapless and inattentive, which resulted in them being unable to care for the children effectively,” it added. “We did not consider that the use of humour in the ad mitigated the effect of the harmful stereotype.”

A spokesperson for Modelez told CNN that the company was “extremely disappointed” with the decision.

Nestlé Commercial Not Banned 

The ASA also looked into an ad for Nestlé after five viewers lodged complaints against a commercial that showed male rowers and a drummer alongside a female ballet dancer.

However, the ad was not banned by the ASA who said the activity was shown as equally difficult and demanding.

“This first batch of rulings shows where we’re drawing the line,” said ASA spokesman Craig Jones in a statement to Reuters. 

“We hope advertisers will study the portrayals to understand where the boundary lies between depictions of gender stereotypes in ads which are not deemed to be harmful and those now prohibited by the new rule.”

Concerns Over New ASA Rules 

While some are happy to see the new rules take effect, many critics have argued that the ASA has gone too far.

Geraint Lloyd-Taylor, an advertising expert at the law firm Lewis Silkin told the Guardian, “It is concerning to see the ASA take on the role of the morality police.”

“It has let its zeal to enforce the new rules override its common sense in this first batch of rulings.”

“The ASA seems to be out of sync with society in general. As it stands, the ASA’s definition of ‘harm’ is unworkable and urgently needs to be clarified. I hope that these advertisers seek an independent review of the latest decisions.”

Clearcast, the organization responsible for pre-approving ads before they are broadcasted, also expressed concerns over the new policies. 

“We are naturally disappointed,” it said. “The ASA’s interpretation of the ads against the new rule and guidance goes further than we anticipated and has implications for a wide range of ads.”

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (CNN) (BBC

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