- 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.
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.”
Any sitting member of Congress should be welcome to visit Israel as official representatives of Israel’s closest ally and most critical source of international support.— Israel Policy Forum (@IsraelPolicy4m) August 15, 2019
Denying them entry can only serve to harden their current views, along with delivering an insult to the U.S. Congress, exacerbating partisan divides on Israel, and creating a dangerous precedent. We strongly urge Prime Minister Netanyahu to reconsider.— Israel Policy Forum (@IsraelPolicy4m) August 15, 2019
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)
“Patriotism Pop” in India Encourages Hindus to Claim Kashmir
- A new genre of music called “patriotism pop” has been rapidly spreading on YouTube and TikTok in India.
- The genre has recently evolved into music videos about Indians settling in Kashmir by buying land and marrying Kashmiri women following India’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s autonomous status.
- Critics have argued that the music promotes a dangerous form of nationalism and patriotism.
- Meanwhile, Kashmiris have been unable to address the rise of the new videos as they are still under a security lockdown and communications blackout.
A growing genre of music in India called “patriotism pop” is increasingly being shared on social media more and more.
According to the Associated Press, which published a detailed article about the music Wednesday, patriotism pop is a type of popular music that features songs about Hindu nationalism and expresses support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
These songs and the videos that accompany them have become massively popular on YouTube and TikTok. YouTube has around 250 million users in India, while TikTok has about 150 million. As a result, patriotism pop songs have gotten millions of hits on those platforms.
Earlier songs in the genre were limited to the rise of Hindus in India, defeating Pakistan, and flying the Indian flag in every household.
However, according to AP, the genre expanded after India revoked Kashmir’s special autonomous status on Aug. 5.
For decades, the contested region that both India and Pakistan claim control over had its own constitution and many of its own laws.
Now, India’s central government has exerted near-total authority over Kashmir by revoking the constitutional provision, known as Article 370, that had outlined Kashmir’s autonomy since India’s Independence from Britain in 1947.
Modi’s government also said it would allow Indians to buy property in Kashmir, something only Kashmiris had been allowed to do.
Just hours after India’s announcement, patriotism pop music videos about Indians settling in Kashmir by buying land and marrying Kashmiri women began circulating.
One video, titled “Article 370,” now has more than 1.6 million views on YouTube.
The video is largely composed of cuts between the Indian flag and speeches made by Modi.
At one point, the singer thanks Modi and his government for removing Article 370. The video then cuts to the map of Kashmir and includes words that loosely translate to how Pakistan has lost to India.
The music video was produced by a self-identified Indian nationalist named Nitesh Singh Nirmal, who also collaborated on another song about a man who is looking for a Kashmiri bride.
“I am doing service for the nation,” Nirmal told AP. “People dance to these songs.”
Critics of the songs have argued that the idea of marrying Kashmiri women in order to settle in the region is problematic.
Speaking to AP, political anthropologist Ather Zia said that the songs are a “culmination of a toxic misogynistic nationalist thinking.”
“The Indian media — from news to entertainment — has left no stone unturned in portraying Kashmiri women in the racist trope of ‘coveted fair-skinned ones’ (and) at the same time being helpless and needing saving from their own men — all this while demonizing Kashmiri men,” she added.
Lockdown Continues in Kashmir
Meanwhile, Kashmiris have been unable to respond to these new videos as the entire region has been cut off from the internet since Aug. 5.
Along with cutting off communications, India also sent tens of thousands of military forces to Kashmir to basically put the city on lockdown by enforcing an almost constant curfew and patrolling the streets.
The people of Kashmir responded by launching a series of ongoing protests.
Indian officials have said that while they plan on keeping the internet cut off, they have begun to ease some of the restrictions in the region. However, it remains unclear how much is really being done, as most of the reporting comes from state-sponsored media in India.
Regardless, many Kashmiris are wary about any claims made by the government, especially after Indian officials said they had arrested more than 4,000 people since the crackdown began, including some high-profile political figures.
Those arrests are notable not only because of the sheer magnitude but also because India has a law that allows authorities to put someone in prison for up to two years without any specific charge or a trial.
There has also been some violence in parts of the region. On Wednesday, Indian authorities reported that two people were killed during a shoot-out between the police and Kashmiri rebels, marking the first reported clash involving gun violence in India-controlled Kashmir.
Meanwhile, clashes along the Line of Control that divides India-controlled Kashmir and Pakistan-controlled Kasmir have increased in the last few weeks.
There have been reports that gunfire has been exchanged multiple times, though India and Pakistan have given conflicting reports about the number of fatalities.
See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (Al Jazeera) (The New York Times)\
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Criticized for Inaction Over Amazon Forest Fires
- Social media users are using #PrayforAmazonia to bring attention to fires in the Amazon forest that have been burning for three weeks.
- Many blame Brazillian President Jair Bolsonaro for failing to take action to address the issue, while some argue that his pro-deforestation policies are what lead to the fires in the first place.
- Since taking office in January, Bolsonaro has massively ramped up deforestation of the Amazon by rolling back protections and increasing access for agriculture and mining.
#PrayforAmazonia Trends on Twitter
Twitter users are criticizing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for his failure to stop a series of forest fires that have been tearing through the Amazon forest for the last three weeks
On Tuesday morning, “Amazon rainforest” and “#PrayforAmazonia” trended on Twitter. “Amazon rainforest is burning… And Bolsonaro is deliberately doing nothing,” one user wrote.
“This is the Brazilian environmental policy under president Bolsonaro,” another user wrote above pictures of fires. “The Amazon Rainforest’s burning for about 3 weeks and nothing’s been done.”
Other people noted the Amazon has been burning for weeks but that they were just learning about it now.
Some also pointed out the lack of media coverage on the fires.
Amazon Rainforest Fires
Currently, there are numerous fires in multiple states that are basically burning down the Amazon rainforest totally unchecked.
Last week, NASA released satellite images of a massive smoke layer covering a huge part of the forest. One NASA researcher told reporters that the smoke layer spanned about 1.2 million square miles, which is about one-third of the United States.
The smoke has continued to spread, endangering the health of people and animals living in the area, according to local reports. The air quality has gotten so bad in some areas, that about two weeks ago, the state of Amazonas declared a state of emergency.
On Monday, people in São Paulo, which is on the other side of the country from the Amazon, shared pictures of the sky turning black in the middle of the afternoon, which multiple scientists have attributed to the smoke from the fires.
Cause of the Fires
Numerous experts have said that the fires are caused by humans and there are several pieces of evidence to back that up.
First, the Amazon rainforest is comparatively fire-resistant because it is so wet and humid. While there are often fires this time of year, they are usually caused by extreme droughts.
Despite the fact that fire outbreaks rose by 70% this year compared to 2018, there have not been any extreme weather events that would cause this amount of fires.
Second, fire is actually used in the Amazon as an agricultural technique to clear land for planting crops. The technique, called “slash and burn,” is also one of the major methods used in the Amazon for illegal deforestation.
Since Bolsonaro took office in January, deforestation has rapidly increased.
According to satellite data from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE), deforestation in the Amazon increased by around 245% in July 2019 compared to July 2018.
According to The Guardian, that’s the same as destroying three football fields worth of forest every minute.
Despite the fact that the data came from satellite images, Bolsonaro has described it as “fake news.” After the INPE reported those numbers, Bolsonaro fired the head of that agency.
“The numbers, as I understand it, were released with the objective of harming the name of Brazil and its government,” Bolsonaro told reporters earlier this month.
As many have pointed out, Bolsonaro campaigned on opening up the Amazon to resource extraction. Since taking office, he has made it a key component of his economic policy.
Until Bolsonaro’s election, protecting the Amazon has been at the core of Brazilian environmental policy for the last two decades.
With the help of powerful lobbyists, he has rolled back environmental protections and ratcheted up access to mining and agriculture by clearing huge sections of forest.
Many of the areas that Bolsonaro has opened up to agriculture and mining are protected indigenous lands, which the president has said are too big for the number of people who live there.
According to BBC, more than 800,000 indigenous people live in 450 demarcated territories which cover about 12% of land across the country. Most of those territories are in the Amazon region, and some are entirely isolated.
This strategy has endangered both the indigenous populations and the forest itself, especially as it is widely believed among experts and scientists that protecting indigenous lands is one of the best strategies to conserve forests.
This is especially important for the Amazon because the Amazon basin is absolutely critical to stabilizing the global climate.
The entire basin spans about three million square miles and includes 40% of the world’s tropical forests, 20% of its freshwater, and produces 20% of the air we breathe, according to a report by Foreign Policy.
It also has many keystone ecosystems which are crucial to global biodiversity. The importance of the Amazon cannot be understated.
Around 60% of the Amazon forest is in Brazil, a country where a number of top officials in the government do not even believe climate change is real.
Those officials are convinced any criticisms of Bolsonaro’s policies as harmful to the environment are propagated by civil society groups and foreign governments who are trying to sabotage the administration.
Bolsonaro, for his part, has largely expressed disinterest in the environment.
When asked by a reporter last week about whether Brazil can grow more food and protect the environment at the same time, Bolsonaro responded, “It’s enough to eat a little less. You talk about environmental pollution. It’s enough to poop every other day. That will be better for the whole world.”
See what others are saying: (Newsweek) (Foreign Policy) (The New York Times)
China Ramps Up Propaganda Against Hong Kong Protests
- China is ramping up its propaganda campaign against the Hong Kong protests.
- These efforts include buying anti-protest ads on Twitter and Facebook, both of which are banned in China, as part of an effort to disperse misinformation to the international community.
- China has also moved thousands of troops to their border with Hong Kong to conduct public military exercises that many believe are meant to intimidate protestors in Hong Kong.
- On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators took to the streets of Hong Kong in one of the biggest peaceful marches seen in the city since the protests first began 11 weeks ago.
Mainland China has ratcheted up its efforts against the protestors in Hong Kong following several violent instances during protests at Hong Kong’s airport last week.
Last Monday, thousands of protestors flooded the Hong Kong airport, causing officials to cancel all flights. Limited flights resumed Tuesday and protestors began trying to block passengers from boarding planes.
The situation escalated after a group of demonstrators essentially held two men from mainland China hostage. The protestors reportedly believed one of the men was an undercover police officer, even though they had no confirmation of his identity or employment.
The other man who was seized by protestors has been confirmed as a journalist for the Chinese newspaper the Global Times. It was also reported that at one point, a group of demonstrators overwhelmed a police officer and beat him with his own baton.
These instances prompted police to violently crackdown on the protestors Tuesday night, using pepper spray and batons to disperse the demonstrators.
Flights resumed normally on Wednesday after airport authorities filed a court order to limit the protests.
Amid the protests at the airport, mainland China has significantly stepped up its misinformation and anti-protest propaganda campaign.
While China’s state media has always portrayed the Hong Kong protests in a negative light, they have recently increased their efforts to villainize the protestors.
In general, the Chinese media have portrayed the protestors as a small group of bad actors who engage in extremely violent demonstrations.
The official narrative in China is that the demonstrations have been planned and incited by foreign forces, including U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the CIA, who the Chinese government claim pay the protestors to engage in activities that are not supported by residents of Hong Kong.
That narrative obviously contrasts greatly with the fact that the protests are part of popular demonstration movement that at times has prompted two million people— nearly one-third of Hong Kong’s population— to take to the streets.
The Chinese media has also said the protestors in Hong Kong are calling for independence from China, which threatens the mainland’s sovereignty. However, as many have noted, none of the protestors’ demands include independence from China.
The Chinese media has also manipulated pictures and videos of protestors to make them seem more violent. In one recent example, a video showed a protester with a toy Airsoft weapon used in a paintball-like game that’s popular in Hong Kong.
The state-run newspaper the China Daily circulated that video, claiming it was evidence that the protesters had taken up arms and saying the toy was a grenade launcher used by the U.S. Army.
Over the weekend, it was reported that China’s largest state-run news agency, Xinhua News, bought ads on Facebook and Twitter to smear the protestors. Both Facebook and Twitter are banned in China, so the ads seem to be an attempt to influence the outside world to China’s favor.
One of the ads run on Facebook indicates that the violence from the protests is hurting Hong Kong’s economy, and goes on to say, “Calls are mounting for immediate actions to restore order.”
Another ad on Twitter also pushed the idea that everyone in Hong Kong wants “order,” claiming, “All walks of life in Hong Kong called for a brake to be put on the blatant violence and for order to be restored.”
Twitter addressed the misinformation campaign in a Twitter Safety blog post on Monday.
In the post, Twitter said they found “a significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong.”
According to the post, Twitter located 936 accounts “originating from within” China that were “deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground.”
The post went on to say that Twitter had suspended all of the accounts for violating their platform manipulation policies, but also noted that those accounts were only the most active parts of the misinformation campaign, which they said consisted of around 200,000 accounts.
Propaganda is only one of the methods China is using to put pressure on Hong Kong.
Beijing has recently moved thousands of paramilitary troops to mainland China’s border with Hong Kong.
Those forces have since been seen running very public military exercises over the last week or so, and many experts have said it is a reminder to Hong Kong that the mainland has not ruled out the use of force.
The combination of the violence at the airport and the rising threat from mainland China caused many protest leaders worried that the actions taken by a few demonstrators would deter others from continuing to protest.
The opposite appeared to be true on Sunday, when hundreds of thousands of protestors demonstrated in the rain for one of the biggest peaceful protests in weeks. Protest organizers estimated that around 1.7 million people came out, while the police claim the number is closer to 128,000.
Despite the fact that the authorities had not given the protestors permission for the march, it still remained peaceful.
Police presence was limited, and the officers who were present did not try to stop the protestors. The protestors themselves encouraged each other to avoid confrontations.
Sunday’s massive protest seemed to indicate that the people of Hong Kong are not backing down, even amid what many have described as unprecedented use of force by police and escalating threats from mainland China.