- 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)
Malaysia Tells Women Not to Nag Spouses During COVID-19 Lockdown
- The Malaysian government released a series of infographics advising women on how to maintain a happy home during the country’s coronavirus lockdown.
- The posts told women to take on the playful tone of a cartoon character, wear makeup and dress up at home, and avoid nagging their partners, among other advice.
- Many were outraged by the infographics, slamming them as “sexist.” Others called it a poor response to concerns of spiking domestic violence cases as more people are forced indoors with their abusers.
- The Ministry issued an apology following the backlash.
Malaysia’s government has apologized after receiving backlash for advising women to dress nicely and avoid nagging their spouses in order to maintain a happy home as the coronavirus prompted a nation-wide lockdown.
The advice came from online posters that were released across social media by the country’s Ministry for Women, Family, and Community Development and accompanied by the hashtag #WomenPreventCOVID19.
“If you see your partner doing something wrong, avoid nagging – use ‘humorous’ words like saying: ‘This is how you hang clothes my dear,’” the ministry wrote in a now-removed infographic.
This piece of advice was paired with another seemingly-bizarre nugget: use a high-pitched, squeaky voice instead, specifically imitating the popular Japanese cartoon character Doraemon, and follow your statement with a giggle.
The Ministry also encouraged women to avoid the use of sarcasm, and to continue to wear makeup and dress up even if working from home.
After the posters’ release earlier this week, the Ministry and its advice faced a slew of backlash, ranging from mockery to anger.
“[It] is extremely condescending both to women and men,” Nisha Sabanayagam, a manager at the Malaysian advocacy group All Women’s Action Society, told Reuters.
“These posters promote the concept of gender inequality and perpetuate the concept of patriarchy,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation over the phone.
Sabanayagam’s frustration was matched by many online.
“This is violently sexist,” one person tweeted. “Makes me angry even thinking about this.”
This is violently sexist. Makes me angry even thinking about this. Malaysia isn’t a theocratic state like Saudi but appareny treats its women the same.— Aditya Jain (@adityajain98) April 1, 2020
In one poster, Malaysia’s gender equality movement regresses five decades. Dah la illegitimate govt, incompetent pulak tu. @KPWKM— Lee Lian Kong (@leelian_kong) March 31, 2020
Some mocked the more ridiculous elements of the advice, like the hashtag’s message that somehow women can prevent the virus itself.
“How will dressing up and putting on makeup at home [prevent] Covid-19? Pray, tell?” one person wrote online.
Another piece of advice that was largely ridiculed was the suggestion to imitate the cartoon character Doraemon.
“I think my husband should speak to me in a Doraemon like voice. That will amuse me to bits and put me in a good mood,” a Twitter user said.
I think my husband should speak to me in a Doraemon like voice. That will amuse me to bits and put me in a good mood.— Wee Su Lin (@sulinwee) March 31, 2020
Others were outraged that these were the solutions to a happy home in the Ministry’s eyes, especially as more serious problems stem from stay-at-home orders, like a rise in domestic violence.
“How did we go from preventing baby dumping, fighting domestic violence to some sad variant of the Obedient Wives Club?” one person asked online.
After being scraped over the coals, the Ministry addressed the controversial advice and issued an apology Tuesday night.
It said its intentions were aimed at “maintaining positive relationships among family members during the period they are working from home.”
“We apologize if some of the tips we shared were inappropriate and touched on the sensitivities of some parties,” the Ministry said in a statement, adding that they will take caution in the future.
Is April Fools’ Day Canceled? K-Pop Star’s Stunt Backfires While Countries Warn Against Misinformation About Coronavirus as Pranks
- Many are warning against April Fools’ Day pranks as the world deals with coronavirus outbreaks, but others say laughs are needed now more than ever.
- Companies like Google have pulled their annual pranks while countries like India, Thailand, and others announced punishments for those spreading coronavirus misinformation on this day.
- K-pop star Kim Jaejoong has already come under fire for lying about being hospitalized with the virus as an April Fools’ stunt, then later passing it off as an attempt to raise awareness about social distancing.
April Fools’ Day Debate
Internet users are weighing in on whether or not April Fools’ Day is officially canceled this year as the world battles against the growing coronavirus pandemic.
For some, the annual day devoted to pulling practical jokes and hoaxes feels completely inappropriate given the current state of society.
But others argue that we need some fun and laughter during this dark time.
One of the biggest companies to take a side in the debate was Google, a company that has pulled major April Fools’ Day pranks for two decades. Earlier this week, the company said it would “take the year off from that tradition out of respect for all those fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.”
“Our highest goal right now is to be helpful to people, so let’s save the jokes for next April, which will undoubtedly be a whole lot brighter than this one,” it added.
Other brands are likely to follow Google’s lead, especially since many people are waiting to call out anyone who they feel has crossed a line. The Verge, for instance, even promised to keep an eye out and make a list of brands pulling pranks this year.
K-Pop Star Lies About Coronavirus
But of course, despite desperate calls for people to think twice about insensitive pranks, reports have already surfaced of coronavirus-related stunts. On Wednesday, K-Pop Star Kim Jaejoong, of the group JYJ, told his nearly 2 million Instagram followers that he had tested positive for COVID-19.
“It is a result of my negligence, ignoring the cautionary words shared by the government and those around me,” he wrote according to a translation by K-pop news site Soompi.
“A person’s individual actions can have such a big impact on society as a whole. I am so sorry to those who may have been infected because of me. My foolish judgment to live as though it couldn’t happen to me is why I am like this today. I am currently hospitalized. I am reflecting on my past a lot and feeling both grateful and sorry. There are many things I want to say. There are many people I want to see so much,” he added.
Soon after, he was of course flooded with support in the comments and fan sites began reporting his shocking announcement.
His agency, CJeS Entertainment, even released a statement saying they were trying to confirm the news after seeing the post themselves. Less than an hour later, Jaejoong edited his caption, replacing it with a message clarifying that he doesn’t actually have the virus. Instead, he tried to suggest that his prank was intended to raise awareness for the importance of social distancing.
“What if the people we love, someone precious to us, contracted the virus? It’s such a heart-wrenching thing to think about. Despite this, so many people walk the streets and live their lives without their guards up, ignoring it… and thinking it won’t happen to them, and it makes me so worried that my family and friends might get sick,” he wrote in the updated post.
He went on to say that a number of his acquaintances are testing positive and encouraged people to “stay alert.”
“Although this did go quite far for April Fool’s Day, so many people worried about me in a short span of time. Oh… and I don’t think of this as an April Fool’s joke. My family and my friends are getting sick.. and dying.. It’s never!! just someone else’s problem. I wanted to tell you that protecting myself is protecting the precious people around us,” he continued.
“I will accept all punishment I receive from this post. I hope all of you are healthy.”
Jaejoong eventually deleted the entire post and was hit with a ton of backlash from people who were upset by his lie. Many called it disrespectful while others noted that there are better ways to raise awareness if that was truly his intent.
Following the outrage, he posted longer statement to his Instagram account apologizing. “I am also personally aware that it was something that shouldn’t be done…I want to express my sincere apologies to the people who have suffered because of COVID-19 and to the people who were disrupted in their administrative work,” he wrote.
He called his post “bad judgment” and again expressed that he was trying to raise awareness about the virus.
“My post today… it went very far, but I thought that if people paid a large amount of interest to it, then they might listen. This method has hurt a lot of people and I am receiving criticism for it.
“For causing distress, I sincerely apologize to the government agencies and medical professionals who are working hard because of COVID-19 and to the many people who are following instructions to give up on their lifestyles and are doing all they can to overcome this,” he concluded.
Countries Warn Against Spreading Misinformation About COVID-19 as Pranks
Jaejoong’s initial post is essentially what many people are afraid of seeing on this day. But even aside from lying about having the virus, more people are worried that misinformation will be spread under the guise of April Fools’ jokes.
Governments worldwide have been taking steps to combat this issue. Police in Thailand, for instance, warned that anyone disseminating false information about the coronavirus on April Fools’ Day could face up to five years in jail and a fine of up to about $3,000.
Taiwan’s president warned people not to pull virus-related pranks, adding that anyone spreading false rumors or information could face up to three years in jail and/ or a fine of up to $99,200.
In India, Maharashtra’s cybersecurity unit promised to pursue legal action against anyone spreading misinformation or rumors today as well, with Home Minister Anil Deshmukh tweeting “the state govt won’t allow anyone to spread rumors/panic on #Corona.”
Tomorrow’s April 1st. The annual tradition making an ‘April Fool’ of people has already begun on WhatsApp & social media. The state govt won’t allow anyone to spread rumours/panic on #Corona. I’ve instructed @MahaCyber1 to act swiftly & strongly such miscreants.#NoCoronaRumour— ANIL DESHMUKH (@AnilDeshmukhNCP) March 31, 2020
Germany’s health ministry issued a similar warning under the heading “Corona is no joke,” according to Reuters. Meanwhile, authorities in South Korea have said misinformation related to the virus would fall under laws on obstruction of official duties and defamation.
For those who choose to take their coronavirus pranks a step further by pulling them against others in person, keep in mind that anyone who threatens or attempts to spread COVID-19 in the U.S. can be hit with terrorism charges.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Forbes) (The Hill)
Hungary, Iran, and Other Countries Use Coronavirus Pandemic to Suppress Journalists
- On Monday, Hungary passed a law allowing Prime Minister Viktor Orban to indefinitely rule by decree, giving him the power to rule the country how he sees fit.
- Hungary also passed a law banning the spreading of “false” information, a move critics call a censor to free press.
- Other countries such as the Philippines, Egypt, Iran, and Brazil have also made moves to block journalists, either by censoring, harassing, detaining, or attempting to discredit them.
- Facebook and Twitter, in turn, have removed posts by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for misinformation relating to the use and promotion of hydroxychloroquine, a drug being investigated as an antiviral COVID-19 treatment.
Hungary Gives PM Power to “Rule By Decree”
As governments around the world struggle with how to contain the coronavirus pandemic, Hungary has given its prime minister the power to indefinitely rule by decree.
Hungary’s parliament overwhelmingly passed that bill Monday, and as of Tuesday, it is now in effect. In essence, it gives Prime Minister Viktor Orban the legal ability to govern the country unchallenged for as long as he sees fit. Notably, that means he doesn’t need to consult with other lawmakers when it comes to making decisions.
In theory, the bill stills allow for the country’s constitutional court to act as a check; however, Orban had already stacked that court with loyalists. That means a check against him is extremely unlikely to happen.
Hungary’s government has justified this new law by saying emergency powers are necessary to fight the outbreak, but rights groups are fighting back by saying such a move suspends democracy. Many political analysts have also questioned whether or not Orban will give back his newfound power once the coronavirus crisis is over.
In fact, some say there’s precedent to suggest he might not. In 2016, Orban was granted emergency power to deal with Hungary’s migrant crisis, but he’s yet to relinquish those powers and still holds them today.
“He is using this crisis to further increase his power,” the director of a Budapest-based think tank told The Washington Post. “The Hungarian prime minister enjoys the situation where he can act as a captain in a crisis. I don’t see him giving up these powers again easily.”
Because of that, there are concerns that Orban and his administration might also use “rule by decree” to suppress independent voices and free press. It’s possible that the country might already be taking such steps, as the law that gave Orban rule by decree also criminalizes any attempts to stop the Hungarian government from fighting the outbreak. Notably, that includes the spreading of false information, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Of course, the kicker is that whenever a government allows a single person to call the shots, they can decide what is considered “false” information.
The European Union, of which Hungary is a member, has already launched punitive measures against the country, saying Orban’s attacks on the media, the courts, and minority rights pose a “systematic threat” to its core values.
Hungary has defended itself against that criticism, with a spokesperson saying, “False claims of a power grab in Hungary are just that. Such insinuations are not only incorrect but defamatory and impede the government’s efforts in slowing down the spread of the coronavirus.”
Other Countries Make Moves to Block Journalists
It’s not just Hungary making big moves to potentially change freedoms and block journalists.
Last week in Egypt, authorities forced a reporter for The Guardian to leave the country after she reported on a scientific study that said Egypt likely had many more COVID-19 cases than officially reported.
In the Philippines, journalists can now face sentences up to two months and a fine up to $20,000 for “spreading false information” related to the coronavirus.
In Iran, authorities have been aggressively working to contain independent reporting by harassing, detaining, and censoring journalists. Officials there have also ordered the media to only use the government’s statistics when covering COVID-19.
In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has called the coronavirus a media trick, saying: “The people will soon see that they were tricked by these governors and by the large part of the media when it comes to coronavirus.”
“It is a shameless campaign, a colossal and absurd campaign against the head of state…” he also said. “They want to force me out however possible.”
Facebook and Twitter Remove Bolsonaro Posts
By contrast, multiple social media sites have removed posts from Bolsonaro that they say feature him making false, harmful, or misleading statements.
The posts all contain video of Bolsonaro walking through Brazil’s capital. He then talks to a street vendor and insinuates an end to social distancing.
“This medicine here, hydroxychloroquine, is working in every place,” he adds in the video that was posted Saturday.
Notably, that is incorrect. Both hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are being investigated as possible antiviral treatments for COVID-19; however, while those drugs are approved for use in patients with malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis, they have not been approved for use in people with COVID-19.
Twitter banned two tweets featuring the video on Sunday. According to NBC News, Twitter ordered Bolsonaro to take down that video himself if he wanted to keep using the platform.
“Twitter recently announced the expansion of its rules to cover content that could be against public health information provided by official sources and could put people at greater risk of transmitting Covid-19,” a spokesperson for the site said in a statement.
Monday night, both Facebook followed suit by removing the video on its platform. It also removed the video from Instagram, which it owns.
“We removed content on Facebook and Instagram that violates our Community Standards, which do not allow misinformation that could cause real harm to people,” read a statement to media outlets.
Bolsonaro is not the only world leader to be hit by social media platforms hoping to cut down on misinformation surrounding COVID-19. Last week, Twitter also deleted a tweet from Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro for promoting a “natural brew” to cure COVID-19.
Though not governmental leaders, it has also deleted tweets from President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Fox host Laura Ingraham for promoting the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine before its widespread approval.
On Saturday, the Food and Drug Administration gave the Trump Administration emergency approval to distribute millions of doses of those drugs to hospitals. Even with that, that does not mean that the FDA is approving the long-term use of these drugs against COVID-19.