- 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)
US Customs Seize Chinese Hair Products Suspected to Have Come From Forced Labor Camps
- A shipment of hair products from China believed to be made through forced human labor was sized at the Port of New York on Wednesday.
- The products originate from Xinjiang, which is widely criticized for its so-called “reeducation” camps of Uyghurs.
- Though estimates regarding the number of people held at these internment camps range, reports claim it could be upwards of 3 million people who are being held without trial.
- U.S. Officials also believe that much of the hair used for these products came from camp detainees.
U.S. Seizes 13 Tons of Human Hair
United States Customs and Border Protection agents seized a 13-ton shipment of hair products at the Port of New York on Wednesday over suspicions that they were made with forced human labor. The bust is worth about $800,000.
Officials believe that beyond being made by forced human labor, the hair products, which include wigs, are made out of the hair of detainees in Xinjiang.
The region is infamous because much of its native Muslim Uyghur (sometimes spelled Uighur) population is being forced into “reeducation camps” by the Chinese government. China has denied these camps are what the world thinks they are and continues to downplay how many people are held in them.
On June 17, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a Detention Order, a command that agents are to stop and inspect all shipments, on products made by Lop County Meixin Hair Product Company. The CBP wants Meixin shipments inspected because the agency had information that “reasonably indicated the use of prison labor with additional situations of forced labor including, but not limited to, excessive overtime, withholding of wages and restriction of movement.”
This is in line with a long-standing law that bans any products made by “convict labor” overseas.
A Detention Order such as this is actually quite rare because tracking supply chains out of the U.S. is extremely difficult for U.S. companies and agencies. Adding to the complexity is where the products originated from; Xinjiang. The region has been difficult to enter for non-natives and Chinese officials for a few years.
Brenda Smith, the executive assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Trade said of the bust, “The production of these goods constitutes a very serious human rights violation, and the detention order is intended to send a clear and direct message to all entities seeking to do business with the United States that illicit and inhumane practices will not be tolerated in U.S. supply chains.”
National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot also raised concerns that the hairs are made from victims of the camps in Xinjiang, saying, “If this highly suspicious, 13-ton shipment of human hair indeed turns out to be linked to the Uighur concentration camps, then this is a new low — even for the Chinese Communist Party — and they will have to answer to the world community for their actions.”
The products in question are to be held until Meixin can prove forced human labor wasn’t involved. Another company, Hetian Haolin Hair Accessories, must do the same after some of their products were seized in the same shipment, although agents found the weaves were made with synthetic fibers rather than detainees’ hair. Hetian was added to the Detetion Order back in May.
The Situation in Xinjiang
Within Xinjiang itself, conditions haven’t improved for the local Uyghurs, and arguably have gotten worse.
For decades, China has wanted to sinicize a lot of minority ethnic groups in the country. Around 2017 it increased its sinicization efforts over the Uyghurs. Tactics include forcing Mandarin as a language that must be used for school and official business, as well as attempts to heavily downplay the importance of Islam in the daily lives on Muslim citizens.
There are also reports of more dire actions, such as accusations that Chinese authorities take children from their families to try and remove cultural and linguistic connections.
The country also alters cultural sites to look more “Chinese.” Efforts include changing mosques to have less Arab-influenced features. However, often cultural sites are just destroyed; such as in the case of hundreds of cemeteries being removed to make way for buildings or empty lots.
China also has an issue with Islam. The country consistently portrays imams in the region as having ties to terrorism, and will often arrest Chinese-Muslims upon returning from the Middle East over fears they’ve been “radicalized.”
Despite these efforts though, the Uyghurs have managed to hold onto their cultural heritage and language. So, 2017 also saw China step up the pressure by introducing the “reeducation camps” in order to “combat extremism.”
China markets the camps as vocational school that are voluntary. Yet most countries simply call them internment or concentration camps. Evidence and interviews with alleged survivors of the camps point out that people at the facilities aren’t there out of their own free will. They are usually held without ever receiving a trial.
Current estimates vary, but there’s believed to be between 1 to 3 million people within these camps, with about 500,000 being minors. Those estimates are partially based on leaked documents the BBC obtained last year that showed 15,000 people from southern Xinjiang were sent to the camps in one week alone.
There’s also evidence that beatings and torture happen at the camps, as well as accusations that they’re used to force Muslims to renounce their faith. Earlier this week, reports surface alleging China is forcing abortions, sterilizations, and other birth control measures against the Uyghur population to cut their birth rates.
Other birth-control methods include monetary penalties against people who have additional children.
In 2019, 22 UN ambassadors signed a letter condemning the camps, and 50 other states condemned China’s counter-terrorism program in the region. More recently, in October of last year, the U.S. imposed visa restrictions on Chinese officials “believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, the detention or abuse of Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang.”
In 2020, the U.S. has been adding more and more companies to what’s known as an Entity List. They urge Americans and businesses not to work with these 37 companies because they’re believed to use forced labor out of Xinjiang. Last month, on June 17, President Trump signed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which opens the door to increased sanctions against China and increases US agencies’ reporting on Xinjiang.
Although the President is still hesitant on actually imposing stricter sanctions, telling Axios, “we were in the middle of a trade deal [with China]. When you’re in the middle of a negotiation and then all of a sudden you start throwing additional sanctions on… we’ve done a lot.”
See What Others Are Saying: (The Guardian) (Axios) (BBC)
First Arrests Made Under China’s New Hong Kong National Security Law. Here’s What You Need to Know
- The text for China’s new national security law has finally been released, laying out new details about what this means for Hong Kong residents.
- Among other things, the law overrides Hong Kong’s Constitution when there are inconsistencies, cannot be interpreted by Hong Kong courts, and allows for closed trials and easily denied bail.
- One provision also states that non-Hong Kong residents can be prosecuted for acts outside Hong Kong, meaning it could jeopardize travel and independent journalism in the city. It could also force Hong Kongers living outside the city to choose between activism and being able to go home to see their families again.
- On Wednesday, Hong Kong police said they had made their first arrests using the new law.
Text of the Law Released
The full text of China’s new national security law against Hong Kong was finally released Tuesday, more than a month after it was proposed and a day after it was formally passed.
The 66-article law includes several broad measures that ban acts like secession, subversion, terrorism, and any activities by foreign forces that interfere in Hong Kong. Though many had hoped the specifics to these four main offenses would be clearly laid out in the full text of the law, they remain vague and contain ambiguous wording that gives Chinese authorities a large scope for targeting pro-democracy activists.
For example, collusion with foreign forces is partially defined as aiding foreign governments in enacting laws or policies that could cause serious obstruction or consequences to Hong Kong or China. Even though what constitutes serious obstruction and consequences is not clearly spelled out, such a definition could target lobbyists asking foreign governments to impose sanctions.
Say one is charged with a crime. The death penalty is off the table but life imprisonment is not. According to the Hong Kong Free Press, “serious” cases can attract penalties of at least 10 years and up to life in prison.
Article 62 of the security law explicitly states that it overrides local Hong Kong law if there are inconsistencies (Surprise, there are!).
For example, one major inconsistency with Article 62 is Article 42, which states that bail will not be granted to suspects “unless the judge has convincing reasons to believe he/she will not continue acts that endanger national security.” Such a rule is at odds with Hong Kong’s Criminal Procedure Ordinance, which presumes innocence and leans in favor of granting bail.
While this national security law also “presumes innocence,” it doesn’t really explain what a person’s protections are, and many have feared that leaves an open door for China to impose some of the same harsh tactics it practices on the mainland.
“As a national security suspect, you can be locked up for as long as six months incommunicado, subject to torture, coerced confession, no access to counsel or family or friends, before the police decide whether to process you for a crime,” New York University law professor Jerome Cohen explained to The New York Times.
According to Article 41 of the law, trials can be closed to the public for reasons such as maintaining state secrets. Whether or not a trial involves state secrets will be decided by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who has long been accused of being a puppet for Beijing.
Lam is also able to appoint specific judges to hear national security cases.
The text of the law provides no provisions allowing Hong Kong courts to interpret any of its articles, unlike how courts can with the city’s de facto constitution, the Basic Law.
The law also covers political candidates and officials already in office. If they’re found in violation of the law, they either can’t run or have to step down, respectively. That provision could prove to be a major detriment to a city where a candidate’s beliefs on pro-democracy rights has been a key issue.
Police Powers and the Law’s Impact on Foreign Travel
The full text of the law also reveals more about the new national security office being established in Hong Kong.
That office, which was already known to have the power to oversee education about national security in Hong Kong schools, will not be bound by Hong Kong’s laws. In fact, the Hong Kong government is actually required to cooperate and prevent any obstruction of its work.
In addition to that office, a new National Security Department will be created within the Hong Kong Police Force and is required to keep its operations secret.
Police within that department are also getting a host of broad powers, including: search powers, powers to restrict international travel, powers to freeze and confiscate of property, powers to require services providers to delete information and provide assistance, power to require foreign political organizations to provide information, and the power to conduct secret surveillance and interception of telecommunications,
“All in all, this is a takeover of Hong Kong,” Cohen told The Times.
One of the most audacious articles in the law is Article 38, which states that non-Hong Kong residents can be prosecuted in the city for violating the national security law outside of Hong Kong.
“Oh my god am I reading this right???” Axios reporter for China, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, said on Twitter Tuesday. “Did Beijing just grant itself sweeping extraterritoriality to…everyone on the planet?”
Such a move could have massive implications for tourism, as anyone who has been charged by Beijing for violating its law could be arrested when arriving in Hong Kong or even China. It could also severely threaten independent journalism on the ground in the city.
On a more personal note, those who are originally from Hong Kong but now live outside China may be forced to either: advocate for basic human freedoms but never visit their home again at the risk of being arrested, or keep quiet even outside of China so they can potentially go back home to visit family.
First Arrests and International Response
The Hong Kong Police Force used the new law to reportedly make 10 arrests Wednesday, the first happening after a man displayed a flag reading “Hong Kong Independence.” It was later reported that the flag also had the words “no to” in small letters before the much larger phrase. It’s unclear if the police were aware of those words or if they even mattered considering the larger message.
Police also arrested roughly 370 people after a few thousand began demonstrating in a major commercial district before being forced off the streets. Of those arrests, nine included offenses related to the new security law. One of the people arrested was reportedly a 15-year-old girl who waved a Hong Kong independence flag.
Internationally, countries have continued to speak out against China’s crackdown.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to introduce a new five-year visa in his promise to provide refuge for up to 3 million Hong Kong citizens.
Canada has now updated its travel advisory warning to Hong Kong. That advisory now reads: “You may be at an increased risk of arbitrary detention on national security grounds and possible extradition to mainland China.”
Tuesday evening, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened further action from the United States, saying first on Twitter:
“The CCP’s draconian national security law ends free Hong Kong and exposes the Party’s greatest fear: the free will and free thinking of its own people.”
“The United States will not stand idly by while China swallows Hong Kong into its authoritarian maw,” Pompeo added in a statement.
See what others are saying: (Hong Kong Free Press) (The New York Times) (South China Morning Post)
Hong Kong Protesters Delete Social Media and Businesses Withdraw Protest Support After China Passes National Security Law
- On Tuesday, mainland China officially passed a sweeping national security law that is set to erode many of the special freedoms granted to the semi-autonomous region, Hong Kong.
- While protests against the mainland have raged for over a year in Hong Kong, the law’s passage prompted a wave of fear, with many pro-democracy protesters deleting their social media accounts and businesses rolling back their support for those protests.
- The law has been condemned internationally, and hours before it passed, United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross suspended some special trade exemptions for Hong Kong.
China Officially Passes National Security Law
Pro-democracy Hong Kongers scrambled on Tuesday to erase public displays of dissent against the Chinese government after Beijing officially passed a sweeping national security law.
That law, which was first announced on May 21, will bypass special protections granted to Hong Kong. Those protections were established under the “one country, two systems” framework when the United Kingdom handed Hong Kong back to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, after more than 150 years of colonial rule.
Following the passage of the national security law, many in Hong Kong began deleting social media accounts, such as those for Twitter. Businesses began distancing themselves for protesters, many taking down posters and signs showing their support for the movement.
At least one pro-democracy political party has disbanded altogether following the departure of its leaders. A number of other groups supporting Hong Kong independence have now said they’ll cease operation in the city and move abroad.
The moves are a dramatic departure from the last 15 months of protests that have rocked the city and consistently made headlines around the world. Even one of the first major protests following the city’s coronavirus shutdown was in response to this law’s proposal.
“A comment was made today [by the speakers] that the law basically already has had its deterrent effect,” pro-Beijing lawmaker Michael Tien said. “In the past, Hong Kong has been too free.”
Wu Chi Wai, chair of the pro-democracy Democratic Party, said he held out hope until the last minute that the mainland government might honor its promise to uphold Hong Kong’s autonomy.
But now, “we are not only denied the hope of a democratic political system, we also will no longer have our freedoms of press, speech, expression, protests — all of that will be over,” he said.
Some pro-democracy protesters are expected to hold demonstrations on Wednesday, though they’re expected to be much smaller in number.
“We all understand the price we have to pay is heavier than before, but we have to do it,” one protest leader said.
What Does the Law Actually Do?
The law, which went into effect on Wednesday in Hong Kong (Tuesday for Western countries), is now part of Hong Kong’s de-facto constitution, the Basic Law. Upon its passage and implementation, the full law had still yet to be publicly released.
Even Hong Kong’s top leaders have admitted that they don’t know any more details about the law besides what Chinese state media has aired. Nonetheless, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has promised to support the law.
Despite many still-vague details, several consequences of the law are known. Among them are criminalizing secession, subversion, terrorism, and any activies by foreign forces that interfere in Hong Kong. Essentially, the goal is to stamp out dissent, as well as the pro-democracy protests.
Notably, the law will also allow China to implement its own law enforcement offices in Hong Kong to “fulfill relevant duties to safeguard national security.” Those offices will reportedly also have the power to oversee education about national security in Hong Kong schools.
The state-run newspaper Xinhua also reported that Lam will be able to appoint specific judges to hear national security cases.
One of the other major sticking points of this bill is that in some cases, Beijing will be able to extradite people from Hong Kong to mainland China, which is extremely notable because extradition was the starting point for Hong Kong’s protests in the first place.
Further details of the law were released on Wednesday in Hong Kong. Ironically, that came on the 23rd anniversary of the United Kingdom returning Hong Kong to China.
In the text of that law, crimes such as terrorism and sedition are very broadly defined; however, the punishments for those crimes bring with them harsh sentences, including life imprisonment in many cases.
U.S. Cracks Down on China Over Law
In a promise to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday, Lam said the law won’t affect Hong Kong’s judicial independence or the “legitimate rights and freedoms of individuals.” She also promised that it wouldn’t be retroactive.
Lam said mainland China will only extradite people in Hong Kong in “rare, specified situations.” Additionally, the death penalty will be off the table for anyone extradited by China from Hong Kong, with life in prison being the maximum punishment.
But if that’s what Lam is saying, that is not what’s being heard internationally. Prior to this law’s passage, Taiwan’s president pledged support for Hong Kong, and some Hong Kongers have already fled to Taiwan in refuge. Earlier this month, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also promised refuge when he announced that the United Kingdom will accept millions of Hong Kong refugees.
In the United States, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had previously announced that the U.S. now longer views Hong Kong as autonomous, meaning Hong Kong could be subject to the same tariffs that China currently faces.
On Friday, the U.S. restricted visas for Chinese officials deemed responsible for “eviscerating” Hong Kong freedoms. Notably, Beijing then retaliated by announcing visa restrictions for U.S. officials who had “behaved extremely badly” over Hong Kong.
On Monday, just ahead of the news that Hong Kong had passed this law, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross suspended some trade benefits over the new law.
“Commerce Department regulations affording preferential treatment to Hong Kong over China, including the availability of export license exceptions, are suspended,” Ross said in a statement. “Further actions to eliminate differential treatment are also being evaluated. We urge Beijing to immediately reverse course and fulfill the promises it has made to the people of Hong Kong and the world.”
That same day, Pompeo announced that the U.S. was ending defense equipment exports to Hong Kong. That includes dual-use technologies, or items that has both commercial and military uses.
“We cannot risk these items falling into the hands of the People’s Liberation Army, whose primary purpose is to uphold the dictatorship of the [Communist Party of China] by any means necessary,” Pompeo said.