- 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)
Violent Protests Erupt in Chile Over Social Inequality
- Massive protests have broken out all over Chile, leaving at least 11 dead and 1,500 arrested.
- The protests started over a transit fare hike, but have evolved to address broader economic issues such as rising costs for the poor and middle class.
- The Chilean president declared a state of emergency and deployed the military, marking the first time anyone has done so since the dictatorship ended in 1990.
Protests Break Out
Large protests all over Chile rocked the country over the weekend, prompting President Sebastián Piñera to declare a state of emergency in numerous cities.
The protests started last Monday when hundreds of students swarmed several subway stations in the capital Santiago to hop turnstiles in protest of a transit fare hike.
The hike, which went into effect Oct. 6, followed other fare increases earlier this year.
While the protests started over fares, they quickly became about broader economic issues in the country.
Chile has become one of the wealthiest countries in South America, but it is also one of the most unequal economically. For poor and middle-class families, the cost of living has been rising while wages have remained the same.
Protestors are also blaming rising costs in part on widespread privatization policies. Healthcare, education, and many utilities have seen rising costs. Meanwhile, low wages have caused pension payouts to remain low because of poor contributions.
High prices for gas and electricity have also caused transportation costs to rise, which is significant because one of the highest costs for middle and low-income individuals is transportation.
According to The New York Times, for a person making an average monthly salary, about a fifth of that is spent on transportation costs.
Meanwhile, Piñera has an estimated net worth of $2.8 billion according to Forbes.
By Friday, the protests had escalated, with students damaging turnstiles, smashing glass, and vandalizing stations.
Videos also showed them throwing large objects like sheet metal onto subway tracks, and it was also reported that they set fires and barricades at metro station entrances. Subway services were canceled entirely all across Santiago.
The protests began to shift to the streets, with demonstrators setting fires and looting stores. Riot police reportedly responded by using tear gas and hitting protestors with batons, while armored military vehicles used water cannons to push demonstrators back.
Piñera addressed the violence late Friday by imposing a curfew and a state of emergency in Santiago, placing the military in charge of security in the city.
That declaration marked the first time that the military had been deployed to the streets for nearly 30 years, since the end of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in 1990.
During the nearly 17-year-long regime, a military junta patrolled the streets and committed mass human rights abuses, arresting, kidnapping, torturing, and murdering dissidents and others, many of whom were labeled “disappeared” by the government.
Piñera’s declaration prompted many to draw comparisons to military rule under Pinochet. However, the demonstrations still continued Saturday, with the protests spreading to several other cities across the country.
On Saturday night, Piñera announced that he was suspending the fare increase.
“I have listened with humility and with great attention to the voice of my compatriots,” he said in a televised statement.
That did not stop the protestors, who continued Sunday.
Some protests remained peaceful, with demonstrators banging on pots and pans and waving pictures of people who had been disappeared during the dictatorship.
Others, however, engaged in more violent tactics, continuing to set fires and loot stores. Police also continued to respond by firing tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets at protestors.
Shops and offices were forced to close, and flights were canceled or delayed at Santiago international airport.
As of Sunday night, 11 people had been killed in the violence. According to reports three people were killed on Saturday, while eight people were killed in fires on Sunday. Many more civilians and police have been injured.
The government has also claimed that 1,500 people have been arrested, which is significant because Piñera has said he will invoke the State Security Law to prosecute people involved in the attacks on the subways. That law carries prison sentences of three to five years.
On Sunday night, the state of emergency was extended to five other cities, and Piñera said he would extend it to more on Monday.
While speaking during a televised address Piñera said, “We are at war against a powerful enemy, who is willing to use violence without any limits.”
Those words angered many Chileans for two main reasons. First, they echoed a similar declaration made by Pinochet. Second, labeling protestors as criminals shows them that he does not actually care about their concerns, which go way beyond the fare hike.
Now, many are speculating his words will just further feed the flames.
With Santiago still in a state of emergency, a lot of the city still remained shut down with schools closed on Monday.
Also on Monday, Chilean authorities attempted to clear the wreckage and re-open public transportation. Protesters, meanwhile, have called for a general strike to take place.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (BBC) (VICE)
Boris Johnson Strikes Brexit Deal With EU. Will It Move Through Parliament?
- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to a new Brexit deal with the European Union on Thursday.
- The deal would get rid of the contentious Irish backstop, but it would create a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.
- Johnson is expected to hold a vote on the deal in British Parliament on Saturday, but both opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland oppose it.
- If the deal fails, Johnson will likely need to go back to the EU and ask for an extension to the U.K.’s current Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.
Johnson and EU Agree to a New Deal
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to a new Brexit deal with the European Union Thursday, which notably removes the Irish backstop but adds a controversial Northern Irish-only backstop.
“We’ve got a great new deal that takes back control,” Johnson said on Twitter. “Now Parliament should get Brexit done on Saturday so we can move on to other priorities like the cost of living, the NHS, violent crime and our environment.”
The new deal comes after Johnson said he would negotiate a better deal than the EU offered former prime minister Theresa May. however, the EU previously said it wouldn’t negotiate a different deal.
Notably, removing the United Kingdom from the EU has been one of Johnson’s major promises, and he originally said that would happen by the current Oct. 31 deadline with or without a deal.
What’s in the New Brexit Deal?
The new deal provides several key provisions that Johnson hopes will pass parliament’s scrutiny. First and most notably, the deal scraps the massively contentious Irish backstop.
The United Kingdom is composed of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The controversy surrounding the backstop specifically deals with Northern Ireland, which is on the same island as the independent Republic of Ireland.
Right now, there is no hard border between those two countries, meaning there are no customs checks for goods crossing between the border. Under May’s deal, that soft border would have remained, but this was actually one of the big reasons her deal failed three times in parliament. Members of parliament believed this backstop would have essentially kept the UK in the EU.
Second, the new deal creates a new Northern Ireland-only backstop, which can become confusing since Northern Ireland is part of the U.K. Basically, the deal sets up a special arrangement where Northern Ireland would still remain subject to certain EU regulations, including agriculture, value-added tax on goods, excise duties, and state aid rules.
That, in turn, would prevent a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, but it would result in a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K., meaning that there would be customs checks and different regulations between the two which could lead to additional trade costs for the U.K.
Another caveat to the deal would also eventually give Northern Ireland lawmakers the chance to decide on whether or not they want to stay so closely aligned with the EU in the future.
Third, while the U.K. would leave the EU, it would still continue to apply EU rules until the end of next year. That time will be seen as a transition period meant to soften the split, especially since the deal does not look to the future relationship between the U.K. and the EU.
The period is meant to give them time to work out a trade deal, among other provisions, and it could be extended by up to two years if both sides agree they need more time. As far as May’s deal, this aspect is similar to her agreement.
Unlike May’s deal, this deal is non-binding, meaning the EU has the ability to change its mind.
Will the Deal Pass?
One of the major questions following the announcement of the agreement was whether or not the bill can stand against a parliament that has rejected Brexit votes multiple times.
The removal of the Irish backstop is expected to be a sticking point for a lot of pro-Brexit Conservative MP’s, and a few opposition Labour Party MPs have expressed support.
Johnson is expected to vote on the deal on Saturday, and if it does pass, the U.K. could actually meet its end of the month deadline.
But, it’s not going to be that easy. Many MPs from other parties have already said they will refuse to back the deal.
“From what we know, it seems the Prime Minister has negotiated an even worse deal than Theresa May’s,” Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn said.
The Liberal Democrats have also said they are opposed to the deal and have echoed Corbyn’s call for a second referendum as to whether the U.K. should even leave the EU. Brexit Party Leader Nigel Farage said he’s not voting for the deal, either.
If that’s not enough, the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland issued their opposition to the deal, as well. That could make or break the deal’s passage as the DUP is a key ally for Johnson.
“These proposals are not, in our view, beneficial to the economic well-being of Northern Ireland and they undermine the integrity of the Union,” the party’s statement reads.
Specifically, the party is not happy with Northern Ireland functioning as a hard border between the EU and the rest of the U.K.
Johnson’s deal, however, has been well-received outside of Britain among leaders of other EU countries. The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, and France’s President Emmanuel Macron all expressed support for the deal and moving it forward.
Leo Varadkar, Prime Minister of Ireland, also agreed the deal was fair and said the deal solves the issue with Northern Ireland.
“[It] also creates a unique solution for Northern Ireland recognising the unique history and geography of Northern Ireland, one which ensures there is no hard border between north and south,” he said.
If the deal ultimately passes through British Parliament, it will need to be approved by EU leaders in the European Parliament to bind them to the agreement.
If the deal fails, Johnson will be forced to ask the EU for an extension until the end of January. Though there’s been a lot of concern over whether he would actually do that, a secretary for Johnson has now said he will comply with the law.
See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Washington Post) (The Guardian)
Erdogan Rejects U.S. Call for Ceasefire
- Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, rejected U.S. efforts for a ceasefire between Turkey and Syria for the second time on Wednesday.
- Speaking during a press conference later, President Trump denied that Erdogan had said he would not agree to a ceasefire and expressed optimism that a U.S. delegation led by Vice President Pence would broker a truce.
- Over the weekend the Trump administration also announced that it would be imposing sanctions on Turkey while simultaneously withdrawing more U.S. troops from Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated his rejection to the United States’ call for a ceasefire between Turkey and Syria on Wednesday.
The announcement comes the same day that a U.S. delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to travel to Turkey to meet with the Turkish leader and to try to press Turkey for a ceasefire in its incursion into Northern Syria.
The Turkish military operation started last week after the White House released a statement saying the U.S. would step aside while Turkey went ahead with a long-planned offensive against Kurdish forces in the region.
Turkey considers the Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) that control the region terrorists and has said the operation is necessary to secure their border.
However, the U.S. has long been allied with the SDF, which has done the bulk of fighting against ISIS on the ground in Northern Syria and also guarded prisons holding tens of thousands of captured ISIS fighters and their families.
In a direct rebuke of the U.S., while speaking before the Turkish Parliament, Erdogan said that Turkey would not broker a truce because it has “never in its history sat down at a table with terrorist groups.”
“We are not looking for a mediator for that,” he continued. “Nobody can stop us.”
The president also called for Syrian fighters to lay down their weapons and leave the region immediately.
Although it appears that Pence and Pompeo still intend to make their trip, there have been conflicting reports about whether or not Erdogan would meet with Pence or Pompeo.
“I am standing tall. I will not meet with them. They will meet with their counterparts. I will speak when Trump comes,” he told Sky News Tuesday.
Later, his communications director, Fahrettin Altun, said the president had reversed that decision.
“He does plan to meet the U.S. delegation led by @VP tomorrow — as confirmed in the below statement to the Turkish press,” Altun said in a tweet.
Sanctions and Ceasefire
Erdogan’s statement Wednesday echoed a similar sentiment he expressed the day before, while also speaking about sanctions imposed by the U.S.
“They say ‘declare a cease-fire’. We will never declare a cease-fire,” the president said speaking in Azerbaijan. “They are pressuring us to stop the operation. They are announcing sanctions. Our goal is clear. We are not worried about any sanctions.”
In an announcement Monday, President Donald Trump said that he would “soon be issuing an Executive Order authorizing the imposition of sanctions against current and former officials of the Government of Turkey and any persons contributing to Turkey’s destabilizing actions in northeast Syria.”
He added that, among other things, the U.S. would stop negotiations of a trade deal, increase steel tariffs by 50%, and “authorize a broad range of consequences including financial sanctions, blocking of property and barring entry into the U.S.”
U.S. Withdraws Troops & Kurds Side With Assad
Trump’s announcement of sanctions Monday came after a series of rapid developments the day before.
Speaking to CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that following discussions with the national security team, Trump had directed that the U.S. “begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria.”
Esper did not say exactly when or how many troops would be withdrawn, but he later told Fox News that the number would be “less than 1,000 troops.” According to reports, the U.S. only has about 1,000 troops in the region.
The announcement also came amid reports from Kurdish officials and others in the area that around 800 people held in ISIS prisons broke free. Erdogan responded by saying the claims were “disinformation” intended to provoke the U.S. and others.
But Kurdish forces maintained that this was a serious security threat.
Many experts and lawmakers have warned that the U.S. removal of troops in Syria would allow ISIS to regroup because Kurdish forces would be stretched too thin fighting a military attack and would not able to keep a stable hold on the region or stop ISIS fighters from escaping from the camps.
Some condemned Esper’s announcement, arguing that the U.S.’ decision to remove even more troops would just make the situation worse.
Just hours after Esper’s statement, Kurdish leaders announced that they had struck a deal with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and that the Syrian government, which is backed by Russia and Iran, would be sending troops to help the Kurds fight Turkey.
Many described this move as a turning point in Syria’s eight-year-long war because it represents a notable shift in influence from the United States to Russia.
Those critical of the removal of U.S. forces in Syria have argued that it will pave the way for Russian forces allied with the Syrian government to fill the power vacuum created by the U.S. leaving the region.
Trump, for his part, responded to the move in a tweet later on Monday, writing, “Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte. I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!”
Russia appeared to have taken that to heart, and announced Tuesday that they would be sending their own troops to patrol between Turkish and Syrian forces.
Trump Press Conference
Trump on Wednesday maintained that he will try to mediate discussions between Turkey and the Kurds.
While speaking to reporters Wednesday, Trump claimed that Erdogan did not refuse to agree to a ceasefire, and downplayed U.S. involvement in the crisis.
“The Kurds are much safer right now, but the Kurds know how to fight,” he said. “And as I said they’re not angels, they’re not angels, if you take a look, you have to go back and take a look. But they fought with us and we paid a lot of money for them to fight with us, and that’s okay.”
“So, if Russia wants to get involved with Syria, that’s really up to them. They have a problem with Turkey. They have a problem at a border. It’s not our border, we shouldn’t be losing lives over it,” he continued.
The president also later seemed to echo what Erdogan said when Kurdish forces reported that ISIS prisoners had escaped.
“Some were released just for effect, to make us look a little bit like ‘oh gee, we got to get right back in there,’” Trump said.
Meanwhile, the violent military standoff between Turkey and Syria continues.
It is currently unclear how many military personnel and civilians have died, but what is clear is that the Turkish incursion is tearing up a country already ravaged by war, and displacing hundreds of thousands of people in a country where there are already millions of refugees.
On Tuesday, the United Nations reported that “at least 160,000 civilians have been displaced since the offensive began,” also adding that “hospitals and schools and other public infrastructure hit or affected by the fighting.”