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Saturday, October 3, 2020
Middle East Press on Jamal Khashoggi, Netanyahu, Nasrallah and Trump-Biden Debate: New Age Islam's Selection, 3 October 2020
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
3 October 2020
• Jamal Khashoggi, the Human
By Hassan Al Kontar
• Anti-Netanyahu Groups Stage ‘Neighbourhood Protests’
By Rina Bassist
• Netanyahu and Nasrallah At A Standoff
By Ben Caspit
• Ashrawi Needs Help Getting Palestinians’ Message Across
By Ray Hanania
• Trump-Biden Debate: Why US Public Doesn't Want To Have Another
By Kiliç Bugra Kanat
Jamal Khashoggi, the Human
By Hassan Al Kontar
2 Oct 2020
On the anniversary of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, many will reminisce again about him as a journalist and a public figure, a dissident and a victim of a ghastly crime. But on the day of his death, I remember him as Jamal, the human being.
My first contact with him came during my own moment in the media spotlight in 2018. Perhaps you saw the headlines in April of that year: “Syrian refugee stuck in Malaysia airport”.
How did I get into there?
My misfortune began in 2011, when war broke out in my country. At that time, I was working in the UAE and decided to stay away from the war. I did not join the fight, simply because I didn’t believe in it, I refused to be a part of a killing machine, to kill my own brothers and destroy my own house.
Soon, however, I lost my work permit and became illegal. Despite my best efforts to lay low, I was detained in October 2017 and deported to Malaysia, as it was one of a few countries giving Syrians visas on arrival.
There I could neither apply for asylum nor obtain a work permit. So after spending a few months there, I decided to leave. I tried to travel to Ecuador and Cambodia but was refused entry and sent back to Malaysia, where I was also not allowed in.
That is how I got stuck at the airport in Kuala Lumpur for months.
My story first appeared in the Arabic-language media. I found the public response disheartening. Reading even a handful of comments on social media was enough to make me want to avoid the glare of the media altogether even if it was the only thing stopping the immigration authorities from sweeping me under the rug altogether, and sending me into detention, or worse – back to Syria, where I would face detention or death.
Those few who paid attention to my story were bullying me online, questioning what I was saying, accusing me of being a coward, a traitor and an extremist, and altogether showing no sympathy for my situation. To the rest of the world, which had grown tired of the Syrian tragedy by then, I was yet another faceless Syrian refugee, rendered homeless by the war.
But there was one person, one journalist, who saw me as a human being and felt my pain. He gave me the strength I needed to push forward. His name was Jamal Khashoggi.
We first made contact on what was just another ordinary morning for me, watching the aeroplanes, and listening to the garbled flight announcements, checking my cheap mobile phone every once and a while for an update. The phone was a lifeline, and a temperamental one, as it turned on and off whenever it wanted, and my fear was it would die completely, and leave me cut-off from the outside world.
That morning, I noticed some unusual activity on my Twitter account: there was a surge in comments about my case. As it turned out, Jamal had just followed me and shared one of my posts on Twitter.
This was a big deal for me. While much of the world came to know Jamal through his grisly death, in the Arab world, his name had been well known for years.
We knew him first as a consultant for the Saudi monarchy, a man with plenty of power and luxury at his fingertips. Then as he grew unsatisfied with his role as a supporter of such authority, he became an outspoken, at times controversial commentator, who started to say “no” in his own way, using his pen.
It was this well-known figure who decided to bring attention – sympathetic attention – to my misfortune when so many others had treated me with indifference or hostility. This was not in response to any outreach on my side. He did it himself, voluntarily, simply out of compassion.
I immediately reached out to him to thank him for his kindness, and for providing a voice for those who lacked one. A day later, he sent a short message in reply, saying: “Hassan, your last tweet was wonderful, in which you combined your personal suffering with that of millions of Arab youth. I suggest that after every message you post, you talk a little bit about yourself and the developments of your situation, to add a word about how you ended up at the airport. Tell us about revolution, your hope for freedom, the Arab Spring, the need for justice, employment. Tell us about a generation that lacks education. Tell us, why we need peace in the Arab world!”
He added, “I am trying to help you with an American friend here but now I can’t promise anything. Hang on. Every day the number of people caring and praying for you will increase.”
He did not lie to me: he did what he could. As we both knew, it was almost impossible for someone like me to travel to the US, since Syrians were a target of US President Donald Trump’s travel ban, as they still are.
Then things turned dark, very suddenly. On October 1, I was arrested at the airport and put in detention, which would nearly result in my deportation to Syria. The next day, on October 2, the worst befell Jamal – he was assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Removed from the world, I only learned of this tragedy 25 days later. My Canadian lawyer managed to hire a Malaysian lawyer to check in on me. At the end of the hourlong visit, I asked him, “What is going on in the outside world? Any news? Anything about Syria?”
He replied, “You know. The world is busy with the murder of the Saudi journalist.”
“Which journalist. Who?”
My body went cold. I broke into a sweat, and my gaze darted around the room as I tried to avoid eye contact with the lawyer. In that silence, the only sound I heard was my heavy breathing and heartbeat.
The lawyer, seeing my reaction, refused to provide any more details. Before he left, he said, “I’m sorry. I thought you knew. I regret telling you.”
When I returned to my overcrowded cell, I felt lost. I could not eat or sleep.
Jamal was not a relative or a friend. We had only exchanged those few messages on Twitter. But he gave me hope – the most valuable thing to have when every day you dread being stuck in limbo forever, or worse still being deported to your death.
There have been precious few people like Jamal – people who have known power, who have wielded it, but have chosen to give it up, speak up and uplift the powerless and the voiceless. His death was a loss not just to his family, friends and his country, but also to the whole region, where greed for power has left many of us destitute and despaired.
Eventually Canada accepted my asylum application. The Malaysian authorities escorted me from the jail directly to the airport and put me on a flight to Canada.
Today, in the safety of my new home, I remember Jamal, the human, and I wish there would be more people like him in the Middle East and the rest of the world.
Rest in peace, Jamal. The truth will not die, justice will prevail, one day.
Hasan Al Kontar is a refugee activist who now lives in Vancouver, Canada.
About 1,000 demonstrations took place the night of Oct. 1 across Israel. At Tel Aviv’s HaBima Square there were around 3,000 demonstrators who protested against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; the other gatherings were much smaller. Unlike the local demonstrations, the rather large Tel Aviv protest was dubbed a spontaneous demonstration with no specific groups claiming responsibility for organizing it.
These protests were held as the Knesset approved government emergency measures banning Israelis from traveling over 1 kilometre (0.6 mile) from their homes to attend a protest, and limiting outdoor gatherings to a maximum of 20 people per group. Israel entered a nationwide lockdown on the eve of the Jewish New Year on Sept. 18, but the continued rise in coronavirus cases has prompt greater restrictions on movement and gathering.
The Black Flags movement has been calling on Netanyahu since March to resign over his indictment for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and over his failure to curb the spread of the pandemic. For several months now the movement has staged weekly Saturday night demonstrations outside Netanyahu’s official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. In the past few weeks, the movement has accused the prime minister of attempting to stop these rallies against him by means of undemocratic legislation whereby the prime minister pretended that such measures were necessary to halt the spread of the virus. Netanyahu has rejected these accusations, saying the measures were indeed necessary to combat the pandemic.
On Sept. 25, after the government decided to reinforce restrictions on demonstrations, several anti-Netanyahu groups announced that they would change their plans for demonstrations scheduled for the next day and follow social distancing regulations so that the government would have no reason to ban the protests. Many people, instead of attending rallies, chose to join protest convoys on the road leading to Jerusalem and in other places. Hundreds of vehicles took part.
After the Knesset adopted anti-demonstration measures Sept. 30, the Black Flags movement published a map of Israel, with hundreds of spots where small demonstrations could take place — main intersections, public squares, etc. The map offers Israelis demonstration spots that should correspond to the 1 kilometre restriction. The movement said it would continue to organize local rallies on Thursday and Saturday nights. They are hoping for some 2,000 “neighbourhood protests” Oct. 3.
The anti-Netanyahu group Crime Minister announced a march, to start Oct. 8, from the north of Israel to the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. It was dubbed “the great submarine rally,’’ although it was unclear how this event would unfold with the new regulations in place. Most anti-Netanyahu groups said they would obey the new regulations and operate in a legal manner.
The ongoing duel between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is beginning to repeat itself. Netanyahu gave his latest Hezbollah-related performance in his annual address to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 29, videotaped several days earlier in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu presented his viewers with what he described as a storage depot of Hezbollah missiles in the heart of Beirut’s Janah neighbourhood, saying it was located next to a gas company warehouse and a service station. Netanyahu’s meticulously prepared PowerPoint was convincing. It included skilfully presented photos purported to be the entrance to the missile site next to the entrance of the gas warehouse, as well as a personal appeal to the residents of Lebanon explaining how Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons were endangering their well-being.
Netanyahu masterfully leveraged the horrific explosion at the Beirut port the previous month as only he knows how. The point was to pit Hezbollah and the residents of Lebanon against each other, to deepen the gap between supporters and opponents of the Shiite organization and to warn residents of the beleaguered state and its capital city that Nasrallah continues to drag them into an abyss. Israeli intelligence is closely monitoring the deterioration in Lebanon and the population’s growing despair. Few in Jerusalem are shedding a tear over the predicament of Israel’s northern neighbor. All Israel is doing is helping the Lebanese arrive at the correct conclusion, as it sees it: Nasrallah is to blame for all their country’s troubles.
Nasrallah did not disappoint in responding to Netanyahu just minutes later, calling the prime minister a liar, denying outright all his claims and saying that Hezbollah would not store missiles near gas canisters. “We know where to store missiles,” he added. He then invited media representatives to tour the warehouse to which Netanyahu had pointed. The tour of the site was conducted an hour later, but did not resolve the dispute or clarify the situation. Netanyahu and Nasrallah found themselves facing off with their fingers on the trigger and harsh domestic crises roiling around them.
By the way, a similar standoff occurred exactly two years ago, with the only difference being that Netanyahu delivered his September 2018 speech to the General Assembly in person. The speech was similar, as was the information he presented of a missile depot near Beirut’s international airport, and Nasrallah was also quick to respond. This week, the information that Netanyahu presented was slightly more precise, including close-ups of the entrance door to the purported site.
Hezbollah’s standing in Lebanon in those days was also somewhat different, with its problems less pronounced and the Beirut port intact. These days, Nasrallah is fighting for his organization’s legitimacy in Lebanon, with the explosion that literally and figuratively rocked the state setting off a social media storm that has not abated and a significant number of Lebanese losing their fear of Hezbollah’s mythical power. Netanyahu is also in far more dire straits than he was two years ago. His trial on charges of corruption has begun, the economy is tanking under the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the disease is raging and Israelis are blaming Netanyahu for the embarrassing fact that their startup nation is leading the world in terms of new COVID-19 deaths per capita.
Nonetheless, despite the vague sense of deja vu generated by this week’s scuffle, it should not be taken lightly. Two years ago, following Netanyahu’s General Assembly address, an article on this site speculated that Israel might be weighing a preemptive strike on Hezbollah’s missile infrastructure in Lebanon. Netanyahu hinted at such an option at the time, as he did once again this week.
On the one hand, Israel has never landed a preemptive strike against any of its enemies’ conventional arms buildup. However, Israel argues that Hezbollah has an significant arsenal of missiles and is trying to adapt some of them for precision strikes. Acquisition of accurate strike capabilities against Israeli infrastructure, military airfields and other strategic targets would be a dramatic game changer that Israel cannot afford.
What is more, Israel has avoided making a preemptive strike so far, fearing the destruction Hezbollah could wreak in retaliation on the Israeli heartland. These days, the health and economic crisis are wreaking havoc on the heartland without Nasrallah. With unemployment surging and most of the economy under lockdown, Israel is on a warlike footing in any case. In other words, at this precise point in time Israel has nothing to lose from a preemptive strike. Such a surprise attack would enable it to destroy a significant part of Hezbollah’s weapons and missile systems, a result Israel would be unable to achieve if it lost the element of surprise once a war broke out.
This analysis notwithstanding, there does not appear to be any need at this stage to prepare the shelters or flee. Netanyahu is under heavy personal siege and dragging Israel into all-out war would be tantamount to political suicide under these circumstances. Israel would also have a hard time mobilizing international cooperation or support for a move that could set the entire Middle East on fire. In addition, the prospects that a preemptive strike on Nasrallah would completely destroy Hezbollah’s rocket and missiles capability are nil. Unlike past destruction of two Arab nuclear reactors (in Iraq and Syria), a synchronized raid on hundreds of missile and rocket sites is a complex endeavor with uncertain prospects of success.
Taken together, all these considerations preclude a realistic option of a preemptive strike. Neither Nasrallah nor Netanyahu are up to anything but a clash of words, given their circumstances. Having said all of the above, the usual caveat is in order: We are in the Middle East. Anything, at any place, at any time, is possible.
Ashrawi Needs Help Getting Palestinians’ Message Across
By Ray Hanania
October 02, 2020
It is a fact that the Arab community does not understand the importance of strategic communications, which could strengthen its efforts to overcome powerful adversaries like Israel. I learned at an early age about the importance of public relations, the impact of perception on US policies, and how spin can decide an election.
While serving in the US Air Force during the Vietnam War, I watched a debate on American television during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. The debate was between an Arab and an Israeli. The Israeli looked American, dressed American, sounded American and not only spoke English fluently, but he spoke “baseball English,” meaning his nuances reflected the everyday American vernacular. In contrast, the Arab spokesman had a strong accent and did not even shave, sporting what looked like five days of beard growth, which may be common in the Middle East but not in America. He blamed the US for the Arabs’ troubles. He was very emotional while the Israeli was calm and reasoned. I recognized right away that the Israeli was identifying with the American audience while the Arab was coming across like a stranger.
When I completed my military service, I switched my college major to journalism — an unusual choice for an Arab American in the 1970s. When I was only 23 years old, I was asked to serve as spokesman for the Arab American Congress for Palestine, which represented Palestinians in the American heartland. So, in 1976, I found myself on a national TV program debating with Israel’s foreign minister and most eloquent spokesperson, Abba Eban.
Eban dominated the debate when we spoke about politics, with the help of the moderator, who was a big supporter of Israel. They did not support a two-state solution back then, they just wanted the Palestinians to go away. I realized that Americans were conditioned by years of media and propaganda spin to support Israel and believe its distorted historical narrative. The common pro-Israel distortions were creatively crafted. They included several deeply embedded slogans and themes, such as: “A people without a land (the Jews) in a land (Palestine) without a people;” the Israelis “made a desert bloom;” and the notorious “the Palestinians don’t exist.”
Knowing the fundamentals of public relations spin, I exploited a deep crack that I saw in the pro-Israel propaganda. After all, I was a veteran who had served in the Vietnam War. I spoke about that and the fact my Uncle Moses and my father George, both born in Jerusalem, also served in the US military, defending America from the Nazis during the Second World War. My English was flawless and had a Chicago accent, making Eban, with his haughty British accent, sound foreign.
And then I hit him where it hurt. “Maybe the audience should know that your real name is Aubrey Solomon and you were born in South Africa,” I began, to the shock of both Eban and the biased host. I was looking into the TV camera and at the hundreds of thousands of Americans who were watching. I was speaking to them. I allowed my face to reflect pain and my eyes to widen, near to tears, and said: “Why is it that my father, a Christian Palestinian who was born in Jerusalem and whose family lived in Jerusalem until Israel forced us out, cannot live in the city where he was born, but Mr. Eban, Aubrey Solomon, who was born in South Africa, can live in Jerusalem? That’s not fair and I wonder how Christian Americans feel about one of their own not being allowed to live in the holy city of their birth?”
Eban’s demeanour tightened and his hands grabbed the arms of the chair. The host became angry. “Well, as foreign minister, Mr. Hanania, I will see to it that you can go back to Jerusalem,” Eban said. I responded: “What about the other 3 million Ray Hananias who are in the same situation?”
I made the debate personal and connected with the TV audience, which I knew would be mostly Christian and also admiring of my military service. The response was overwhelming, with many Americans later questioning Israel’s claims and seeing Palestinians not as “terrorists” or “anti-Semites,” but people with a reasoned counterclaim that exposed Israel’s lies. The reaction showed me that, if we present a reasoned and smart argument via a person the audience identifies with, we can change the trajectory of the false pro-Israel narrative.
I bring all this up because, on Saturday, I joined a video conference call featuring Hanan Ashrawi, Palestine’s most eloquent spokesperson, during an event organized by ArabAmerica.com, an Arab American activists’ network. I asked Ashrawi why we don’t have a formal public relations strategy, which she agreed we needed. She also acknowledged that, too often, it comes down to personal politics and ambition, meaning PR is pushed aside.
I believe Ashrawi is the Eban of Palestinian advocacy in that she is eloquent, smart, knowledgeable and courageously effective. However, unlike Eban, Ashrawi did not change her name and she was born in Palestine.
Why don’t the Arabs give Ashrawi the budget she needs to implement an effective PR strategy to win over the hearts and minds of the American people — an audience whose views most influence the fate of Palestinian rights? Are we poor? Or are we as Arabs not that smart?
Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist.
Trump-Biden Debate: Why US Public Doesn't Want To Have Another
By Kiliç Bugra Kanat
October 03, 2020
Last week in this column, I wrote about how important the debate between two presidential candidates can be, not only for the United States election but also for the country's standing around the world.
Besides being one of the critical junctures of the long U.S. election campaign process, the debates are also a presentation of the presidential candidates to the world.
Because of this, millions around the world either watch or follow the debates. On Tuesday the first of these debates took place in Cleveland between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. It was something more than anyone could have expected from a presidential debate.
Election observers, U.S. politics historians and veteran journalists all agree on one thing about
Tuesday's debate: It was the worst debate ever to have taken place between two presidential candidates since the beginning of televised debates in 1960.
Throughout the last 60 years of the debates, “unpresidential moments” were frequently mentioned, including George H. Bush checking his watch and Al Gore sighing during the debates. What the Americans witnessed on Tuesday was nowhere near the “presidential” standards set by previous presidential debates.
In addition to the constant interruptions and accusations, the viewers watched extremely “unpresidential moments” of yelling and in some instances insulting each other during the so-called conversation.
Although everybody was expecting Trump to be “too hot” during the debate, not many people were expecting Biden to call the sitting president “a clown,” “liar” and “Putin’s puppy.”
Personal attacks, including the allegations that Trump made in regards to Biden’s son Hunter Biden, were prevalent during the 90 minutes. It seemed that during a majority of the debate the candidates preferred to attack each other’s records to make the other lose their nerves instead of responding to the questions asked. The moderator Chris Wallace was given the hardest job of keeping the debate in order, which he also failed to do.
Throughout the debate, the candidates failed to provide convincing responses to the pressing issues in the U.S. today. Most of the questions in regard to current challenges of U.S. society and economics, including the response to the COVID-19 crisis, the road map to end the economic crisis and the way to handle the health care issue remained unanswered.
Trump failed to condemn white supremacists, and his response to that specific question made headlines the following day. Biden also avoided direct questions about Antifa and other groups on the left. Both candidates avoided alienating the more radical segments of their voting base.
The polls in the aftermath of the debate demonstrated mixed results. For some Biden was more successful than Trump. But a large part of this perception was due to the low expectations from Biden mostly because of Trump's campaign’s constant attacks on Biden’s health. This low expectation became the biggest challenge for Trump.
The polls revealed that the debates did not change the minds of the small number of undecided voters. It may even discourage them to go vote in the elections. In the aftermath of the debate, there was a hashtag campaign calling for a cancellation of upcoming debates.
Originally the next debate – which was to focus on issues of foreign and national security policies – was planned for Oct. 15. However, following the news that Trump tested positive for COVID-19, there are too many unknowns about whether there will be a debate, and if so, what the format will be given the risks of the pandemic. Maybe it is best for the U.S. not to have another such terrible debate.