Venezuela Says It Will Leave Pro-Democracy Organization

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Venezuela said Wednesday that it would pull out of the Organization of American States, which has long been critical of President Nicolás Maduro’s unyielding accumulation of power at the expense of the country’s democratic institutions.

The move increases Venezuela’s isolation while its government is struggling to put down mass street protests demanding new elections. And it shows that the country — which, through anticapitalist rhetoric and oil largess, once aimed to challenge the United States as a power in Latin America — is becoming something of a pariah in its own region.

On Wednesday evening, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez said Mr. Maduro had instructed her to break ties with the organization because of what she described as “intrusive, arbitrary, illegal, deviant and crude actions.” She added, “A faction of governments from the region had eyes on our sovereignty and tried to intervene and lecture our country, but this, fortunately, will not happen.”

The O.A.S., whose charter promotes democracy among member organizations in the Western Hemisphere, has become the principal body through which Venezuela’s neighbors have exerted pressure as concerns mount regarding the country’s stability.

Experts called the decision to leave unprecedented.

“It is evidence of an authoritarian character of the government, especially in the case of the O.A.S., whose pillars are to defend democracy and human rights,” said Félix Arellano, an international relations professor at the Central University of Venezuela. He added that this was the first time a country had pulled out of the organization.

The decision came amid a month of huge protests against Mr. Maduro’s rule that have involved looting and attacks on demonstrators and security forces. At least 26 people have died, according to human rights groups, including a 20-year-old man who the authorities say was killed during a demonstration on Wednesday.

Last year, the O.A.S. invoked its Democratic Charter against Venezuela, citing an “alteration of the constitutional order” there. The move was a rebuke of the country’s ruling leftists, whom the organization accused of stifling opponents, holding political prisoners and ruling by decree.

In the months that followed, Mr. Maduro’s powers increased, and the organization’s demands became louder.

On March 29, Venezuela’s Supreme Court, controlled by loyalists of the president, moved to dissolve the National Assembly and assume lawmaking powers for itself. The ruling was described by the O.A.S. secretary general, Luis Almagro, as “a self-inflicted coup.”

After an international outcry, Mr. Maduro quickly told the Supreme Court to roll back much of the ruling, but legislators say they remain essentially powerless.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for Mr. Almagro — who had warned that Venezuela faced suspension from the organization — said that in order to withdraw, the country would have to wait two years and pay a debt of $8.7 million under O.A.S. rules.

David Smilde, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, said the two-year departure window meant the organization could continue to discuss Venezuela, regardless of whether it was planning to quit. He noted that the rupture came after years in which Venezuela accused the O.A.S. of being a pawn of Washington and tried to undermine it by establishing alternative regional bodies.

“But symbolically, this is important,” Mr. Smilde added, saying it showed that Venezuela’s neighbors were losing patience.

For years, Venezuela was bolstered by friendly leftist governments throughout the region. But now, old stalwarts like Brazil and Argentina are governed by right-of-center leaders, and Cuba, once Venezuela’s closest ally, has opened diplomatic relations with the United States.

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Trump says no plan to pull out of NAFTA ‘at this time’

President Trump told the leaders of Canada and Mexico on Wednesday that the United States would not be pulling out of the North American Free Trade Agreement “at this time,” opening the door to future negotiations on the same day that Trump was considering signaling a strong intent to withdraw as a potential way of bringing the parties together at the deal-
making table.

Trump spoke with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau late Wednesday afternoon after reports circulated during the day that the president was contemplating withdrawing from NAFTA.

“President Trump agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time and the leaders agreed to proceed swiftly, according to their required internal procedures, to enable the renegotiation of the NAFTA deal to the benefit of all three countries,” the White House said in a statement late Wednesday.

News that Trump was weighing withdrawing from NAFTA drew sharp criticism from several Republican leaders, including Sen. Jeff Flake (R) and Sen. John McCain (R). McCain tweeted that Trump “shouldn’t abandon this vital trade agreement.”

Earlier, three people familiar with the matter said Trump is seriously considering signing a document within days that would signal his intent to withdraw the United States from the agreement within six months.

If signed, the letter would begin a formal process that could see the United States exit the 23-year-old trade pact with Canada and Mexico, ratcheting up tensions among neighboring nations.

Signing the document does not require Trump to withdraw from NAFTA after six months, but it is a required step if he plans to eventually do so. The White House is expected to soon take a separate step by signing a letter to Congress that would notify lawmakers of the administration’s intention to renegotiate NAFTA. By taking both steps, the White House would give itself more flexibility to choose a different outcome in several months.

Any move by Trump on NAFTA would not come as a surprise. The president made criticism of NAFTA one of the main topics of his campaign last year, calling the pact “a disaster for our country” and saying it “had to be totally gotten rid of.”

But the NAFTA issue did seem to lose some urgency after the first few weeks of Trump’s presidency as his administration focused on other topics.

“Some people were hopeful that just like he revised his views on NATO, he’d revise his views on this,” said Hoyt Bleakley, associate professor of economics at the University of Michigan. “But clearly he hasn’t.”

In recent days Trump also has taken a harder line with Canada, blasting a recent change in the dairy pricing policy there that mostly dealt with a cheese-making product called ultrafiltered milk. In Wisconsin last week, Trump called Canada’s dairy pricing scheme “another typical one-sided deal against the U.S.” Canada disputed that.

And the Commerce Department said Monday that it would begin charging a tariff on the import of softwood lumber from Canada into the United States, alleging Canada was improperly subsidizing its domestic timber firms.

But there was no panic over the fate of NAFTA in the Calgary offices of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, whose members sell and buy plenty of beef cattle across the border.

“This is his typical way of doing things — saying completely unreasonable things as a negotiating posture,” said John Masswohl, the trade group’s director of government and international relations.

Masswohl said he watched how Trump handled issues at the Carrier plant in Indiana and with Ford’s plans to build car models in Mexico. He sees similar rhetoric in Trump’s approach to NAFTA.

“I’ve got to believe this is a negotiating position,” Masswohl said, because the trade pact might need tweaking, but it has been good for both countries.

Separately, the Trump administration Wednesday made another move on trade that seemed aimed at China, launching an investigation into the effect of aluminum imports on U.S. national security interests.

A similar probe, known as a Section 232 investigation, was announced for foreign-made steel last week.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Wednesday that Trump would be signing a directive today urging the inquiry.

 

Ross said aluminum was a national security interest because the metal in its high-purity form is used in military planes such as the F-35 and F-18, plus armor plating for military vehicles and combat vessels. Just one U.S. smelter makes high-purity aluminum, producing enough for peacetime military needs but not enough if the country enters into conflicts, he said.

“It’s very dangerous from a defense point of view to have only one supplier of an absolutely critical element,” Ross said.

Only two U.S. smelters are fully operational today, with eight others having curtailed operations or closed since 2015. Imported aluminum accounted for 55 percent of the U.S. market last year, the largest market share ever and a steep increase over recent years, Ross said.

The largest importers of aluminum into the United States are China followed by Russia, United Arab Emirates and Canada, Ross said.

Aluminum imports from China, in particular, have been a focus of the U.S. government for months. Late last year, a bipartisan group of 12 U.S. senators asked for a national security review of Chinese aluminum giant Zhongwang International Group Ltd.’s proposed $2.3 billion purchase of U.S. aluminum products maker Aleris, alleging the deal would damage the U.S. defense industry.

In January, days before leaving office, President Barack Obama launched a World Trade Organization complaint about Chinese aluminum subsidies that, the United States claimed, gave Chinese companies an unfair advantage.

And last month, U.S. producers of aluminum foil — including the kind used to wrap kitchen leftovers — filed an anti-dumping complaint against China, claiming the United States was being flooded with unfair, cheap imports. Foil prices have declined significantly in recent years “due to widespread and significant underselling of U.S. producers’ prices,” according to the complaint.

A couple of weeks later, Trump’s Commerce Department announced that it was investigating those and other unfair trade claims.

The 3 cancers Jews need to worry about most

This story is sponsored by the Israel Cancer Research Fund.

NEW YORK — As if Jews don’t have enough to worry about.

Geopolitical threats to the Jewish people may wax and wane, but there’s another lethal danger particular to the Jewish people that shows no signs of disappearing anytime soon: cancer.

Specifically, Jews are at elevated risk for three types of the disease: melanoma, breast cancer and ovarian cancer. The perils are particularly acute for Jewish women.

The higher prevalence of these illnesses isn’t spread evenly among all Jews. The genetic mutations that result in higher incidence of cancer are concentrated among Ashkenazim — Jews of European descent.

“Ashkenazim are a more homogenous population from a genetic point of view, whereas the Sephardim are much more diverse,” said Dr. Ephrat Levy-Lahad, director of the Medical Genetics Institute at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.

But there is some hope. Susceptible populations can take certain precautions to reduce their risks. Recent medical advances have made early detection easier, significantly lowering the fatality rates from some cancers. Cheaper genetic testing is making it much easier for researchers to discover the risk factors associated with certain cancers. And scientists are working on new approaches to fight these pernicious diseases – especially in Israel, where Ashkenazi Jews make up a larger proportion of the population than in any other country.

Understanding risk factors and learning about preventative measures are key to improving cancer survival rates. Here’s what you need to know.

Melanoma

Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer, representing some 80 percent of skin cancer deaths, and U.S. melanoma rates are on the rise. It’s also one of the most common forms of cancer in younger people, especially among women.

Just a decade ago, Israel had the second-highest rate of skin cancer in the world, behind Australia. One reason is that Israel has a lot of sun. Some credit better education about the dangers of sun exposure for helping reduce Israel’s per capita skin cancer rate, now 18th in the world.

But the sun isn’t the whole story. Jews in Israel have a higher incidence of melanoma than the country’s Arab, non-Jewish citizens.

What makes Jews more likely to get skin cancer than others?

It’s a combination of genetics and behavior, according to Dr. Harriet Kluger, a cancer researcher at Yale University. On the genetics side, Ashkenazi Jews — who comprise about half of Israel’s Jewish population — are significantly more likely to have the BRCA-2 genetic mutation that some studies have linked to higher rates of melanoma.

The other factor, Israel’s abundant sunshine, exacerbates the problems for sun-sensitive Jews of European origin. That’s why Arabs and Israeli Orthodox Jews, whose more conservative dress leaves less skin exposed than does typical secular attire, have a lower incidence of the cancer.

“There are epidemiological studies from Israel showing that secular Jews have more melanoma than Orthodox Jews,” Kluger said.

So what’s to be done?

“Other than staying out of the sun, people should get their skin screened once a year,” Kluger said. “In Australia, getting your skin screened is part of the culture, like getting your teeth cleaned in America.”

You can spot worrisome moles on your own using an alphabetic mnemonic device for letters A-F: See a doctor if you spot moles that exhibit Asymmetry, Border irregularities, dark or multiple Colors, have a large Diameter, are Evolving (e.g. changing), or are just plain Funny looking. Light-skinned people and redheads should be most vigilant, as well as those who live in sunny locales like California, Florida or the Rocky Mountain states.

If you insist on being in the sun, sunscreen can help mitigate the risk, but only up to a point.

“It decreases the chances of getting melanoma, but it doesn’t eliminate the chances,” Kluger warned.

As with other cancers, early detection can dramatically increase survival rates.

In the meantime, scientists in Israel – a world leader in melanoma research – hold high hopes for immunotherapy, which corrals the body’s immune mechanisms to attack or disable cancer. At Bar-Ilan University, Dr. Cyrille Cohen is using a research grant from the Israel Cancer Research Fund to implant human melanoma cells in mice to study whether human white blood cells can be genetically modified to act as a “switch” that turns on the human immune system’s cancer‐fighting properties.

Breast cancer

Breast cancer is already more common in developed, Western countries than elsewhere — likely because women who delay childbirth until later in life and have fewer children do not enjoy as much of the positive, cancer risk-reducing effects of the hormonal changes associated with childbirth.

Ashkenazi Jews in particular have a significantly higher risk for breast cancer: They are about three times as likely as non-Ashkenazim to carry mutations in the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes that lead to a very high chance of developing cancer. One of the BRCA-1 mutations is associated with a 65 percent chance of developing breast cancer. Based on family history, including on the father’s side, the chances could be even higher.

“Every Ashkenazi Jewish woman should be tested for these mutations,” said Levy-Lahad, who has done significant research work on the genetics of both breast and ovarian cancer. Iraqi Jews also have increased prevalence of one of the BRCA mutations, she said.

Levy-Lahad is collaborating on a long-term project with the University of Washington’s Dr. Mary-Claire King — the breast cancer research pioneer who discovered the BCRA-1 gene mutation that causes cancer — on a genome sequencing study of Israeli women with inherited breast and ovarian cancer genes. The two women are using a grant from the Israel Cancer Research Fund to apply genomic technology to study BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 mutations and their implications for breast cancer risk in non-Ashkenazi women in Israel, who are similar to populations in Europe and the United States.

In a project that is testing thousands of women for deadly cancer mutations, they are also studying how mutations in genes other than BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 impact inherited breast cancer in non-Ashkenazi Jews.

The earlier breast cancer mutations are discovered, the sooner women can decide on a course of action. Some choose to have bilateral mastectomies, which reduce the chances of breast cancer by 90-95 percent. Actress Angelina Jolie famously put a Hollywood spotlight on the issue when she wrote a 2013 op-ed in The New York Times about her decision to have the procedure.

But mastectomies are not the only option. Some women instead choose a very rigorous screening regimen, including more frequent mammograms and breast MRIs.

Early detection is the cornerstone of improving breast cancer survival rates.

“Breast cancer is not nearly as deadly as it once was,” Levy-Lahad said.

Ovarian cancer

Of the three “Jewish” cancers, ovarian cancer is the deadliest.

Linked to the two BRCA mutations common among Jews, ovarian cancer is both stubbornly difficult to detect early and has a very high late-stage mortality rate. Women should be screened for the mutations by age 30, so they know their risks.

In its early stages, ovarian cancer usually has no obvious symptoms, or appears as bloating, abdominal pain or frequent urination that can be explained away by less serious causes. By the time it’s discovered, ovarian cancer is usually much more advanced than most other cancers and may have spread to surrounding organs. If that has occurred, the five-year survival rate drops considerably.

Women with the BRCA mutations have about a 50 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer. The best option is usually to remove the ovaries.

“We put a lot of pressure on women to have their ovaries removed because it’s a life-saving procedure,” Levy-Lahad said.

That doesn’t mean these women can’t have children. The recommendation is that women wait to have the procedure until after they complete child-bearing, usually around the age of 35-40.

Much work still needs to be done on prevention, early detection and treatment of ovarian cancer, but new research shows some promise.

“The exciting thing is that we live in a genomic age, and we have unprecedented abilities to understand the causes of cancer,” Levy-Lahad said. “There’s a whole field that, if you become affected, can look at the genetic makeup of the tumor you have.”

The study of these three “Jewish cancers” are a major component of the work of the Israel Cancer Research Fund, which raises money in North America for cancer research in Israel. Of the $3.85 million in grants distributed in Israel last year by the fund, roughly one-quarter were focused on breast cancer, ovarian cancer or melanoma, according to Ellen T. Rubin, the ICRF’s director of research grants. The organization’s Rachel’s Society focuses specifically on supporting women’s cancer awareness and research.

A significant amount of the organization’s grants is focused on basic research that may be applicable to a broad spectrum of cancers. For example, the group is supporting research by Dr. Varda Rotter of the Weizmann Institute of Science into the role played by the p53 gene in ovarian cancer. P53 is a tumor suppressor that when mutated is involved in the majority of human cancers.

Likewise, Dr. Yehudit Bergman of the Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School is using an ICRF grant to study how the biological mechanisms that switch genes on and off – called epigenetic regulation – operate in stem cells and cancer.

“Only through basic research at the molecular level will cancer be conquered,” said Dr. Howard Cedar of the Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School.

“Hopefully, one day there will be easier and better ways to detect and destroy the cancerous cells that lead to these diseases. But until those research breakthroughs, medical experts say that Jews, as members of a special high-risk category, should make sure they get genetic screenings and regular testing necessary for early detection and prevention.

(This article was sponsored by and produced in partnership with the Israel Cancer Research Fund, which is committed to finding and funding breakthrough treatments and cures for all forms of cancer, leveraging the unique talent, expertise and benefits that Israel and its scientists have to offer. This article was not produced by JTA’s staff reporters or editors.)

REPORT: DESPERATE SYRIANS SELL KIDNEYS, EYES TO LEBANESE (CRYPTO JEWS) ORGAN TRAFFICKERS

 

LONDON – Trade in illegal organs is a booming business in Lebanon as desperate Syrian refugees resort to selling body parts to support themselves and their families, according to an investigation by the BBC.

A trafficker who brokers deals from a coffee shop in Beirut, identified as Abu Jaafar, said while he knew his “booming” business was illegal, he saw it as helping people in need.

 

He spoke to the BBC journalist Alex Forsyth from his base in a dilapidated building covered by a plastic tarpaulin in a southern Beirut suburb.

“I exploit people, that’s what I do,” Jaafar told Forsyth.

“I know what I’m doing is illegal but I’m helping people, that’s how I see it.

“Some of my clients would have died anyway.”

Since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011, at least 1.5 million people have poured into Lebanon, where they make up around a quarter of the country’s population.

Many have no legal right to work, and families are forced to find other ways to pay for food, shelter and healthcare.

According to a report published in June, some 70 percent of refugees in Lebanon are living below the poverty line.

“Those who are not registered as refugees are struggling,” Jaafar said in a report aired on BBC television late on Tuesday.

“What can they do? They are desperate and they have no other means to survive but to sell their organs.”

Jaafar said in the last three years he had arranged the sale of organs from some 30 refugees.

“They usually ask for kidneys, yet I can still find and facilitate other organs,” he said.

“They once asked for an eye, and I was able to acquire a client willing to sell his eye.”

The Middle East is becoming a “hot spot” in international organ trade, where the influx of refugees desperate to earn money is providing a new market for brokers, shifting focus from China and the Philippines, Forsyth said, citing experts.

The journalist said despite difficulties organs could be exported to buyers around the world, while sometimes refugees were being flown to nearby countries for surgery using fake papers.

Jaafar said he drives blindfolded people who agreed to sell their organs to a hidden location on a designated day, where prior to surgery they undergo basic blood tests.

Sometimes the doctors operate in rented houses that are transformed into temporary clinic.

“Once the operation is done I bring them back,” Jaafar said.

“I keep looking after them for almost a week until they remove the stitches. The moment they lose the stitches we don’t care what happens to them any longer.”

“I don’t really care if the client dies as long as I got what I wanted. It’s not my problem what happens next as long as the client gets paid.”

Jaafar’s most recent client, a 17-year-old Syrian boy had sold his kidney for 6,500 pounds ($8,300) to pay off debts and support his mother and five sisters.

Two days later, lying in the back room of a coffee shop he said he’s in constant pain.

“I already regret it but what can I do,” the teenager said. “I didn’t want to do this but I’m desperate. I had no other choice.”

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT PRESIDENT (WHITE FREEMASON) URGES POST-HOLOCAUST RESTITUTION PROGRESS

 

http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/European-Parliament-president-urges-post-Holocaust-restitution-progress-489067

 

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani on Wednesday urged European countries to step up efforts to ensure the return of property and possessions seized from Jewish victims during the Holocaust.

Speaking at the opening of an international conference in Brussels titled “Unfinished Justice: Restitution and Remembrance,” Tajani stressed the importance of restitution.

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Declaring that restitution across Europe was still challenged by legal and technical problems, leaving victims without their property, Tajani said: “Restitution, together with remembrance and reconciliation, is a fundamental element to restore justice after the Holocaust.

“The European Parliament has called on the [European] Commission to develop common principles and guidelines,” he added, highlighting that the 2009 Terezin Declaration provides a clear reference point for restitution and a commitment for all European countries.

Forty-seven countries, including all 28 members of the European Union, approved the Terezin Declaration, which recognizes “the importance of restituting or compensating Holocaust-related confiscations made during the Holocaust era between 1933-45.”

According to the World Jewish Restitution Organization, only a small fraction of private and communal property illegitimately seized from Jewish victims during the Holocaust has been returned or compensated.

WJRO also emphasized that, of the remaining 500,000 survivors alive today, up to half are estimated to live in poverty.

“Progress has been made over the last years. Some countries have done a lot and have even developed best practices. Others should do more,” Tajani said.

The European Shoah Legacy Institute – which commissioned a comprehensive study on the status of restitution in each of the countries that endorsed the Terezin Declaration – called out Poland as being the only country that has yet to enact legislation dealing with restitution or compensation of private property nationalized by the Polish postwar Communist regime.

The conference was hosted by the European Parliament and organized by the European Alliance for Holocaust Survivors, a coalition of members of the European Parliament committed to issues impacting Holocaust survivors, the WJRO and ESLI, together with the European Jewish Congress and B’nai B’rith International. The permanent missions of the State of Israel, the Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom to the European Union and their respective foreign ministries were also partners in the conference.

During the conference, members of the European Parliament called on the European Commission and all member states to each appoint special envoys for Holocaust-related issues, including restitution, to accelerate activities aimed at securing justice for victims.

Gideon Taylor, chairman of operations for the World Jewish Restitution Organization, praised Tajani’s announcement as a “significant step toward helping Holocaust survivors achieve justice regarding confiscated property.

“The support of the European Parliament sends a strong signal about the importance of fulfilling the pledges countries made under the Terezin Declaration,” he said. “Countries have a moral obligation to ensure that workable property restitution laws are put in place, and we hope that they will respond by reaffirming their commitment to providing justice for the remaining survivors, their families and Jewish communities as a matter of urgency.”

Polish-born British Holocaust survivor Ben Helfgott also emphasized the importance of the issue, saying that “committing to a substantial, broad and coordinated program of restitution goes some way to recognizing the suffering, anguish and torment that occurred directly to those Jews present at the time, and the damage it caused for generations afterwards.”

The conference was attended by members of the European Parliament, diplomats, leaders of international Jewish organizations and European Jewish communities as well as Holocaust survivors.

ANALYSIS: GERMANY’S SOCIAL DEMOCRATS PIVOT TOWARD PLO AND IRAN

 

German Foreign and Vice Chancellor Minister Sigmar Gabriel’s move to pick a fight with Benjamin Netanyahu come as no surprise to longterm observers of Gabriel and his Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) explicit pivot toward Fatah and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Netanyahu told Gabriel he was not prepared to meet with him if he went ahead with meetings with organizations (i.e. Breaking the Silence) that seek to delegitimize the Jewish state and the IDF.

Gabriel refused to pull the plug on his meetings and the row mushroomed into a full-blown diplomatic crisis.

 

“Gabriel’s deliberate uproar” was the title of Alex Feuerherdt’s article on the website of the Mena Watch think tank. Feuerherdt, a journalist and expert in German-Israel relations, hammered away at the SPD’s growing anti-Israel tendencies and the largely monolithic media and political criticism in Germany of Netanyahu’s cancellation.

He noted the double standard in Germany: There was not a bleep of protest over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to punish Israel for construction of buildings in the disputed territories by canceling her May trip to Israel, noted Feuerherdt.

Gabriel is, of course, no stranger to slashing language that assaults Israel’s raison d’être, namely, political Zionism.

He termed Israel’s presence in Hebron an “apartheid regime.” His partisan views are clearly written on the wall. For Gabriel, Mahmoud Abbas is a “friend’ and his SPD party declared itself to be in a “strategic partnership” with Abbas’s Fatah party.

Moreover, the SPD hosted a Breaking the Silence exhibit in 2012 at the party’s Willy Brandt headquarters in Berlin.

The current president of Germany, the Social Democrat’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier, waxed lyrical about the Breaking the Silence, a group that uses anonymous testimonies to claim Israel’s army commits war crimes.

All of this helps to explain why Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, rejected just days ago a German mediation role (i.e, Gabriel) in the Israel-PLO conflict.

The chairman and candidate for chancellor of the Social Democratic Party, Martin Schulz, described Abbas’s speech to the European Parliament last year as “stimulating.”

During the June 2016 speech, Abbas accused Israeli rabbis of urging the government to poison Palestinian water. The New York Times wrote at the time that Abbas’s claim about lethally contaminating water used by the Palestinians echoed “antisemitic claims that led to the mass killings of European Jews in medieval times.”

Gabriel has scarce experience in the Middle East. The vice chancellor – his party sits in a coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party – is a hardcore economic nationalist who prioritizes his country’s business interests over historical responsibility toward the Jewish people.

He rushed to Iran with a large business delegation just weeks after the nuclear accord was reached in July 2015.

Gabriel appears to not have met with any organizations critical of the Islamic Republic while in Tehran. He dashed off to Iran again in 2016 with another business group.

Gabriel’s predecessor, Steinmeier, tagged Netanyahu as “very coarse” for his piercing criticism of the Iran nuclear deal. As a result of the atomic pact, German companies are expected to secure a multi-billion dollar windfall from trade deals with the mullah regime.

And key leaders within the Social Democrats have been frothing at the mouth over Israel’s opposition to the Iran nuclear weapons deal and over Netanyahu’s opposition to concessions to the Palestinians.

As the former economic affairs minister and current foreign minister, Gabriel has not stopped German taxpayer funds from going to the Palestinian Authority, and likely going to convicted Palestinian terrorists and their families.

The German government has provides millions of euros to NGOs in the West Bank, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, and Israel that are engaged in political warfare against Israel, according to the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor.

Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, said “German funding to organizations like B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence is a small part of the problem; the government also provides money to radical organizations that delegitimize the right of the Jewish people to sovereign equality. This controversy [over Gabriel’s visit] is an opportunity to hold a serious dialogue between elected officials to solve the problems arising from the paralleled European links with Israeli political groups and NGOs.”

The shift of the Social Democrats toward the PLO and Iran’s regime will continue to be a source of friction between Israel and Germany.

The likely continuation of the current SPD coalition with Merkel after this fall’s election will keep the diplomatic tension high for the German government’s next five-year term.

Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

NGO MONITOR: EUROPEAN GOVERNMENTS FUND NGOS THAT INCITE TO VIOLENCE

 

European governments have been funding NGOs involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict that blur the lines between violence and nonviolence and legitimize attacks against Israeli civilians, according to a report released Thursday by watchdog organization NGO Monitor.

According to the report, several European- funded NGOs use the “facade of human rights and international law” to blur the lines between “peaceful” or “nonviolent” campaigns and violent “resistance” – “a term used by Palestinians to refer to armed groups that carry out attacks on Israel.”

 

One example provided in the report named the Spanish NGO Novact – which in 2015 received some €1.3 million in funding from Spain, the UN and the EU for activities related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – as one such organization that “whitewashes resistance.”

In February 2017, the NGO invited Palestinians Munther Amira and Manal Tamimi of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee to a conference funded by the Spanish regional government of Catalonia and the EU on “preventing violent extremism.”

According to the report, both Tamimi and Amira have incited violence and glorified terrorism numerous times.

In August 2015, Tamimi wrote on Twitter: “I do hate Israel ,i [sic] wish a thrid Intefada [sic] coming soon and people rais [sic] up and kills all these zionist settlers everywhere.”

Amira has described a violent demonstration organized by him as part of a “struggle against the Nazi occupation.”

Both Amira and Tamimi were arrested upon their arrival in Barcelona for suspected terrorist activities.

Additionally, the report stated that a number of European-funded organizations also have ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – designated a terrorist organization by the EU, US, Canada and Israel.

The report cited the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which consistently labels terrorist attacks against Israelis as part of the “legitimate right to resist the occupation,” among the NGOs whitewashing resistance and maintaining ties to the PFLP.

In April 2016, founder and director of PCHR Raji Sourani, who has served multiple jail sentences, including for his alleged illegal membership ties to the PFLP, declared that “I think resistance is our right and our obligation.”

The Addameer association – a leader of campaigns in support of Palestinian prisoners convicted of security offenses, referring to them as “political prisoners” rather than as terrorists – is another organization named in the report.

It is very active in Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns, and several of the NGO’s employees have been convicted on terrorism charges by Israeli courts.

The NGO’s chairman and cofounder, Abdul-latif Ghaith, was banned by Israel from traveling internationally, due to his alleged membership in the PFLP, and Khalida Jarrar, Addameer’s vice chairwoman, is a senior PFLP official.

In 2015, Jarrar was indicted for various offenses, including active membership in a terrorist organization (the PFLP) and inciting violence through a call to kidnap Israeli soldiers.

Another example provided in the report includes funding to Al-Haq, a self-described Palestinian human rights organization, which is a leader in anti-Israel lawfare, lobbying the International Criminal Court for the prosecution of Israelis, and in BDS activities.

Al-Haq’s director-general Shawan Jabarin has alleged ties to the PFLP terrorist organization, the report stated, and, as such, has been denied exit visas by Israel and Jordan.

“The examples presented in this report are symptomatic of an overall lack of accountability and scrutiny in government funding to NGOs that are politically active in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” the report stated. “This results in financial backing for groups that legitimize violence, in sharp contradistinction to the government funders that are otherwise committed to facilitating a negotiated ‘two-state’ vision.”

In light of the serious allegations presented, the report also issued a list of recommendations to combat funding to such NGOs.

Among its recommendations, NGO Monitor called for the establishment of “working groups with members of the Knesset and European parliamentarians in order to enhance oversight and arrive at mutually agreed upon funding guidelines.”

Additionally, the report called for increased coordination and information sharing among Israeli government branches and increased coordination on NGO funding between Israeli security apparatuses and their European counterparts.

According to Olga Deutsch, director of the Europe Desk at NGO Monitor, “Following the distribution of NGO Monitor’s report to over 3,000 members of the European, German, Spanish, Swedish, and Swiss parliaments, we hope that decision-makers will bring this troubling phenomenon to the forefront of the public debate.

“European and Israeli leaders have a shared interest in carefully choosing which organizations they entrust to help bring about a peaceful agreement,” she added.

Turkey detains, suspends thousands in huge new anti-Gulen crackdown

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AFP) — Turkey on Wednesday detained more than 1,000 people and suspended over 9,100 police in a vast new crackdown against alleged supporters of the US-based preacher accused of orchestrating the coup bid against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Dawn raids across the country — seeking more than 3,000 suspects — were followed by a statement from police that 9,103 police officers were being suspended on suspicion of links to Fethullah Gulen.

The new wave of the crackdown came just over a week after Erdogan narrowly won a controversial referendum on ramping up his powers which opponents fear will hand him one man rule.

A total of 1,120 suspects have so far been detained, the official Anadolu news agency said.

File photo of Turkish anti-riot police escort soldiers who allegedly took part in a military coup, as they leave a courthouse in Istanbul on July 16, 2016. (AFP Photo/Ozan Kose)

Anadolu said 4,672 suspects were sought in Wednesday’s raids — of whom 1,448 are already in jail — meaning that a total of 3,224 arrest warrants were issued.

About 8,500 police officers were involved in the nationwide operation, Anadolu reported, adding that arrest warrants had been issued for 390 suspects in Istanbul alone.

Meanwhile, the 9,103 police officers were being suspended on suspicion of links or contacts to Gulen’s group, on the grounds of national security, the police force said in a statement on its website.

This file photo taken on July 18, 2016 shows pro-Erdogan supporters holding an effigy of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen hung by a noose during a rally at Taksim square in Istanbul. (AFP Photo/Ozan Kose)

Turkish authorities blame Gulen for masterminding the July 2016 failed military coup that aimed to oust Erdogan from power but he denies the charges.

The government has repeatedly asked the United States to extradite Gulen, who has been living in exile there since 1999.

About 47,000 people have already been arrested in Turkey under a nine-month state of emergency in place since the coup bid, a crackdown whose magnitude has raised alarm in the West and caused further strife for Ankara’s bid to join the EU.

The Turkish parliament two days after the referendum extended the state of emergency by another three months to July 19.

After the latest sweep, German foreign ministry spokesman Sebastian Fischer said Berlin “has taken note of the mass detentions with concern,” urging respect for rule of law.

EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said every individual had a right to a fair trial and emphasized that Turkey needed to respect the “highest democratic standards and practices.”

‘Secret imams’

The suspects detained are so-called “secret imams” of Gulen suspected of infiltrating themselves into the police or other state institutions, Anadolu said.

Erdogan has repeatedly said he will wipe out the “virus” of Gulen from state institutions after the failed coup.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomes the Somalian president at the presidential complex in Ankara on April 26, 2017. (AFP Photo/Adem Altan)

The vast operation targeted big cities such as Istanbul as well as Izmir in western Turkey and Konya in the Anatolian heartland.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim had hinted in a television interview this month that a new anti-Gulen crackdown had been in the pipeline.

The ‘Yes’ camp won 51.41 percent of the vote in the April 16 referendum on creating a presidential system in Turkey but opponents claim the result would have been reversed in a fair poll.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said Wednesday it would challenge last-minute changes to voting rules in the referendum at the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights.

‘Deeply concerned’

Analysts have said Erdogan, after his poll win, can choose between new confrontation or reconciliation with the West but in recent days tensions have risen further.

Turkish warplanes killed more than two dozen Kurdish fighters Tuesday in strikes in Syria and Iraq, angering the United States.

Ankara said it had carried out the strikes against “terrorist havens,” vowing to continue acting against groups it links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

In northeast Syria, strikes targeted the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) — who are leading the offensive against the Islamic State stronghold Raqqa.

The US State Department said it was “deeply concerned” the strikes were conducted “without proper coordination either with the United States or the broader global coalition” against IS. Ankara said it had informed the US and Russia before the strikes.

Kurds wave flags of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan as a medical helicopter, from the US-led coalition, flies over the site of Turkish airstrikes near the Syrian Kurdish town of Derik, known as al-Malikiyah in Arabic, on April 25, 2017. (AFP Photo/Delil Souleiman)

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted Tuesday to reopen a monitoring probe into Turkey over rights concerns, sparking anger from Ankara.

German deputy Bernd Fabritius said that the Turkish government had scrapped all official meetings he was due to hold as part of a planned Council of Europe observation mission next month.

Fatah beats Hamas at university elections for 2nd time this month

Fatah, the ruling party of Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, on Wednesday bested its political rival Hamas in West Bank student university elections for the second time this month.

Fatah’s Shabiba party took 19 seats in elections at the Polytechnic University in Hebron, while Hamas’s Islamic bloc party won 11 seats, and a left-wing group got just one seat.

Last year at the Polytechnic, Fatah won 18 seats, while Hamas took 12. Polytechnic is a small university, with just 5,381 students, out of which 3,014 voted.

Student elections are seen by analysts as a barometer of the Palestinian public in the absence of any elections that have included Hamas since 2006.

Earlier this month Fatah won the student elections at An-Najah University in Nablus, the biggest Palestinian university in the West Bank.

At An-Najah, Fatah’s party took 41 seats, Hamas’s party 34, while a number of left-wing groups won a total of 6 seats.

The wins for Fatah’s Shabiba party represents a turnaround from recent years that saw Hamas’s Islamic bloc winning major university elections, especially in Ramallah’s Birzeit University, which has yet to hold elections in 2017.

Palestinian supporters of the Hamas movement attend a rally prior to the student council elections at Birzeit University, on the outskirts of the city of Ramallah, Tuesday, May 6, 2014. (photo credit: Abbas Momani/AFP)

Fatah spokesperson Osama Qawasmeh said the results of the election were proof of the “patriotic awareness of students, and the rallying around the Fatah movement is due to its high patriotic and moral values,” the official PA news outlet Wafa reported.

Qawasme called on Hamas, a terror group that took control of the Gaza Strip 10 years ago in a violent battle with Fatah, to allow for student elections in the enclave.

There have been no student elections in Gaza since Hamas took control, Qawasmeh said.

Trump team softens war talk, vows other pressure on N. Korea

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration told lawmakers Wednesday it will apply economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, as an extraordinary White House briefing served to tamp down talk of military action against an unpredictable and increasingly dangerous US adversary.

President Donald Trump welcomed Republican and Democratic senators before his secretary of state, defense secretary, top general and national intelligence director conducted a classified briefing. The same team also met with House members in the Capitol to outline the North’s escalating nuclear capabilities and US response options to what they called an “urgent national security threat.”

After weeks of unusually blunt military threats, the joint statement by the agency chiefs said Trump’s approach “aims to pressure North Korea into dismantling its nuclear, ballistic missile and proliferation programs by tightening economic sanctions and pursuing diplomatic measures with our allies and regional partners.” It made no specific mention of military options, though it said the US would defend itself and friends.

The unprecedented meeting in a building adjacent to the White House reflected the increased American alarm over North Korea’s progress in developing a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike the US mainland. A flurry of military activity, by North Korea and the US and its partners on and around the divided Korean Peninsula, has added to the world’s sense of alert.

While tensions have increased since Trump took office, they’ve escalated dramatically in recent weeks as American and other intelligence agencies suggested the North was readying for a possible nuclear test. Although such an explosion hasn’t yet occurred, Trump has sent high-powered US military vessels and an aircraft carrier to the region in a show of force, while the North conducted large-scale, live-fire artillery drills, witnessed by national leader Kim Jong Un, earlier this week.

US Pacific Command Commander Adm. Harry Harris Jr. testifies before a House Armed Services Committee hearing on North Korea on April 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

On Wednesday, South Korea started installing key parts of a contentious US missile defense system that also has sparked Chinese and Russian concerns.

America’s Pacific forces commander, Adm. Harry Harris Jr., told Congress on Wednesday the system would be operational within days. He said any North Korean missile fired at US forces would be destroyed.

“If it flies, it will die,” Harris said.

The Trump administration has said all options, including a military strike, are on the table. But the administration’s statement after briefing senators — all 100 members were invited — outlined a similar approach to the Obama administration’s focus on pressuring Pyongyang to return to long-stalled denuclearization talks. Trump’s top national security advisers said they were “open to negotiations” with the North, though they gave no indication of when or under what circumstances.

The strategy hinges greatly on the cooperation of China, North Korea’s main trading partner.

“China is the key to this,” said Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who got a preview of Trump’s message at a dinner with the president this week.

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California agreed. “I think the best approach for the administration is to bring the maximum pressure to bear diplomatically on China, as well as North Korea, but otherwise to walk softly and carry a big stick,” he told reporters after attending the Capitol Hill briefing Wednesday.

A US military vehicle moves past banners opposing a plan to deploy an advanced US missile defense system called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, as South Korean police officers stand guard in Seongju, South Korea, Wednesday, April 26, 2017. (Kim Jun-hum/Yonhap via AP)

Among the options are returning North Korea to the US state sponsor of terrorism blacklist, which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last week was under consideration. His spokesman, Mark Toner, said Wednesday that another tactic is getting nations around the world to close down North Korean embassies and consulates, or suspending them from international organizations.

But sanctions will be the greatest tool at the Trump administration’s disposal. Tillerson is chairing a UN Security Council meeting Friday designed to get nations to enforce existing penalties on North Korea and weigh new ones.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Harris said he expects North Korea to soon be able to develop a long-range missile capable of striking the United States, as Kim has promised. “One of these days soon, he will succeed,” Harris said.

North Korea’s UN mission said Wednesday the nation would react to “a total war” with Washington by using nuclear weapons. It vowed victory in a “death-defying struggle against the US imperialists.”

Korean People's Army (KPA) tanks are displayed during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. (AFP/Ed Jones)

Trump, like presidents before him, faces difficult options. Sanctions haven’t forced Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear efforts, but a targeted US attack to take out its weapons program risks a wider war along a heavily militarized border near where tens of millions of South Koreans live. The threat would extend to nearby Japan, another country North Korea regularly threatens.

China has urged restraint by both Pyongyang and Washington. In Berlin Wednesday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said North Korea must suspend its nuclear activities, but “on the other side, the large-scale military maneuvers in Korean waters should be halted.” That was a reference to US and South Korean war games.

China opposes the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, being installed in South Korea, rejecting American assurances that it will only target North Korean missiles. Russia also sees the system’s powerful radars as a security threat.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said THAAD would upset the region’s “strategic balance.” China will take “necessary measures to defend our own interests,” he promised.