Student startup gives pro-Israel advocates a unified voice


In 2012, during Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense, and again in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge, a student at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya realized that Israel’s casualties were not limited to the battlefield during times of war – they had the potential to extend to the media, as well.

Now, just a few years later, a large “situation room” within the university is humming with the activity of over a dozen young staffers combing the web and pumping out content, with two similar hubs operating on a smaller scale in the United States, and the ACT.IL mobile and computer app is garnering thousands of downloads a day. A new situation room is slated to open soon in New York, joining its sisters in Boston and New Jersey.

It was in order to protect the Jewish state from the less tangible – but no less harmful – threats of online misinformation during wartime that Yarden Ben Yosef established ACT.IL, a dynamic online community working together to positively influence public opinion when it comes to Israel. But, as it turns out, the battles are always raging against propaganda machines such as BDS (the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movements).

“We saw this it was something we needed to be doing on a day to day basis, not only during times of war, and also we need to reach more people. Because it was great having people here and 40 million people is a nice number, but it’s nothing when it comes to reaching out to the masses,” says Yaron Fishelson, the ACT.IL head of product and community.

Fishelson is referring to the 40 million people ACT.IL reached during Operation Pillar of Defense.

Under the auspices of the Israeli American Council (IAC) and the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), and with the guidance of Prof. Uriel Reichman and former Israeli ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor, ACT.IL has quickly turned into one of the fastest growing Israel advocacy groups ever.

Gur Yalon speaks with interns who are clearly excited about what they do. (Times of Israel)

“Professor Reichman fell in love with the idea straightaway,” says Fishelson. “He’s a really strong Zionist who has a lot of different initiatives here that promote Zionism and public diplomacy.”

ACT.IL’s quick rise to the top can at least partly be attributed to the community’s simple and effective three-pronged strategy: create good original content, teach people to help others make use of the ACT.IL tool kit, and galvanize people into action.

The media rooms in Israel and the US mimic those used by the Israel Defense Forces and help staff coordinate and work on the local level to maximize reach. The initiative – which looks and runs just like any other tech startup commonly found in Israel – has been so effective that in 2015, Time Magazine rated one of ACT.IL’s campaigns as among the top 10 most influential that year.

Meet the crew

Fishelson takes a supervisory role in the IDC headquarters, working alongside Gur Yalon, Mor Dagan, and Yael Tzur who cover training, content, and media room projects, respectively.

Fishelson brings with him experience working in digital marketing and as a “shliach,” or emissary, on behalf of Israel at Stanford University in California. He was in a managerial role back in Israel with the shliach program when he encountered ACT.IL.

“I was here with a Birthright group I was leading, and was so impressed with what was going on I simply had to contribute,” says Fishelson.

The staff and interns hard at work at Act.IL in Herzliya. (Times of Israel)

Now, he’s directing and guiding a group of interns – mostly third-year students at the IDC – as they energetically throw themselves into the work of online Israel advocacy.

“We asked students about their skills, and then divided them into groups,” Fishelson says. “Some were good at social media, some good at languages and translation, others at graphic design, video editing, web monitoring, creating new materials, and more. Harnessing the power of the student initiative, we’ve been able to reach people in 100 countries, 35 languages, with an exposure of 40 million unique users to date.”

While the training, media and content sides of ACT.IL are still very much active, the newer app is snapping up the limelight lately.

Discussing strategy at the offices of ACT.IL. (Times of Israel)

“How many app downloads did we have yesterday?” calls Shira Reich, a Jerusalem-born intern who studies law and business.

“Five thousand,” says Fishelson.

Reich is busy creating a “mission” for the app which takes users to a YouTube video containing instructions on how to stab Israeli military or police forces, and walks them through the process of reporting the video as a violation.

The interns are already seasoned professionals and go about their business of rooting out anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda – much of it quite disturbing – as if they were filing quarterly financial reports.

“Look at this,” says Reich. “There’s a lady sitting on a globe, and she has a Star of David on her chest, and she’s breastfeeding Satan. And the caption says, ‘Israel, mother of terrorism.’ This is actually pretty bad, I actually wasn’t expecting this one.”

A violent YouTube video that ACT.IL made a mission to take down. (ACT.IL)

She picks up her laptop and shows it to her fellow interns, who glance at it blankly and return to work.

“Nobody even says anything,” says Reich.

Across from Reich sits Jeremy Danzig, composing a preemptive solidarity statement for university student unions to adopt before BDS activists attempt to have them sign boycott pacts.

A 22-year-old native San Diegan who made aliyah three years ago, Danzig is in his final year at the IDC. When he graduates, he intends join a combat unit in the IDF.

“This is a potential mission I’m working on, a declaration of solidarity for universities that may be facing BDS resolutions in the near future. So this would help various student bodies understand our position on academic freedom and the interactions between different universities,” says Danzig.

In addition to the missions, the situation room is buzzing about a new video featuring a montage of homemade clips of people doing a variety of extreme sports – the catch (spoiler alert): all of the athletic feats are taking place in Israel.

Interestingly absent from the visually stunning video is any trace of branding.

“We use what we call the ‘no logo strategy,’” says Fishelson. “This way people can feel free to view and share the video without any prejudice, no judgment or conclusions. People are more likely to keep and open mind about something that doesn’t announce what it is beforehand.”

Fishelson says that the approach works – in fact, he says, numerous pro-Israel advocacy groups have adopted the tactic since.

The out-of-the-box thinking that drives ACT.IL is in a way a metaphor for the very country the initiative swears to defend – a dynamic, results-driven approach that focuses on goals rather than the obstacles in front of them.

With the ACT.IL app and initiatives such as the site launched six weeks ago, more and more individuals are invited to find their voice and help fight against the anti-Israel narrative sweeping the web today from the comfort of their own homes.

The plethora of tools, guidance and factual information provided strengthens the formally “speechless” individual and empowers them with the ultimate weapon: the truth.

This article is published in collaboration with the Ministry of Strategic Affairs.




French President Emmanuel Macron presented a diverse cabinet of 22 ministers, including a Jew, a Muslim and both advocates and critics of Israel.

Macron, a centrist who had served in governments led both by Socialists and Republicans before his election on May 7 on an independent ticket, appointed on Wednesday as his foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, a former defense minister under the previous president, Francois Hollande of the Socialist Party.


In 2014, Le Drian wrote in a statement that France “condemns” the firing of rockets into Israel “but requests that Israel” minimize any harm to civilians in its attacks on Hamas.

Macron appointed Edouard Philippe, a lawmaker from the moderate wing of the main center-right The Republicans party, as prime minister.

Macron appointed to health minister Agnes Buzyn, a physician born to a Polish Jewish couple. Her father survived the Holocaust and her mother was born in France shortly after the war to Jewish immigrants from Poland. She is one of 11 women whom Macron made ministers – exactly half of his cabinet.

Francois Bayrou, a billionaire-turned-politician who has in the past criticized what he has called Israel’s “arbitrary and unjust arrests of Palestinians,” among other alleged actions by the Jewish state, was named minister of state – a position equivalent to minister without portfolio which nonetheless suggests seniority.

Bruno le Maire of The Republicans party was made minister of the economy. Pro-Israel activists in France regard him as a staunch ally and defender of the Jewish state, according to the right-leaning news site Alyaexpress.

Last year, le Maire criticized Hollande’s government for supporting a vote at the United Nations educational branch, UNESCO, which ignored Jewish ties to Jerusalem. He called it “a moral and political error.”

Marielle De Sarnez, a former lawmaker at the European Parliament who in 2010 visited Hamas-controlled Gaza and co-authored a letter urging Israel to lift its blockade of the area, was appointed as the minister in charge of European affairs. The letter she co-signed did not mention Hamas’ violations of human rights and terrorist activities. It also praised the work of UNRWA, a UN agency which Israel in those years accused of incitement, as “fantastic.”

Macron appointed Mounir Majhoubi, a 33-year-old entrepreneur whose family is Muslim and has Moroccan roots, to be France’s minister in charge of digitalization. Majhoubi in 2010 opened a successful high-tech firm together with his then business partner, the French-Jewish developer Marc-David Choukroun.

Trump keeps praising international strongmen, alarming human rights advocates


It’s no longer just Vladi­mir Putin.

As he settles into office, President Trump’s affection for totalitarian leaders has grown beyond Russia’s president to include strongmen around the globe.

Egyptian President Abdel ­Fatah al-Sissi has had his opponents gunned down, but Trump praised him for doing “a fantastic job.” Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is a junta chief whose military jailed dissidents after taking power in a coup, yet Trump offered to meet with him at the White House. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has eroded basic freedoms, but after a recent political victory, he got a congratulatory call from Trump.

Then there’s the case of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. He is accused of the extrajudicial killing of hundreds of drug users, and he maligned President Barack Obama as a “son of a whore” at an international summit last year. Yet on Sunday, in what the White House characterized as a “very friendly conversation,” Trump invited Duterte to Washington for an official visit.

In an undeniable shift in American foreign policy, Trump is cultivating authoritarian leaders, one after another, in an effort to reset relations following an era of ostracism and public shaming by Obama and his predecessors.

Trump extends a controversial invitation to the leader of the Philippines

President Trump has extended an invitation to the White House to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, despite the bloody drug war Duterte is carrying out in his country. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

For instance, it has become an almost daily occurrence for Trump to gush about Chinese President Xi Jinping since their Mar-a-Lago summit last month. Trump has called Xi “a very good man,” “highly respected” and a “gentleman,” as he tries to persuade Xi to convince North Korea that it should scale back or give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Trump’s praise is not limited to potential U.S. allies. Even as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ratchets up his provocations, Trump called Kim “a smart cookie” in a CBS News interview over the weekend. On Monday, Trump told Bloomberg News he would be “honored” to personally meet with Kim “under the right circumstances.”

Every American president since at least the 1970s has used his office at least occasionally to champion human rights and democratic values around the world. Yet, so far at least, Trump has willingly turned a blind eye to dictators’ records of brutality and oppression in hopes that those leaders might become his partners in isolating North Korea or fighting terrorism.

Indeed, in his first 102 days in office, Trump has neither delivered substantive remarks nor taken action supporting democracy movements or condemning human rights abuses, other than the missile strike he authorized on Syria after President Bashar al-Assad allegedly used chemical weapons against his own citizens.

“He doesn’t even pretend to utter the words,” said Michael McFaul, a U.S. ambassador to Russia under Obama. “Small-d democrats all over the world are incredibly despondent right now about Donald Trump — and that’s true in China, in Iran, in Egypt, in Russia. They feel like the leader of the free world is absent.”

A tipping point for many Trump critics was his invitation to Duterte to visit the White House. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was “deeply disturbed” by Trump’s “cavalier invitation” and called on him to rescind it.

Trump administration, Republicans weigh in on North Korean missile test

President Trump said Kim Jong Un is a “tough cookie,” while administration officials and other Republicans weighed in on North Korea’s latest missile test. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

“This is a man who has boasted publicly about killing his own citizens,” Cardin said of Duterte in a statement. “The United States is unique in the world because our values — respect for human rights, respect for the rule of law — are our interests. Ignoring human rights will not advance U.S. interests in the Philippines or any place else. Just the opposite.”

Yet Trump’s advisers said the president’s silence on human rights matters is purposeful, part of a grand strategy to rebuild alliances or create new ones. Trump’s outreach is designed to isolate North Korea in the ­Asia-Pacific region and to build coalitions to defeat the Islamic State in the Middle East and North Africa, senior administration officials said.

Inside the Trump White House, the thinking goes that if mending bridges with a country like the Philippines — historically a treaty ally whose relationship with the United States deteriorated as Duterte gravitated toward China — means covering up or even ignoring concerns like human rights, then so be it.

“The United States has a limited ability to direct things,” said Michael Anton, the National Security Council’s director of strategic communications. “We can’t force these countries to behave certain ways. We can apply pressure, but if the alternative is not talking, how effective would it be if we had no relationships? If you walk away from relationships, you can’t make any progress.”

Anton explained that Trump is trying to “balance” interests. He said the decision to invite Duterte to the White House — a symbolic gesture that gives credibility to the autocrat’s rule — was agreed to by most of Trump’s advisers.

“It’s not binary,” he said. “It’s not that you care about human rights so you can’t have a relationship with the Philippines, or if you have a relationship with the Philippines you don’t care about human rights.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) described the Trump strategy as establishing commonality with offending nations before publicly chastising them for ­offenses.

“Their approach is to obviously continue to hold up the values that we have here in America,” Corker said in a recent interview. “But their approach is to build some commonality — never let go of that as an American cause, but to work on it in ways where they achieve a result, and to not go in on the front end.”

White House officials cite the release last month of Aya Hijazi — an Egyptian American charity worker who had been imprisoned in Cairo for three years amid Sissi’s brutal crackdown on civil society — as evidence that their strategy is paying dividends.

Trump and his aides worked for several weeks with Sissi and his government to secure Hijazi’s freedom. The Obama administration had pressed unsuccessfully for her release, but once Trump moved to reset U.S. relations with Egypt by embracing Sissi at the White House, Egypt’s posture changed.

Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of state for human rights and democracy under Obama, said Trump appears to be living up to his campaign promise.

“The whole idea of ‘America First’ is that we’re not trying to make the world better,” Malinowski said. “We’re trying to protect the homeland and the domestic economy, and the rest is all cutting deals with whoever is willing to cut deals with us. There’s not much room in that equation for standing up for the rights, freedoms and well-being of other people.”

Human rights activists are concerned that Trump is condoning the actions of dictators when he is warm to them or extends invitations to visit.

“Inviting these men to the White House in effect places the United States’ seal of approval on their heinous actions,” said Rob Berschinski, senior vice president at Human Rights First. He went on to say, “Nothing excuses President Trump’s clear inclination to reward mass murderers and torturers with undeserved honors.”

Asked at the daily White House press briefing whether Trump had “a thing” for totalitarian leaders, press secretary Sean Spicer suggested he was cultivating such leaders with the explicit aim of weakening North Korea.

“The president clearly, as I said, understands the threat that North Korea poses,” Spicer said. “Having someone with the potential nuclear capability to strike another country — and potentially our country — at some point in the future is something that the president takes very seriously.”

But McFaul posited that the Trump administration may be ­naive in calculating that personal outreach and warm praise will convince authoritarian leaders to support U.S. interests.

“The converse of that is that these leaders are taking him for a ride,” McFaul said. “He tends to over-personalize relationships between states. He says China’s ‘raping’ us, then he meets President Xi and suddenly he’s this wise man with whom he has a good chemistry. I hope this will produce outcomes that are good for us, but right now it’s producing outcomes that are good for China.”

Iowa takes small step to expand medical marijuana program, but advocates want more

DES MOINES, Iowa — A medical marijuana oil program approved by the Iowa Legislature might not offer much help to patients with qualifying medical conditions, but advocates say it’s at least a step in the right direction.

The measure approved by lawmakers in the final hours of the legislative session Saturday would expand a little-used program now only available to people with epilepsy. If signed by Gov. Terry Branstad, the law would allow the limited production of cannabis oil at two locations in Iowa and legalize its use for an additional eight conditions.

Despite the expansion, medical marijuana advocates said the decision to cap the level of the active ingredient and limit the means of ingestion means the program has limited value.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, called the program “the worst in the country.”

“For people who were opposed to doing anything, I suppose they think this is a big deal,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is that they shouldn’t have put all the conditions in the bill because the medicine isn’t going to provide a therapeutic benefit for eight of the nine conditions, and that’s sad.”

Besides prohibiting smoking, vaporizing or consuming marijuana edibles, the bill limits the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, allowed in the oil to 3 percent. THC is the compound known for psychoactive effects, and by capping it at 3 percent advocates said it limits the oil’s potential to help conditions besides seizures.

Some programs, mainly in conservative states, have caps with even smaller percentages of THC.

Only 38 people have medical cannabis cards under Iowa’s current system, which makes it illegal to manufacture or distribute the oil. It’s unclear how many more would enroll if the new program is signed into law.

Sunil Kumar Aggarwal, a doctor researching cannabinoid medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said some conditions besides seizures could benefit from low-THC oil, but that the benefit is less certain because of the cap.

“It’s an extremely non-scientific regulatory framework for cannabis,” he said. “It’s all politics. This is no way to do medicine.”

Rep. Jarad Klein, a key supporter of the legislation, said the program’s limitations stem from the hesitation of House Republicans to legalize any form of marijuana.

“A lot of my caucus said ‘We don’t feel comfortable with this issue at all,’” Klein said.

The bill would also create an advisory board to recommend changes to the cannabis oil program, though Iowa lawmakers would have the final say.

Klein acknowledged an interest in potentially raising the THC level above 3 percent if the medical board recommends it.

“A lot of this boils down to a compromise, and this is not necessarily … my personal ideal,” he said. “I had to get something I knew we could pass and that I have a high confidence the Governor will sign.”

The conditions covered in the expanded program include: cancer; multiple sclerosis; seizures; HIV or AIDS; Crohn’s disease; Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Parkinson’s disease; untreatable pain; and any terminal illness with a life expectancy of under a year.

The Marijuana Policy Project, a national lobbying organization, said 29 states have comprehensive medical marijuana programs, while 16 offer cannabidiol extract with minimal THC. By the group’s standards, Iowa falls in the second category and is not considered to have a “workable” medical marijuana program.

“It will certainly be beneficial to those suffering from seizure disorders, no question,” said Maggie Ellinger-Locke, legislative counsel for the organization. “But the THC cap will leave most patients behind.”

Nonetheless, Iowa Epilepsy Foundation director Roxanne Cogil praised the overall effort.

“We feel this is a significant step forward to ensure meaningful access for Iowans,” she said. “We do look forward to continue to working with legislators to help improve the program.”

13 Questions That Scare Charter School Advocates

The Network for Public Education is challenging the Trump/DeVos anti-public school agenda. According to NPE, “DeVos and her allies have worked for decades pushing charters, vouchers and neo-vouchers such as education tax credits. DeVos even supports virtual charter schools that have a horrific track record when it comes to student success.”

This campaign picks up urgency as Arizona just passed legislation providing its entire student population with vouchers to attend private, for-profit, and religious schools. The law is modeled on Trump/DeVos proposals.

The public is often confused by the Trump/DeVos assault on public schools because they frame it as promoting “choice.” In response, The Network for Public Education prepared a thirteen-point question/answer toolkit to expose the lies and distortions of charter school, voucher, and tax credit advocates. The full toolkit is available online. This report excerpts key items from the toolkit.

1. Are charter schools truly public schools? Charter schools are contractors that receive taxpayer money to operate privately controlled schools that do not have the same rules and responsibilities as public schools. Investigations of charter school operations in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, and elsewhere have found numerous cases where charters used taxpayer money to procure school buildings, supplies, and equipment that they retained ownership of, even if the school closed. In most states, charter schools are exempt from most state and local laws, rules, regulations, and policies governing public and private schools, including those related to personnel and students. Calling charter schools “public schools” because they receive public tax dollars is like calling defense contractors public companies. There are so many substantive differences between charter schools and traditional public schools that charters can’t be defined as public schools. Our communities deserve a school system that is truly public and democratically governed by the community they serve.

2. Do charter schools and school vouchers “hurt” public schools? Charter schools, vouchers, and other “choice” options redirect public money to privately operated education enterprises, which often operate for profit. That harms your public schools by siphoning off students, resources, and funding and reducing the ability of public schools to serve the full range of student needs and interests. In Nashville, TN, an independent research firm MGT of America estimated the net negative fiscal impact of charter school growth on the district’s public schools resulted in more than $300 million in direct costs to public schools over a five-year period. While alternatives to public schools may provide better options for some children, on the whole charter and voucher schools perform no better than the public school system, and often worse. At the same time, they have a negative fiscal impact on existing public schools and are creating a parallel school system that duplicates services and costs. The idea that funds should follow the child (portability) will seriously reduce public school services. Let’s stop draining our public schools and work together to strengthen them.

3. Do charter schools get better academic results than public schools? The charter school sector does not get better academic results than public schools and often performs worse. Charters sometimes appear to do better because they can control the types of students they choose to serve. The most rigorous and most expensive study of charter school performance commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education found no overall positive effect for charter schools. A recent study of charter schools in Texas found charters overall have no positive impact on test scores and have a negative impact on earnings later in life. Despite the advantages charter school have to selectively enroll students, concentrate instruction on teaching to the test, and push out students who pose the most challenging academic and behavior problems, these schools still do not out-perform public schools.

4. Are charter schools and vouchers a civil rights cause? Charter schools, vouchers, and other choice options increase the segregation of students. This results in separate, unequal schools that isolate black and Hispanic students, English language learners, and students with disabilities in schools with fewer resources and less experienced teachers. Segregation robs all children of the benefits of learning with others who have different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. A comprehensive analysis found 70% of black charter school students attend intensely segregated minority charter schools – double the share of intensely segregated black students in public schools. Half of Latino charter school students attended racially isolated minority schools. A national study of charter school operated by education management organizations found only one-fourth of these schools had a racial composition similar to public schools. We need a public system that is about advancing the well-being of all, not just helping some families and children get ahead while leaving the rest behind.

5. Are charter schools “more accountable” than public schools?Charter schools that fail to perform as expected are rarely held accountable. In theory, if a charter school does not meet its stated goals or if academic results are below stated expectations, the charter sponsor can revoke its charter or refuse to renew it, and families will withdraw their children from the school. This theory doesn’t work in reality. A national assessment by the charter industry found only about 3% of charter schools are closed for academic reasons. The vast majority of charter school closures are for financial reasons. In Ohio, only one of 10 charter school students attend a school rated high performing. In Florida, where millions are wasted every year on charter schools that eventually close, 21 of those that remain open scored a grade of D or below on state assessments. The flood of poor performing charters and the cost to taxpayers will only get worse until we get to the bottom of why this is happening and insist on transparency.

6. Do charter schools profit from educating students? Charter schools are structured and operate in ways that introduce new actors into public education who skim money from the system without returning any benefit to students and taxpayers. Even charters labeled “nonprofit” expand opportunities to profit from public tax dollars and privatize public assets. In Michigan, nearly 80 percent of charter schools have all or a significant part of their operations under the control of for-profit companies. Charter schools are businesses in which both the cost and risk are fully funded by the taxpayers. The initial “investment” often comes from the government or wealthy individuals. And if the business fails, the “owners” are not out a dime, but the customers, who are in this case children, are stranded. Education should not be about making money from tax dollars intended for our children and families.

7. Do school vouchers help kids in struggling schools? Vouchers, often misleadingly called “scholarships,” divert tax dollars meant for public education to private schools that are not accountable to the public and generally do not serve the interests of struggling, low-income students. In Wisconsin, 75% of students who applied for the statewide voucher program already attended private schools. A national analysis of voucher programs found most programs do not cover enough of the tuition to enable poor minority children to access the best private schools. Vouchers are a gift of taxpayer funds to private and religious schools that if expanded will cost American taxpayers billions of dollars.

8. Are charter schools innovative? Charter schools were intended to be centers of education experimentation and innovation, but they generally don’t invent new teaching methods or develop and spread new education practices. They’re businesses first, and schools second. An analysis of 75 Arizona charter schools found little evidence the schools were developing new classroom practices. A study of Colorado charters found that more than 60% of the schools used reform models that are common elsewhere, and their instructional approaches were already being used in district public schools. Public schools have used innovative education models, such as Montessori and project based learning, for decades – well before the advent of charter schools.

9. Are online charter schools good options for families? Online charter schools, also called cyber schools and virtual schools, are a poor choice for students almost every time. A study of online charters in Ohio found students attending these schools perform worse than their peers in bricks-and-mortar schools in all tested grades and subjects. A widely cited national study found students enrolled in full-time, online only schools lost an average of about 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math over a 180- day school year – meaning, in math, an entire year of lost instruction. Online charters run by private education management organizations account for 74.4% of all enrollments in online schools.

10. Do “Education Savings Accounts” lead to better results for families? “Education Savings Accounts” are another voucher-like scheme that redirects public money for educating all children to private, unaccountable education businesses, homeschoolers, and religious institutions. Privatization advocates created these programs because school vouchers are unpopular and because these programs are a way around prohibitions against using public dollars for religious schools. Wealthier families in urban and suburban communities would benefit the most from the program because they have more access to private schools and services. An analysis of Arizona’s ESA program found that most families using the program are leaving high-performing public schools in wealthy districts to attend private schools. Rather than diverting tax dollars away from public schools, we should adequately fund our schools so they can have smaller class sizes, more specialized resources for student needs, and more education opportunities to meet the high expectations of parents.

11. Do education tax credits scholarships provide opportunity?Privatization advocates have created tax credit programs because school vouchers are unpopular. These programs are a way to get around prohibitions against using public dollars for religious schools which often discriminate on the basis of religion, gender preference, disciplinary history, or ability level. In Georgia, a popular tax credit program allows public money to be used for tuition at more than 100 private schools that refuse to enroll gay, lesbian, or bisexual students. Because the amount of scholarship money rarely covers the cost of tuition at the best private schools, the money subsidizes sub-standard private schools that have less accountability than public schools, discriminate against students, and on average, do not provide children with better education opportunities.

12. Are tax credits scholarships a voucher by a different name? Like vouchers, these programs redirect public money for educating all children to private schools, including religion-based schools. Diverting funds from public schools harms our children’s education because schools are forced to respond to the lost money by cutting staff and programs. In Georgia, the state does not track who is receiving scholarships under the program, and state lawmakers made it a criminal offense to disclose information about the program to the public. Public schools in Arizona get about $4,200 per pupil from the state, but the state’s education tax credit program awards $5,200 on average to parents participating in the program – an additional $1,000 for every child who leaves a public school for a private or religious school. If the goal is to make more high-quality school choices available for parents, then the emphasis should be on helping current public schools be the best they can be. This is no more than a gift of public funds and a scheme to help the wealthy and corporations avoid paying taxes.

13. Do charter schools and vouchers save money? Charter schools increase education costs to taxpayers because they have become a parallel school system that drains money from what’s available to serve all students. School voucher programs can add extra layers of administrative costs and make education funds less transparent and accountable. The result of both programs is more money going to more service providers instead of directly to students and classrooms. A national study found charter schools on average spend $774 more per pupil per year on administration and $1141 less on instruction than traditional public schools. In New Orleans, where all schools converted to charters, administrative spending increased by 66 percent while instructional spending dropped by 10 percent. In New York City, some charter schools occupy public school buildings practically rent free. Charter schools and vouchers are not a way to get better education on the cheap. Because each school or network of schools is its own financial entity, they don’t have the economies of scale that public schools have. So charters and private schools supported with vouchers have to continually find more ways to tap into public school budgets or generate funds from the private sector. This drain on resources threatens the capacity of public education budgets to serve all students.




Alan Singer is a social studies educator, Hofstra University. Follow him on Twitter @ReecesPieces8

Debate Underscores Fact Both Candidates Are Warfare State Advocates


By Kurt Nimmo of Another Day in the Empire

No matter who is elected in November, the wars will continue.

Donald Trump made this perfectly clear last night. He said NATO should be sent into the Middle East to clean out the Islamic State.

“I think we have to get NATO to go into the Middle East with us, in addition to surrounding nations, and we have to knock the hell out of ISIS and we have to do it fast,” Trump said.

This is nothing new. Trump has talked about reformulating NATO since at least March.

“I like the idea of using NATO and also neighbors that aren’t in NATO and take them out. You gotta take them out,” he said June during a campaign stop in Manchester, New Hampshire.

“It’s going to have to be either readjusted to take care of terrorism or we’re going to have to set up a new — a new coalition, a new group of countries to handle terrorism because terrorism is out of control,” he declared in March.

Readjustment is the key word here. The NATO invasion of Afghanistan was clearly illegal under international law. Article 2(3) and Article 2(4) of the UN Charter state peaceful means and dialogue between parties must be used to resolve hostilities.

Rabia Khan notes “the most crucial aspect… that proves that the invasion of Afghanistan was illegal under international law was the fact that the UN Security Council had not given authorization for the invasion of Afghanistan, which would have been necessary in order for NATO to legally pursue Al Qaeda.”

War is inevitable, according to Trump. Tens of thousands of troops will be required to get rid of the Islamic State. “We really have no choice. We have to knock out ISIS,” he said last October. “I would listen to the generals, but I’m hearing numbers of 20,000 to 30,000.”

Neocons love this sort of talk. They are also enamored by Trump saying he will build up the military.

“Rebuilding America’s military, one of Trump’s campaign planks, is a sine qua non for success. Russia as well as China should fear America’s technological prowess today as much as Gorbachev feared Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative in the 1980s. Russia and China are closing the technology gap with the United States, and if the United States does not reverse that, not much else it does will matter,” the neocon and former LaRouche editor David P. Goldman wrote last month.

Most neocons and unabashed warmongers support Hillary Clinton. In 2008, when Clinton was appointed secretary of state, the neocon house organ, Weekly Standard, hailed her transformation from “First Feminist” to “Warrior Queen, more Margaret Thatcher than Gloria Steinem.”

The neocons have “Hillary Clinton. And she’s weaponized the State Department. She really likes regime change. And her nominating convention not only embraced the military, but it sanctified the very Gold Star families that Neocon-style interventionism creates,” JP Sottile wrote in August. “It kinda feels like reality has slipped off its axis and we’ve landed on a Bizarro World version of America. Democrats are acting like Republicans… And the Neocons are fleeing from a party they’ve used like a geopolitical cudgel for the better part of three decades.”

Either way, no matter who you vote for in November, and if you don’t vote at all, the warfare state will continue. Clinton made it obvious last night the path to toward Armageddon will be followed. She blamed Russia for the cyberattacks.

We need to make it very clear — whether it’s Russia, China, Iran or anybody else — the United States has much greater capacity. And we are not going to sit idly by and permit state actors to go after our information, our private-sector information or our public-sector information.

And we’re going to have to make it clear that we don’t want to use the kinds of tools that we have. We don’t want to engage in a different kind of warfare. But we will defend the citizens of this country.

“We will be ready with serious political, economic, and military responses,” she said earlier this month. “So we have got to step up our game. Make sure we are well defended and able to take the fight to those who go after us.”

There is little if any information implicating the Russians, but that does not matter. The warfare state continually seeks new enemies and reinvents old ones.

Trump may or may not go toe-to-toe with the Ruskies, but Clinton and the neocons are chomping at the bit to get something going, even if it slides into thermonuclear war.

Kurt Nimmo is the editor of Another Day in the Empire, where this article first appeared.

Hitler Gun Control Facts: U.S. Pro-Gun Advocates Have More in Common With Hitler Than They Think

A popular argument for gun control opponents since the issue flared to fever pitch in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre has been that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler outlawed guns, and that any attempt by Congress/ President Barack Obama to do the same is akin to the dictator’s World War II policy.

This argument has become so central to many pro-gun arguments that the Google search term itself has seen tremendous search volume. As the Washington Examiner points out, web user interest in the history of Hitler and gun control hasspiked since Democrats began demanding more restrictions on high capacity magazines and semi-automatic weapons, most notably the resurrected assault weapons ban crafted by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

In December the keywords “Hitler gun control” spiked to a 100 rating … the rating given to Google’s peak search volume, as the Washington Examinernotes.

The wild combination of “Hitler” and all things “Gun Control” (“Obama,” “Feinstein,” “Democrats” fall into this latter category) came to a head when the conservative Drudge Report website posted this image in response to Vice President Joe Biden — who is leading the president’s gun control panel — announcing that the administration wasconsidering executive orders on the matter … cutting out Congress on the issue:

But is this a sound argument in the gun control debate? Can all things gun control really be considered Nazi-esque and inline with Hitler’s views?

No — the argument makes no sense. Hitler did have a gun control policy (and one that read almost like the Feinstein bill does today), but that policy was an extension of post-World War I gun control measures set on Germany by the Allies to keep Germany from militarizing itself.

In 1919, the German government passed the Regulations on Weapons Ownership, which declared that “all firearms, as well as all kinds of firearms ammunition, are to be surrendered immediately.”

The regulation was in response to the Treaty of Versailles, and the German Weimar government passed the legislation (not the Nazis). Article 169 of the Treaty of Versailles stated, “Within two months from the coming into force of the present Treaty, German arms, munitions, and war material, including anti-aircraft material, existing in Germany in excess of the quantities allowed, must be surrendered to the Governments of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers to be destroyed or rendered useless.”

This regulation sounds like any American pro-gun advocate’s worst nightmare — the surrender of all firearms and ammo! Wowza. In the current gun debate, the closest thing that comes to this gun control policy is an Iowa lawmaker who is calling for gun confiscation. The proposed Feinstein assault weapons ban itself doesn’t call for confiscation, and would in fact allow owners of any banned guns to keep their weapons when/ if the bill goes into effect. A Connecticut lawmaker is calling for background checks to buy ammo, but this is in no way in the “confiscation” vein.

Keep in mind now that we’re not even talking about Hitler yet: The 1919 measure was passed immediately after Germany lost World War I and well before Hitler came to power in 1933.

Hitler, then, came into power when this regulation was in effect … so, yes, Hitler, by default, did have a gun control policy — but only because it was forced on Germany.

Remember how the Hitler Youth were trained to march not with rifles but with shovels? This was a result of the Treaty of Versailles, not a Hitler policy.

Hitler did have his own gun control policy, an extension of the 1919 regulation. Funny enough, it sounds a lot like the boiler plate gun control legislation that is on the books across the United States — and, even funnier enough, the Hitler gun control policy sounds like something any American would generally support … but even more so is what pro-gun advocates are pushing for: deregulation.

That’s right: Hitler and pro-gun advocates want the same thing.

The 1938 German Weapons Act, the precursor of the current weapons law in Germany, superseded a 1928 law. As under the 1928 law, citizens were required to have a permit to carry a firearm and a separate permit to acquire a firearm. Furthermore, the law restricted ownership of firearms to “…persons whose trustworthiness is not in question and who can show a need for a (gun) permit.” Under the new law, gun restriction laws applied only to handguns, not to long guns or ammunition. Writes Prof. Bernard Harcourt of the University of Chicago, “The 1938 revisions completely deregulated the acquisition and transfer of rifles and shotguns, as well as ammunition.”

The groups of people who were exempt from the acquisition permit requirement expanded. Holders of annual hunting permits, government workers, and NSDAP party members were no longer subject to gun ownership restrictions. Prior to the 1938 law, only officials of the central government, the states, and employees of the German Reichsbahn Railways were exempted. The age at which persons could own guns was lowered from 20 to 18. The firearms carry permit was valid for three years instead of one year. Under both the 1928 and 1938 acts, gun manufacturers and dealers were required to maintain records with information about who purchased guns and the guns’ serial numbers. These records were to be delivered to a police authority for inspection at the end of each year.

Of course, in typical Hitler style, Jews were forbidden from the manufacturing or dealing of firearms and ammunition.

In 1945, after the Nazis surrendered, Allied forces commanding Germany completely disarmed the country. Private ownership of firearms in Germany was not allowed until after 1956.

Modern Germany has comparatively stricter gun laws than the U.S., laws that were the result of a chain of school shootings in Erfurt, Emsdetten and Winnenden. They led to a public debate, in which blame was attributed to various elements of youth culture and society, including violent computer games, television programs, rock music, and private gun ownership (sounds familiar).

So, are pro-gun proponents in the United States right to compare gun control efforts to Hitler? No. The reality is that their views more align with Hitler policies (except that anti-Jewish part!) of de-regulation.

This of course, isn’t to say, that Americans are in anyway like Nazis, only to add some flesh to the conversation sparked by Drudge Report and other pro-gun proponents.

Trump Rally Turns Violent As His Supporters Push And Spit On Immigrant Advocates

Donald Trump supporters are not just passionate about his anti-immigrant rhetoric; they’re also living out his outrage in real-time.

A man spat in an immigrant activist’s face during a campaign rally for the Republican presidential candidate in Richmond, Virginia on Wednesday night. The incident occurred soon after immigrant activists briefly interrupted the Republican presidential candidate as Trump launched into an anti-immigrant tirade about giving “free stuff” to “illegal immigrants.”

During his speech, Trump referenced this week’s Democratic presidential debate, when candidates like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders discussed their positions on providing services to undocumented immigrants. “They just couldn’t give away things fast enough,” Trump said. “They want heath care for illegal immigrants. They want drivers licenses for illegal immigrants. They want, listen to this, Social Security for illegal immigrants.”

At that point, progressive activists began loudly protesting, but a small group of Trump supporters drowned them out. Local CBS reporter Garrett Haake recorded an encounter in which a blue-shirted Trump supporter repeatedly shouted “Fuck you” to the activists and spat in the face of one man before walking away.

Since June, when Trump first launched his campaign by suggesting that Mexican immigrants are rapists, criminals, or drug dealers, he has consistently generated the most applause from broadlycondemning the immigrant community. But his charged political rhetoric is having real-life consequences.

By now, incidents like this at Trump rallies are becoming routine. In fact, his supporters have spit on immigrant activists in the past.

Trump supporters have told immigrant activists to “clean my hotel room, bitch;” shouted “if it ain’t white, it ain’t right” while ripping up posters; told Latino U.S. citizens to “go home” while grabbing their hair and spitting on them; told prominent journalist and U.S. citizen Jorge Ramos to “get out of my country;” joked “you can shoot all the people you want that cross illegally;” and beat up and urinated on the homeless. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of incidents against Latinos.

There’s some evidence to back up this phenomenon. A slew of behavioral psychology studies have found that xenophobic rhetoric can and will embolden supporters to normalize racism.

A 1980 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study found that when participants were given favorable and unfavorable information about in-group and out-group members, they were more likely to remember the unfavorable information about the out-group members. A 2001 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study found that when people consider others as part of a general group, rather than as individuals, they may have greater feelings of fear and lower levels of trust in their interactions with them. And a 2004 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology studyfound that exposure to “disparagement humor” that denigrates, belittles, or maligns an individual or social group “increases tolerance of discriminatory events for people high in prejudice toward the disparaged group.” The study also found that it “expands the bounds of appropriate conduct, creating a norm of tolerance of discrimination.”

And even if science hasn’t done enough to prove that xenophobic rhetoric can change attitudes about immigrants, there’s always historical evidence. It happened when right-wing extremismemerged in eastern Germany. It happened when Japan failed to acknowledge its role in thegenocide and forced prostitution that took place during World War II. And now it appears that Trump’s rhetoric is making it acceptable for supporters to feel justified in treating immigrant advocates with vehemence.

2 pro-Palestinian groups: Israel advocates threaten free speech on campus

(JTA) — A Jewish pro-Palestinian group has issued a report claiming that Israel advocates are using “false charges” to silence criticism of Israel on U.S. campuses.

The Jewish Voice for Peace report was released on Wednesday, the same day that Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights issued a separate report making similar arguments.

Called “Stifling Dissent,” the JVP report accuses numerous Jewish organizations of seeking “to muzzle political criticism of Israeli policies” on campus, putting “constitutionally protected speech and academic freedom” under “increasing threat.”

The Palestine Legal-CCR report, called “The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack in the US” documents “the widespread and growing suppression of Palestinian human rights advocacy in the United States,” according to a news release issued jointly by Palestine Legal and CCR.

Both reports claim that activists for Israel have made false accusations of anti-Semitism and argue that off-campus pro-Israel groups are seeking to exert influence over grass-roots student activism.

StandWithUs, a pro-Israel group that is criticized in both reports, issued a statement in response, describing the reports as “shockingly hypocritical.”

The reports “cry ‘victim’ by perpetrators of harassment against the pro-Israel community,” the StandWithUs statement said, adding that campaigns promoting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, against Israel are anti-Semitic “because they single out Israel and apply double standards to it, because they demonize Israel and its supporters, and because they delegitimize the one Jewish country in the world.”

While the two reports accuse off-campus pro-Israel groups of seeking to influence student activism, the StandWithUs statement makes similar claims about off-campus pro-Palestinian groups.

According to a news release issued by JVP, which backs the BDS movement, its report “documents how Israel advocacy organizations bully and intimidate Jewish students who do not pass their political litmus test on Israel …”

The JVP report recommends that campus administrators avoid “policies that conflate the state of Israel with Judaism or the Jewish people.”

In its response, StandWithUs claimed that neither report was “written to protect freedom of speech or academic inquiry,” noting that JVP and Palestine Legal are “at the forefront of academic boycotts against Israelis, which have been widely denounced as violations of free expression and academic freedom.”

The StandWithUs response also noted that recent surveys indicate that the majority of American Jewish students “see opposing Israel’s right to exist as anti-Semitic.”

“These Jews who disagree have every right to voice their opinions, but they are not entitled to veto power over how the organized Jewish community chooses to define anti-Semitism,” the statement adds.

While StandWithUs said it does not view all “criticism of Israel as inherently anti-Semitic,” it believes that “demonizing, delegitimizing, and holding double standards against the world’s only Jewish State is a form of bigotry.”

Radical Jewish group’s head advocates burning churches

The head of an extreme right-wing Israeli group opposed to Jewish-Arab integration on Tuesday advocated the burning of mosques and churches in Israel at a public forum.

Lehava chairman Bentzi Gopshtain took part in a panel debating Jewish religious law Tuesday night alongside Rabbi Moshe Klein, rabbi of the Hadassah Hospitals; Tsuriel Krispal, deputy mayor of Elad; and Benny Rabinovitch, a writer for the ultra-Orthodox paper Yated Ne’eman.

Gopstein’s remarks came against the backdrop an arson incident at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in June. Police arrested three Jewish suspects believed involved in the attack, some of whom were implicated in previous attacks on Christian sites in Israel.

During the debate, Rabinovitch asked Gopshtain point blank whether he advocated the burning of churches, according to a recording of the debate published Wednesday by the ultra-Orthodox news site Kikar Hashabat.

“Maimonides…” Gopshtain started, apparently alluding to the rulings of the 12th century Jewish sage, “you must burn [churches], are you against Maimonides or in favor of Maimonides?”

“Don’t tell me about Maimonides, I asked you what you say,” Rabinovitch replied.

“Of course I am,” Gopshtain said.

In December, following the torching of a Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem and his arrest on suspicion of inciting terrorism, Gopshtain said his organization does not act illegally and accused the Shin Bet security service of trying to frame Lehava to thwart its “holy work of saving the daughters of Israel.” In July, members of Lehava were convicted in the attack on the school.

Three members of the anti-assimilation Lehava organization, suspects in an arson attack on a Jewish-Arab school, are brought to a hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on December 15, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Three members of the anti-assimilation Lehava organization, suspects in an arson attack on a Jewish-Arab school, are brought to a hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on December 15, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Earlier this week, an internal Shin Bet security service report concluded there was insufficient evidence to blacklist Lehava. The report came as a blow to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s efforts, with the security agency and legal experts, to build a case for banning the organization.

Lehava opposes homosexuality and the assimilation of Jews, and activists regularly rally against personal or business relationships between Jews and non-Jews, including outside weddings between Jews and Arabs.

“The conclusion at this stage is that there is insufficient evidence to declare the organization illegal,” the Shin Bet told Haaretz in a statement Tuesday. According to the report, the security agency said it would reconsider its assessment if new evidence against the nationalist group emerges.

The Shin Bet’s report came out amid a crackdown on Jewish extremist groups following last week’s firebombing of a Palestinian home near Nablus, in which a year-old baby was killed and his parents and brother were critically wounded. Three extremists suspected of involvement in Jewish terrorist activity targeting Palestinians were placed under administrative detention — imprisonment without trial — in the wake of the attack.

A priest inspects the damage caused to the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee, in northern Israel, which was set on fire in what police suspect was an arson attack, June 18, 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)
A priest inspects the damage caused to the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee, in northern Israel, which was set on fire in what police suspect was an arson attack, June 18, 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

On Monday, Ya’alon vowed to lead an “uncompromising” fight against Jewish terrorism, after the firebombing of the Dawabsheh home near Nablus and the stabbing by an ultra-Orthodox extremist at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade which left one dead and five others injured.

Later in the panel conversation on Wednesday, Klein, the head rabbi of Hadassah, addressed Gopshtain, saying, “Benzi, just now they filmed and recorded you, and [if] that reaches the police you’ll be arrested.”

“That’s the last thing that bothers me,” Gopshtain can be heard saying. “If that’s the truth then I’m prepared to sit 50 years in prison for it.”

Gopshtain responded to reports that he advocated burning churches by saying, “The law is straightforward, Maimonides’ interpretation is that one must burn idolatry. There’s not a single rabbi that would deliberate that fact. I expect the government of Israel to carry that out.”

He told Kikar Hashabat, “I said that for speaking the truth, I am prepared to sit in prison. And I emphasized that I don’t burn and won’t go and burn churches.”

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