Blackouts and BDS

Outage

You may have noticed that this newsletter didn’t appear in your inbox last Thursday. That’s because I live in Texas and we lost power for the better part of a week.

If you’ve been following what’s happening in this state, you’ve probably heard about how Texas has its own (superannuated) electrical grid. The colossal failure of its deregulated, and privatized energy system forced officials to turn off electricity for millions of residents in fear that entire thing could potentially crash for months. That’s why ours went out. Not because a tree knocked out a wire or a transformer blew, but because the state purposely turned it off. Bill Magness, the president and CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, told reporters that we were just seconds away from a crash: “If we had not taken that action, I’m pretty sure that we wouldn’t be sitting here today talking about ending outages, we’d be talking about when we might estimate weeks or months from now that we’d see the power system repaired.”

When power finally came back and things were no longer freezing, I began catching up on all the news I had missed. One particular item from Wafa News Agency naturally stood out. Around the same time that this crisis was unfolding in Texas, Israel was purposely shutting off power to the village of Al-Jiftlik, which is to the north of Jericho:

The head of the Al-Jiftlik village Council, Ahmad Abu Ghanem, told WAFA that most of the village residents work in agriculture and livestock, and depend mainly on electricity for their livelihoods.

According to Ghanem, the area suffers from deliberate frequent blackouts by the Israeli authorities, which have so far caused significant financial losses to local farmers.

Over the years, Israeli occupation authorities have been trying to empty the Jordan Valley, a fertile strip of land that makes up one-third of the area of the West Bank, of its Palestinian communities to make way for a de facto annexation of the area to Israel’s sovereignty.

What’s the best way to draw international attention to injustice like this? What’s the best way to fight for change here? Many believe the answer is BDS. Despite almost never being cited by its critics, the BDS movement has three demands. One of them includes an end to the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands. The idea is to combat the policies of Israel through a nonviolent boycott movement inspired by the effort to end apartheid in South Africa.

This movement was recently attacked by NYC mayoral candidate Andrew Yang in a piece he wrote about standing with the city’s Jewish community:

A Yang administration will push back against the BDS movement, which singles out Israel for unfair economic punishment. Not only is BDS rooted in antisemitic thought and history, hearkening back to fascist boycotts of Jewish businesses, it’s also a direct shot at New York City’s economy. Strong ties with Israel are essential for a global city such as ours, which boasts the highest Jewish population in the world outside of Israel. Our economy is struggling, and we should be looking for ways to bring back small businesses, not stop commerce.

Of course, BDS has never impacted New York’s economy in any real way and it has nothing to do with boycotting Jewish businesses. Yang’s assertions are terrible, offensive smears and he deserves to be called out, like he was during a tour of the city last week. He should probably also be asked a very direct question: if a nonviolent boycott is not an appropriate response to what happens in places like Al-Jiftlik , then what is?

BDS in Georgia

You might remember that Georgia Southern University was sued last year, after it tried to force Abby Martin to sign a loyalty oath to Israel. Martin made a film called Gaza Fights for Freedom and was scheduled to appear at a media conference hosted by the school. As a result of the state’s anti-BDS law, she was required to sign a contract promising that she wouldn’t boycott the country. She refused to sign it and the conference ended up getting canceled.

“My right to speak at a media conference at a public university was conditioned on my pledge to never participate in my constitutional right to engage in peaceful political action,” she said at a the time. “Situations of oppression, racism, and violations of international law that are funded by my tax dollars is something that I care very deeply about.”

Now it seems like Georgia is attempting to amend its anti-BDS law to avoid this kind of litigation in the future. The modification would mean that only businesses or individuals entering state contracts of over $100,000 would have to sign such an oath. This has become a pretty standard move throughout states. Texas narrowed the extent of its law in 2019, after it was sued by an elementary school employee who also refused to sign such an oath.

CAIR-Georgia put out a statement about the proposed change. CAIR was one of the groups that filed the lawsuit on behalf of Martin:

CAIR-Georgia opposes any legislation that abridges Georgian’s constitutionally protected first Amendment rights to boycott. We believe that this change is an attempt to avoid the law itself being overturned. First amendment privileges should not be abridged or extended based on an arbitrary monetary amount nor based on perceived validity of the protest or speech itself. 

Odds & Ends

📺 On SNL last weekend, Michael Che made a joke about Israel’s vaccine efforts during Weekend Update: “Israel is reporting that they vaccinated half of their population. And I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half.”

Che’s joke has predictably been slammed by pro-Israel groups and he has been denounced as antisemitic by defenders of the country’s policies. “I’m a big fan of humor but, perpetuating antisemitism is just not funny,” tweeted Israel ambassador to the United States Gilad Erdan. “Your ‘joke’ is ignorant-the fact is that the success of our vaccination drive is exactly because every citizen of Israel – Jewish, Muslim, Christian-is entitled it. Apologize!”

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt also put out a statement condemning the joke. “Saturday Night Live’s ‘Weekend Update’ is known for sharp criticism and public takedowns, but Saturday’s deeply offensive joke about Israel’s COVID-19 vaccination process not only missed the mark, but crossed the line — basing the premise of the joke on factual inaccuracies and playing into an antisemitic trope in the process,” it reads. “Unfortunately, ADL has tracked multiple Weekend Update jokes this season that inappropriately use Jews as the punchline. I know they can do better. In that spirit, I reached out to Lorne Michaels over the weekend urging ‘Saturday Night Live’ to take action both to repair the damage that’s been done and ensure that this does not happen again.”

The ADL is tracking SNL jokes?

📜 The Biden administration says it’s looking to close Guantanamo Bay by 2024. Obama infamously declared he was going to close it too, so we will see what happens. Here’s (the great) Carol Rosenberg talking about the issue on CBS:

It is not clear to me that public sentiment has changed, although it is clear that through the years the cost of holding detainees at Guantanamo has become ever higher because [you’ve decreased] the number of prisoners and not the number of guards. There are 40 detainees at Guantanamo today and 1,500 soldiers assigned to the detention operation., mostly national guardsmen. The price per prisoner for holding them at Guantanamo and housing, caring for, clothing, and training those guards…works out to $13 million a year, per prisoner.

🇦🇫 Obama said he wanted to pull all the troops out of Afghanistan, but didn’t. Donald Trump said he wanted to pull all the troops out of Afghanistan, but didn’t. Now Biden says he wants to pull all the troops out of Afghanistan and things seems to be following the same trajectory we’re all accustomed to. The current deadline for a plan to leave is May 1, but Biden’s getting immense pressure to stay. At Daily Beast, Eli Clifton reports that weapons manufacturers are bankrolling the experts who are recommending that troops remain:

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a striking similarity in the backgrounds of the individuals involved in these critical recommendations, which are likely to influence whether Biden maintains a “conditions-based” U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan. Two of the group’s three co-chairs and nine of the group’s 12 plenary members have current or recent financial ties to major defense contractors, an industry that soaks up more than half of the $740 billion defense budget, and stands to gain from protracted U.S. military involvement overseas.

There was more diversity in views and financial interests among the 26 “senior advisers” that the group consulted. At least three of these advisers have warned publicly that the suggested troop withdrawal extension may pose significant risks. But the study group’s plenary is deeply intertwined with the military-industrial base—the group’s co-chairs and plenary members have received nearly $4 million in compensation for their work on the boards of defense contractors.

🇺🇸 According to a United Nations report, former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince violated an arms embargo when he sent weapons to a militia commander in Libya. Prince is a well-known supporter of Donald Trump and his sister is former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Declan Walsh reports on the story at the New York Times:

A confidential U.N. report obtained by The New York Times and delivered by investigators to the Security Council on Thursday reveals how Mr. Prince deployed a force of foreign mercenaries, armed with attack aircraft, gunboats and cyberwarfare capabilities, to eastern Libya at the height of a major battle in 2019.

As part of the operation, which the report said cost $80 million, the mercenaries also planned to form a hit squad that could track down and kill selected Libyan commanders.

💻 Pro-Israel groups are asking Facebook to change their hate speech policy and start including “Zionist” as a protected category. This means that criticizing Israeli policy could end up violating the platform’s Community Standards and hate speech policy.

Last month, we reported on the campaign to stop these efforts. Yesterday human rights groups and activists held a Global Day of Action to draw attention to the issue and delivered a petition to Facebook that was signed by over 50,000 people.

“Facebook, we need to talk — and you’re not letting us. So we’re launching a campaign to make sure you do,” reads the petition. “Cooperating with the Israeli government’s request would undermine efforts to dismantle antisemitism, deprive Palestinians of a crucial venue for expressing their political viewpoints to the world, and help the Israeli government avoid accountability for its violations of Palestinian rights.”

📱 An app partially funded by the Israeli government is lobbying Act Blue to remove the Palestinian BDS National Committee from its fundraising platform. The app claims that the organization is led by terrorist groups. Michael Bueckert tracks all the app’s lobbying efforts on Twitter. I interviewed him in 2019.

📖 Many people are becoming acquainted with the life of Fred Hampton as a result of Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah.  Adalah Justice Project executive director Sandra Tamari interviewed Jeffrey Haas, attorney and author of The Assassination of Fred Hampton, about the activist’s murder, internationalism, and Palestine.

Stay safe out there,

Michael

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