Net neutrality rules all but doomed as fact starts teardown

The laws governing an open internet may not be laws much longer.

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted 2-1 on a proposal to strip out the existing regulations that govern net neutrality, or the concept that all internet traffic must be treated equally. This is an initial vote that opens the issue up for comments. The FCC will entertain public input until August, and hold a final vote later this year. But given the Republican majority on the commission, a vote to remove the existing rules is a virtual certainty.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed to head the commission by President Donald Trump, voted alongside fellow Republican Michael O’Rielly in support of the proposal, while Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn voted against it. There are typically five members on the commission, but two have yet to be appointed.

Today’s vote represents the first significant step toward dismantling regulations that have been in place since 2015, potentially changing the way the internet works. Proponents (Democrats, internet companies and consumer advocacy groups) argue that the rules were necessary to ensure that internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast couldn’t play favorites or charge more for faster access, while critics (Republicans, ISPs) said the rules were too onerous and stifled innovation and investment in infrastructure.

This move has been a pet project of Pai. He argued that Title II, a component of the existing rules that places the internet service providers under utility-style rules, isn’t necessary.

“The internet wasn’t broken in 2015,” he said during the FCC meeting. “We were not living in a digital dystopia.”

Public policy group Consumer Union called the vote “chilling.”

“Eliminating the Open Internet Order takes away the internet’s level playing field and would allow a select few corporations to choose winners and losers, preventing consumers from accessing the content that they want, when they want it,” said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union.

Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota called it “a major step toward destroying the internet as we know it.”

The issue flared up over the past few weeks after Pai floated the proposal ahead of the vote. It was enough to spur comedian John Oliver to devote a segment to net neutrality, imploring viewers of his show “Last Week Tonight” to send their comments in support of the rules. The show even created the to help viewers bypass at least five steps to reach the correct comments page.

The FCC website shut down shortly after, but the agency blamed it onbotnets that sent a flood of false comments.

Comcast and trade groups like the Telecommunications Industry Association gave Thursday’s vote a thumbs-up.

“We applaud Chairman Pai and Commissioner O’Rielly for remaining focused on creating a light touch regulatory environment that is pro-consumer, pro-investment and pro-innovation, especially with the present partisan political rhetoric and debate,” David Cohen, chief diversity officer for Comcast, said in a blog post.

The internet service providers had previously mounted a legal challenge to the rules, but a federal appeals court last year upheld the FCC’s 2015 regulations, and last week it threw out a request to rehear the case.


The U.S. Trying to Make War — Not Peace — In Syria

Written by

The U.S. has long asserted itself as a peacemaker in the ongoing war in Syria, attempting to paint the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, as the root cause of the conflict. At the same time, the United States government maintains that peace would be impossible without American interference, which, of course, comes with the added aim of ousting Assad.

However, anyone who has been following the conflict closely should know this is not the case – at all. Never mind that the U.S. openly destroyed Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, to name a few; America’s conduct in Syria has been far from peaceful.

Unsurprisingly, the U.S. planned to take out the Assad government well before the conflict began in 2011. According to cables obtained by Wikileaks, the U.S. planned this operation at least as far back as 2006. That proposal sought to force Assad to overreact to the threat of extremists crossing over into the country and manufacture the crisis in order for the U.S. to involve itself militarily. Another leak, this time from the Hillary Clinton email archive, showed the U.S. wanted to topple Assad to undermine Iranian influence and ensure Israel could retain its nuclear monopoly.

Like the gift that kept on giving, Clinton’s leaked emails also showed she was well aware that close allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar were directly sponsoring ISIS. However, ISIS is just one of the groups battling the Syrian government. Reports have shown that the rest of the organizations — which are largely backed by the U.S. — are no better than ISIS, anyway.

According to the Washington Post, under the Obama administration, the CIA was spending at least $1 billion per year training Syrian rebels. A special PBS report found that the CIA was teaching these rebels blatant war crimes and terror tactics.

Without going into too much detail regarding Washington’s contribution to the violence in Syria, the fact remains that the U.S. has had no meaningful involvement in any plans for peace. In 2012, Russia put forward a proposal whereby Assad would stand down as part of a potential peace deal. The U.S. rejected it because they wanted to see Assad fall in a manner similar to Muammar Gaddafi in Libya ( they were certain he was about to fall in a short amount of time, anyway).

A ceasefire was organized in the final quarter of 2016, which was immediately disrupted by the U.S. military’s decision to strike Syrian troops directly in what resulted in an outright massacre. The air strikes also paved the way for a timely ISIS offensive. Given that a recent report by a leading British agency found the Syrian government was the most heavily engaged entity fighting ISIS last year, it should have been no surprise to the U.S.-led coalition that ISIS would benefit from such a strike.

At the end of last year, Russia, Iran, and Turkey brokered an arrangement of their own (completely without America’s input) that was actually appearing to be holding for a time. But at the start of this year, al-Qaeda-linked rebels backed by the U.S. were busy burrowing tunnels into the Syrian capital and wreaking havoc across the country. The U.S. clearly had no plans to honor Russia and Iran’s proposals.

Similarly, before Donald J. Trump’s decision to officially strike the Syrian government in response to a chemical weapons attack — one the president attributed to Assad though experts have seriously questioned if there is any evidence to support this claim — peace talks were supposed to have commenced. They fell completely flat. Instead, Trump struck a Syrian airbase (albeit quite ineffectively), and reports indicated that ISIS again used this strike to launch an offensive of their own.

Evidently, Washington’s “solutions” almost always lead to more violence, not less of it.

America’s problem with peace initiatives to date, of course, is that with the assistance of Russia and Iran, Assad has shown no signs of going anywhere anytime soon. This is a deal-breaker for the anti-Assad alliance, spearheaded by Washington. In their eyes, there can be no “peace” in Syria until Assad is removed — as if Assad’s fall from power is a magic wand that can be waved to produce lasting prosperity for Syria. Has the U.S. even considered how a U.S.-Saudi-installed puppet government is going to be able to hold onto power in Syria without violently confronting al-Qaeda and ISIS? A Saudi puppet is already struggling to hold onto power in Yemen, and the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are insisting on his reinstatement with brutal and horrific force.

In recent developments, Russia has borrowed an arrangement previously advanced by the Trump administration. Russia has signaled its intent to create so-called “safe zones” within Syria. On the face of it, the U.S. should welcome the proposal, given they proposed it first. However, the fact is that because the proposal entails that coalition planes cannot fly within these safe zones — so as to provide maximum protection against civilian casualties — the U.S. does not welcome it. Nevertheless, given that Airwars has documented an increasing number of civilian casualties committed by the U.S. military in Iraq and Syria, this proposal appears to be a sound idea.

Therefore, it is no surprise that Washington has completely rejected this proposal even though the benefits of this plan have been almost immediate. As one commentator put it, the violence in Syria has been “sharply reduced” as a result.

Not that it needs explaining to the U.S. military, but if Syria, with the help of its allies, wants to prevent the U.S. from bombing its territory, they are perfectly within their rights to do so. Washington is the one violating international law by bombing Syria without a U.N. mandate or official permission from the Syrian government (how often do you see the media report on this glaring issue?).

So, will Washington accept this legal fact, admit defeat, and allow the violence to de-escalate?

Not quite. Instead, the U.S. is running its annual military drills with an often overlooked member of the anti-Assad alliance, Jordan, on the Syrian border. In fact, a regional outlet reported that U.S., U.K. and Jordanian troops are mobilizing across the Jordanian border with Syria in what looks like preparation for a full-blown invasion.

To add further, the U.S. has also made the controversial decision to arm the Kurdish fighters in Syria with heavy weaponry, a move that is completely opposed by NATO member Turkey, which has spent much of its energy bombing these Kurdish positions.

This is not a solution that fosters peace. People can say what they want about Russia’s role in Syria, but the fact remains that whenever Russia looks more than capable of initiating a peace process of its own, the U.S. is hellbent on destroying such a process outright.

Clearly, it is not in America’s interests to reduce the violence in Syria. If peace were the ultimate goal, it wouldn’t really matter if the brutal Assad government retained its seat for a few more decades. Considering the level of violence that has plagued Syria, if an approach can reduce the level of violence drastically, surely that is the preferred option to be pursued to enable parties to come to the negotiating table to broker a political solution.

The only real alternative the Trump administration is offering is to watch the U.S. attempt to turn Syria into Libya, confronting Russia, Iran, and possibly China in the process.

Hungary: The End of Democratic Illusions?

The government-sponsored attack on the Central European University represents one more step in the country’s authoritarian drift.


In early April, Viktor Orbán’s hard-right government passed a law that would shut down, beginning the next semester, the Central European University (CEU), Hungary’s top social science and economics institution. After rumors about legislative action against the university, parliament passed the controversial bill. The law stipulates that a specific kind of institution — those with foreign affiliations, but educational activity only in Hungary, that grant degrees accepted both in Hungary and their country of origin — must obtain a bilateral governmental agreement to operate. As it happens, the only such major institution in Hungary is CEU.

The following weekend, around eighty thousand people took to the streets in Budapest. The demonstration lasted into the night, as thousands continued to march through the city. One recurring slogan pled with the country’s president János Áder not to sign “Lex CEU,” but he, a long-standing Orbán ally who belongs to the ruling party’s innermost circle, duly signed the law into effect. A spontaneous protest began at the president’s residence and again continued into the night. Two prominent antigovernment activists were arrested after trying to spray the building’s wall with water-based orange paint, as orange is the color of Fidesz, the governing party. Protests have been ongoing since.

George Soros, a Budapest native, founded the private, American-affiliated university in 1991. CEU’s endowment makes it the richest institution in Hungary, and probably the region, offering salaries and scholarships far higher than local universities. Elite Western institutions all recognize its degree programs. Soros stepped down as chairman of the CEU’s board ten years ago, and there have been no signs that he has interfered with the university’s appointments or governance since then.

Most CEU students either come from Hungary or other post-Soviet countries, and the university often functions as a gateway to Anglo-American academia or NGOs. The attack on the university, which a government spokesperson referred to as a “minor theater of war,” takes place amid never-ending anti-migrant campaigns. The government and its media apparatus have elevated Alex Jones–style paranoia to official state discourse, claiming that George Soros engineered the refugee crisis to destroy “Christian” Europe.

Hungary does look somewhat exotic these days, even in an Eastern European context, but its recent authoritarian turn fits well into the gallery of “limited democracies” that have managed the region’s oligarchic capitalism since 1990. Like other post-Soviet countries, these new governments have strong links with interwar authoritarian and semi-fascist regimes. In Hungary, the legitimization of the antisemitic Horthy regime is almost complete. In this context, Victor Orbán looks a lot like Franjo Tuđman, president of Croatia from 1990 to 1999; Vladimír Mečiar, three-time prime minister of Slovakia; and Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Poland’s Law and Justice Party.

Throughout the region, authoritarianism is rising. Romania’s permanent state of exception has allowed the secret service and segments of the judiciary to largely overrule electoral politics. The Baltic states openly identify with their former collaborationist regimes and make it difficult for Russian-speaking residents in their own country to obtain citizenship. Even core countries are experiencing an authoritarian retooling, and more repressive regimes have emerged in the semi-periphery, including Recep Erdoğan’s Turkey and post-Maidan Ukraine, where the Nazi far right directly participates in the government. Still, within central Eastern Europe, Hungary has arguably become the most extreme case.

Many Hungarians recognize that CEU’s closure is a milestone: direct state intervention in higher education to wipe out undesirable institutions based on political criteria represents a new evolutionary stage for Hungary’s authoritarian regime. Meanwhile, the state is also enacting a general dismantling of public education, irrespective of political affiliation. This disinvestment will damage even more lives than the attack on CEU.

A Minor Theater of War

Although CEU has served as an important hub of the post-1990 capitalist restoration’s institutional network, socialists should still support it. It has trained the liberal, and in some cases neoliberal, economic, political, and ideological managers of the post-Soviet region. But the bulk of CEU graduates move on to Western academia or NGOs — like graduates from any other academic institution in capitalist society.

At the same time, CEU has hired more radical scholars, especially in political science, philosophy, and its strong gender studies department, which has been the target of an especially vile campaign by the Orbán regime, than public universities in the country. It also runs some affirmative action initiatives, granting access to a small number of Roma students — again, unlike most Hungarian public universities.

Further, the institution hosts the only functional English-language social science library in Hungary, as publicly funded universities and libraries cannot afford to extensively purchase new academic books. Socialists should fight to preserve the valuable knowledge and research activity the institution houses.

CEU’s closure doesn’t stand alone — the government is also defunding public universities, exacerbating ethnic segregation in the school system, and generally rolling back what’s left of the welfare state. While CEU has participated in the region’s “neocolonial” development over the last three decades, this hardly argues against defending the institution, as its shutdown represents another step toward state disinvestment, authoritarianism, and inequality.

The pro-CEU protests have reflected the institution’s place in Hungary. Most of the country’s population had not even heard of CEU before, and mostly middle-class graduates and students in Budapest have joined demonstrations. But the general destruction of social infrastructure — of which shuttering CEU is only a “minor theater of war” — threatens the majority’s livelihood.

Unfortunately, most protesters have been unwilling to engage the broader strata of society, who suffer even more from the ongoing disinvestment of health care and public education. We should not contrast the attack on CEU with the country’s undemocratic policies and its generalized social crisis, as poverty and malnutrition hit record highs year after year. Instead, we must analyze them as aspects of the same authoritarian regime, which has settled in to manage Hungary’s oligarchic capitalism.

Organizers would have to highlight this unity for the protests to reach a critical level, rather than remaining a single-issue movement for relatively privileged groups. So far, nothing seems to indicate that things are moving in that direction. Instead, we hear chants of “Europe! Europe!” and “Russians go home!” (referring to Orbán’s recent rapprochement and nuclear power deal with Putin). Protesters have repeatedly tried to plant the European Union flag on public buildings, reflecting Eastern European liberalism’s self-colonizing “Europeanist” worldview. Worryingly, the anti-Russian and anti-Communist slogans, accusing Orbán of being Putin’s puppet and bringing back Soviet times, have become even more pronounced after the first few protests that had focused on the university’s closure. This is rather bizarre in a country that is a member of NATO and the European Union, with a far-right and rabidly anti-Communist government. By focusing on these issues, the protesters are making themselves vulnerable to the government’s populist rhetoric, which will portray them either as the spoiled children of the well-connected worried about their career prospects, or as foreign agents paid by George Soros.

The demonization of Soros marks another step in the regime’s evolution. The vulgar hate campaign against him has institutionalized thinly veiled antisemitic language, making it part of everyday life. Hungary might be exceptional in that both open and coded antisemitism shapes public discourse. If we replace the word “Soros” with “Jews” in the hundreds of dog-whistle statements the government’s spokespersons and supporters have made, we find the standard tropes of interwar antisemitism: alien parasites and rootless cosmopolitans conspiring against the nation.

We cannot imagine that Orbán and his minions are naive: these jaded cynics know exactly what they are doing. Hungary has a rich antisemitic tradition and many citizens remain susceptible to it. Indeed, the entire Hungarian right has worked to revive this language since 1990, and today it has moved to the level of everyday state discourse. We can find the same language, combining anticommunist and antisemitic imagery, in the rhetoric leading up to the removal of the great Marxist philosopher György Lukács’s statue from Budapest’s Szent István Park.

The Orbán regime is likely ramping up this discourse to fend off the intensifying threat of the far-right Jobbik party, which many suspect benefits from the financial support of Lajos Simicska, one of Hungary’s most powerful oligarchs. A former close friend turned Orbán’s deadly enemy, Simicska vowed to help Jobbik claim electoral victory in 2018 in return for regaining access to state coffers. Clearly, the government will pay any price to win this fight, completely ignoring the potential consequences of its anti-migrant, anti-Soros campaigns. By stoking xenophobia and racism, Orbán’s regime has created an almost civil war–like atmosphere in the country.

With a possible challenge from the far right and amid growing international instability, Orbán seems to have decided to put his political and media followers to the test, binding them irreversibly to his own fate. Those who follow him past this point of no return can hardly find a way back to normal society, which makes staying in power an existential necessity.

Most protesters, it seems, do not recognize or confront the fact that Hungary has, in all likelihood, long ago left the coordinates of parliamentary democracy. New liberal opposition groups, which emerged around the successful anti-Olympics campaign, still begin from the assumption that we can rid ourselves of this government at the next elections. But how plausible is this scenario?

The 2014 elections were already manipulated: opposition candidates faced restricted campaigning, the Fidesz party and Orbán refused to engage in any public debates, and Russian-style pseudo-opposition parties sprung up — not to mention the relentless propaganda machine that the state media has become. Does it seem plausible that the people who are now shutting down a university — and reportedly introducing a bill ruling NGOs “foreign-financed organizations” — will allow the electoral situation to get out of hand and then peacefully hand over power? The opposition must confront the prospect that it may not be able to remove the current government through an election.

If so, what follows? Force can only be met by force, but the opposition’s emotional, political, and organizational resources pale in comparison to the government’s. Historically, regime change in Hungary has happened thanks to external changes, and today that may be the likeliest — however unpalatable — scenario.

Orbán has taken recent steps that could endanger Hungary’s international relationships and the flow of the European Union cohesion funds that keep the country afloat. What strategy the similarly reckless and unpredictable new American administration will adopt vis-á-vis Eastern Europe remains to be seen, and may become the decisive factor in the fate of Orbán’s rule.

But we also cannot exclude scenarios that stabilize his control. After all, Erdoğan’s Turkey is a respected NATO ally, and Hungary remains in the periphery of most world leaders’ points of view. If destabilization deepens due to external pressures combined with domestic upheaval, not even Maidan-like scenarios seem impossible. The far-right Jobbik party has stayed largely silent in recent weeks; we cannot guess what, if anything, they are readying themselves for.

Readers expect articles like this to end on a hopeful note, proclaiming that working class militancy might still somehow arise and that society will surely defend itself. However, it is very difficult to see what the disorganized and unfunded radical left can do in Hungary at this moment, beyond maintaining its intellectual perspective and work. Right now, we can only hope that the protests continue and that more people come to a clearer understanding of the kind of power they are confronting. Who will draw conclusions from that and what they might be remains to be seen.




Unity and Hope: The Story of Palestine’s Hunger Strikers

by Anonymous

The hallucinations normally start after 4 weeks. Any time after that the body can experience potentially permanent damage to the bones, brain, and other internal organs.

Two weeks ago, over a thousand Palestinian prisoners submitted their bodies to these risks when they began a collective hunger strike on April 17th. Surviving on salt and water, the protest is directed at the “unlawful and cruel” conditions in the Israeli prison system, and the continued presence of the Israeli occupation.

According to prisoners’ rights group Addameer, there are currently 6,300 Palestinian political prisoners confined within Israeli jails. 61 of those incarcerated are women, 300 are children, and 500 are confined under ‘Administrative Detention’, a protocol dating back to the British colonial mandate period, in which individuals can be imprisoned on the basis of secret evidence. Under international law, administrative detention is generally only permitted in times of crisis, but Israel has been in a state of emergency since 1949 and many prisoners have now been locked up for years without trial and without charge.

“I had four uncles in prison after the Second Intifada. They all suffered from terrible food and a lack of family visits. One of them was beaten badly on the face and had his shoulder broken by a guard”, Ali, a student from Tulkarem, told Novara Media. “The protest is against both the conditions in the prison and the entire occupation. All the prisoners are united in this, regardless of political party”.

Easing restrictions on family visits and phone calls are a key component of the prisoners’ demands. For those Palestinians arrested within the Occupied Territories, but incarcerated within Israel – a “flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention”, – family visits are highly difficult to co-ordinate due to their dependence on Israel for granting territorial access to each individual visitor. The prisoners are also fighting for access to items sent to them by family members (including books, magazines, clothing, and food), decent medical treatment, and an end to administrative detention, humiliating searches, solitary confinement and the night raids on prisoners’ cells that often involve beatings.

In a political climate where approximately 40% of men within the Palestinian Territories are at some point imprisoned or detained by Israel, the plight of today’s prisoners is one shared by the Palestinian people as a collective. Accordingly, on 27 April, schools, business, and even taxi drivers throughout the West Bank held a general strike in solidarity with those incarcerated. The strike has also prompted support across social media, particularly through the ‘Salt Water Challenge’ in which participants share videos of themselves drinking glasses of said mixture.

Protest tents have sprung up across the West Bank, and whilst these are normally covered in the banners of one particular political party, today they are adorned in insignia that reflect the broad spectrum of Palestinian political organization. Over the last decade, Palestinian politics has largely been characterized by factional infighting, and yet today’s hunger strikers are drawn from many different political parties (including Fatah, Hamas, and the PLP). This renewed unity has much to do with the protest’s organizer, Marwan Barghouti.

Arrested in 2002 and currently serving five life sentences for murders supposedly organized during the Second Intifada (though the fairness of the 2004 trial and the establishment of any guilt have since been discredited), Marwan Barghouti, 58, is considered by many to be the only Palestinian political figure with both the charisma and integrity needed to unite the nation in the face of rampant Israeli settlement construction. In fact, polls suggest that Fatah party member Barghouti is the most popular choice amongst Palestinians to succeed current President and Fatah party leader, 82-year old Mahmoud Abbas. It is Barghouti leading the strike and it was Barghouti who recently declared to the world that “rights are not bestowed by an oppressor” and that “hunger striking is the most peaceful form of resistance available” in an 16 April Op-Ed in the New York Times.

Whilst most Palestinians are fully supportive of the prisoners’ struggle, some remain skeptical of Barghouti’s self-appointed leadership role. Suspecting a form of politicking to be lying behind the protest, there are those that point to the outcome of Fatah’s February conference, in which the imprisoned Barghouti failed to be appointed to any significant leadership position, as the underlying personal motivation behind the call for a strike. Mousa, a teacher from Til, told Novara Media: ‘Whilst I stand with the prisoners we have to see this for what it is. It is Barghouti saying to Fatah: watch this. I’m still here. I’m still the one who can make a difference-Fatah are now just riding the wave”.

Barghouti’s confrontational approach to the Israeli occupation is certainly at odds with the current President’s focus on negotiation. In fact, Abbas was reportedly ‘outraged’ upon hearing of Barghouti’s call for a ‘Day of Rage’ on 28 April, the day after the General Strike. A public call to confront the Israeli Defence Force and “clash with the occupier at all friction points” is however no small order, and it was the first time that Fatah has openly called for popular resistance to the occupation since 2000. Lacking the political clout to openly defy the call, which resulted in dozens of injured protesters across the West Bank, the timing of the demonstration may also be adding to Abbas’ anxiety, with a long-organized meeting with US President Trump scheduled less than a week later for 3 May.

So what does the future hold for the hunger strikers themselves? First exercised in 1968, Palestinian hunger strikes are not uncommon and those held in recent years have yielded some positive results. In 2012 thousands of prisoners refused food for nearly a month and won some limitations on administrative detention, an end to prolonged isolation, and the resumption of family visits to those prisoners from Gaza. “Modest” concessions were also obtained in 2014 following the longest mass hunger strike to date, again directed against administrative detention. However, in both of these cases there has been some form of communication, and thereby negotiation, with the Israeli Prison Service. For today’s protest, this does not appear to be the case.

Concerning the current strike, the Israeli Prison Service has been directed both by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Security Minister Gilad Erdan to completely ignore the demands of the prisoners. Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has gone one step further, suggesting the adoption of the “Margaret Thatcher” approach (allowing prisoners to die in their cells), a proposal complemented by Knesset member Oren Hazan’s observation that “there is room in the earth for all of their corpses.” Members of the far-right Jewish Home Party, a faction currently forming part of Netanyahu’s governing coalition, also held a barbecue outside of Ofer Prison on April 18th in the hope that the smell of grilled meat would add to the prisoners’ struggle. Avihai Greenwald, chairman of the party’s youth group, stated that “We wish these terrorists luck in their hunger strike. They should take it all the way.”

Within the prison walls, the prison establishment itself has responded to the strike by confiscating personal belongings and clothes, forcibly transferring prisoners, banning access to televisions, and placing dozens of inmates in solitary confinement. The use of police dogs and the seizing of the Qur’an from prisoners in Nitzan and Ramla prisons has also been reported.

Whilst the Israeli government has been quick to announce any updates on prisoners breaking the strike, the “battle of empty stomachs” shows no sign of ending soon with hundreds of other inmates now reportedly joining the protest in solidarity. Whatever the outcome, dead prisoners will not be well received by the Palestinians, and with the 50th Anniversary of both the 1967 War and the resulting occupation fast approaching, this strike may well be the start of a renewed round of heightened conflict. 



Published 5th May 2017

Edited for

5 Years After Crackdown, an Anti-Kremlin Protest Resumes


MOSCOW — Pro-Western liberals, hard-line nationalists, gay-rights activists and other Kremlin opponents gathered in central Moscow on Saturday, seeking to revive a broad-based protest movement against President Vladimir V. Putin that was snuffed out five years ago by mass arrests and stiff jail sentences. The demonstrators chanted the one demand that unites their disparate causes: “Russia Without Putin!”

Waving Russian flags and the black, yellow and white standard of the Russian empire, thousands of protesters from across the political spectrum held a noisy but good-natured rally to mark the fifth anniversary of a violent police crackdown that ended months of protests against Mr. Putin in 2011 and 2012.

The Ministry of Interior said that only “around 1,000” people had taken part in the rally on Saturday, which was held on a broad avenue named for the Soviet-era dissident Andrei D. Sakharov. The true number appeared to be several times larger, though not as large as the 10,000 people organizers had hoped would come. The Moscow city police reported no incidents.

OVD-Info, an independent group that tracks protest arrests, reported that at least seven people had been detained by the police at a separate gathering in Bolotnaya Square, the site of large anti-Kremlin demonstrations in 2011 set off by public fury over falsified election results.

 Unlike the nationwide demonstrations organized on March 26 by the anti-corruption activist Aleksei A. Navalny, the protest on Saturday was approved by the authorities beforehand, and, while out in force, police officers and members of the Russian National Guard, an internal security force set up last year, did not try to disrupt the gathering. The crowd was also much older than the ones at Mr. Navalny’s rallies, which drew mostly youthful protesters in March.

Mr. Navalny, 40 and Russia’s most charismatic opposition figure, was absent from Saturday’s rally, which was organized by an older generation of Kremlin critics like Lev Ponomarev, a Soviet-era human rights activist.

Demoralized and mostly silenced for years by official harassment and a barrage of propaganda on state-controlled media that portrayed them as traitors, opponents of Mr. Putin have again found their voice in recent months with an unusual series of modest but, for the Kremlin, unnerving street protests. The March 26 anticorruption rallies, held in nearly 100 towns across the country, were followed last month by protests in about 30 cities initiated by Open Russia, an organization founded by the exiled billionaire Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky that was recently banned by Russia’s prosecutor general as “undesirable.”

The Saturday rally drew diverse and sometimes contradictory groups, including gay-rights activists, extreme nationalists, hard-line socialists, opponents of hunting and critics of a Moscow city government plan to resettle hundreds of thousands of residents so their buildings can be replaced by new developments. A similarly broad coalition of Kremlin opponents drove the 2011-2012 protests, which at their peak brought up to 100,000 people into the streets but fizzled after a wave of arrests and prison sentences.

“There are lots of very different people here, but this shows a lot of people are angry about something,” said Ildar Feseyev, a 65-year-old member of Yabloko, a liberal party, who joined the protest. Nearby, burly young men waved the old Russian imperial flag and shouted for the release of Dmitri Demushkin, a nationalist recently sentenced to two and half years in prison for inciting hatred.

The protest on Saturday, and those before it, posed no serious threat to Mr. Putin, who enjoys strong approval ratings, according to polls. But the discontent signals a potential danger as the Kremlin gears up for a presidential election next March and seeks to keep the country in a state of political somnolence. Mr. Putin has not yet declared his candidacy, but few doubt he will run again.

Turkey Purges 4,000 More Officials, and Blocks Wikipedia


ISTANBUL — The Turkish government expanded its crackdown on dissent and free expression over the weekend, purging nearly 4,000 more public officials, blocking access to Wikipedia and banning television matchmaking shows.

A total of 3,974 civil servants were fired on Saturday from several ministries and judicial bodies, and 45 civil society groups and health clinics were shut down, according to a decree published in Turkey’s official gazette.

Turkish internet users also woke up on Saturday to find that they no longer had access to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia written by volunteers.

The dismissals mean that an estimated 140,000 people have now been purged from the state and private sectors, and more than 1,500 civil groups closed, since a failed coup last year.

It also ends opposition hopes that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may ease the crackdown and build greater national consensus after his narrow victory in a recent referendum to expand the power of his office.

Instead, Mr. Erdogan has accelerated the process. Since the referendum, and before Saturday’s move, the police had detained more than 1,000 workers and suspended a further 9,000 accused of having ties to an Islamic group founded by a United States-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen.

The organization was once allied with Mr. Erdogan, but is now accused by the government of masterminding the failed attempt to overthrow him in July. Those purged on Saturday were also accused of having connections to Mr. Gulen.

The crackdown has also affected leftists, liberals and members of the secular opposition across most sections of public life, many of whom have long voiced their opposition to the Gulen movement. Those in jail or out of a job include academics, public transport employees, teachers and at least 120 journalists — more than in any other country in the world.

It was not immediately clear exactly why Wikipedia was targeted, but the ban is the latest salvo against freedom of expression in Turkey. More than 150 news outlets have been shut down by decree since July, according to one estimate.

The government justified the ban by claiming that the site’s articles constituted “a smear campaign against Turkey in the international arena,” according to a statement published by Anadolu Agency, the state-owned news wire.

The ban followed Wikipedia’s refusal to remove content that the Turkish government found offensive, the government said.

Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s founder, criticized the decision on Twitter. “Access to information is a fundamental human right,” he wrote. “Turkish people I will always stand with you to fight for this right.”

In another restriction announced this weekend, the government decreed that television channels could no longer broadcast dating programs, a staple on Turkish daytime TV and a major source of advertising revenue.

The shows had been criticized by people from across the country’s liberal-conservative divide, with over 120,000 people signing a petition against the format.

Feminists said the spiteful interactions that the shows sometimes encouraged were debasing to the contestants. Conservatives disliked how they often fast-tracked the betrothal process, which they said undermined the institution of marriage.

“Some of these shows are really out of control,” Numan Kurtulmus, a deputy prime minister, said in a television interview before the ban. “They are against our family values, culture, faith and traditions.”