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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2647

What a week for Trump, Netanyahu and Modi!

By Habib Siddiqui

This past week has been a very exciting week globally. At home, in the USA, there was the much-anticipated House hearing of Michael Cohen, President Trump’s one-time personal lawyer, the ‘fixer’. He appeared fully prepared, genuine, believable and remorseful for his previous support and lying on behalf of his former boss whom he described as a con-man, liar and cheat. Trump is also a racist and a bigot. None of these epithets for Mr. Trump is, however, new. He is worse.

In order to deflect the public opinion from the domestic scene, Mr. Trump went to Vietnam to meet his new buddy – President Kim Jung Un of North Korea. Even there, the poor POTUS did not have a good night sleep. He watched the damning testimony of the man who previously did not mind ‘taking a bullet’ for him. He was asked to comment about the House hearing. As expected, he said Cohen had lied except on one occasion that being his alleged Russian collusion. Cohen did not have a definitive answer on Trump’s involvement on the matter although he suggested that it was possible based on what he had heard Don Jr. whispering to Mr. Trump at the Oval Office.

As expected, the Republican party members tried to dispute Cohen’s claims alleging him to be a convicted liar. Republican congressman Mark Meadows (of North Carolina) invited Lynne Patton – a longtime Trump associate and current Housing and Urban Development official – to the hearing and referred to her while disputing Cohen's allegation that the president is a racist.

In response, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., "Just because someone has a person of color, a black person working for them, does not mean they aren't racist," Tlaib said. She added that the use of Patton as a political "prop" was "racism in itself."

Meadows angrily denied the implication of racism and asked for Tlaib's comment's to be "stricken from the record."

After Rep. Mark Meadows defended himself against allegations of racism during a House committee meeting Wednesday, critics resurfaced two 2012 videos of the North Carolina Republican in which he vowed to send then-President Barack Obama "home to Kenya." "2012 is the time we're going to send Mr. Obama home to Kenya or wherever it is," Meadows said at a June 9, 2012 rally. "We're going to do it!" Three days later, he made a similar remark at a tea party event.

Critics painted Meadows' remarks as an endorsement of "birtherism" – a term for the baseless belief that Obama was not born in the U.S. Many have said the effort to deny the citizenship of the first African-American president without evidence was rooted in racism.

The official Twitter account for the anti-Trump Democratic Coalition alleged that "Meadows promotes the racist birther conspiracy theory."

Mr. Trump returned home empty-handed without signing any treaty with Mr. Kim Jung Un. He said that a no deal was better than a bad deal. Apparently, contrary to his bloated claims, Trump has not mastered the art of deal-making, or so it appears now.

Remember Bernie Sanders? The popular U.S. senator from Vermont kicked off his presidential campaign Saturday (March 2) miles from the rent-controlled apartment where he grew up in Brooklyn and forcefully made the case that he is nothing like fellow New Yorker Donald Trump, proclaiming himself the Democrat best prepared to beat the incumbent in 2020.

"My experience as a child, living in a family that struggled economically, powerfully influenced my life and my values. I know where I came from," Sanders boomed in his unmistakable Brooklyn accent. "And that is something I will never forget."

He is right. With a huge support base from the state of Vermont to California, from the state of Florida to the Washington state since his failed bid against Senator Hillary Clinton in 2016, he is currently the front runner within the Democrat hopefuls.

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When Avichai Mandelblit was being considered for the post of Israeli attorney general, the selection committee had a question: If there was enough evidence, would he prosecute the man who was then his boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? After all, Mr. Mandelblit served for three years as Mr. Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary, a position of deep trust.

Mr. Mandelblit did not hesitate, according to a person involved in the vetting process.

Yes, he said.

Israel's attorney general (AG) announced Thursday (Feb. 28) that his office plans to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges after a two-year investigation. Mr. Mandelblit outlined the cases against the prime minister in a 57-page letter sent to Netanyahu’s lawyers. The prime minister faces one count of bribery and three counts of breach of trust. Police have previously recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three different cases.

The decision marks the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister has been told he faces criminal charges, and casts a heavy shadow over Netanyahu’s re-election campaign.

In the parlor game that has captivated Israel in recent weeks, many Israelis had feared that the soft-spoken AG might not have the guts to take a tough line against his one-time patron to prove his independence, burnishing his credentials for what they suspect is his ambition to serve on the Supreme Court. He proved them wrong despite the attacks on him that have been intense and personal. His father’s gravestone was desecrated by rightwing vandals.

In a brief interview with Israeli television, Mr. Mandelblit had said earlier that his main responsibility was to protect the institution of the attorney general’s office. “I didn’t invent it, it was here for 70 years before,” he said, “and it will continue to exist for decades to come.”

The Israeli justice system has a record of independence, having convicted a former president, Moshe Katsav, of rape, and a former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, of bribery.

With elections just six weeks away, Netanyahu called the prosecution's announcement "outrageous" and an "unprecedented witch hunt" carried out by his liberal opponents. The prime minister vowed to refute all allegations which he said are "blood libel."

The prime minister has said he will not quit even if he is indicted, and under Israeli law he is not required to do so until he has been convicted and the appeals process has been exhausted.

But there is legal precedent for ministers being forced to step down after being charged.

On Thursday, President Trump said that while he was not familiar with the specifics of the allegations against Netanyahu, the Israeli leader has done “a great job as prime minister.” In Netanyahu’s televised address, he thanked “my friend Trump” for his words and said that as prime minister he had built strong relationships with Trump that had benefited Israel’s security.

It is worth noting that Netanyahu last week mentored an agreement for an electoral alliance between the radical far-right – fascist - group Jewish Power and two other factions, which is likely to give the party at least one seat in the Knesset. The Jewish Power party calls for the annexation of the West Bank and Gaza, complete Israeli control over all land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, the cancellation of the Oslo peace accords and for the imposition of Israeli sovereignty over Temple Mount. It also advocates the expulsion of Arab citizens of Israel who are deemed not loyal enough to the country and the deportation of what it calls “Arab extremists”.

The extremist party is believed to be spawned from the Kahanist movement, founded by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was personally accused of plotting various terrorist attacks throughout the 1970s against the Palestinian Arabs. Kahane’s followers continue to face accusations of supporting domestic terrorism and incitement to racism.

Netanyahu’s alliance with a fascist group like Jewish Power was so abhorring that even the American Jewish Committee, a powerful New-York based Jewish advocacy group, said it felt “compelled to speak out” about the merger which it called “reprehensible”.

Last Monday (Feb. 25) around 90 powerful rabbis and scholars, part of Torat Chayim, a worldwide association of progressive-minded Orthodox rabbis, joined the denunciation of the Israeli leader’s new deal calling Jewish Power “lamentable”.

Torat Chayim said Jewish Power was “a racist, violently nationalist party which justifies terrorist activity by Jews, is anti-democratic, preaches hatred toward other Jews and Arabs”. Among the signatories were renowned scholars Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and Rabbi Asher Lopatin.

"The ends do not justify the means," they wrote in a statement published online.

History has taught us that the fascists are known to like or admire each other. Netanyahu’s gesture with the Jewish Power, and Trump’s admiration for known fascists and authoritarian leaders of our time, including Netanyahu, Dutarte and Kim, once again give credence to that known fact.

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Perhaps the most important event last week was Pakistan’s magnanimous release of the captured Indian pilot. Prime Minister Imran Khan announced Thursday to release captured Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan on Friday as a ‘gesture of peace’. However, in the same breath he warned India that any ‘miscalculation’ may prove disastrous for the whole region.

The two nuclear-armed countries came very close to a major conflict when Indian warplanes used Israeli-made SPICE 2000 precision-guided bombs (weighing 1 metric ton each) in airstrikes targeting a suspected hideout for the Kashmiri freedom fighters belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). The group claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Indian-Occupied Kashmir earlier in February that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary troopers.

[Note: SPICE (smart precise impact and cost effective) bombs are the largest conventional bomb in the Indian Air Force's arsenal. India is the world's largest defence importer and has been investing tens of billions in updating its military equipment. India is now Israel's biggest arms market, buying weapons at an average of $1 billion each year. In 2017, the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries said India would buy nearly $2 billion worth of weapons technology, making it the military exporting giant's largest ever defence contract. The apartheid state of Israel has also been a major arms seller to the other apartheid state of Myanmar that is guilty of genocide of the Rohingya people.

In recent years, the Israelis have filmed joint exercises between their own “special commando” units and those sent by India to be trained in the Negev desert, again with all the expertise supposedly learned by Israel in Gaza and other civilian-thronged battlefronts. At least 16 Indian “Garud” commandos – part of a 45-strong Indian military delegation – were for a time based at the Nevatim and Palmachim air bases in Israel.

In his first visit to India last year – preceded by a trip to Israel by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu recalled the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai in which more than a hundred civilians were killed. “Indians and Israelis know too well the pain of terrorist attacks,” he told Modi. “We remember the horrific savagery of Mumbai. We grit our teeth, we fight back, we never give in.” As noted recently by veteran journalist Robert Fisk, this was also BJP-speak.

It is not difficult to understand the ugly foundation stone of the relationship between the two countries under the leadership of two murderous, right-wing fascist leaders – one of Zionism under Netanyahu and the other of Hindutva under Modi. Both have fascist leanings and share an ugly history of murder and persecution of its Muslim minorities.]

As to the latest episode between Pakistan and India, the international media has sadly ignored the core of the issue: Kashmir, the Kashmiris, their rights and their aspirations for freedom and peace. For more than seven decades they have been denied a U.N.-mandated plebiscite to decide their own fate. Instead, they had to settle for what the UN HCHR has rightly noted, the “total impunity for enforced disappearances.”

The horrific case of Asifa Bano, an eight-year-old Muslim girl gang-raped and strangled to death in a Hindu temple by eight men in Indian-occupied Kashmir, including four police officers is just one example of what Kashmiris face day in and day out. These criminals were supported by two ministers from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Here are some statistics from the last 20 years of India’s oppression in Kashmir:

* Kashmiris Killed by the Indian army: 94,479

* Custodial killings by Indian army: 7,048

* Disappearances of Kashmiris at the hands of Indian police: 10,125

* Gang rapes by Indians in Kashmir: 10,283

* Kashmiris blinded by Indian firing: 188

* Kashmiri children orphaned: 20,085

* Kashmiri women widowed: 20,005

* Kashmiri buildings destroyed: 106,071.

While we may not like see a repeat of the recent bloody episodes, but we do understand why a disgruntled Kashmiri may like to blow himself up to inflict pain on his persecutors. Modi’s India has to answer why Kashmiri civilians are agitated today as never before, why they are tired of false promises, why they despise the Indian occupation forces in their midst.

Addressing the symptoms while ignoring the root causes is foolish. If the international community is serious about finding peace, it must allow the people of Jammu and Kashmir to decide their own fate (much like what it did for the people of East Timor and South Sudan): whether they want to remain part of India or join Pakistan or be an independent nation allowing all its citizens to live as equals in a dignified way.

As long as the Kashmiri people are denied their very rights to decide their fate, where truly lies the root cause of the Kashmir problem, hoping for peace is a stupid illusion! The sooner the Indian government understands this vital truth and delivers on its promise the better for its people and the entire region.

- Asian Tribune -

What a week for Trump, Netanyahu and Modi!
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