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Government by Blackmail: Jeffrey Epstein, Trump’s Mentor and the Dark Secrets of the Reagan Era

NEW YORK – Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire who now sits in jail on federal charges for the sex trafficking of minors, has continued to draw media scrutiny in the weeks after his arrest on July 6. Part of the reason for this continued media interest is related to Epstein’s alleged relationship to the intelligence services and new information about the true extent of the sexual blackmail operation Epstein is believed to have run for decades.

As MintPress reported last week, Epstein was able to run this sordid operation for so long precisely because his was only the latest incarnation of a much older, more extensive operation that began in the 1950s and perhaps even earlier. 

Starting first with mob-linked liquor baron Lewis Rosenstiel and later with Roy Cohn, Rosenstiel’s protege and future mentor to Donald Trump, Epstein’s is just one of the many sexual blackmail operations involving children that are all tied to the same network, which includes elements of organized crime, powerful Washington politicians, lobbyists and “fixers,” and clear links to intelligence as well as the FBI. 

This report, Part II of this series titled “The Jeffrey Epstein Scandal: Too Big To Fail,” will delve into Cohn’s close ties to the Reagan administration, which was also closely tied to the same organized crime network led by the infamous mob figure Meyer Lansky, which was discussed in Part I. Of particular importance is the “Iran Contra” network, a group of Reagan officials and associates who played key roles in the Iran Contra scandal. Though it has remained relatively unknown for years, many key figures in that same network, and several fronts for the CIA that were involved in funneling money to the Central American Contra paramilitaries, were also trafficking minors for their sexual exploitation and use in sexual blackmail rings.

Several of these rings made headlines at one point or another over the years — from the “call boy ring” run by Washington lobbyist Craig Spence, to the Franklin child-sex and murder ring run by Republican operative Larry King, to the scandal that enveloped the Catholic charity Covenant House in the late 1980s. 

Yet, as this report will show, all of these rings — and more — were connected to the same network that involved key figures linked to the Reagan White House and linked to Roy Cohn — revealing the true scope of the sordid sexual blackmail operations and sex rings that involved the trafficking of children within the U.S. and even in Central America for their exploitation by dangerous and powerful pedophiles in the United States. 

Appalling for both the villainous abuse of children itself and the chilling implications of government by blackmail, this tangled web of unsavory alliances casts a lurid light on the political history of the United States from the Prohibition Era right up to the present day and the Age of Trump, a fact made increasingly clear as more and more information comes to light in relation to the Jeffrey Epstein case.

 

“Roy could fix anyone in the city”

Since Donald Trump burst onto the political scene in 2015, the legacy of his mentor, Roy Cohn – as well as Cohn’s influence on his most famous protege — have begun to garner renewed media attention. Many of the profiles on Cohn following Trump’s rise have focused solely on certain shadowy aspects of Cohn’s history, particularly his association with major figures in New York organized crime, his corrupt dealings, and his eventual disbarment. Some of these portrayals even went so far as to label Cohn as politically impotent. While Cohn was known to deal with a sizable amount of sleaze in his career, such depictions of the man fail to note that he had created an influence machine of unrivaled power that included some of the most prominent people in media and politics as well as a cadre of celebrities.

Cohn was closely associated with numerous celebrities, famous politicians and political operatives. Many of his birthday parties over the years attracted such famous figures such as artist Andy Warhol, fashion designer Calvin Klein, and comedian Joey Adams, as well as notable political figures including former Mayor of New York Abraham Beame and then-Assemblyman from Brooklyn and future Senator Chuck Schumer, among others. In 1979 Margaret Trudeau, mother of current Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, attended Cohn’s birthday party, where she famously toppled his custom birthday cake; and of course Donald Trump, who became Cohn’s protege in the mid-1970s, was a frequent fixture at social events held in Cohn’s honor.

The politicians, journalists and celebrities invited to Cohn’s exclusive parties were said to be those who “had open accounts in Cohn’s ‘favor bank,’” his nickname for his unofficial balance sheet of political favors and debts that was surely informed and influenced by his extensive involvement in sexual blackmail operations from the 1950s well into the 1980s.

Many of Cohn’s celebrity friendships were cultivated through his relationship with and frequent appearances at the famous and famously debaucherous New York nightclub Studio 54, which was described by Vanity Fair as “the giddy epicenter of 70s hedonism, a disco hothouse of beautiful people, endless cocaine, and every kind of sex.” Cohn was the long-time lawyer of the club’s owners, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager.

Studio 54 co-owner Steve Rubell and his attorney Roy Cohn, left, talk to reporters outside U.S. District Court in Manhattan on, Nov. 2, 1979, after Rubell and his partner, Ian Schrager, pleaded guilty to tax evasion charges. Photo | AP

Among Cohn’s closest friends were Barbara Walters, to whom Cohn often referred as his “fiancee” in public, and whom he later introduced to the head of the U.S. Information Agency, Chad Wick, and other high rollers in the Reagan White House. Yet, Walters was just one of Cohn’s powerful friends in the media, a group that also included Abe Rosenthal, executive editor of the New York Times; William Safire, long-time New York Times columnist and New York Magazine contributor; and George Sokolsky of The New York Herald Tribune, NBC and ABC. Sokolsky was a particularly close friend of both Cohn and former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, whose involvement in Cohn’s sexual blackmail operation is described in Part I of this investigative series. Sokolsky ran the American Jewish League Against Communism with Cohn for several years and the organization later named its Medal of Honor after Sokolsky.

Cohn was also the attorney and friend of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and, according to New York Magazine, “Whenever Roy wanted a story stopped, item put in, or story exploited, Roy called Murdoch;” and, after Murdoch bought the New York Post, Cohn “wielded the paper as his personal shiv.” According to the late journalist Robert Parry, the friendship between Murdoch and Cohn first began thanks to their mutual support for Israel. 

Cohn also leaned on his life-long friend since high school, Si Newhouse Jr., to exert media influence. Newhouse oversaw the media empire that now includes Vanity Fair, Vogue, GQ, The New Yorker, and numerous local newspapers throughout the United States, as well as major interests in cable television. New York Magazine also noted that “Cohn used his influence in the early ’80s to secure favors for himself and his Mob clients in Newhouse publications.” In addition to Newhouse, Cohn’s other high school pals, Generoso Pope Jr. and Richard Berlin, later became the owners of the National Enquirer and the Hearst Corporation, respectively. Cohn was also a close friend of another media mogul, Mort Zuckerman, who – along with Rupert Murdoch – would go on to befriend Jeffrey Epstein.

Cohn’s media confidants, like journalist William Buckley of The National Review and Firing Line, often attacked Cohn’s political enemies – particularly long-time Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau — in their columns, using Cohn as an anonymous source. Buckley, whom historian George Nash once called “the preeminent voice of American conservatism and its first great ecumenical figure,” received the George Sokolsky medal alongside Cohn’s mob-linked client and “Supreme Commander” Lewis Rosenstiel from the Cohn-run American Jewish League Against Communism in 1966. Buckley later got a heavily discounted $65,000 loan to buy a luxury boat from a bank where Cohn held influence and whose president Cohn had hand picked, according to a 1969 article in LIFE magazine. 

Buckley — along with Barbara Walters, Alan Dershowitz and Donald Trump — would later serve as character witnesses for Cohn during his 1986 disbarment hearings and all but Buckley would later draw controversy for their relationships with Jeffrey Epstein.

With connections like this, it’s no wonder that Stanley Friedman — a law partner of Cohn, who was later imprisoned over a kickback and bribery scandal while serving as New York’s deputy mayor — told journalist Marie Brenner in 1980 that “Roy could fix anyone in the city.”

 

Politically ubiquitous and polygamous

Roy Cohn’s “favor bank” and his unique position as a liaison between the criminal underworld, the rich and famous, and top media influencers made him a force to be reckoned with. Yet, it was his political connections to leadership figures in both the Republican and Democratic parties and his close relationship to long-time FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, among other figures, that made him and his dark secret “untouchable” for much of his life. Though most of his political influence was forged in the 1950s, Cohn became even more powerful with the rise of Ronald Reagan.

Even though he nominally maintained his affiliation with the Democratic Party throughout his life, Cohn was a well-known “fixer” for Republican candidates and this is clearly seen in his outsized roles during the 1976 and 1980 presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan. It was during the latter that Cohn would meet another of his proteges, Roger Stone, whom he infamously instructed to leave a hefty bribe tucked in a suitcase at the doorstep of the Liberal Party’s headquarters during the 1980 campaign. During this campaign, Cohn would also meet Paul Manafort — an associate of Stone and later Trump’s 2016 campaign manager — and introduce both to Donald Trump.

Cohn’s law partner, Tom Bolan, was also an influential force in the Reagan campaign and later chaired Reagan’s transition team in 1980. Reagan then named Bolan, whom he considered a friend, a director of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the government’s development finance institution, and he was also the New York finance co-chairman in the Reagan campaign in both 1980 and 1984. Bolan was also close to others in Cohn’s circle, such as William F. Buckley Jr., Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch.

Furthermore, Bolan was instrumental in securing federal judgeships for several individuals who would later become influential, including future FBI Director Louis Freeh. Cohn was also able to get friends of clients appointed as federal judges, including Donald Trump’s sister, Maryanne Trump Barry. After Barry was appointed as a federal judge, Trump called Cohn to thank him for pulling strings on his sister’s behalf.

Though Cohn was not given a public position in the Reagan administration, he was not merely a “dirty trickster” who worked in the shadows during the Reagan campaigns. In fact, he worked closely with some of the more visible faces of the campaign, including the then-communications director for Reagan’s 1980 campaign and later CIA director, William Casey. According to Christine Seymour — Cohn’s long-time switchboard operator from the late 1960s up until his death in 1986, who listened in on his calls — Casey and Cohn were close friends and, during the 1980 campaign, Casey “called Roy almost daily.” 

Seymour also noted that one of Cohn’s other most frequent phone pals and closest friends was Nancy Reagan and she was also one of his clients. Reagan, whose influence over her husband was well-known, was so close to Cohn that it was largely his death from AIDS that led her to “encourage her husband to seek more funding for AIDS research.” 

Prior to Cohn’s death, Nancy and her husband Ronald secured his spot in an exclusive experimental AIDS treatment program, despite the Reagan administration’s well-documented “non-response” to the AIDS crisis of the era. Ronald Reagan was also a friend of Cohn’s and, according to late journalist Robert Parry, “lavished favors on Cohn, including invitations to White House events, personal thank-you notes and friendly birthday wishes” over the course of his presidency.

Given that Reagan heavily courted the evangelical right and promoted “family values” as president, the close ties between not only himself, but his inner circle, with Cohn may seem odd. However, Reagan, like Cohn, had deep ties to the same organized-crime factions that were among Cohn’s clients and affiliates of the same Mafia figures close to Cohn’s own mentor, Lewis Rosenstiel (see Part I).

Not unlike Cohn, Reagan’s own mentor, Lew Wasserman, had close ties to the mob. Wasserman, the long-time president of MCA and the well-known Hollywood mogul, is known for not only making Reagan’s film and television career, but also supporting his successful push to become president of the Screen Actors Guild, which later launched Reagan’s political career. In addition, MCA was a major financier of Reagan’s successful gubernatorial bid in 1966 and, not long after Reagan became president, his administration controversially shut down a massive Department of Justice (DOJ) probe into MCA’s ties to organized crime.

According to Shawn Swords, a documentary filmmaker who explored Reagan’s ties to MCA in Wages of Spin II: Bring Down That Wall:

“Ronald Reagan was an opportunist. His whole career was guided by MCA — by Wasserman and [MCA founder] Jules Stein, who bragged that Reagan was malleable, that they could do what they wanted with him…That thing about Reagan being tough on [organized] crime — that’s a fallacy.” 

Swords’ characterization of this relationship is supported by an unnamed Hollywood source cited in a declassified DOJ document, who called Reagan “a complete slave of MCA who would do their bidding on anything.”

What elements of organized crime were connected to Wasserman? As a young man, Lew Wasserman joined the Mayfield Road Gang, which was run by Moe Dalitz, a close friend of Meyer Lansky who, per the FBI, was a powerful figure in Lansky’s criminal enterprise, second only to Lansky himself among members of the Jewish mob. 

Lew Wasserman would later marry Edith Beckerman, whose father was Dalitz’s lawyer. Wasserman’s closest friend and lawyer, Sidney Korshak, also had close ties to Dalitz and once partnered with Lansky in the Acapulco Towers Hotel. Notably, the magazine New West stated in 1976 that Korshak was the “logical successor to Meyer Lansky.” Korshak, as a lawyer, fit a niche similar to Roy Cohn and gained a reputation as the bridge between organized crime and respectable society.

In addition, the DOJ probe into MCA that the Reagan administration quashed was reportedly spurred after the Justice Department learned that an influential member of the Gambino crime family, Salvatore Pisello, was doing business with the massive entertainment company. At that time, the boss of the Gambino crime family, Paul Castellano, was a client of Roy Cohn. 

 

Cohn, Murdoch and the Contras

Though Cohn’s influence in the Reagan administration and his friendship with the Reagan family and their inner circle has been acknowledged, less well-known is how Cohn aided the CIA’s covert propaganda efforts that were part of the larger scandal known as Iran-Contra.

Cohn, whose influence over the press has already been detailed, forged close ties with the director of the U.S. Information Agency, Chad Wick, even hosting a luncheon in Wick’s honor that was widely attended by influential figures in the conservative press, as well as senators and representatives. Soon after, then-CIA Director and Cohn friend William Casey was spearheading an extensive PR campaign aimed at shoring up public support for Reagan’s Latin American policies, including support of the Contra paramilitaries. 

This domestic propaganda effort was technically illegal and required that the CIA outsource the job to the private sector to minimize the risk of fall-out. As Robert Parry reported in 2015, Wick took the lead in obtaining private funding for the effort and, just a few days after Wick promised to find private support, Cohn brought his close friend, the media mogul Rupert Murdoch, to the White House.

Parry later noted that, after this meeting, “documents released during the Iran-Contra scandal in 1987 and later from the Reagan Library indicate that Murdoch was soon viewed as a source for the private funding” for the propaganda campaign. 

After that initial meeting, Murdoch became the top media ally of this Casey-directed propaganda effort, and also became increasingly close to the Reagan White House. Murdoch, as a consequence, benefited greatly from Reagan’s policies and his friendship with the administration, which allowed Murdoch to increase his U.S. media holdings and to create the Fox Broadcasting Corporation in 1987.

 

“The man in the black tuxedo”

Roy Cohn was not the only one close to the Reagan administration who was simultaneously running sexual blackmail operations that abused and exploited children. In fact, there were several figures, all of whom shared direct connections to CIA Director William Casey and other close friends and confidants of Cohn.

One of these individuals was Robert Keith Gray, the former chairman and CEO of the powerful Washington-based public relations firm of Hill and Knowlton, which 60 Minutes once called “an unelected shadow government” due to its influence in the capitol. According to the Washington Post, Gray himself was “one of the most sought-after lobbyists in Washington” and a Post reporter once called him “a kind of legend in this town, …the man in the black tuxedo with snow-white hair and a smile like a diamond.”

Yet, Gray was much more than a powerful PR executive.

Gray, who had previously been a close adviser to both Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, was a very successful Republican fundraiser who “collects money in six-figure globs,” according to a 1974 report in the Washingtonian. He first came into close contact with what would become Ronald Reagan’s inner circle during Reagan’s unsuccessful 1976 presidential campaign and later as deputy director of communications during Reagan’s campaign in 1980. The latter position would see him work directly under William Casey, who later became CIA director.

 

Gray would go on to co-chair Reagan’s Inauguration Committee and afterwards would return to the PR business, taking on several clients including Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi and hedge fund manager Marc Rich. Both Khashoggi and Rich will be discussed more in detail in Part III of this report — particularly Rich, who was an asset of Israeli intelligence outfit Mossad, and whose later criminal pardon by Bill Clinton was largely orchestrated by members of the Mega Group like Michael Steinhardt and Israeli politicians like Ehud Barak.

The connection between Gray and Casey is particulary telling, as it was later revealed by former Nebraska state senator-turned-investigator John DeCamp that Gray was a specialist in homosexual blackmail operations for the CIA and was reported to have collaborated with Roy Cohn in those activities. Cohn and Gray were likely to have known each other well, as during Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign Casey — then Gray’s boss — was calling Roy Cohn “every day,” according to Cohn’s former switchboard operator Christine Seymour.

Gray was a known associate of CIA agent and Naval Intelligence officer Edwin Wilson, having served in the 1970s on the board of Consultants International, an organization that Wilson had founded and that the CIA used as a front company. Though Gray attempted to distance himself from Wilson after the latter was caught illegally selling weapons to Libya in 1983, a Navy review of Wilson’s intelligence career, unearthed by journalist Peter Maas, stated that Gray described Wilson as a man of “unqualified trust” and that Gray and Wilson had been in professional contact “two or three times a month” as early as 1963. 

Though Wilson’s main specialty was front companies used to covertly ship and smuggle goods on behalf of U.S. intelligence, he also ran sexual blackmail operations for the CIA, particularly around the time of the Watergate scandal, according to his former partner and fellow agent at the CIA, Frank Terpil.

Terpil later told author and investigative journalist Jim Hougan: 

“Historically, one of Wilson’s Agency jobs was to subvert members of both houses [of Congress] by any means necessary…. Certain people could be easily coerced by living out their sexual fantasy in the flesh…. A remembrance of these occasions [was] permanently recorded via selected cameras…. The technicians in charge of filming … [were] TSD [Technical Services Division of the CIA]. The unwitting porno stars advanced in their political careers, some of [whom] may still be in office.” 

According to Terpil, Wilson ran his operation out of the George Town Club, owned by lobbyist and Korean intelligence asset Tongsun Park. According to the Washington Post, Park set up the club on behalf of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency “as a primary means in an illegal effort to influence U.S. politicians and officials.” The president of the George Town Club at the time of Wilson’s alleged activities at the site was Robert Keith Gray.

DeCamp later reported that Wilson’s activities were a spin-off of the same sexual blackmail operation in which Cohn became involved during the McCarthy era with Lewis Rosenstiel and J. Edgar Hoover.

 

Father Ritter and his favored youths

The operation allegedly ran by Gray and Wilson was not the only sexual blackmail operation connected to Cohn’s network or to influential American politicians of the era. Another pedophile network that was connected to a close associate of former President George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s was run as an affiliate of the Catholic charity Covenant House, which was founded and run by Father Bruce Ritter.

In 1968, Ritter asked his superior — Cardinal Francis Spellman of the Archdiocese of New York — for permission to take homeless teenagers, boys and girls, into his home in Manhattan. As was noted in Part I of this series, Spellman was accused of pedophilia and ordained known pedophiles while serving as the highest-ranking Catholic priest in the United States. Spellman was also a close associate, client and friend of Roy Cohn, as well as of his law partner Tom Bolan, and Spellman was alleged to have been seen at least one of Cohn’s “blackmail parties.” In addition, Spellman’s nephew, Ned Spellman, worked for Roy Cohn, according to LIFE magazine.

Ritter, like Spellman and other priests who served under Spellman, was eventually accused of having sexual relationships with many of the underaged boys he had taken in, and of spending Covenant House funds on lavish gifts and payments to the vulnerable teenagers he exploited. 

One of Ritter’s victims, Darryl Bassile, wrote an open letter to him a year after the priest’s preying on teenage boys was exposed by the press: “You were wrong for inflicting your desires on a 14-year-old . . . I know that someday you will stand before the one who judges all of us and at that time there will be no more denial, just the truth.”

Notably, when Ritter’s activities at Covenant House were exposed in 1989 by the New York Post, Charles M. Sennott, the Post reporter who wrote the story, would later state that “the secular powers more than the archdiocese or the Franciscans protected him [Ritter].” Sennott’s report was attacked viciously by columnists in other New York media outlets, powerful politicians including then-Governor of New York Mario Cuomo, as well as by Cardinal Spellman’s successor, Cardinal John O’Connor.

The likely reason these “secular powers” came to the aid of the embattled Ritter, who was never charged for having sexual relationships with minors and was merely forced to resign from his post, is that Covenant House and Ritter himself were deeply tied to Robert Macauley, Bush Sr.’s roommate at Yale and a long-time friend of the Bush family. Macauley was described by the New York Times as “instrumental” to Covenant House fundraising after he joined its board in 1985 and brought on several “other wealthy or well-connected people,” including former government officials and investment bankers.

Macauley’s organization, the AmeriCares Foundation, which was later accused of funneling money to the Contras in Central America, was one of the main sources of funding of Covenant House. One of the members of AmeriCares advisory board was William E. Simon, former U.S. secretary of the treasury under the Nixon and Ford administrations, who also ran the Nicaraguan Freedom Fund, which sent aid to the Contras.

AmeriCares was also known to work directly with U.S. intelligence. As the Hartford Courant noted in 1991: “Knowledgeable former federal officials, many with backgrounds in intelligence work, help AmeriCares maneuver in delicate international political environments.”

Furthermore, Ritter was known to have visited Macauley’s Connecticut estate and served as Vice President of AmeriCares until he was forced to resign from Covenant House. Notably, George H.W. Bush’s brother, Prescott, was also on the AmeriCares advisory board. After George H.W. Bush died last year, AmeriCares stated that he had been “instrumental in founding the health-focused relief and development organization.”

Years before Ritter was outed as a pedophile who preyed on the disadvantaged and vulnerable teenagers who sought refuge at his charity, Covenant House was praised heavily by President Ronald Reagan, even earning a mention in his 1984 State of the Union address, which called Ritter one of the country’s “unsung heroes.” From 1985 to 1989, Covenant House’s operating budget grew from $27 million to $90 million and its board came to include powerful individuals including top executives at IBM, Chase Manhattan Bank and Bear Stearns.

It was during this time that Covenant House grew into an international organization, opening branches in several countries, including Canada, Mexico and elsewhere in Central America. Its first branch in Central America was opened in Guatemala and was headed by Roberto Alejos Arzu, a CIA asset whose plantation was used to train the troops used in the CIA’s failed “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Cuba. Alejos Arzu was also an associate of the former U.S.-backed dictator of Nicaragua, Anastasio Somoza, and a member of the Knights of Malta, a Catholic order to which former CIA Director William Casey and Roy Cohn’s law partner Tom Bolan also belonged. Alejos Arzu also worked for AmeriCares and was tied to several Central American paramilitary groups. 

Intelligence community sources cited by DeCamp assert that the Alejos Arzu-led branch of Covenant House procured children for a pedophile ring based in the United States. Years later, Mi Casa, another U.S.-run charity in Guatemala that George H.W. Bush had personally toured with his wife Barbara in 1994, was accused of rampant pedophilia and child abuse.

 

The downfall of “Washington’s Jay Gatsby”

After having left his job as an ABC News correspondent in the 1980s, Craig Spence found success as a prominent conservative Washington lobbyist. Spence would soon find his fortunes shift dramatically when, in June 1989, it was revealed that he had been pimping out children to the power elite in the nation’s capital throughout the 1980s in apartments that were bugged with video and audio recording equipment. Much like Jeffrey Epstein, who ran a similar operation, Spence was often likened to Jay Gatsby, the mysterious, wealthy figure from the well-known Fitzgerald novel The Great Gatsby.

A 1982 New York Times article written about Spence said that his “personal phone book and party guest lists constitute a ‘Who’s Who’ in Congress, Government and journalism” and stated that Spence was “hired by his clients as much for whom he knows as what he knows.” Spence was also known to throw lavish parties, which the Times described as “glitter[ed] with notables, from ambassadors to television stars, from senators to senior State Department officials.” Roy Cohn, William Casey and Roy Cohn’s journalist friend William Safire were just some of the other attendees at Spence’s festivities.

“According to Mr. Spence,” the Times article continues,Richard Nixon is a friend. So is [former Attorney General under Nixon] John Mitchell. [CBS journalist] Eric Sevareid is termed ‘an old, dear friend.’ Senator John Glenn is ‘a good friend’ and Peter Ustinov [British actor and journalist] is ‘an old, old friend.’” Notably, Ustinov wrote for The European newspaper soon after it was founded in 1990 by Robert Maxwell, the father of Epstein’s alleged madam Ghislaine Maxwell and a known Mossad agent.

It was revealed just seven years after the Times’ published its doting profile of Spence that his “glittery parties for key officials of the Reagan and Bush administrations, media stars and top military officers” had been bugged in order “to compromise guests.” According to the explosive report published by the Washington Times, Spence was linked to a “homosexual prostuition ring” whose clients included “government officials, locally based U.S. military officers, businessmen, lawyers, bankers, congressional aides, media representatives and other professionals.” Spence also offered cocaine to his guests as another means of acquiring blackmail.

According to the report, Spence’s home “was bugged and had a secret two-way mirror, and … he attempted to ensnare visitors into compromising sexual encounters that he could then use as leverage.” One man who spoke to the Washington Times said that Spence sent a limousine to his home, which took him to a party where “several young men tried to become friendly with him.” According to DeCamp, Spence was known to offer young children for sex to attendees at his blackmail parties, along with illegal drugs like cocaine.

Several other sources, including a Reagan White House official and an Air Force sergeant who had attended Spence-hosted parties, confirmed that Spence’s house was filled with recording equipment, which he regularly used to spy on and record guests, and his house also included a two-way mirror that he used for eavesdropping.

The report also documented Spence’s connections to U.S. intelligence, particularly the CIA. According to the Washington Times report, Spence “often boasted that he was working for the CIA and on one occasion said he was going to disappear for awhile ‘because he had an important CIA assignment.’” He was also quite paranoid about his alleged work for the agency, as he expressed concern “that the CIA might ‘doublecross him’ and kill him instead and then make it look like a suicide.” Not long after the Washington Times report on his activities was published, Spence was found dead in the Boston Ritz Carlton and his death was quickly ruled a suicide.

The Washington Times report also offers a clue as to what Spence may have done for the CIA, as it cited sources that had claimed that Spence had spoken of smuggling cocaine into the U.S. from El Salvador, an operation that he claimed had involved U.S. military personnel. Given the timing of these comments from Spence, Spence’s powerful connections, and the CIA’s involvement in the exchange of cocaine for weapons in the Iran Contra scandal, his comments may have been much more than just boasts intended to impress his party guests.

One of the most critical parts of the scandal surrounding Spence, however, was the fact that he had been able to enter the White House late at night during the George H.W. Bush administration with young men whom the Washington Times described as “call boys.”

Spence later stated that his contacts within the White House, which allowed him and his “call boys” access, were “top level” officials and he specifically singled out George H.W. Bush’s then-National Security Advisor Donald Gregg. Gregg had worked at the CIA since 1951 before he resigned in 1982 to become National Security Advisor to Bush, who was then vice president. Prior to resigning from his post at the CIA, Gregg had worked directly under William Casey and, in the late 1970s, alongside a young William Barr in stonewalling the congressional Pike Committee and Church Committee, which investigated the CIA beginning in 1975. Among the things that they were tasked with investigating were the CIA’s “love traps,” or sexual blackmail operations used to lure foreign diplomats to bugged apartments, complete with recording equipment and two-way mirrors.

Barr would later become Bush’s Attorney General, rising to that post yet again under Trump. Furthermore, Barr’s father worked for the precursor to the CIA, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and recruited a young Jeffrey Epstein, then a high school drop-out, to teach at the elite Dalton School, from which Epstein was later fired. A year prior to hiring Epstein, Donald Barr published a science fiction fantasy novel about sex slavery. Notably, the same year Donald Barr hired Epstein, his son was working for the CIA. Bill Barr has refused calls to recuse himself from the Epstein case, even though he worked at the same law firm that has represented Epstein in the past.

Donald Gregg is also connected to Roy Cohn’s “influence machine” through his daughter’s marriage to Christopher Buckley, the son of conservative journalist William Buckley, close confidant and friend of both Roy Cohn and Cohn’s law partner Tom Bolan.

The Washington Times reports on Spence’s child sex ring also reveal his close ties to none other than the ubiquitous Roy Cohn. One of the Times’ sources for its first story on the scandal alleged that he had attended a birthday party for Roy Cohn that Spence had hosted at his home and that CIA Director William Casey was also in attendance. Spence was also said in the report to often brag about his social companions and regularly mentioned Cohn and claimed to have hosted Cohn at his house on occasions other than the aforementioned birthday party. 

 

“Bodies by God”

The revelation of Craig Spence’s “call boy ring” soon led to the discovery of the infamous Franklin child sex abuse and ritual murder scandal. That sordid operation was run out of Omaha, Nebraska by Larry King, a prominent local Republican activist and lobbyist who ran the Franklin Community Federal Credit Union until it was shut down by federal authorities. 

Buried in a May 1989 article in the Omaha World Herald’s probe into King’s Credit Union and sex ring, is a telling revelation: “In the 61/2 months since federal authorities closed Franklin, rumors have persisted that money from the credit union somehow found its way to the Nicaraguan contra rebels.” 

The possibility that King’s fraudulent credit union was covertly funding the Contras was supported by subsequent reporting by the Houston Post’s Pete Brewton, who discovered that the CIA, in conjunction with organized crime, had secretly borrowed money from various savings and loans (S&L) institutions to fund covert operations. One of those S&Ls had Neil Bush, George H.W. Bush’s son, on its board and it had done business with King’s organization.

Another link between King and the Iran Contra team is the fact that King had co-founded and subsequently donated over $25,000 to an organization affiliated with the Reagan administration, Citizens for America, which sponsored speaking trips for Lt. Col. Oliver North and Contra leaders. The director of Citizens for America at the time was David Carmen, who simultaneously ran a public relations firm with the former head of covert operations at the Casey-led CIA, his father Gerald, who had also been appointed by Reagan to head the General Services Administration and to a subsequent ambassadorship.

One of the investigative journalists who researched the Craig Spence ring later told DeCamp that Spence’s ring was connected to King: 

“The way we discovered Larry King and his Nebraska-based call boy ring, was by looking through the credit card chits of Spence’s ring, where we found King’s name.”

It was later revealed that King and Spence were essentially business partners as their child trafficking rings were operated under a larger group that was nicknamed “Bodies by God.”

Exactly how many groups operated under this umbrella group, “Bodies by God,” is unknown. Yet, what is known is that the rings run by both King and Spence were connected to each other and both were also connected to prominent officials in the Reagan and subsequent George H.W. Bush administrations, including officials with ties to the CIA and Roy Cohn and his network.

Indeed Spence, just months before his alleged suicide in the Boston Ritz Carlton, had hinted to Washington Times reporters Michael Hedges and Jerry Seper, who had originally broken the story, that they had merely scratched the surface of something much darker: 

“All this stuff you’ve uncovered [involving call boys, bribery and the White House tours], to be honest with you, is insignificant compared to other things I’ve done. But I’m not going to tell you those things, and somehow the world will carry on.”

It also worth noting the role of the FBI in all of this, particularly in the Franklin child sex abuse scandal. Indeed, Larry King’s child sex abuse ring was quickly and aggressively covered up by the FBI, which used a variety of under-handed tactics to bury the reality of King’s sordid operation. Here, it is important to recall the key role former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover played in similar sexual blackmail operations that abused children (See Part I) and the close relationship between Hoover, Roy Cohn and Lewis Rosenstiel, who later employed Hoover’s former right-hand man at the FBI, Louis Nichols. 

Years later, documents released by the FBI would show that Epstein became an FBI informant in 2008, when Robert Mueller was the Bureau’s director, in exchange for immunity from then-pending federal charges, a deal that fell through with Epstein’s recent arrest on new federal charges. In addition, former FBI Director Louis Freeh would be hired by Alan Dershowitz, who is accused of raping girls at Epstein’s homes and was once a character witness for Roy Cohn, to intimidate Epstein’s victims. As previously mentioned, Freeh’s past appointment as a judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York was orchestrated by Cohn’s law partner Tom Bolan.

Thus, the FBI’s cover-up of the Franklin case is just one example of the Bureau’s long-standing practice of protecting these pedophile rings when they involve members of the American political elite and provide the Bureau with a steady supply of blackmail. It also makes it worth questioning the impartiality of one of the main prosecutors in the Jeffrey Epstein case, Maurene Comey, who is the daughter of former FBI Director James Comey.

 

The rot at the top

While there were several sexual trafficking operations connected to both Roy Cohn and the halls of power under the Reagan administration, in a matter of months after Cohn’s death it appears that another individual became a central figure in the powerful network that Cohn had cultivated.

That individual, Jeffrey Epstein, would be recruited, after his firing from the Dalton School, by Alan “Ace” Greenberg, a close friend of Cohn, to work at Bear Stearns. After leaving Bear Stearns and working as an alleged financial “bounty hunter” for clients that are said to have included the Iran-Contra-linked arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, Epstein would come into contact with Leslie Wexner, a billionaire close to the Meyer Lansky-linked Bronfman family, who himself was tied to members of organized crime syndicates once represented by Cohn.

The same year that Wexner would begin his decades-long association with Epstein, another Cohn friend with ties to the Reagan White House and the Trump family, Ronald Lauder, would provide Epstein with an Austrian passport containing Epstein’s picture but a false name. 

Lauder, Wexner and the Bronfmans are members of an elite organization known as the Mega Group, which also includes other Meyer Lansky-connected “philanthropists” like hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt. While Epstein shares considerable overlap with the network described in this report and Part I of this series, he is also deeply connected to the Mega Group as well as its associates, including Ghislaine Maxwell’s father, Robert Maxwell. 

Part III of this series will focus on the Mega Group and its ties to the network that has been described in Parts I and II. In addition, the role of the state of Israel, the Mossad, and several global pro-Israel lobby organizations will also be discussed in relation to this network of sexual blackmail operations and Jeffrey Epstein.

It is here that the full breadth of the Epstein scandal comes into view. It is a criminal and unconscionable blackmail operation that has been run by influential figures, hidden in plain sight, for over half a century, exploiting and destroying the lives of untold numbers of children in the process. Over the years, it has grown many branches and spread well beyond the United States, as seen by the activity of Covenant House in Latin America and Epstein’s own international effort to recruit more girls to be abused and exploited.

All of this has taken place with the full knowledge and blessing of top figures in the world of “philanthropy” and in the U.S. government and intelligence communities, with great influence over several presidential administrations, particularly since the rise of Ronald Reagan and continuing through to Donald Trump.

Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.

The post Government by Blackmail: Jeffrey Epstein, Trump’s Mentor and the Dark Secrets of the Reagan Era appeared first on MintPress News.

A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Trump’s Middle East Policy Could Push Yemen’s Houthis into Iran’s Hands

SANA’A, YEMEN — Leaders of Yemen’s Houthi (Ansar Allah) movement traded barbs with U.S. President Donald Trump this week after the president made remarks renewing his support for the Saudi-led coalition war and expressed a desire for Iran to “get out of Yemen.” 

On Tuesday, the U.S. president said during a White House cabinet meeting that “a lot of progress” had been made toward ending the volatile stand-off with Iran, adding that he wants Iran out of Yemen: 

And we want them to get out of Yemen.  I asked Secretary Kerry, through people, “Why didn’t you get them out of Yemen when you gave them $150 billion?”  He said it was too complicated. Oh, great. So we want them to get out of Yemen. Syria is a different kind of a situation, but it’s all working out.”

Trump provided no evidence to back his assertion that Iranian personnel are operating in Yemen and so far no evidence has been provided by the U.S. to back the claim.

Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a member of the Supreme Political Council and the Houthi’s second-in-command, responded to the U.S. president in a tweet on Tuesday, saying:  

Trump should milk [referring to the United States’ lucrative financial deals with Saudi Arabia] the Gulf in his dirty game away from Yemen, his statements do not legitimize the illegal aggression, and his continuation of the aggression confirms the deliberateness of his criminality and violation of international law.”

Al-Houthi accused Trump of being a war criminal, a killer of Yemeni children and of supporting terrorist regimes. He wrote on Twitter that “Trump has failed in his battle with Iran in the Strait of Hormuz, and has returned to the Gulf through Yemen.”

Mohamed Abdulsalam, the spokesman for the Houthis, wrote on Twitter following Trump’s comments that what the U.S. president said contradicts reality and facts and does not deserve a response. Abdulsalam reminded Trump of the U.S.’ own involvement in Yemen, writing:

 The war on the country [Yemen] was announced from Washington, massacres were committed with U.S. weapons and Congressional senators are demanding their country stop supporting the countries of the Coalition.” 

 

Facts on the ground

Saudi Arabia launched its war on Yemen in March of 2015 under the leadership of Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman. Salman claimed his objective in launching the war was to roll back the Houthis and reinstate ousted former Yemeni president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who fled the country to Saudi Arabia following popular protests during the Arab Spring. From the moment the highly unpopular war began, Saudi officials have worked hard to frame it as a necessary step in liberating the Arab country from Iran, repeating the still unfounded claim that the Houthis are an Iranian proxy.

Houthi fighters search for survivors under the rubble of homes destroyed by Saudi airstrikes near Sana’a, Yemen, 2015. Hani Mohammed | AP

For their part, the Houthis have never denied their political alliance with Iran, one of the few countries to consistently and openly challenge the legitimacy of the now more than four-year-old Saudi-led war on Yemen. Yet, the Houthis and the Iranian government both insist that Iran has never sent troops, military advisors or weapons to the Houthis and the Saudi-led Coalition – despite its control over large swaths of Yemen and the presence of its U.S-backed intelligence apparatus in the country – has never been able to provide hard evidence of an Iranian presence on the ground.

As with any political alliance, a level of cooperation between Iran and the Houthis does exist. After the Houthis were successful in leading the movement to oust the Saudi-backed Hadi government from Yemen, Iran and the Houthis brokered a deal to begin weekly passenger flights between the two countries. The flights, which only lasted for one week, drew the ire of Saudi Arabia who subsequently used military force put an end to flights between Tehran and Sana’a and ultimately blockaded the Sana’a Airport completely, leading to a crippling humanitarian crisis. Houthi government figures still occasionally fly to Iran to attend talks, and some are thought to own property in the county.

A 2018 report by the United Nations Security Council accused Iran of illegally shipping fuel to the Houthi government in Yemen. The report claims that the fuel was then sold and the proceeds used to purchase weapons that the Houthis used in their fight against the Saudi-led coalition. UN experts say that by providing fuel to the Houthis, Iran is “violating a UN arms embargo” and “directly or indirectly providing missiles and drones to the Houthis.” If Iran indeed did supply fuel to the Houthis, the move would be unlikely to change the balance of power in the Yemen war as Saudi Arabia spent over $80 billion on advanced weapons purchases from the United States in 2018 alone. They also enjoy U.S logistical and intelligence support in its war on the country. 

A Houthi man inspects an unexploded US-made cluster bomb in Sanaa, Yemen, 2016. Hani Mohammed | AP

Houthi reliance on Tehran for weapons is also unnecessary as the country is so awash in weapons that the risk of attempting to smuggle them in from Iran would not only be a foolhardy venture for the Houthis, it would provide little benefit as the movement already has a sizable arsenal that it inherited from the government of former Houthi ally, the late Ali Abdullah Saleh.

There is, undoubtedly, a convergence of interests between the Houthis and Iran, including opposition to Israel’s internationally-recognized theft of Palestinian land and Saudi funding for extremist groups in Yemen and across the Middle East. However, Tehran’s support for the Houthis is limited to political, diplomatic and media support and the country’s influence in Yemen is marginal at best. There has been no evidence to show that Iran has any significant measure of influence over the Houthis’ decision-making. In fact, at the onset of its conflict with the Saudi-led coalition, the Houthis quickly deported the less than one hundred Iranian advisors that were present on the ground in Yemen, claiming their presence could hinder potential future negotiations with the Saudi coalition.

 

Fiercely independent: the Houthis’ grass roots

The Houthis, who refer to themselves as Ansar Allah, have always been proud and fiercely independent. Many take offense at the notion that their success in the struggle against the Saudi regime is rooted in foreign assistance rather than homegrown determination and grit. A look at the movement’s inception and subsequent growth seems to confirm that the latter is the case.

The group was first formed in the 1990s as a theological movement rooted in the Zaydi faith. While both U.S. and Gulf-sponsored media often paint the Houthi alliance with Iran as anchored by their shared Shia Muslim faith, Zaydis, who comprise forty percent of Yemen’s total population, are politically and theologically distinct from the Twelver branch of Shia Islam that is widely practiced in Iran. The Houthis passionately preserve both their faith and their political heritage, which has been a staple of Yemen’s identity for over a thousand years and has drawn inspiration from its ability to repel Yemen’s many would-be invaders.

Zaydi tribesman keep lookout during a war with the Egyptian backed forces of the Yemeni-government in 1963. Photo | AP

The group’s transition from religious sect to political party, which today includes Yemenis from a variety of religious backgrounds, came in the form of opposition to U.S. and Saudi support for the woefully corrupt regime of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh in the 1990s.  It was not only the corruption of the Saleh regime that spurred the growth of Houthis but fears that his heavy reliance on foreign governments would undermine Yemen’s sovereignty.

Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, the founder of the movement, laid the groundwork for the single most important operating principle of the Houthis. Badreddin said the following in the Malzem, the official doctrinal document on which the Houthi constitution is based:  

Residents should support themselves by themselves for independence because any other party offers nothing but its price.”

Badreddin would later be assassinated by the Saudi-backed government of Saleh, sparking a years-long civil war.

According to the articles of the Houthi constitution which is heavily-based on the Malzem, external support to the Houthis is prohibited and criminalized if it is at all conditional. Support must be free of charge and not demand any influence over the movement or any member of the movement.

In fact, when the Houthis unveiled their National Vision to rebuild Yemen into a modern, stable and democratic state by 2030, many of the 175 goals set out in manifesto outlining the vision focused on independence, freedom and non-submission to guardianship or foreign influence. Iran was no exception.

A Houthi man wears a poster of the Hussein Badreddin at a protest against the U.S. intervention in Yemen. Khaled Abdullah | Reuters

According to the Houthis, direct Iranian intervention in their country would raise the risk of division within their Zaydi sect and would further inflame the current wave of Arab nationalism against them, an outcome they want to avoid.   

Historically, Iran has had little bearing on Yemeni affairs. While it has long maintained a diplomatic presence in Sana’a, its influence in the two decades leading up to the Saudi-led war was marginal at best. Those two decades were rife with opportunity to peddle influence should a nation have desired to do so, with dozens of wars occurring sometimes simultaneously and often involving myriad foreign governments. Iran does not even recognize the current political council formed by Houthis and has no representatives in Sana’a or ambassadors to the Houthi government there.

 

A self-fulfilling prophecy

Thanks in large part to their resistance to the socio-economic and political oppression faced by Yemenis at the hands of former governments and to the influx of divisive Saudi-sponsored Salafist propaganda in the country, the Houthis have been able to transform their opposition to the Saleh government into a successful movement with broad local support capable of denying one of the world’s most well-funded militaries a decisive victory in Yemen.

It is the Houthis rejection of Saudi and U.S. interference in their country, participation in government and social services and support for Palestinian rights that have allowed the Houthis to thrive in Yemen, not Iranian support.

That being said, as both the United States and Saudi Arabia continue to wage war and economic blockades on both Yemen and Iran, it is likely that the Houthi’s political alliance with Iran will grow, turning the fears of both the Saudi Arabia and the United States into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Feature photo | A Houthi man inspects his home damaged by Saudi airstrikes in Sana’a, Yemen, Jan. 4, 2016. Hani Mohammed | AP

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

The post A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Trump’s Middle East Policy Could Push Yemen’s Houthis into Iran’s Hands appeared first on MintPress News.

“The US Got Scared” Voices of the Resistance in Post-Coup Honduras

TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS — MintPress News went to Honduras and spoke with a number of leaders of the Honduran resistance amid a 66-day uprising over a neoliberal austerity deal reached between the government as the country marked the 10-year anniversary of the U.S.-backed coup d’etat.

Last Thursday, the Honduran government passed a privatization law, the run-up to which had triggered uprisings challenging the mandate of President Juan Orlando Hernandez and protesting the implementation of a privatization deal reached with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) — a deal kept secret until this week. The battle against it was fought tooth and nail, with average Hondurans following the lead of healthcare and education activists.

MintPress has obtained a copy of the law. The document details the government’s plan to sever 6 billion lempiras ($242 million USD), and includes instituting a maximum wage on public sector contract “technical and professional” workers amounting to $2,426 a month, but promises not to cut healthcare and education. An agreement with the IM F over the state-run electrical company remains in question.

What is known is that the deal consists of more of the same neoliberal remedies that have already devastated Honduran civil society. One person interviewed by MintPress called the approach “neoliberalism on steroids.” And she would know: her husband is a political prisoner sitting in a U.S.-designed maximum security facility. The prison was paid for under the Honduran Security Tax, a program backed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that bankrolls the military and police while the rest of the government is gutted.

Photo | Alexander Rubinstein

Adrienne Pine, a Professor of Anthropology at American University in Washington and expert on Honduras, told MintPress:

The fact that education and healthcare were left out is a pretty big win for the movement because that is what they were planning to cut, and the healthcare and education workers who have led this struggle against this have prevented those cuts even though there has been this very radical reduction in public spending.”

On May 6, the IMF announced it had reached a “staff level agreement” that was believed to be targeted towards healthcare, education and more. That same day, protests started breaking out. 

But as news emerged on Tuesday of the deal becoming law, the IMF also announced its approval of a plan to restructure the public electric company and said it would give the Honduran government $311 million in loans over the next two years. Around the same time, a fresh corruption scandal was unfolding at the electric company. Professor Pine explained to MintPress:

ENEE [the Honduran public electric company] has already been subject to privatization measures over the past few years that have significantly weakened it. Problems in the ENEE have to do, at their root, with the privatization itself, but right now it looks like the IMF and the U.S. are justifying the privatization by using examples of corruption at the agency rather than addressing the underlying structural issues.” 

Photo | Alexander Rubinstein

The resistance in Honduras fought off further privatization of health care and education in a struggle that left piles of students shot and scores of people killed, as well as resulting in the political imprisonment of a young man who is accused of fueling a fire at the U.S. Embassy in the capital. Romel Valdemar Herrera Portillo, 23, sits in a military-run prison, designed by the United States, called La Tova alongside political prisoners Edwin Espinal and Raúl Álvarez. 

In this article, MintPress will feature exclusive interviews not just with leaders of the Honduran resistance but also with people who have been directly affected by the coup and all that it has brought.

 

Ten years of resistance

The history of the past decade in Honduras is among the most telling examples of U.S.-backed regime change in the Western Hemisphere. A powder keg for the migrant crisis that popped up under Barack Obama and worsened under Donald Trump, the military operation that deposed leftist reformer Manuel Zelaya from the presidency informs Honduran life at every level today.

MintPress News traveled to Honduras around the 10-year anniversary of the coup d’etat, speaking to a range of leaders of the resistance against the National Party, which has dominated politics in the country since the coup. The National Party is led by President Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH), a widely reviled neoliberal leader believed to be involved in drug trafficking, electoral fraud and death squads. 

The post-coup neoliberal policies ramped up under JOH’s reign have rendered Honduras a playground for the business elite and drug cartels and brought the poverty rate to levels unrivaled in the region. Disappearances and lethal violence from police, private mercenaries and drug cartels have also skyrocketed.

Photo | Alexander Rubinstein

Revelations that JOH has been under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) since 2013, according to U.S. federal court documents released this year, came as little surprise to many in the resistance; JOH’s brother is himself in prison in the U.S. on drug trafficking charges. But it did pour salt on fresh wounds, as the United States backed JOH’s re-election in 2017, even though the Honduran constitution explicitly forbids second terms. 

While in Honduras, MintPress examined the effects of the coup from multiple angles, including: cuts to education; repression against students and teachers; cuts to the healthcare sector; the political development of Hondurans; electoral fraud; death squads linked to big business; the conditions of political prisoners and the plight of human rights workers; and the effects of neoliberalism on the healthcare sector. MintPress also looked at the role of creative culture in the resistance.

As MintPress previously reported, staff journalist Alex Rubinstein was detained immediately upon landing in the capital, Tegucigalpa. It was “a testament to the government’s unease” around the anniversary of the coup and in the face of more than 50 days of active uprising.

I was just let out of detainment at the airport in the capital of Honduras. They didn't explain why the detained me, just asked a bunch of questions.

Stay tuned to @MintPressNews as we approach the 10yr anniversary of the US-backed coup in this country. Much more to come pic.twitter.com/vuIanSQzXc

— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) June 26, 2019

MintPress spent nearly a week in the capital, Tegucigalpa, a city that is both militarized and yet ruled by crime at night, a dynamic that makes the often cozy relationship between the state and organized crime palpable throughout much of the city. The prevalence of anti-JOH and anti-National Party graffiti appears as a glimmering of an uprising in a city otherwise divided into quarters of poverty and opulence: from poor, Libre strongholds like El Carrizal to areas where Burger King and Little Caesar’s are second and third only to Juan Orlando. United States colonialism is, basically, omnipresent. American fast-food restaurants, mostly a luxury for the country’s tiny middle class, operate tax-free in the country, while those who can’t afford a Big Mac get squeezed on their electricity, for example.

The streets of Tegucigalpa tell the story of the resistance, to a degree. One tag in the city refers to the use of graffiti as a means of communicating a message: “When justice is silenced, the walls speak.” 

Photos | Alexander Rubinstein

What follows are excerpts of MintPress News interviews from a range of leaders of the resistance against JOH.

 

Pledged to a political prisoner 

Karen Spring, a Canadian citizen and member of the Honduran Solidarity Network, is imminently familiar with repression by the government. Her husband is veteran human rights defender Edwin Espinal, who was arrested during protests against Juan Orlando Hernandez’ unconstitutional re-election. The circumstances around Raúl Álvarez and Espinal’s arrests are startlingly suspicious — as were those of Romel Valdemar Herrera Portillo. Professor Adrienne Pine has characterized the incidents as potential false flags.

Edwin Espinal, a veteran human rights defender held by the Hernandez government

MintPress spoke at length with Spring about the situation of her husband and other political prisoners. She described Espinal’s past work as an activist: being close with Berta Caceres; having witnessing a murder with his previous partner, who herself was later killed during a protest; being tortured by police; and eventually being held at a military-run prison designed by the United States, without trial and without a date set for it.

“Edwin and Romel share a cell in the third cell block inside La Tova, a U.S. style maximum security facility,” Spring told MintPress News.

Spring has seen what she described as “neoliberalism on steroids” in her 10 years in the country. One measure that she highlighted was the “security tax” that was implemented with backing from Hillary Clinton. It’s a tax on transactions and businesses and funds JOH’s “security model.” 

It’s “a semi-private security tax that is controlled by the government but can receive international funding from the development banks. All the remittances that are sent from the United States to Honduras, there is a percentage that is taken out of that.”

In other words, migrants who come to the United States to send money to their families in Honduras even pay a price through the security tax, which has fueled the “militarization of Honduras and the construction of the prison where Edwin is being held,” Spring said.

Spring described La Tova, where she said medication is hard to come by and food is scarce. Sunlight can be allowed for one hour every two weeks. No books, no pens; one television for maybe 200 people. 

The prison, Spring says, is designed to provoke conflict. And “because Edwin and Raul and Romel [are] associated with the opposition,” prisoners are “blaming them” for the protests, increased prices and roadblocks over the course of the current uprising, Spring says. While the government has taken away privileges and “basic rights” of prisoners during the uprising, Spring thinks that attacks against the three are being encouraged:

They are facing serious death threats. They’re in a prison that was built to hold and imprison the most dangerous people in Honduras, so people linked to organized crime… in the harshest conditions that you can place anyone in pre-trial detention… We believe that the fact that they’re in there and the authorities won’t move them even though they are aware of the death threats is because the orders to keep them there are coming from the highest level of the government — Juan Orlando Hernandez.”

Spring also told the story of another prisoner by the name of Gustavo Caceres. He sits in what Spring described as a “normal Honduran jail.”

His case is probably the best example of the cruel nature of the Public Prosecutor’s Office. He has a developmental disability and he can’t read, he can’t write and he can’t speak.

He’s not able to learn how to talk because of his developmental issue. He can say words here or there. He can say ‘comida’ [food]. But he can’t form a sentence, let alone defend himself. When he was arrested, they picked him up in a police patrol car and they took him to the station and they laid out a police shield and bags of marijuana and put it in front of him, and accused him of having police gear and having drugs when he was arrested even though they planted it on him.”

When Caceres was arrested, he “was selling bags of water to support his family,” around a protest taking place on a bridge, Spring said, adding: 

They were just arresting people in massive numbers as part of a fear and terror campaign… Because he couldn’t defend himself properly, he has been in jail. He’s the longest imprisoned political prisoner.”

Today, Gustavo “washes clothes” for other prisoners for a small amount of money, which is sent to his family to help pay for food.

 

First Lady of the Resistance

MintPress News first covered a conference held by the Liberty and Refoundation Party, popularly known as Libre, on June 27, just one day prior to the anniversary of the coup. The party emerged in the wake of the coup, with Manuel Zelaya as its figurehead. Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the First Lady of Manuel Zelaya, is herself a force in Honduran politics: she was neck-and-neck with JOH in polls leading up to his first election in 2013, an election also mired in fraud allegations. She told MintPress at the conference:

At the exact moment when we were beginning a process… of reforming and transforming our people and our countries, giving citizens a real opportunity to participate, to feel they’re a part of the process and not just a tool — that’s when the U.S. got scared.”

She continued, on the topic of the U.S.-backed coup:

Today the Honduran people are stronger. Today we understand — along with many sectors that were indifferent to the coup but are now with us in this fight — that on that June 28 when they perpetrated the coup d’état, taking their president out of the country, along with everything else we’ve lost, the people understand that the coup d’état wasn’t done so everything would remain the same. They did it to harm the vast majority of the people.”

Xiomara Zelaya spoke at length with MintPress about the significance of Libre in the struggle in Honduras, and about the debt she personally owes to the people of her country.

Libre comes from the streets. Libre comes from a fight. Libre comes from men and women who — many of us had never really had the chance to come together and truly see each other. 

Libre comes from the blood of martyrs; from the men and women that died by our side, who we saw fall, who were assassinated. Libre comes from a popular demand, it comes from the need for a political space that makes possible an electoral fight that can bring us to power. Libre stands for the hope of Honduran people. Libre stands for the unity that will allow us to reach a better future for ourselves. As a member of Libre, there is a huge commitment — and it’s a commitment that we can’t put aside, because we feel the pain of our people as if it were our own. The support that we’ve received — and the blood that’s been spilled — what that tells us is that we have a duty to repay the people for everything they’ve done.

Photo | Alexander Rubinstein

In particular, I say this as Xiomara Castro, as someone whose husband was forced into exile, whose husband was forced out by a coup d’état, and has confronted military forces. But, right alongside me, there were people I’d never met. Men with no shoes, housewives who came out to show solidarity with us, who came out to feed my family, who came out to protect us as we slept, in those few moments we could rest. You can’t put a price on that. There is no way to give back to the people all that they’ve done for us, and that’s why we’re here. And that’s why we keep fighting. 

Because we know we have a commitment, and we won’t give up until we achieve the real change that our society and our people are demanding.”

 

Berta Cáceres’ daughter calls for international solidarity

At the Libre conference, MintPress News spoke to the eldest daughter of Berta Caceres, Oliva Caceres. As MintPress has previously reported:

Over 120 Honduran activists have been killed since 2010, making the small nation the world’s deadliest place to protect the environment. Berta Cáceres, one of the slain activists, was the winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.”

Leaked court documents prove three of the eight men arrested for the murder of Berta Cáceres are linked to the School of the Americas (now rebranded as WHINSEC), a U.S.-run military training academy and breeding ground for human-rights abusers throughout Latin America. One of the graduates accused of murdering Caceres was the head of security from 2013 to 2015 for the company behind the dam she was opposing. An international conspiracy “to control, neutralize and eliminate any opposition” was uncovered in connection to her murder. Olivia Caceres told MintPress:

The men who killed her were gunmen, former army captains, guards from DESA, and high-ranking soldiers like Major Mariano Díaz Chavez. Soldiers, like the ones who shot her, are hitmen that are linked to organized crime in our country.”


Olivia Cáceres continued:

My mother was murdered by state-backed killers who were protecting the energy company DESA. The company directly ordered Berta Cáceres’s murder. Its board of directors — we all know it’s made up of members of the Atala Zablah family, whom we can mention by name. It’s a very powerful family, both politically and economically powerful here. It’s among the 17 Most Powerful Families in Latin America according to a survey by Forbes magazine. And that was who gave the order to murder Berta Cáceres.

They used soldiers and national police who persecuted, harassed and finally murdered Berta Cáceres in a major operation that was carried out on January 1st and February 22nd. However both attempts failed. And on the third try they managed to kill her on March 2nd at 11:45 at night. They entered her room while she was sleeping.”

Olivia Caceres was careful not to isolate her mother’s murder from the political context in the country, telling MintPress

We believe there won’t be justice for Berta until the criminal structure that assassinated her is dismantled…She was murdered by a whole criminal structure that we…have decided to expose for criminal conspiracy.”

She went on to call for international solidarity with the struggle in Honduras:

We’ve been knocking on every door in this country for more than three and half years and we still haven’t gotten justice. We believe that what the Honduran people need, and what Berta’s cause needs, now more than ever, is international solidarity.

We’re calling out a murder that reflects the whole situation — the social injustice and inequality, the violence, repression, the targeted assassinations by a dictatorial regime that’s involved in drug trafficking. Berta’s murder reflects the whole catastrophe: the poverty, the impunity.”

 

Washington’s other armies

The National Party of Juan Orlando Hernandez has been in power since the coup d’etat. Carlos Eduardo Reina, Secretary of Popular Power in the Libre party, talked to MintPress News about how the coup reshaped the government.

The coup first took out the president, but then installed a coup regime that makes electoral fraud, that takes away the votes, the energy, different things from the government and the people; they privatized it. A huge oligarchy wants to own the country and take the country’s riches from the people.”

“The thing is that in Honduras — it’s a very little country — and the only thing that supports the government is the army. And the army receives orders from the north.”


Eduardo Reina argued that if Honduras was given the opportunity of free and fair elections, it would also give them “the opportunity to take away the dictatorship.”

 

Menders of the Movement 

Dr. Marco Girón, a member of the “movement for the defense of health and education,” explained the neoliberal process in depth:

In Honduras, when neoliberalism was introduced no one believed that water would be privatized, that our electricity would be privatized, Or our healthcare, or education. But all of that changed… They’ve privatized and diminished state institutions. They also got rid of the Honduran Institute for Families and Children, IHNFA, which was in charge of child welfare, including providing homeless children with food, and a roof over their heads. This is how neoliberalism has progressed, steadily shrinking the state, although we still need all the things it provided.

Photo | Alexander Rubinstein

First went the custodial staff at hospitals — which, before, were state-run — but since they were custodians, no one cared. Then they started privatizing different sectors. They started privatizing the medication; then came fake orders, empty boxes that never made it to the hospital. The Anti-Corruption Council states that the health budget is approximately $14b lempiras [$572m USD]. It’s one of the lowest in the world. And 50 percent of it is stolen. These are preventable deaths to our population. It’s the same with the education system.”


Dr. Girón argued that the pro-public healthcare and education marches will continue until “these executive and legislative decrees are rescinded:”

That’s where the genesis of the problem is: the privatization laws. That’s the neoliberalism they’re imposing on us. It’s all there, that’s why the struggle continues, and that’s why the education and healthcare workers stay in the streets. And they’ll stay until the repeal of these awful privatization laws — which are imported from abroad, and which will only bring us more poverty, illiteracy, diseases, and even death.”

 

Raising a resistance

Andrea Chavarría, an 82-year-old former teacher, is known popularly as the “Grandmother of the Resistance” in Honduras. She spoke to MintPress News about what the presidency of Manuel Zelaya meant for organized educators.

When Commander Manuel Zelaya Rosales took power, teachers got our first victory — after it was taken from us. Here in Honduras, struggles are won in the streets. When teachers started taking to the streets, our president Mel Zelaya — who has been one of the best presidents who we’ve ever had — he received us in the Presidential Palace. He let us right in through the front door. And we were going to take it by force, right? He received us, he opened the gates. And we formed a commission, then he hopped on a truck and said, ‘It’s approved.’”


Chavarría continued: 

We were demanding a permanent contract, health insurance, vacations, a bonus… They approved them, we finally had benefits.

They’ve taken all that from us. Now the students are sitting on gravel, the parents have to pay for cleaning services, for security, for learning materials, because the government doesn’t provide anything…The teachers, as we say here in Honduras, are cornered. We have no privileges. The privileges we had earned in the streets were taken from us. Same goes for the doctors.

Since I was a young woman, I’ve always defended my rights because I thought of myself in the present, not the past or the future. Today’s youth are the present of Honduras. Despite my age and health problems, I stand with them and support them because they tell me ‘grandma, you give us strength. If you can do it, why not us?’ I applaud those youth, those college students from MEU (University Student Movement) because they’re valiant, and to me the youth is the present.”

 

Students stand for their rights

On June 24, some 40 military police invaded the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH), which is supposed to have “autonomy” from the military since 1957, meaning it can’t be raided. Police had claimed that students had kidnapped a soldier, but activists say the students were just planning protests. Five students were shot with live rounds and eight students were injured in total. One professor also had a cardiac episode because of the tear gas, activists said.


In front of a defaced entrance sign at the university, MintPress spoke to Dorian Alvarez Reyes, a sociology student who witnessed the chaos. He explained that the sign — covered in bullet holes painted in red, and with the word “autonomous” crossed out and replaced with “military,” so that it reads “National Military University of Honduras” — was a symbol of the blood spilt by students and a protest against the infringement on the university’s autonomy.

Photo | Alexander Rubinstein

Moments before, protesters set fire to a paper mache casket with the word “autonomy” written on it.

 

Teaching through tear gas

Luisa Cruz, a teacher at UNAH, spoke to MintPress at a concert held on the night of the coup anniversary. She said it made her feel “terrible” that her students were unsafe: 

Even as a mother of university-aged kids. It’s really a terrible issue about human rights…

It also has happened at public high schools and public universities as well. We are a country that is living a really bad time in regard to the human rights issue. The United States is supporting a corrupt narco-dictatorship in Honduras. Why? Because they need a government that says ‘yes’ to anything the U.S. government says because they are interested in having us as a military platform so they can invade whoever they want — Venezuela and Nicaragua.”

Cruz continued to explain the raid on her university:

There was a protest by the students out on the street, and with a very ridiculous excuse…that the students got ahold of a policeman or soldier…they shot bullets and of course tear gas all over; there was about eight students wounded and I guess two of them were very badly wounded.”


Cruz said it wasn’t the first illegal invasion by police, while the university “has hired people to go in and kick students asses inside the university campus.” That’s why, she said, the university authorities “are really a shame.” Cruz went on to discuss why the government cracked down so harshly on students:

The government knows that the student movement is really hard; they’re really tough and they’re really numerous — there’s a whole bunch of them. And these guys have lived a coup d’etat and they know what it is to be living under dictatorship. 

That’s why they really are afraid of these students and it’s the only thing that has dignity at the university. Not even the professors are dignified. I really feel ashamed of where I’ve been working for so many years.”

Photo | Alexander Rubinstein

The rising costs of education, which are correlated with the increased influence of gangs and cocaine trafficking since the coup, have led many students to eschew education and turn to drug use and dealing. In order to improve the situation of the youth in Honduras, Cruz told MintPress it would require “hands off by the U.S.” as a first step:

They have us like this. We are on our knees in this country. I don’t know if you know about all those migrants heading off to Mexico and the U.S. border. Well, it’s no wonder. I mean there’s a whole bunch of people here that don’t have anything to eat or that live on a dollar a day. What are you going to eat with a dollar a day? Not even in this country can we eat with a dollar. So there’s a lot of people leaving the country because they have no hope.”

 

Dancing as resistance

Walking through the crowd at a resistance concert on the 10-year anniversary of the coup, a man went from trash barrel to trash barrel picking through them for food. After Univision (a news station deeply distrusted by the Honduran resistance) broadcast footage of Venezuelans picking through garbage earlier this year, it sparked an international incident. Yet establishment media has almost entirely ignored the plight in Honduras, which has become the poorest country in the continental Americas since the U.S.-backed coup.


And on the night of the anniversary of the military operation that changed everything, the Honduran resistance was celebrating with a concert at the center of town. The band Café Guancasco played their anti-JOH anthem, which translates roughly to “The place you’re going is out, JOH!”

In an effort to understand how Hondurans could find joy despite the neoliberalization of their economy and incredible repression, I asked a translator recommended by an expert to MintPress News how it was possible:

This band is called Café Guancasco. Café Guancasco is a word that means gathering — to celebrate something. And we’re celebrating that we’re still alive…We are celebrating that we are doing a resistance against JOH and we’re celebrating that he is going to get the hell out of here.”

 

Defending human rights in Honduras

Pedro Joaquin Amador, a human-rights worker in Honduras, talked to MintPress News about what it’s like for human-rights workers in this country. “It’s very difficult,” he said:

You have a lot of obstruction of justice in Honduras, and the military and police. We have a lot of difficulties getting information about all the victims of this country — when it happened, the coup, to right now in 2019 with the protest against Juan Orlando Hernandez.”


Amador went on to discuss the repression tactics used by the government during the current uprisings. He decried the use of tear gas and chemicals. “They shoot us with military weapons and there’s a lot of people killed,” he said, adding that international bodies should focus not only on Venezuela and Nicaragua but also Honduras.

 

Poetry and resistance

Edgardo Florián, a poet and author of seven books, told MintPress that he doesn’t really get involved with politics anymore because of how much it has taken from him, and was driven to tears remembering those killed by the Honduran government in the 10 years since the U.S.-backed coup.


“I’ve been beaten, hit by the gases. But basically the economy of the country is not the same,” Florián said, telling MintPress that it has made it hard for him to get by. JOH “must leave power. People don’t want him,” Florián said. “The only people that want him are the people who receive a bag of food, or maybe some bread, 50 lampiras just to go out with a flag [and wave it.]”

JOH has been so desperate for support that the National Party has been caught handing out 50 lempiras ($2 USD) to desperate citizens to protest on his behalf. “We are people who don’t sell out their ideas just for 50 lempiras,” Florián said. Ironically, the JOH supporters participating in what was billed as a pro-peace march wound up viciously beating a student journalist.

Florián said that JOH promises good things but “inside he’s another kind of person. He’s something cold, a dark soul.” He went on to talk about the first person killed in protests against the coup — “our first victim,” as he describes it. “And now it’s a lot of people. Some, we know them. Others we don’t even know.”

Photo | Alexander Rubinstein

The ramifications of the coup and the neoliberal policies that upheaved Honduran society are felt in each and every sector of it. The business class and organized crime are flourishing, and will soon reap the benefits of yet another law that will come into effect in November, which further criminalizes activists and media while lessening penalties for drug trafficking.

The middle class, the creative class, the working class and poor; the women and LGBTQ citizens; the elderly and the human rights workers; the left-leaning political class and the families of environmental protectors: all of these groups have had their livelihoods devastated by the coup, and the politically savvy blame Washington. 

Ten years after the coup changed everything, the Trump administration is cutting funds from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) — a U.S. soft-power institution that helped foment the coup in the first place and spark the migrant crisis. 

In response to the crisis that was designed to stoke Trump’s base and assert a cold-hearted foreign policy, the White House diverted funds earmarked for Central American countries to Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido. Presumably, the United States wants to back a successful coup d’etat there and begin an even larger-scale privatization process, following in Obama’s footsteps in Honduras.

Feature photo | Alexander Rubenstein | MintPress News

Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.

The post “The US Got Scared” Voices of the Resistance in Post-Coup Honduras appeared first on MintPress News.

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Shocking Origins of the Jeffrey Epstein Case

Despite his “sweetheart” deal and having seemingly evaded justice, billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was arrested earlier this month on federal charges for sex trafficking minors. Epstein’s arrest has again brought increased media attention to many of his famous friends, the current president among them. 

Many questions have since been asked about how much Epstein’s famous friends knew of his activities and exactly what Epstein was up to. The latter arguably received the most attention after it was reported that Alex Acosta — who arranged Epstein’s “sweetheart” deal in 2008 and who recently resigned as Donald Trump’s Labor Secretary following Epstein’s arrest — claimed that the mysterious billionaire had worked for “intelligence.” 

Other investigations have made it increasingly clear that Epstein was running a blackmail operation, as he had bugged the venues — whether at his New York mansion or Caribbean island getaway — with microphones and cameras to record the salacious interactions that transpired between his guests and the underage girls that Epstein exploited. Epstein appeared to have stored much of that blackmail in a safe on his private island.

Claims of Epstein’s links and his involvement in a sophisticated, well-funded sexual blackmail operation have, surprisingly, spurred few media outlets to examine the history of intelligence agencies both in the U.S. and abroad conducting similar sexual blackmail operations, many of which also involved underage prostitutes. 

In the U.S. alone, the CIA operated numerous sexual blackmail operations throughout the country, employing prostitutes to target foreign diplomats in what the Washington Post once nicknamed the CIA’s “love traps.” If one goes even farther back into the U.S. historical record it becomes apparent that these tactics and their use against powerful political and influential figures significantly predate the CIA and even its precursor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). In fact, they were pioneered years earlier by none other than the American mafia.

In the course of this investigation, MintPress discovered that a handful of figures who were influential in American organized crime during and after Prohibition were directly engaged in sexual blackmail operations that they used for their own, often dark, purposes. 

In Part I of this exclusive investigation, MintPress will examine how a mob-linked businessman with deep ties to notorious gangster Meyer Lansky developed close ties with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) while also running a sexual blackmail operation for decades, which later became a covert part of the anti-communist crusade of the 1950s led by Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI), himself known throughout Washington for having a habit of drunkenly groping underage teenaged girls. 

Yet, it would be one of McCarthy’s closest aides who would take over the ring in later years, trafficking minors and expanding this sexual blackmail operation at the same time he expanded his own political influence, putting him in close contact with prominent figures including former President Ronald Reagan and a man who would later become president, Donald Trump. 

As will be revealed in Part II, after his death, this blackmail operation continued under various successors in different cities and there is strong evidence that Jeffrey Epstein became one of them.

 

Samuel Bronfman and the Mob

The Prohibition Era in the United States is often used as an example of how banning recreational substances not only increases their popularity but also causes a boom in criminal activity. Indeed, it was Prohibition that greatly increased the strength of the American mafia, as the top crime lords of the day grew rich through the clandestine trade and sale of alcohol in addition to gambling and other activities.

It is through the bootlegging trade of the 1920s and the early 1930s that this story begins, as it brought together key figures whose successors and affiliates would eventually create a series of blackmail and sex trafficking rings that would give rise to the likes of Jeffrey Epstein, the “Lolita Express” and “Orgy Island.”

Samuel Bronfman never planned to become a major producer of liquor but true to his family’s last name, which means “brandy man” in Yiddish, he eventually began distributing alcohol as an extension of his family’s hotel business. During Canada’s Prohibition period, which was briefer than and preceded that of its southern neighbor, the Bronfman family business used loopholes to skirt the law and find technically legal ways to sell alcohol in the hotels and stores the family owned. The family relied on its connections with members of the American mafia to illegally smuggle alcohol from the United States.

Soon after Prohibition ended in Canada, it began in the United States and, by the time the flow of illegal alcohol had turned the other way, the Bronfmans – whose business ventures were then being led by Sam Bronfman and his brothers — were relatively late to an already flourishing bootlegging trade.

“We were late starters in the two most lucrative markets – on the high seas and across the Detroit River. What came out of the border trade in Saskatchewan was insignificant by comparison,” Bronfman once told Canadian journalist Terence Robertson, who was then writing a biography of Bronfman. Nonetheless, “this was when we started to make our real money,” Bronfman recounted. Robertson’s biography on Bronfman was never published, as he died under mysterious circumstances soon after warning his colleagues that he had uncovered unsavory information about the Bronfman family.

Samuel Bronfman pictured in 1937 with his sons Edgar and Charles

Key to Bronfman’s success during American Prohibition were the ties his family had cultivated with organized crime during Canada’s Prohibition, ties that led many prominent members of the mob in the United States to favor Bronfman as a business partner. Bronfman liquor was purchased in massive quantities by many crime lords who still live on in American legend, including Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Moe Dalitz, Abner “Longy” Zwillman and Meyer Lansky. 

Most of Bronfman’s mob associates during Prohibition were members of what became known as the National Crime Syndicate, which a 1950s Senate investigative body known as the Kefauver Committee described as a confederation dominated by Italian-American and Jewish-American mobs. During that investigation, some of the biggest names in the American mafia named Bronfman as a central figure in their bootlegging operations. The widow of notorious American mob boss Meyer Lansky even recounted how Bronfman had thrown lavish dinner parties for her husband. 

Years later, Samuel Bronfman’s children and grandchildren, their family’s ties to the criminal underworld intact, would later go on to associate closely with Leslie Wexner, allegedly the source of much of Epstein’s mysterious wealth, and other mob-linked “philanthropists,” and some would even manage their own sexual blackmail operations, including the recently busted blackmail-based “sex cult” NXIVM. The later generations of the Bronfman family, particularly Samuel Bronfman’s sons Edgar and Charles, will be discussed in greater detail in Part II of this report.

 

Lewis Rosenstiel’s dark secret

Crucial to Bronfman’s Prohibition-era bootlegging operations were two middlemen, one of whom was Lewis “Lew” Rosenstiel. Rosenstiel got his start working at his uncle’s distillery in Kentucky before Prohibition. Once the law banning alcohol was in force, Rosenstiel created the Schenley Products Company, which would later become one of the largest liquor companies in North America.

Though he was a high school drop-out and not particularly well-connected socially at the time, Rosenstiel happened to have a “chance” meeting with Winston Churchill in 1922 while on vacation in the French Riviera. According to the New York Times, Churchill “advised him [Rosenstiel] to prepare for the return of liquor sales in the United States.” Rosenstiel somehow managed to secure the funding of the elite and respected Wall Street firm Lehman Brothers to finance his purchase of shuttered distilleries.

Officially, Rosenstiel is said to have built his company and wealth after Prohibition, by following Churchill’s advice to prepare for Repeal. However, he was clearly involved in bootlegging operations and was even indicted for bootlegging in 1929, though he evaded conviction. Like Bronfman, Rosenstiel was close to organized crime, particularly members of the mostly Jewish-American and Italian-American mob alliance known as the National Crime Syndicate.

Subsequent New York state congressional investigations would allege that Rosenstiel “was part of a ‘consortium’ with underworld figures that bought liquor in Canada [from Samuel Bronfman]”, whose other members were “Meyer Lansky, the reputed organized crime leader; Joseph Fusco, an associate of late Chicago gangster Al Capone and Joseph Linsey, a Boston man Mr. Kelly [the congressional investigator testifying] identified as a convicted bootlegger.” Rosenstiel’s relationship with these men, particularly Lansky, would continue long after Prohibition and Samuel Bronfman, for his part, would also maintain his mob ties.

In addition to his friends in the mob, Rosenstiel also cultivated close ties with the FBI, developing a close relationship with longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and making Hoover’s right-hand man and longtime assistant at the FBI, Louis Nichols, the Vice President of his Schenley empire in 1957.

Despite their similar backgrounds as bootlegger barons turned “respectable” businessmen, Bronfman’s and Rosenstiel’s personalities were drastically different and their relationship was complicated, at best. One example of the dissimilarities between North America’s top liquor barons was how they treated their staff. Bronfman was not necessarily known for being a cruel boss, whereas Rosenstiel was known for his erratic and “monstrous” behavior towards employees as well as his unusual practice of bugging his offices in order to hear what employees said about him when he wasn’t present.

Rosenstiel was connected to both the FBI and to organized crime

Such differences between Bronfman and Rosenstiel were also reflected in their personal lives. While Bronfman married only once and was loyal to his wife, Rosenstiel was married five times and was known for his relatively closeted bisexual antics, a part of his life that was well-known to many of his close associates and employees.

Though for years there were only hints to this other side of the controversial businessman, details emerged years later during a divorce proceeding brought by Rosenstiel’s fourth wife, Susan Kaufman, that would back the claims. Kaufman alleged that Rosenstiel hosted extravagant parties that included “boy prostitutes” that her husband had hired “for the enjoyment” of certain guests, which included important government officials and prominent figures in America’s criminal underworld. Kaufman would later make the same claims under oath during the hearing of the New York’s State Joint Legislative Committee on Crime in the early 1970s.

Not only did Rosenstiel organize these parties, but he also made sure that their venues were bugged with microphones that recorded the antics of his high-profile guests. Those audio recordings, Kaufman alleged, were then kept for the purpose of blackmail. Though Kaufman’s claims are shocking, her testimony was deemed credible and held in high regard by the former chief counsel of the Crime Committee, New York Judge Edward McLaughlin, and committee investigator William Gallinaro and aspects of her testimony were later corroborated by two separate witnesses who were unknown to Kaufman.

These blackmail “parties” offer a window into an operation that would later become more sophisticated and grow dramatically in the 1950s under Rosenstiel’s “field commander” (a nickname given by Rosenstiel to an individual to be named shortly in this report). Many of the people connected to Rosenstiel’s “field commander” during the 70s and 80s have again found their names in the press following the recent arrest of Jeffrey Epstein.

 

The “Untouchable” Mobster

Bronfman and Rosenstiel became legendary in the North American liquor business, in part due to their fight for supremacy in the industry, which the New York Times described as often erupting “into bitter personal and corporate battles.” Despite their dueling in the corporate world, the one thing that united the two businessmen more than anything else was their close connection to American organized crime, particularly renowned mobster, Meyer Lansky.

Lansky is one of the most notorious gangsters in the history of American organized crime and is notable for being the only famous mobster that rose to notoriety in the 1920s that managed to die an old man and never serve a day in jail. 

Lansky’s long life and ability to avoid prison time was largely the result of his close relationships to powerful businessmen like Bronfman and Rosenstiel (among many others), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. intelligence community as well as his role in establishing several blackmail and extortion rings which helped him keep the law at arm’s length. Indeed, when Lansky was finally charged with a crime in the 1970s, it was the Internal Revenue Service that brought the charges, not the FBI, and he was charged with and acquitted of tax evasion.

Lansky was remarkably close to both Bronfman and Rosenstiel. Bronfman regularly threw “lavish dinner parties” in Lansky’s honor both during and after Prohibition. These parties were remembered fondly by Lansky’s wife, and Lansky, in turn, did favors for Bronfman ranging from exclusive protection of his shipments during Prohibition to getting him tickets to coveted “fight of the century” boxing matches. 

Rosenstiel also threw regular dinner parties honoring Lansky. Susan Kaufman, Rosenstiel’s ex-wife, claimed to have taken numerous pictures of her ex-husband and Lansky socializing and partying together, photos that were also seen by Mary Nichols of The Philadelphia Inquirer. In addition, Lansky, per Kaufman’s recollection, was one of the individuals that Rosenstiel sought to protect from legal scrutiny as part of his child prostitution and blackmail ring targeting high-ranking officials, and he was overheard saying that if the government “ever brings pressure against Lansky or any of us, we’ll use this [a specific recording taken at one of the “parties”] as blackmail.” 

Lansky was known to address Rosenstiel as “Supreme Commander,” a title that would later be used to refer to Rosenstiel by another individual deeply connected to the mob and sexual blackmail operations, previously referred to in this report as Rosenstiel’s “Field Commander.”

Lansky also had close ties to the CIA and U.S. military intelligence. During World War II, Lansky –along with his associate Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel — worked with Naval intelligence in what was codenamed “Operation Underworld,” an operation that the government denied for over 40 years.

Journalist and noted chronicler of CIA covert activities, Douglas Valentine, noted in his book The CIA as Organized Crime: How Illegal Operations Corrupt America and the World that the government’s cooperation with the mafia during World War II led to its expansion after the war and set the stage for its future collaboration with U.S. intelligence.

According to Valentine:

Top government officials were also aware that the government’s Faustian pact with the Mafia during World War II had allowed the hoods to insinuate themselves into mainstream America. In return for services rendered during the war, Mafia bosses were protected from prosecution for dozens of unsolved murders. […]

The Mafia was a huge problem in 1951 [when the Kefauver Committee was convened], equivalent to terrorism today. But it was also a protected branch of the CIA, which was co-opting criminal organizations around the world and using them in its secret war against the Soviets and Red Chinese. The Mafia had collaborated with Uncle Sam and had emerged from World War II energized and empowered. They controlled cities across the country.”

Indeed, the CIA forged ties with Lansky not long after its creation at the behest of CIA counterintelligence chief James J. Angleton. The CIA would later turn to the Lansky-linked mob in the early 1960s as part of its consistently fruitless quest to assassinate the Cuban leader, showing that the CIA maintained its contacts with Lansky-controlled elements of the mafia long after the initial meeting with Lansky took place.

The CIA also had close connections to associates of Lansky, such as Edward Moss, who did public relations work for Lansky and was said to be of “interest” to the CIA by the agency’s then-inspector general J.S. Earman. Harry “Happy” Meltzer was also another Lansky associate that was a CIA asset and the CIA asked Meltzer to join an assassination team in December 1960.

In addition to the CIA, Lansky was also connected to a foreign intelligence agency through Tibor Rosenbaum, an arms procurer and high-ranking official in Israel’s Mossad, whose bank – the International Credit Bank of Geneva – laundered much of Lansky’s ill-gotten gains and recycled it into legitimate American businesses.

Lansky outside the High Court of Israel where he sought permission to emigrate in 1972. Photo | AP

Journalist Ed Reid, author of the Virginia Hill biography The Mistress and the Mafia, wrote that Lansky was attempting to entrap powerful people through sexual blackmail as far back as 1939. Reid contends that Lansky sent Ms. Hill to Mexico, where his West Coast connections had established a drug ring that later involved the OSS, the forerunner to the CIA, to seduce numerous “top politicians, army officers, diplomats and police officials.”

Eventually, Lansky was credited with obtaining compromising photos of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover sometime in the 1940s, which showed “Hoover in some kind of gay situation”, according to a former Lansky associate who also said that Lansky had often claimed, “I fixed that sonofabitch.” The photos showed Hoover engaged in sexual activity with his long-time friend, FBI deputy director Clyde Tolson. 

At some point, these photos fell into the hands of CIA counterintelligence chief James J. Angleton, who later showed the photos to several other CIA officials, including John Weitz and Gordon Novel. Angleton was in charge of the CIA’s relationship with the FBI and Israel’s Mossad until he left the agency in 1972 and, as was recently mentioned, he was also in contact with Lansky. 

Anthony Summers , former BBC journalist and author of Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, has argued that it was not Lansky, but William Donovan, the director of the OSS, who obtained the original photos of Hoover and later shared them with Lansky. 

Summers also stated that “To [gangster Frank] Costello and Lansky, the ability to corrupt politicians, policemen and judges was fundamental to Mafia operations. The way they found to deal with Hoover, according to several mob sources, involved his homosexuality.” This anecdote shows that Lanksy and the CIA maintained a covert relationship, which included, among other things, the sharing of blackmail material (i.e. “intelligence”). 

It is also possible that Hoover was ensnared by the mob during one of Rosenstiel’s blackmail “parties,” at which Hoover sometimes found himself in attendance with prominent figures of the mafia. Hoover was said to have worn women’s clothing at the some of the events and Meyer Lansky’s wife later said that her husband had photos of the former FBI director in drag. Furthermore, Hoover is on record showing an unusual concern in the FBI’s handling of Rosenstiel’s criminal links as early as 1939, the same year that his close associate Lansky was actively orchestrating the sexual blackmail of powerful political figures.

The blackmail acquired on Hoover and the mob’s possession of the evidence has been cited as a major factor in Hoover’s decades-long denial that nationwide networks of organized crime were a serious issue. Hoover asserted that it was a decentralized, local issue and therefore outside of the bureau’s jurisdiction. By the time Hoover finally acknowledged the existence of national organized crime networks in 1963, it was so entrenched in the U.S. establishment that it was untouchable.

Congressional crime consultant Ralph Salerno told Summers in 1993 that Hoover’s willful ignorance of organized crime for most of his career as FBI director “allowed organized crime to grow very strong in economic and political terms, so that it became a much bigger threat to the wellbeing of this country than it would have been if it had been addressed much sooner.”

 

J. Edgar Hoover: Blackmail Victim? 

Most records place the beginning of Hoover’s relationship with Rosenstiel in the 1950s, the same decade when Susan Kaufman reported that Hoover was attending Rosenstiel’s blackmail parties. Rosenstiel’s FBI file, obtained by Anthony Summers, cites the first Rosenstiel meeting as taking place in 1956, though Summers notes that there is evidence that they had met much earlier. After requesting the meeting, Rosenstiel was granted a personal face to face with the director in a matter of hours. The FBI file on Rosenstiel also reveals that the liquor baron heavily lobbied Hoover to aid his business interests.

During that time, the salacious details of Hoover’s sex life were already known to the U.S. intelligence community and to the mob, and Hoover was aware that they knew of his closeted sexuality and penchant for women’s clothing. Yet, Hoover apparently seemed to embrace the very type of sexual blackmail operation that had compromised his private life, given that he was seen at many of Rosenstiel’s “blackmail” parties in the 1950s and 1960s, including at venues such as Rosenstiel’s personal home and later at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel. Hoover’s penchant for dressing in drag was also described by two witnesses who were not connected to Susan Kaufman.

Hoover with Dorothy Lamour on the set of The Greatest Show on Earth in 1951

Soon after their first “official” meeting, the public relationship between the two men quickly flourished, with Hoover even sending Rosenstiel flowers when he fell ill. Summers reported that, in 1957, Rosenstiel was heard telling Hoover during a meeting, “your wish is my command.” Their relationship remained close and intimate throughout the 1960s and beyond.

Like Rosenstiel, Hoover was well-known for amassing blackmail on friend and foe alike. Hoover’s office contained “secret files” on numerous powerful people in Washington and beyond, files he used to gain favors and protect his status as FBI director for as long as he wished. 

Hoover’s own propensity for blackmail suggests that he may have associated with Rosenstiel’s sexual blackmail operation more directly, given he already knew he was compromised and his involvement in the operation would have served as a means of procuring the blackmail he coveted for his own purposes. Indeed, if Hoover was merely being blackmailed and extorted by the Lansky-Rosenstiel connected mob, it is unlikely that he would have been so friendly to Rosenstiel, Lansky and the other mobsters at these gatherings and participated in them with such regularity. 

According to journalist and author Burton Hersh, Hoover was also tied to Sherman Kaminsky, who ran a sexual blackmail operation in New York involving young male prostitutes. That operation was busted and investigated in 1966 extortion probe led by Manhattan District Attorney Frank Hogan, though the FBI quickly took over the investigation and photos of Hoover and Kaminsky together soon disappeared from the case file.

Hoover and Rosenstiel’s deep ties would continue to develop over the years, an example of which can be seen in Rosenstiel’s hiring of long-time Hoover aide Louis Nichols as the Vice President of his Schenley liquor empire and Rosenstiel’s donation of over $1 million to the J. Edgar Hoover Foundation, which Nichols also ran at the time. 

There is also more than one documented occasion wherein Hoover attempted to use blackmail to protect Rosenstiel and his “field commander,” none other than the infamous Roy Cohn, the other key figure in Rosenstiel’s sexual blackmail operation involving minors.

 

The Making of a Monster

Decades after his death, Roy Cohn remains a controversial figure in large part because of his close, personal relationship with current U.S. President Donald Trump. Yet reports on Cohn, both in recent and in past years, often miss the mark in their characterization of the man who became closely associated with the Reagan White House, the CIA, the FBI, organized crime and, incidentally, many of the figures who would later surround Jeffrey Epstein.

To understand the true nature of the man, it is essential to examine his rise to power in the early 1950s, when at just 23 years old, he became a key figure in the high-profile trial of Soviet spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and later in the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. 

Cohn’s dedication to anti-communist activities in the 1950s is allegedly what first endeared him to J. Edgar Hoover who he first met in 1952. During that meeting, as described by Hersh in Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-Off Between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover That Transformed America, Hoover expressed admiration for Cohn’s aggressive and manipulative tactics and told Cohn to “call me directly” whenever he had information worth sharing. From that point on, Cohn and Hoover “traded favors, effusive compliments, gifts and elaborate private dinners. It quickly became ‘Roy’ and ‘Edgar.’” Hersh also describes Hoover as Cohn’s soon to be “consigliere.” 

The date and circumstances around Cohn’s introduction to Rosenstiel is harder to come by. It is possible that the connection was made through Roy Cohn’s father, Albert Cohn, a prominent judge and an influential figure in the New York City Democratic Party apparatus then-run by Edward Flynn. It was later revealed that the Democratic organization dominated by Flynn and based in the Bronx had long-standing connections to organized crime, including associates of Meyer Lansky. 

Regardless of how or when it began, the relationship between Cohn and Rosenstiel was close and was often likened to that of a father and son. They were said to frequently salute each other in public and remained close until Rosenstiel was near death, at which point Cohn attempted to trick his then-barely conscious and senile “friend” and client into naming him the executor and trustee of the liquor magnate’s estate, valued at $75 million (more than $334 million in today’s dollars). 

LIFE magazine reported in 1969 that Cohn and Rosenstiel had for years referred to one another as “Field Commander” and “Supreme Commander,” respectively. Media references to these nicknames appear in other articles from the period. 

Though LIFE and other outlets had interpreted this as merely an anecdote about the nicknames shared in jest between close friends, the fact that notorious crime lord Meyer Lansky also called Rosenstiel “Supreme Commander” and the fact that Cohn and Rosenstiel would later become intimately involved in the same pedophile sex ring, suggests that there may have been more to these “nicknames.” After all, the mob to which Rosenstiel was connected often used military-themed titles like “soldier” and “lieutenant” to differentiate the rank and importance of its members. 

Once he had made his connection with Hoover, Cohn’s star began to rise even higher in Washington. Hoover’s recommendation of Cohn would become the deciding factor in his appointment as Sen. McCarthy’s general counsel over Robert Kennedy, a rival and bitter enemy of Cohn’s.

McCarthy covers the mic while having a whispered discussion with Cohn during a 1954 committee hearing. Photo | AP

Though Cohn was ruthless and seemingly untouchable as McCarthy’s counsel and helped the Senator destroy many careers during both the red and lavender scares, his antics in relation to his work on the committee would eventually lead to his downfall after he attempted to blackmail the Army in return for preferential treatment for committee consultant and Cohn’s rumored lover, David Schine.

After he was forced to leave McCarthy’s side due to the scandal, Cohn returned to New York to live with his mother and practice law. A few years later New York Judge David Peck, a long-time associate of former CIA director Alan Dulles, orchestrated Cohn’s hire to the New York law firm, Saxe, Bacon and O’Shea, which would later become Saxe, Bacon and Bolan after Tom Bolan, a friend of Cohn’s, became a partner in the firm. Upon his hire, Cohn brought the firm a slew of mafia-linked clients, including high-ranking members of the Gambino crime family, the Genovese crime family and, of course, Lewis Rosenstiel.

 

What happened in Suite 233?

The connections Roy Cohn built during the 1950s made him a well-known public figure and translated into great political influence which peaked during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Yet, as Cohn built his public image, he was also developing a dark private life which would come to be dominated by the same blackmail pedophile racket that appears to have first begun with Lewis Rosenstiel. 

One of the “blackmail” parties Susan Kaufman attended with her then-husband Lewis Rosenstiel was hosted by Cohn in 1958 at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel, suite 233. Kaufman described Cohn’s suite as a “beautiful suite…all done in light blue.” She described being introduced to Hoover, who was in drag, by Cohn, who told her that Hoover’s name was “Mary” in a fit of barely concealed laughter. Kaufman testified that young underage boys were present and Kaufman claimed that Cohn, Hoover and her ex-husband engaged in sexual activity with these minors.

New York attorney John Klotz, tasked with investigating Cohn for a case well after Kaufman’s testimony, also found evidence of the “blue suite” at the Plaza Hotel and its role in a sex extortion ring after combing through local government documents and information gathered by private detectives. Klotz later told journalist and author Burton Hersh what he had learned: 

Roy Cohn was providing protection. There were a bunch of pedophiles involved. That’s where Cohn got his power from — blackmail.”

Perhaps the most damning confirmation of Cohn’s activities in Suite 233 comes from statements made by Cohn himself to former NYPD detective and ex-head of the department’s Human-Trafficking and Vice-related Crimes division, James Rothstein. Rothstein later told John Decamp, a former Nebraska state senator who investigated a government-connected child sex ring based in Omaha, among other investigators, that Cohn had admitted to being part of a sexual blackmail operation targeting politicians with child prostitutes during a sit-in down interview with the former detective. 

Flags fly over the main entrance of the Plaza Hotel in New York City in 1982. Suzanne Vlamis | AP

Rothstein told John DeCamp the following about Roy Cohn:

Cohn’s job was to run the little boys. Say you had an admiral, a general, a congressman, who did not want to go along with the program. Cohn’s job was to set them up, then they would go along. Cohn told me that himself.”

Rothstein later told Paul David Collins, a former journalist turned researcher, that Cohn had also identified this sexual blackmail operation as being part of the anti-communist crusade of the time.

The fact that Cohn, per Rothstein’s recollection, stated that the child-sex blackmail ring was part of the government-sponsored anticommunist crusade suggests that elements of the government, including Hoover’s FBI, may have been connected at a much broader level than Hoover’s own personal involvement given that the FBI closely coordinated with McCarthy and Cohn for much of the red scare.

It is also worth noting that among Hoover’s many “secret” blackmail files was a sizeable dossier on Senator McCarthy, the contents of which strongly suggested that the Senator himself was interested in underage girls. According to journalist and author David Talbot, Hoover’s file on McCarthy was “filled with disturbing stories about McCarthy’s habit of drunkenly groping young girls’ breasts and buttocks. The stories were so widespread that they became ‘common knowledge’ in the capital, according to one FBI chronicler.” 

Talbot, in his book The Devil’s Chessboard, also cites Walter Trohan, Washington Bureau Chief of the Chicago Tribune, as having personally witnessed McCarthy’s habit of molesting young women. “He just couldn’t keep his hands off young girls,” Trohan would later say. “Why the Communist opposition didn’t plant a minor on him and raise the cry of statutory rape, I don’t know.” Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that those “planting” minors on their political foes were McCarthy’s allies and close associates, not his enemies. 

The question that necessarily arises from revelations regarding Cohn’s activities in Suite 233 is who else was Cohn “protecting” and servicing with underage prostitutes? One of them could very well have been one of Cohn’s close friends and clients, Cardinal Francis Spellman of the Archdiocese of New York, who was said to have been present at some of these parties Cohn hosted at the Plaza Hotel. 

Spellman, one of the most powerful figures in the Catholic Church in North America who was sometimes referred to as “America’s Pope” was accused of not only condoning pedophilia in the Catholic church and ordaining known pedophiles including Cardinal Theodore “Uncle Teddy” McCarrick, but also engaging in it himself to such an extent that many New York area priests widely referred to him as “Mary.” Furthermore, J. Edgar Hoover was said to have a file detailing the Cardinal’s sex life, suggesting Spellman’s involvement in the ring and pedophile protection racket in which Cohn and Hoover were personally involved.

Cardinal Francis ‘Franny’ Spellman. Photo | Museum of the City of New York

People close to Cohn often remarked that he was frequently surrounded by groups of young boys, but seemed to think nothing of it. Similar off-handed comments about Epstein’s penchant for minors were made by those close to him prior to his arrest. 

Controversial Republican political operative and “dirty trickster” Roger Stone, who — like Donald Trump — was also a protégé of Cohn, said the following about Cohn’s sex life during an interview with The New Yorker in 2008: 

Roy was not gay. He was a man who liked having sex with men. Gays were weak, effeminate. He always seemed to have these young blond boys around. It just wasn’t discussed. He was interested in power and access.” (emphasis added)

Compare this quote from Stone to what Donald Trump, who was also close to Cohn, would later say about Jeffrey Epstein, with whom he was also closely associated:

I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.” (emphasis added)

Though it is unknown how long the sex ring at the Plaza Hotel continued, and if it continued after Cohn’s death from AIDS in 1986, it is worth noting that Donald Trump purchased the Plaza Hotel in 1988. It would later be reported and confirmed by then-attendees that Trump “used to host parties in suites at the Plaza Hotel when he owned it, where young women and girls were introduced to older, richer men” and “illegal drugs and young women were passed around and used.” 

Andy Lucchesi, a male model who had helped organize some of these Plaza Hotel parties for Trump said the following when asked about the age of the women present: “A lot of girls, 14, look 24. That’s as juicy as I can get. I never asked how old they were; I just partook. I did partake in activities that would be controversial, too.”

 

The Roy Cohn Machine 

Roy Cohn was only at the beginning of his career when he waded his way into the underground sexual blackmail ring apparently led by Lewis Rosenstiel. Indeed, when Cohn first met Hoover, he was only 23 years old. Over the next three decades or so, before his death from AIDS-related complications in 1986 at the age of 56, Cohn built a well-oiled machine, largely through his close friendships with some of the country’s most influential figures.

Among Cohn’s friends were top media personalities like Barbara Walters, former CIA directors, Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy, media moguls Rupert Murdoch and Mort Zuckerman, numerous celebrities, prominent lawyers like Alan Dershowitz, top figures in the Catholic Church and leading Jewish organizations like B’nai B’rith and the World Jewish Congress. Many of the same names that surrounded Cohn until death in the late 1980s would later come to surround Jeffrey Epstein, with their names later appearing in Epstein’s now-infamous “little black book”. 

Reagan meets with Rupert Murdoch, U.S. Information Agency Director Charles Wick, and Roy Cohn in the Oval Office in 1983. Photo | Reagan presidential library

While President Trump is clearly connected to both Epstein and Cohn, Cohn’s network also extends to former President Bill Clinton, whose friend and longtime political advisor, Richard “Dirty Dick” Morris, was Cohn’s cousin and close associate. Morris was also close to Clinton’s former communications director, George Stephanopoulos, who is also associated with Jeffrey Epstein.

Yet, these were only Cohn’s connections to respectable members of the establishment. He was also known for his deep connections to the mob and gained prominence largely for his ability to connect key figures in the criminal underworld to respected influential figures acceptable to the public sphere. Ultimately, as New York attorney John Klotz stated, Cohn’s most powerful tool was blackmail, which he used against friend and foe, gangster or public official alike. How much of that blackmail he acquired through his sexual blackmail operation will likely never be known.

As Part II of this exclusive investigation will reveal, Cohn and Epstein, and the sexual blackmail operations they ran share many things in common, including not only many of the same famous friends and patrons, but also connections to intelligence agencies and consortiums of mob-linked businessmen, the modern-day equivalents of Samuel Bronfman and Lewis Rosenstiel who have since rebranded as “philanthropists.” 

Part II will also reveal that Cohn’s operation was known to have successors, as revealed by a series of scandals in the early 1990s that have since been swept under the rug. The significant amount of overlap between Epstein’s and Cohn’s covert activities in sexual blackmail and their ties to many of the same powerful individuals and circles of influence strongly suggest that Epstein was one of Cohn’s successors.

As will be shown in the final installment of this report, Epstein is only the latest incarnation of a much older, more extensive and sophisticated operation that offers a frightening window into how deeply tied the U.S. government is to the modern-day equivalents of organized crime, making it a racket truly too big to fail.

Feature photo | A composite image shows from left to right, Lewis Rosenstiel, Jeffrey Epstein, and Roy Cohn. Graphic | Emma Fiala

Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.

The post Hidden in Plain Sight: The Shocking Origins of the Jeffrey Epstein Case appeared first on MintPress News.

Who Killed Oscar and Valeria: The Inconvenient History of the Refugee Crisis

History never truly retires. Every event of the past, however inconsequential, reverberates throughout and, to an extent, shapes our present, and our future as well 

The haunting image of the bodies of Salvadoran father, Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter, Valeria, washed ashore at a riverbank on the Mexico-US border, cannot be understood separately from El Salvador’s painful past.

Valeria’s arms were still wrapped around her father’s neck, even as both lay, face down, dead on the Mexican side of the river, ushering the end of their desperate and, ultimately, failed attempt at reaching the US. The little girl was only 23-months-old

Following the release of the photo, media and political debates in the US focused partly on Donald Trump’s administration’s inhumane treatment of undocumented immigrants. For Democrats, it was a chance at scoring points against Trump, prior to the start of presidential election campaigning. Republicans, naturally, went on the defensive. 

Aside from a few alternative media sources, little has been said about the US role in Oscar and Valeria’s deaths, starting with its funding of El Salvador’s “dirty war” in the 1980s. The outcome of that war continues to shape the present, thus the future of that poor South American nation. 

Oscar and Valeria were merely escaping ‘violence’ and the drug wars in El Salvador, many US media sources reported, but little was said of the US government’s support of El Salvador’s brutal regimes in the past as they battled Marxist guerrillas. Massive amounts of US military aid was poured into a country that was in urgent need for true democracy, basic human rights and sustainable economic infrastructure. 

Back then, the US “went well beyond remaining largely silent in the face of human-rights abuses in El Salvador,” wrote Raymond Bonner in the Nation. “The State Department and White House often sought to cover up the brutality, to protect the perpetrators of even the most heinous crimes.” 

These crimes, included the butchering of 700 innocent people, many of them children, by the US-trained Atlacatl Battalion in the village of El Mozote, in the northeastern part of the country. Leaving El Salvador teetering between organized criminal violence and the status of a failed state, the US continued to use the country as a vassal for its misguided foreign policy to this day. Top US diplomats, like Elliott Abraham, who channeled support to the Salvadoran regime in the 1980s carried on with a successful political career, unhindered.

A forensic anthropologist cleans a skull at a site of at least 58 human remains, including at least 50 children, in El Mozote, El Salvador. Michael Stravato | AP

To understand the tragic death of Oscar and Valeria in any other way would be a dishonest interpretation of a historical tragedy. 

The dominant discourse on the growing refugee crisis around the world has been shaped by this deception. Instead of honestly examining the roots of the global refugee crisis, many of us often oscillate between self-gratifying humanitarianism, jingoism or utter indifference. It is as if the story of Oscar and Valeria began the moment they decided to cross a river between Mexico and the US, not decades earlier. Every possible context before that decision is conveniently dropped.

The politics of many countries around the world have been shaped by the debate on refugees as if basic human rights should be subject to discussion. In Italy, the ever-opportunistic Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, has successfully shaped a whole national conversation around refugees. 

Like other far-right European politicians, Salvini continues to blatantly manipulate collective Italian fear and discontent regarding the state of their economy by framing all of the country’s troubles around the subject of African migrants and refugees. 52% of Italians believe that migrants and refugees are a burden to their country, according to a recent Pew Research Center study. 

Those who subscribe to Salvini’s self-serving logic are blinded by far-right rhetoric and outright ignorance. To demonstrate this assertion, one only needs to examine the reality of Italian intervention in Libya, as part of the NATO war on that country in March 2011. 

Without a doubt, the war on Libya, justified on the basis of a flawed interpretation of United Nations Resolution 1973, was the main reason behind the surge of refugees and migrants to Italy, en-route to Europe. 

According to the Migration Policy Center, prior to the 2011 war, “outward migration was not an issue for the Libyan population.” This changed, following the lethal NATO war on Libya, which pushed the country squarely into the status of failed states. 

Between the start of the war on March 19 and June 8, 2011, 422,912 Libyans and 768,372 foreign nationals fled the country, according to the International Organization of Migration (IOM). Many of those refugees sought asylum in Europe. Salvini’s virulent anti-refugee discourse is bereft of any reference to that shameful, self-indicting reality. 

In fact, Salvini’s own Lega party was a member of the Italian coalition which took part in NATO’s war on Libya. Not only is Salvini refusing to acknowledge his country’s role in fostering the current refugee crisis, but he is designating as an ‘enemy’ humanitarian NGOs that are active in rescuing stranded refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.

Refugees trying to reach Italy await rescue in the Mediterranean Sea, about 15 miles north of Sabratha, Libya. Santi Palacios | AP

According to the UN refugee agency (UNHRC), an estimated 2,275 people drowned while attempting to cross to Europe in 2018 alone. Thousands of precious lives, like those of Oscar and Valeria, would have been spared, had NATO not intervened on the pretext of wanting to save lives in Libya in 2011.   

According to UNHRC, as of June 19, 2019, there are 70.8 million forcibly displaced people worldwide; of them, 41.3 million are internally displaced people, while 25.9 million are refugees who crossed international borders. 

Yet, despite the massive influx of refugees, and the obvious logic between political meddling (as in El Salvador) and military intervention (as in Libya), no western government is yet to accept any moral – let alone legal – accountability for the massive human suffering underway. 

Italy, France, Britain, and other NATO members who took part in bombing Libya in 2013 are guilty of fueling today’s refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea. Similarly, the supposedly random ‘violence’ and drug wars in El Salvador must be seen within the political context of misguided American interventionism. Were it not for such violent interventions, Oscar, Valeria and millions of innocent people would have still been alive today. 

Feature photo | Rosa Ramirez sobs as she shows journalists toys that belonged to her nearly 2-year-old granddaughter Valeria in her home in San Martin, El Salvador, June 25, 2019. Antonio Valladares | AP

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His last book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and was a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

The post Who Killed Oscar and Valeria: The Inconvenient History of the Refugee Crisis appeared first on MintPress News.

The Roots of Evil: Right-Wing Israeli Settler Group Accuses Palestinians of Land Theft

Jerusalem — In a move designed to shock Israeli settlers in the West Bank into action, activists from the right-wing settler organization “Regavim” hung Palestinian flags along the main West Bank settler roads last week. 

Regavim claims that there is a Palestinian take over of Area C and that the Israeli government is not doing enough to fight it. The organization’s PR stunt, shown in the video below, was in their own words “an in-your-face challenge to the הכנסת (Knesset) to enforce the law and halt the de facto creation of a terrorist state in the heart of Israel.”

 
Regavim also published, “a comprehensive, in-depth report” titled, “The Roots of Evil, Land Theft in Area C is Creating a De Facto Palestinian State.” In the report, the group claims that it has exposed a “secretive program undertaken by the Palestinian Authority, with massive financial support provided by the European Union, European governments, and other foreign interests.” The secret program, which Regavim has dubbed “The Roots Project,” is allegedly a systematic program of land theft by Palestinians which targets areas placed under full Israeli jurisdiction by the Oslo Accords and international law. The report alleges that the PA is taking advantage of a legal loophole in order to effectively annex territory throughout Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) through seemingly-innocuous agricultural projects.

“Regavim’s report indicates that the response of the Israeli authorities, including the government, the Civil Administration, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has been extremely phlegmatic, and often non-existent. The Civil Administration, which is responsible for the protection of Israel’s land resources in Area C, addresses this illegal activity on a case by case basis, and for all intents and purposes does not take steps to stem the tide of creeping annexation,” the report reads.

The cover of Regavim’s report shows Palestinian flags the group hung along West Bank settler roads.

In case it wasn’t clear from the outset, the claim being made by Regavim is that the Palestinians are attempting to annex lands that belong to Israel.

Regavim is a right-wing religious settler organization which claims its mission is “to ensure responsible, legal, accountable & environmentally friendly use of Israel’s national lands and the return of the rule of law to all areas and aspects of the land and its preservation.” That is the English version. In Hebrew, the group’s mission statement reads:

The mission of Regavim is to influence the State to act according to Zionist principles … to protect Jewish lands and natural resources and to prevent an alien takeover.” 

One of the leading figures in the organization is newly appointed transportation minister, Bezalel Smutrich. Smutrich, who is also a member of the Israeli government’s inner “security cabinet,” is a proponent of the Third Temple movement which seeks to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the thrid-holiest site in Islam, and replace it with a Jewish temple.

But claims that Israel has a right to Palestinian lands are not only being made by fringe Zionist-religious groups. In a piece for Israel’s Hebrew-language journal, Hashiloach, former advisor to the Minister of Defense, Yaakov Eliraz claims that “outdated Israeli policy” is to blame for “Palestinian encroachment” into Area C. Hashiloach is funded by the Tikva Fund, a right-wing Zionist organization which counts among its speakers well-known U.S. neoconservative personalities including Elliot Abrahms, John Bolton and Douglas Feith among others.

Area C represents 60% of the West Bank and for reasons beyond understanding, it was determined in the 1993 Oslo Accords that it would remain under full Israeli military control.  Eliraz, who has served three ministers of defense, says that the region is the heartland of Israel and blames the Israeli government for not doing enough to strengthen its hold on Area C and for allowing Palestinians to “build illegally” within the area. 

Eliraz claims that Israel must define the strategic importance of Area C and make it clear that there is no guarantee it will be part of a future Palestinian state. It must act, he says,  to stop Palestinians from creating “facts on the ground” as he calls them and for Israel to define the lands within Area C as Israeli State Lands, an act that he asserts will end any dispute as to land ownership within Area C.

 

The Legacy of Khan Al-Ahmar

In his piece for Hashiloach, Eliraz mentions that in 2008, the Regavim Foundation made an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court demanding that “illegal building by the Bedouins along the Jerusalem-Dead Sea highway be stopped.” At the time, European groups, particularly from Italy, had begun supporting this “illegal grouping.” They moved residents into actual homes instead of makeshift shelters, supplied them with solar panels and even built a modest school. Eliraz describes this as part of an attempt by the Palestinian Authority to undermine Israeli rights to connect the [Israeli] settlement of Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem.

Israeli settlers and the settler lobby are almost obsessed with Khan Al-Ahmar. The number of posts and tweets and articles about the need to evacuate this tiny, impoverished Palestinian community – one can hardly call it a village – is puzzling. In his monumental book, Palestine, a Four Thousand-year History, historian Nur Masahla writes:

The memory of the Palestinian caravanserai was preserved in the name of a small Palestinian Beduin village, al-Khan al-Ahmar, located between the Israeli settler colonies of Ma’ale Adumim and Kfar Adumim. This Palestinian village has been threatened with destruction by the Israeli state since 2010 in a plan to expand local Israeli settlements.”

The location of Khan al-Ahmar has served as an important monastic Christian community going back to the 5th century A.D. The ruins of the St. Euthymius and St. Martyrius monasteries, both dating back to the 5th century, Masalha tells us, “are located in the Israeli colony of Ma’ale Adumim.” Because of its unique location, Khan al-Ahmar would later serve as a Khan, or caravanserai for merchants and pilgrims. Today it has become an impoverished Bedouin community which Israel is desperately trying to destroy. In fact, Khan al-Ahmar has already been demolished several times by Israeli authorities only to be rebuilt by defiant residents who barely manage to hang on thanks to international attention.

Israeli police detain Palestinian women attempting to stop an Israeli bulldozer from demolishing Khan al-Ahmar, July 4, 2018. Majdi Mohammed | AP

According to journalist Orly Noy, “The story of Khan al-Ahmar is depressing in its banality.” The Jahalin Bedouin community who today reside in Khan al-Ahmar are originally from the Naqab desert in southern Palestine. They were forced to leave their land following the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Noy writes:

They wandered to the Mishor Adumim area of the West Bank, which decades later was designated “Area C,” under full Israeli military control; the Jahalin, then, turned into an obstacle to settlement expansion.” 

Even as brand new modern Israeli settlements were being built in the area offering modern living conditions at low prices to any Israeli willing to move there and populate the settlements, “the state,” Noy writes, “has refrained from providing them (the Bedouin Palestinians) with minimal living conditions.” The state did not connect them to water or electricity. “In fact,” Noy concludes, “Israel has done everything in its power to prevent the residents from taking their fate into their own hands.”

 

A distorted discourse

What Isreal describes as a Palestinian “land grab” is, in fact, Palestinians struggling to survive under the pressures of Israeli expansion. However, the entire discourse describes this and even Palestinian existence as a whole, as a violation of “Jewish rights.” 

These are but two examples of the discourse now used by Israel and the frontline Zionist activists who aim to expel Palestinians and take over more lands within all of Palestine. It is worth mentioning that in Jerusalem the well-funded religious-Zionist group, Ateret Cohanim, has used successfully strong-arm tactics to purchase the Imperial Hotel in the Old City and now demands that Palestinian residents vacate the property. This is but one of many successful attempts by Ateret Cohanim to de-Arabize the city and eventually build a Third Temple in the place of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

What is noteworthy and worrisome is that the terminology used by right-wing Zionist groups places “Jews” and Israel as the ones whose rights are being denied and Palestinians as the perpetrators of injustice and so far their efforts have been successful and no one seems to be willing – or perhaps able – to stand up to them.

Feature photo | Palestinians attempting to stop the planned demolition of the West Bank hamlet of Khan al-Ahmar scuffle with Israeli police, July 4, 2018. Majdi Mohammed | AP

Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

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Seeking New Routes for Oil Delivery Saudi Arabia Tightens Its Grip on Eastern Yemen

AL-MAHRAH, YEMEN — “The Saudi forces must leave all our townships and villages from the coast to the desert,” Ahmed Balhaf, a resident of Yemen’s eastern al-Mahrah province told a cheering crowd gathered to protest the presence of Saudi troops in Yemen. The demonstrations were part of a series of protests spread across six cities in al-Mahrah, Yemen on Friday, including in al-Mesilah, Sihout, al-Huson and al-Ghaydha.

Protesters hoisted large Yemeni flags and held banners declaring, “Our steadfastness continues,” and, “No to occupation by Saudi Arabia, Yes to national sovereignty.” The protests follow an announcement by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia’s main coalition ally in its war on Yemen, that it is withdrawing troops from the country, allegedly following threats that the Yemeni resistance was planning attacks on Dubai if UAE forces remained in the country. Now, emboldened protesters are demanding that Saudi forces transfer control of key ports, including Shehn, Sarfeet and Nashton to back to Yemeni authorities. Protesters are also calling for the reopening of the Gheidah International Airport, which was transformed into a Saudi military base and is allegedly home to Saudi-run secret prisons.

The sit-in committee which organizes protests in al-Mahrah said in a statement during the protest:

What’s going on in the Mesila, Sehout, Hassouin, Nashton directorates and the Luisic district is no different from what happens in other districts in al-Mahrah where Saudi Arabia continues to build camps, harass local residents and cut off their income by preventing them from grazing [livestock] and fishing.”

As a result of the continued Saudi expansion in the province, which is dominated by eastern Yemen’s barren deserts and abuts neighboring Oman, both local Yemeni political leaders, as well as the sit-in committee, announced on Friday that they were willing to resort to more violent means to force the Saudi military to leave their home. “If the peaceful protests of al Mahrah’s residents are futile, we have other options that will force the occupier to leave,” Sheikh Ali Salem al-Harizi, a former deputy governor of al-Mahrah warned on Friday.

 

A history of violence

The protests are part of a wave of demonstrations that have flared up regularly over the few past years calling for Saudi Arabia to withdraw its military from al-Mahrah. On July 5, a group of residents protested after members of a Saudi-backed militia attacked a woman’s home in the city of Ghaida. The attack occurred near a recently constructed Saudi checkpoint and sparked instant outrage from local residents, who were already so upset with the new Saudi presence in their neighborhood that they formed a makeshift citizen’s militia in what was ultimately an unsuccessful attempt at halting the checkpoint’s construction. 

Residents gathered in Yemen’s eastern al-Mahrah province during a demonstration calling for Saudi Arabia to withdraw its forces from the region, July 15, 2019. Ahmed Abdulkareem | MintPress News

In most cases, Saudi Arabia has been able to quell the protest with little to no violence, relying instead on buying off local officials and appeasing residents with promises of civil construction projects such as newly paved roads and medical clinics. But those measures haven’t always enough to stem the tide of popular discontent in the restive region. In Jadwa, an area which lies in al-Mahrah’s al-Hassouin directorate, Saudi forces fired live ammunition into a crowd of unarmed protestors who had gathered in front of a makeshift Saudi military camp to protest the Kingdom’s presence in their region.

Saudi Arabia is also keen on preventing media coverage of the growing demonstrations for fear that discontent in the region will spread. The Kingdom is accused of kidnapping local journalists who have worked to expose Saudi misdeeds in al-Mahrah. Yahya al-Sawari was working for a local news channel that recently intensified its coverage of the al-Mahrah protest movement when he was kidnapped by Saudi-backed militants on July 3 while trying to take photos of wounded protesters in al-Ghaydha Hospital. He was then allegedly taken to Saudi Arabia’s “Criminal Investigation Prison” and eventually to a prison controlled by Saudi forces at al-Ghaydha airport.

The organizing committee for the peaceful protest accused Saudi forces of the abduction and has called on the journalists’ syndicate and international human rights organizations to protect Yemen’s journalists and to come to the aid of al-Sawari. The Committee to Protect Journalists sent a message to the Saudi-backed Yemeni Ministry of the Interior, which oversees the Criminal Investigation Police and emailed the Saudi Ministry of Defense inquiring about al-Sawari’s status but did not receive a response.  Allegations of Saudi Arabia targeting journalists in Yemen are nothing new. The leader of Yemen’s journalist syndicate, Abdullah Subri and even MintPressown Ahmed Abdulkareem have been targeted for their coverage of Saudi war crimes in Yemen. 

 

Oil, occupation and Iran

While resident’s of al-Mahrah have long opposed the Saudi presence in their region, a recent increase in the presence of Saudi troops in the region and the construction of a number of new military camps and checkpoints has renewed both suspicion of Saudi plans for a long-term presence in Eastern Yemen as well as calls for the Kingdom to vacate the region. 

Saudi Arabia claims that its checkpoints and military bases are needed to combat an influx of alleged Iranian arms shipments and drug smuggling through Oman, which borders al-Mahrah to the east, though the Kingdom has provided no evidence to back its claim, a claim which Oman has repeatedly and vociferously denied.

Local residents aren’t buying the Saudi line either. They say that smuggling is just a pretext for a Saudi takeover of their province and resources. Local protest leader Ahmed Balhaf says claims of smuggling have been debunked and that despite a Saudi takeover of al-Mahrah, the Houthis are equipped with evermore modern weaponry. “Where are the Houthis getting all of their new weapons like those they recently showed at their exhibition if Saudi forces are spread out through the whole of al-Mahrah,” Balhaf asked. “There is no smuggling of weapons to the Houthis in al-Mahrah and besides, the military bases were built in oil-rich areas.”

The presence of Saudi forces in a province of Yemen that has remained largely immune to the broader war in the country and is home to potentially lucrative untapped oil reserves is considered by many analysts as malign and colonial in nature. The province is largely peaceful and has been mostly spared from Yemen’s war, which is concentrated in the country’s Houthi-dominated western reachers. The Houthis have a negligible presence in al-Mahrah and despite the region’s once-solid support for the Saudi-led coalition, al-Mahrah and Socotra have been under Saudi and UAE military rule for years.

In reality, Saudi Arabia has a strategic interest in the province. In late September, MintPress revealed that the Kingdom began construction on a pipeline in al-Mahrah that would allow it transport oil directly to the Arabian Sea, bypassing the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, which are dominated by the Kingdom’s main foe in the region, Iran. Now, following recent attacks on a Saudi pipeline as well as the alleged bombing of oil tankers in the Persian Gulf,  Saudi Arabia is stepping up its activities in al-Mahrah, hoping to finish construction on the pipeline as soon as possible in a bid to circumvent the Strait of Hormuz and deny Iran the strategic advantage it enjoys through its control of the Strait.

Feature photo | Saudi troops walk past armored personnel carriers at their base in Yemen’s southern port city of Aden September 28, 2015. Faisal Al Nasser | Reuters

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

The post Seeking New Routes for Oil Delivery Saudi Arabia Tightens Its Grip on Eastern Yemen appeared first on MintPress News.

The Glaring Holes in Michelle Bachelet’s Venezuela Human Rights Report

UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s report on Venezuela echoes the US government’s talking points, which are designed to terminate the two-decade-old Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. The report fails to acknowledge Venezuela’s manifest accomplishments or even recognize victims of US-backed right-wing violence in Venezuela. The US economic war against Venezuela, US threats of a “military option,” and opposition violence are treated in the Bachelet report as figments of the imagination, “alleged internal and external threats.”

Meanwhile, the US government brazenly brags on an official State Department website:

The pressure campaign is working. The financial sanctions we have placed on the Venezuelan Government has forced it to begin becoming in default, both on sovereign and PDVSA, its oil company’s, debt. And what we are seeing…is a total economic collapse in Venezuela. So our policy is working, our strategy is working and we’re going to keep it on the Venezuelans.”

Bachelet’s UN report one-sidedly assigns blame to the victim. Activist and researcher Nino Pagliccia called the report “faulty by design.”

 

Reaction to the Bachelet report

The New York Times and the other usual cheerleaders for regime change in Venezuela predictably cheered the report, which came out a day before its scheduled July 5 release date.

The New York Times predictable take on the Bachelet report

The government of Venezuela, having been issued an advanced copy of the Bachelet report, immediately delivered a 70-point bill of particulars in rebuttal. Human rights organizations representing victims of the right-wing violence in Venezuela had met with Bachelet and provided documentation of abuses but their stories were omitted. This included the mother of an Afro-descendent son who had been caught in a passing opposition demonstration, doused with gasoline, and burned alive. Spain, however, just arrested a suspect in that crime who was hiding in Spain.

The day following the issuance of the report, representatives of Russia, China, Turkey, Belarus, Myanmar, Iran, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Bolivia on the UN Human Rights Council repudiated the Bachelet report. According to the Cuban representative, the report “represents a campaign to destabilize the democratic process.” The Nicaraguan representative at the Human Rights Council session condemned the unilateral and illegal measures imposed by the US that were egregiously ignored in the Bachelet report, adding these very measures have a “negative impact on the promotion and protection of human rights” in Venezuela. The Bolivian representative called for the cessation of the US unilateral coercive measures against Venezuela, which are causing great economic loss and misery for the people there. 

A little over a month prior to the issuance of the Bachelet report, the International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity launched a letter campaign to Ms. Bachelet and the Secretary General of the UN calling for the intervention by the High Commissioner to put an end to the US blockade has kept lifesaving medicines out of Venezuela. Bachelet did not respond to that request. The International Committee warns: 

It is extremely serious that the Bachelet report does not contribute to the dialogue for peace, instead it tilts the scales in favor of the aggressor while ignoring the damage the Empire has done to the people.”

UN special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas issued his report on Venezuela to the same UN Human Rights Council last September. He recommended that the US economic sanctions against Venezuela be investigated by the International Criminal Court as possible crimes against humanity. A former secretary of the Human Rights Council and a specialist in international law, de Zayas “believes his report has been ignored because it goes against the popular narrative that Venezuela needs regime change.” 

In reference to the Bachelet report, de Zayas commented it “is fundamentally flawed and disappointing…a missed opportunity.” Noting that the “unprofessional” Bachelet report “gives scarce attention to the central problem – the financial blockade and sanctions that cause so much suffering and death,” de Zayas concludes: “Venezuela’s problems can all be solved, but first the criminal US sanctions must be lifted.”

Ricardo Arturo Salgado Bonilla is critical of Bachelet for not visiting his native Honduras, where the government is suppressing human rights. Even the Washington-aligned Human Rights Watch recognizes that “impunity for human rights abuses remain the norm” in the US client state of Honduras, which “has the highest murder rate in the world.” Bonilla observes that international agencies like the United Nations “have become colonial agencies at the service of the United States.”

 

The palest of the pinkies

The lead author of the human rights report, Michelle Bachelet, is a member of the Chilean Socialist Party and a pediatrician. Her father Alberto Bachelet was a Chilean general, who opposed the US-backed coup there in 1973. He was arrested shortly after the coup, tortured, and died while incarcerated. Before assuming the post of UN High Commission for Human Rights, Bachelet served twice as president of Chile (2006-2010 and 2014-2018) as part of the so-called Pink Tide of left-leaning governments. Hers was arguably the palest of the pinkies. But given her pedigree, it is still jarring to see her carrying Trump’s water. 

Bachelet, right, speaks with Sen. Hillary Clinton at a White House Gala in Washington, June 8, 2006. Gerald Herbert | AP

An insight into Bachelet’s ostensible about-face regarding US regime-change operations comes from Miguel d’Escoto, who was president of the UN General Assembly (2008-2009). After his term in office, d’Escoto described in an interview “all kinds of pressure tactics and arm-twisting” by powerful interests at the UN. His former deputy chief Sofía Clark added in reference to the US: “They have many other ways, insidious ways, of coming in and controlling sometimes the real autonomy of agencies here.”

The former secretary of the UN Human Rights Council de Zayas further explained, referring to Bachelet, “a high commissioner is not independent and is subject to political pressures.” Describing his own experience in the Human Rights Council, he related: “I endured pre mission, during mission and post mission mobbing.”

As Pasqualina Curcio Curcio recounts, the UN High Commissioner office has a history of reflecting the narrative dictated by the US. In 2011, then High Commissioner Navy Pally issued a report based on “patchy and hard to verify” information. The information turned out to be false and led to the military invasion in Libya under the excuse of a so-called humanitarian intervention.

 

Causes and consequences

With just three short paragraphs of the 16-page Bachelet report on the crippling US sanctions against Venezuela, the impact of the unilateral coercive measures is essentially dismissed, placing the onus on the Maduro government. Instead of calling for cessation on the illegal and inhuman measures, the report tells the Venezuelans to “to adopt structural economic reforms” to adapt to the situation.

The Bachelet report finds “violations of the right to health resulted from the (Venezuelan) Government’s failure to fulfill its core obligations” but fails to recognize the impact of the US blockade preventing vital medicines from reaching Venezuela. The report similarly accuses the Venezuelan government of not ensuring the “right of food” without recognizing the elephant in the room – the US sanctions. 

Prof. Steve Ellner of Venezuela’s University of the East paints a more balanced picture of the causes of the current situation in Venezuela:

Five major explanations have been put forward: the unrelenting hostility of internal and external adversaries, leading to international sanctions and threats of military action; the plummeting of international oil prices, aggravated by the government’s failure to diversify production and sever dependency on petroleum; mistaken policies that discouraged private investments; the mismanagement and incompetence of the Maduro government; and socialism’s inherent contradictions and unsustainability.”

Dismissing the fifth explanation about the failure of socialism as simply ideological, he concludes like a good academician that all four of the remaining explanations have some degree of validity without teasing out the prime cause. Ellner adds that whatever the geometry of blame may be, the human rights solution in Venezuela must entail the immediate cessation of the US sanctions and regime-change activities. 

Economists Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University address the chicken-or-the-egg question of the role of US sanctions on Venezuela’s economic meltdown. Comparing, among other factors, the trajectory of oil production in Venezuela and Colombia pre- and post-sanctions, they conclusively demonstrate that the US measures, which they characterize as “collective punishment,” have been the decisive factor.

The Bachelet report takes the US government’s view of the impact of the sanctions: “The economy of Venezuela, particularly its oil industry and food production systems, were already in crisis before any sectoral sanctions were imposed.”

In her inimitable way, blogger Caitlin Johnstone tweeted:

People who claim tens of thousands of Venezuelans would be starving to death even without US economic warfare are like a lawyer arguing ‘Your honor my client did indeed shoot the victim, but I intend to convince the jury that he would have died anyway.’”

 

Ignoring the siege, reporting the reaction

Unlike the US and its allies, which recognize the self-proclaimed Juan Guaidó as president of Venezuela, the UN recognizes the government of President Nicolás Maduro as legitimate. Bachelet as an emissary of the UN, while hyper-critical of the Venezuelan institutions of state, met with the Venezuelan president, attorney general, ombudsman, and members of the Constituent Assembly, implicitly affirming their legitimacy. Bachelet also met with the US surrogate Guaidó, but only in his capacity as president of the National Assembly. 

Venezuelan state actors have been responsible for human rights abuses as in any state. However, the government headed by Nicolás Maduro has itself arrested violators and adjudicates people for violations. The Bachelet report, while documenting instances of abuse, does not establish a systematic state policy of violations even with its flawed methodology of primarily relying on testimonies of persons outside of Venezuela.  

The Venezuelan state is under siege by the US and its international allies and by the US-allied far-right domestic opposition in Venezuela, who call for a US military invasion of their own country. The Bachelet report by primarily condemning the Venezuelan state’s response to the siege, but rendering the siege itself virtually invisible, in effect provides justification for the US-backed regime-change operation.

 

A more factual accounting

A more factual accounting of the current situation in Venezuela than the Bachelet report would have included (cf. Task Force on the Americas):

  • What amounts to war by the US government on Venezuela is motivated by the accomplishments of the Bolivarian Revolution, not its faults. The Venezuelans have sought to create a more inclusive polity to empower poor and working people and to redistribute national wealth. In addition, Venezuela has promoted regional integration and independence from the US-based on respecting national sovereignty in a multi-polar world. 
  • The US government is not interested in or motivated by human rights or democracy. The US has a long history of supporting coups (e.g., Venezuela in 2002, Haiti in 2004, Honduras in 2009) and the most repressive states throughout Latin American (e.g., Honduras and Colombia) and, indeed, the world (e.g., Saudi Arabia). 
  • The actions of the US government are explicitly designed to prevent the correction of Venezuela’s supposed faults. Even the humanitarian CLAP program, bringing basic food items to people in need, has been targeted. 

People take boxes of food staples provided by the government program “CLAP” in Caracas, Venezuela, May 16, 2018. Ariana Cubillos | AP

  • If Venezuela’s supposed faults were primarily the cause of the current crisis, the US government would not have had to impose its economic war to attack the economy. The economic war constitutes an illegal, unilateral, and coercive form of collective punishment against the population, which has caused great misery and an estimated 40,000 deaths
  • In fact, US officials have explicitly stated that they are interested in having dominion over the vast resources of Venezuela, including the world’s largest petroleum reserves. 

 

The time for dialogue is never over

The deceiving human rights narrative of the UN report lends itself to a justification for trying to overthrow a sovereign state and its democratically elected government. Were the UN to genuinely promote a just solution to the current conflict, their human rights report should have promoted the following elements (cf. Venezuela Solidarity Campaign):

  • Venezuela’s right to national sovereignty, rejecting external intervention.
  • Respect for international law.
  • The immediate and unconditional lifting of all economic and financial sanctions, which are illegal under international law and have criminal consequences.

The Bachelet report, which one-sidedly only addresses what the Maduro government must do to rectify the situation, does not include dialogue among its concluding “recommendations.” However, Ms. Bachelet herself calls for a process of dialogue to resolve differences, which is key. 

Four days after the issuance of the Bachelet report, Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley stated that her government was ready to host dialogue efforts between the Venezuelan government and the opposition brokered by the government of Norway. In contrast to the US position and echoed by its surrogate Guaidó, the Caribbean leader said that “Barbados along with other CARICOM governments, have made it absolutely clear that the time for dialogue is never over and that as a zone of peace, we would want to see a very peaceful resolution to the problems in Venezuela.” 

Feature photo | U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, center, poses for a photo with Venezuela’s self proclaimed President Juan Guaido, center left, and other opposition lawmakers on the steps of the national assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, June 21, 2019. Ariana Cubillos | AP

Roger D. Harris is on the board of the Task Force on the Americas, a 33-year-old human rights organization.

The post The Glaring Holes in Michelle Bachelet’s Venezuela Human Rights Report appeared first on MintPress News.

The Untold Story of Christian Zionism’s Rise to Power in the United States

The largest pro-Israel organization in the United States is not composed of Jews, but of Christian evangelicals, with a total membership of 7 million, more than 2 million more members than the entirety of the American Jewish community. 

Members of this organization, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), met in Washington on Monday, attracting thousands of attendees and featuring speeches from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Secretary of State and former CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence, and National Security Advisor John Bolton. CUFI’s leader, controversial evangelical preacher John Hagee, has met with President Donald Trump several times and was recently part of an exclusive White House meeting in March on the administration’s upcoming “peace plan” for Israel and Palestine.

CUFI is but one of many organizations throughout American history that have promoted the state of Israel and Zionism on the grounds that a Jewish ethnostate in Palestine is a requirement for the fulfillment of end-times prophecy and necessary for Jesus Christ to return to Earth — an event Christians often refer to as “the Second Coming.” 

While organizations like CUFI and its predecessors have long seen the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, and the later Israeli victory and conquest of Jerusalem in 1967, as the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, there is one prophecy that this sect of evangelical Christians believes is the only thing standing between them and the Second Coming. There are estimated to be more than 20 million of these Christians, often referred to as Christian Zionists, in the United States and they are a key voting bloc and source of political donations for the Republican Party.

As was explored in previous installments of this series, these Christian Zionists, much like religious Zionist extremists in Israel, believe that the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock must be replaced with a Third Jewish Temple in order to usher in the end times. 

These two groups of different faiths, since the 19th century, have repeatedly formed an opportunistic alliance in order to ensure the fulfillment of their respective prophecies, despite the fact that members of the other faith are rarely if ever on the same page in their interpretations of what occurs after the temple’s construction.

This alliance, based on a mutual obsession with hastening the coming of the Apocalypse, continues to this day and now, more than at any other time in history, these groups have reached the heights of power in both Israel and the United States. Parts I and II of this exclusive series explored how this branch of religious Zionism has come to dominate the current right-wing government of Israel and has led Israel’s current government to take definitive steps towards the destruction of the Al Aqsa mosque and the imminent construction of a Third Temple.

Now this installment (Part III) will show how this movement’s Christian counterpart in the United States, Christian Zionism, has likewise become a dominant force in American politics, particularly following the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, where this apocalyptic vision is a major driver behind his administration’s Middle East policy. 

Yet, this fire-and-brimstone vision of the end times has long been a guide for prominent figures in American history and the American elite, even predating Zionism’s founding as a political movement. Thus, Christian Zionism’s influence on Trump administration policy is merely the latest of a long list of examples where prophecy and politics have mixed in American history, often with world-altering results.

 

Puritans, Prophecy and Palestine

Accounts of the role of European and North American Christians in the creation of the state of Israel often begin with the Balfour Declaration of 1917, but the efforts of certain Christian groups in England and the United States to create a Jewish state in Palestine actually date back centuries earlier and significantly predate Zionism’s official founding by Theodore Herzl. 

Among the first advocates for the physical immigration of European Jews to Palestine were the Puritans, an offshoot of Christian Protestantism that emerged in the late 16th century and became influential in England and, later, in the American colonies. Influential Puritans devoted considerable interest to the role of Jews in eschatology, or end-times theology, with many — such as John Owen, a 17th-century theologian, member of parliament, and administrator at Oxford — believing that the physical return of Jews to Palestine was necessary for the fulfillment of end-time prophecy. 

While the Puritan roots of what would later become known as Christian Zionism are often overlooked in modern accounts of where and why American evangelical support for Israel began, its adherents still clearly acknowledge its legacy. For instance, on Monday at the CUFI conference, Pompeo, himself a Christian Zionist known for his obsession with the end times, told the group the following:

Christian support in America for Zion — for a Jewish homeland — runs back to the early Puritan settlers, and it has endured for centuries. Indeed, our second president [John Adams], a couple years back, said… ‘I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent nation.’

These Puritan beliefs, which persist today and have only grown in popularity, became more entrenched in England and colonial America with time, especially among the monied political class, and led to a variety of interpretations regarding exactly what the Bible says about the end times. Among the most influential was the development of Christian “dispensationalism,” an interpretive framework that uses the Bible to divide history into different periods of “dispensations” and sees the Bible’s prophetic references to “Israel” as signifying an ethnically Jewish nation established in Palestine.

Charles Russell’s visual interpretation of Darby’s ‘dispensations’ circa 1886

Dispensationalism was largely developed by English-Irish preacher John Nelson Darby, who believed that the God-ordained fates of Israel and the Christian church were completely separate, with the latter to be physically removed from the Earth by God prior to a foretold period of earthly suffering known as the Tribulation. 

In Darby’s view, the Tribulation would begin following the construction of a Third Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This belief in the physical removal of Christians from the Earth prior to the Tribulation, widely known as “the rapture,” was invented by Darby in the 1820s and its lack of scriptural support has been widely noted by theologians of various denominations as well as biblical scholars. However, it is important to point that there are differences among dispensationalist Christians as to whether the rapture will occur before, during or after the Tribulation period.

Yet, despite its relatively short existence as an idea and lack of support in the Bible, the rapture was enthusiastically adopted by some churches in England and the United States, particularly the latter. This was largely thanks to the work of highly controversial theologian Cyrus Scofield.

Notably, Darby’s brand of Christian eschatology coincides with similar developments in Jewish eschatology, namely the ideas of Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Kalisher and the creation of a new branch of Jewish messianism that believed that Jews must proactively work to hasten the coming of their messiah by immigrating to Israel and building a Third Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Darby’s beliefs, and those he inspired promoted something similar in the sense that Christians could hasten the coming of the rapture and the Tribulation by promoting the immigration of Jews to Israel as well as the construction of a Third Jewish Temple.

 

Christian Zionists pave the way for Theodore Herzl

Darby traveled to North America and several other countries to popularize his ideas, meeting several influential pastors throughout the English speaking world, including James Brookes, the future mentor of Cyrus Scofield. His travels and the spread of his written works popularized his eschatological views among certain circles of American and English Christians during the religious revival of the 19th century. Darby’s beliefs were particularly attractive to the elite of both countries, with some English noblemen placing newspaper advertisements urging Jews to immigrate to Palestine as early as the 1840s.

Another prominent figure influenced by Darby’s end-times doctrine was the American preacher Charles Taze Russell, whose church later gave rise to several different churches, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Decades before the founding of modern political Zionism, Russell began preaching — not just to Christians, but to Jews in the United States and elsewhere — about the need for mass Jewish immigration to Palestine.

As Rabbi Kalisher had done a few decades prior, Russell penned a letter in 1891 to a wealthy member of the Rothschild banking family, Edmond de Rothschild, as well as Maurice von Hirsch, a wealthy German financier, about his plan for the Jewish settlement of Palestine. Russell described his plan as follows: 

My suggestion is that the wealthy Hebrews purchase from Turkey, at a fair valuation, all of her property interest in these lands: i.e., all of the Government lands (lands not held by private owners), under the provision that Syria and Palestine shall be constituted a free state.” 

The same plan was to resurface a few years later in arguably the most influential Zionist book of all time, Theodore Herzl’s The Jewish State, which was published in 1896.

Russell addresses an audience of American Jews in New York in 1910. Photo | Public Domain

It is unknown whether Rothschild or Hirsch was influenced at all by Russell’s letter, though Russell’s ideas did have a lasting impact on some prominent American Jews and American Christians with regard to his promotion of Jewish immigration to Palestine.

The same year that Russell wrote his letter to de Rothschild and von Hirsch, another influential dispensationalist preacher wrote another document that is often overlooked in exploring the role of American Christians in the development and popularization of Zionism. William E. Blackstone, an American preacher who was greatly influenced by Darby and other dispensationalists of the era, had spent decades promoting with great fervor the immigration of Jews to Palestine as a means of fulfilling Biblical prophecy.

The culmination of Blackstone’s efforts came in the form of the Blackstone Memorial, a petition that pleaded that then-President of the United States Benjamin Harrison and his secretary of state, James Blaine, take action “in favor of the restoration of Palestine to the Jews.” The largely forgotten petition asked Harrison and Blaine to use their influence to “secure the holding at an early date, of an international conference to consider the condition of the Israelites and their claims to Palestine as their ancient home, and to promote, in all other just and proper ways, the alleviation of their suffering condition.”

As with Russell’s letter to de Rothschild and von Hirsch, it is unknown exactly how influential the Blackstone Memorial was in influencing the views or policies of Harrison or Blaine. However, the Blackstone Memorial petition is highly significant because of its signatories, which included the most influential and wealthiest Americans of the era, the majority of whom were Christians.

Signatories of the Blackstone Memorial included J.D. Rockefeller, the country’s first billionaire; J.P. Morgan, the wealthy banker; William McKinley, future president of the United States; Thomas Brackett Reed, then speaker of the House; Melville Fuller, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; the mayors of New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston and Chicago; the editors of the Boston Globe, New York Times, Washington Post, and Chicago Tribune, among others; and numerous other members of Congress, as well as influential businessmen and clergymen. Though some rabbis were included as signatories, the petition’s content was opposed by most American Jewish communities. In other words, the primary goal of Zionism, before it even became a movement, was widely supported by the American Christian elite, but opposed by American Jews.

The Blackstone Memorial would later attract the attention of Louis Brandeis, one of the most prominent American Jewish Zionists, who would later refer to Blackstone as the real “founding father of Zionism,” according to Brandeis’ close friend Nathan Straus. Brandeis would eventually succeed in convincing an elderly Blackstone to petition then-President Woodrow Wilson with a second Blackstone Memorial in 1916 that was presented in private to Wilson nearly a year later. 

Instead of gathering signatures from prominent members of America’s elite class, Blackstone this time focused on shoring up support from Protestant organizations, namely the Presbyterian Church, in keeping with Wilson’s Presbyterian faith. According to historian Jerry Klinger, president of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, this change in focus had been Brandeis’, not Blackstone’s, idea. 

Alison Weir, author of Against Our Better Judgment: The Hidden History of How the U.S. Was Used to Create Israel, described Brandeis as “one of the most influential” American Zionists and a key figure in the efforts to push Wilson to support the formation of a Jewish state in Palestine, of which Blackstone’s second petition was part. However, Weir asserted that Blackstone’s second petition was secondary to a so-called “gentleman’s agreement” whereby English officials promised to support a Jewish state in Palestine if American Zionists, led by Brandeis, were able to secure the United States’ entry into World War I.

Wilson ultimately supported Blackstone’s new document, which was never presented publicly to the president, but privately by Rabbi Stephen Wise. This second Blackstone Memorial was a key component of the Brandeis-led campaign that eventually guaranteed American support — i.e., private support — for the Balfour Declaration, which established British intentions to support a Jewish ethnostate in Palestine. Notably, the Balfour Declaration is named for the then-English Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, himself a Christian dispensationalist, though Weir told MintPress that Balfour was more likely influenced by political imperatives than religious motives. The only person in the British cabinet to oppose the Balfour Declaration was its only Jewish member, Edwin Montagu.

The Balfour Declaration was addressed to a member of the Rothschild banking family, Lionel Walter Rothschild, the last in a series of letters written to members of the Rothschild family urging them to use their wealth and political influence to favor the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine: from Rabbi Kalisher, who wrote to Baron Amschel Rothschild in 1836; to Charles Taze Russell, who wrote to Edmond de Rothschild in 1891; and finally to the Balfour Declaration, written to Lionel Walter Rothschild in 1917. 

Weir told MintPress that the Rothschilds figure so prominently in these early efforts to establish a Jewish state in Palestine owing to “their wealth and the power that goes with it,” making them very sought after by those who felt that a Jewish state could be formed in Palestine by the purchase of the territory by wealthy European Jews, as both Kalisher and Russell had proposed. However, the Balfour Declaration was addressed to the Rothschilds because, at that time, members of the Rothschild family, Edmond de Rothschild in particular, had become among the strongest supporters of the Zionist cause.

Though the declaration carries his name, it is unclear whether Balfour himself actually authored the document. Some historians — such as Michael Rubinstein, former president of the Jewish Historical Society of England — have made the case that the declaration itself was written by Leopold Amery, then-political secretary of England’s War Cabinet and a Zionist who, despite his commitment to the Zionist cause, obfuscated his Jewish roots for much of his career for reasons that are still the source of speculation.

As shown by the Balfour Declaration and the lobbying efforts that led to its creation, support for what would soon become known as Zionism among the nobility of England and the United States was already formidable before Herzl even began work on The Jewish State. It is worth considering that the power and influence of this religiously-motivated class of Christian elites had an influence on Herzl and his ideas, particularly given the fact that dispensationalist Christians had been promoting a Jewish ethnostate in Palestine at a time when the idea was unpopular among many prominent Jews in Europe and the United States. 

Furthermore, the role of Christian Zionists, as they would later become known, continued well after Herzl began his Zionist activities, and resulted in many of the most influential acts that led to the establishment of the State of Israel, including the Balfour Declaration.

Notably, Herzl’s own success in promoting his views following the publication of The Jewish State was largely due to English dispensationalist pastor William Hechler. Hechler, while serving as chaplain at the British Embassy in Vienna, forged an alliance and later close friendship with Herzl and was critical to negotiating meetings between Herzl and prominent members of the German government, including Kaiser Wilhelm II, which lent necessary political legitimacy to Herzl’s Zionist movement. 

A largely overlooked figure in the rise of Zionism, Hechler is mentioned in Herzl’s diary more than any other person and passionately felt that the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine would bring about the end times. Hechler is also known to have been extremely interested in the construction of a Third Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount, having devoted considerable time to creating models of that Temple, some of which he prominently displayed in his office and showed to Herzl with great enthusiasm during their first meeting.

Herzl gives Kaiser Wilhelm II a tour of an early Jewish settlement near Jaffa, Palestine in 1898. Photo | Israel GPO

The Hechler-Herzl alliance is one early example of how Christian Zionists and Jewish Zionists each used the motivations of the other for political gain despite the fact that Christian Zionists often hold anti-Semitic views and secular Zionists, as well as religious Zionists, do not hold Christianity in high regard. This opportunism on the parts of both Christian and Jewish Zionists has been a key feature in the rise of Zionism, particularly in the United States, and the case of Cyrus Scofield, the man more responsible than any for popularizing Christian Zionism among American evangelicals, offers another important example.

 

The surprising story of Cyrus Scofield 

There is perhaps no other book that has been more influential in the dissemination of Christian Zionism in the United States than the Scofield Reference Bible, a version of the King James Bible whose annotations were written by Cyrus Scofield. Scofield — who had no formal theological training, though he later claimed to have a D.D. (doctor of divinity degree) — originally worked as a lawyer and political operative in the state of Kansas and eventually became the district attorney of that state. 

Soon after his appointment to the position, he was forced to resign as a result of numerous allegations of corruption, including bribery, forging signatures on banknotes and stealing political donations from then-Senator of Kansas James Ingalls. During this time, Scofield abandoned his wife and two daughters, an action since blamed on the burgeoning scandals he was facing as well as his self-admitted heavy drinking habits.

Amid this backdrop, Scofield is said to have become an evangelical around the year 1879 and soon became associated with prominent dispensationalist preachers of the era, including Dwight Moody and James Brookes. Local papers at the time, such as the Atchison Patriot, regarded Scofield’s conversion and career change with great skepticism, referring to Scofield as the “late lawyer, politician and shyster generally” who had disgraced himself by committing “many malicious acts.” 

Scofield went on to pastor relatively small churches, moving from Kansas to Dallas, Texas, and later Massachusetts. Yet, despite his lack of renown and  his troubled history, by 1901 Scofield had managed to gain entrance to an exclusive men’s club in New York, the Lotos Club, whose members at the time included steel magnate and multi-millionaire Andrew Carnegie, members of the Vanderbilt family, and famous American writer Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain. 

Pastor Scofield, center, with the Deacons of the First Congregational Church of Dallas, circa 1880s

Scofield’s membership in this exclusive club — as well as the club’s patronage of his activities, which granted him lodging and financing to produce what would become the Scofield Reference Bible — has been the subject of considerable speculation. Indeed, many have noted that the presence of a fundamentalist, dispensationalist small-town preacher with a disgraced political past in a club stuffed with some of the country’s most elite academics, writers and robber barons just doesn’t add up.

Joseph M. Canfield, in his book The Incredible Scofield and his Book, asserted that “the admission of Scofield to the Lotus Club, which could not have been sought by Scofield, strengthens the suspicion that has cropped up before, that someone was directing the career of C.I. Scofield.” 

Canfield puts forth the theory in his book that the person “directing” Scofield’s career was connected to New York lawyer and Zionist activist Samuel Untermeyer, who was on the club’s executive committee and was a close associate of Louis Brandeis and influential in the administration of Woodrow Wilson. He then notes that Scofield’s annotated bible was later “most helpful in getting Fundamentalist Christians to back the international interest in one of Untermeyer’s pet projects — the Zionist Movement.” 

Other scholars, such as David Lutz, have been more explicit than Canfield in linking Untermeyer’s Zionist activism to his role in financially backing Scofield and his work on his annotated Bible. Ultimately, like the Blackstone Memorial before it, the Lotos Club’s patronage of Scofield’s work again reveals the interest of the American elite of the era, Christian and Jewish alike, in promoting Christian Zionism.

Untermeyer and the Lotos Club notably also funded Scofield’s numerous travels to Europe, including one fateful trip to England where Scofield met with Henry Frowde, publisher of Oxford University Press. Frowde was taken with Scofield’s work, largely owing to the fact that Frowde was a member of the “Exclusive Brethren,” a religious group founded by John Nelson Darby, the father of dispensationalism. Oxford University Press subsequently published the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. Twenty years after its publication, it became the first-ever Oxford publication to generate over a million dollars in sales.

Scofield’s Bible became spectacularly popular among American fundamentalists soon after its publication, partly because it was the first annotated bible that sought to interpret the text for the reader as well as because it became the central text of several influential seminaries that were set up after its 1909 publication. Among Scofield’s many annotations are claims that have since become central to Christian Zionism, such as Scofield’s annotation of Genesis 12:3 that those who curse Israel (interpreted by Christian Zionists to mean the state of Israel since its founding in 1948) will be cursed by God and those that bless Israel will similarly be blessed. 

Modern Christian Zionists, like Pastor John Hagee of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), have frequently cited this interpretation that originated with Scofield in defending extreme pro-Israel stances. For instance, Hagee made the following statement in 2014:

You have to go back to basics, with the fact that in Genesis (chapter 1), God created the world and made a very solemn promise (brought in Gen. 12:3), ‘I will bless those who bless you and I will curse those who curse you.’ From that moment on, every nation that ever blessed Israel has been blessed by God. And every nation that has ever persecuted the Jewish people, God crushed. And so He will continue.”

 

Falwell and Likud: a friendship or something else?

Despite the widespread dissemination of the Scofield Reference Bible and its popularization among American evangelical churches and seminaries, the public influence of dispensationalist eschatology and Christian Zionism on American politics was relatively limited for much of the 20th century. However, the private influence of Christian dispensationalists was nonetheless present, as seen through the role of dispensationalist preacher and Third Temple advocate Billy Graham and his close relationships to several presidents including Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. 

Then the political power of dispensationalist theology dramatically moved from the private quarters of the halls of power into the mainstream American political discourse with the founding of the Moral Majority by evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell in 1979.

In the early 1970s, Falwell’s growing ministry was bringing in millions of dollars annually, especially his nationally broadcast program “The Old Time Gospel Hour,” which ran on several major cable networks at the time. Despite — or perhaps because of — the spike in donations, Falwell was soon targeted by the federal government, specifically the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), for “fraud and deceit” and “gross insolvency” in the financial management of his ministry, particularly the ministry’s sale of $6.6 million in church bonds. The SEC lawsuit was eventually settled when a group of businessmen in Lynchburg, Virginia — where Falwell’s ministry was based — took over the ministry’s finances for the next several years, until 1977. Falwell blamed his ministry’s financial problems on his “financial ignorance.”

Jerry Falwell travels with his son Jonathan, right, aboard his private jet in 2004. Todd Hunley | Thomas Road Baptist Church

One year after his ministry appeared to be on a better financial footing, Falwell received an invitation to visit the state of Israel and was personally invited on the all-expenses-paid trip by Menachem Begin, then the prime minister of Israel and leader of the Likud Party. The trip would mark the beginning of a long friendship and close relationship between Falwell and Begin and, more broadly, a relationship between American evangelical leaders and Israel’s Likud Party. As Israeli historian Gershom Gorenberg notes in his book The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount, the Begin administration “was the first to tap evangelical enthusiasm for Israel and turn it into political and economic support.”

Soon after returning from Israel, Falwell’s finances again came under federal scrutiny after a federal investigation found that Falwell had transferred the health insurance policies of his employees to an unlicensed shell company with just $128 in assets and hundreds of thousands in dollars in unpaid claims. Just as Falwell’s financial troubles began to mount yet again, he received a generous gift from none other than Begin in the form of a private Learjet valued at $4 million. Shortly thereafter, Falwell went on to found the Moral Majority organization, “after consultations with theologians and political strategists.” 

The Moral Majority is widely credited with turning the Christian evangelical right into a major political force in the United States, promoting extremely pro-Israel policies, increased defense spending, a Reaganite approach to the challenges of the Cold War, as well as conservative domestic policies. Falwell frequently utilized his gift from Begin in traveling and promoting the new organization, as well as himself as a major public figure.

The Moral Majority marks a clear turning point in the Israel-U.S. evangelical relationship, as it made fervent support for Israel an area of major importance to evangelical voters and also led many evangelical voters to pay closer attention to events going on in the Middle East. Yet, given Falwell’s strong promotion of Christian Zionism, many evangelicals who became increasingly politically active following the organization’s founding not only supported Israel’s policies of the era but also supported many of the future ambitions of Begin and the Likud Party. This support was solidified by the beginning of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism’s ongoing practice of offering U.S. evangelical leaders free “familiarization” tours to Israel in the early 1980s.

Begin’s vision of “Greater Israel” — the complete annexation of Palestine as well as large parts of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Egypt by Israel — was also shared and promoted by Falwell. In 1983, Falwell stated that “Begin will quickly tell you, ‘We don’t have all the land yet we’re going to have,’” and further predicted that Israel would never relinquish control over the occupied West Bank because Begin was determined to keep the land “which has been delivered to them (the Israelis).” 

Falwell framed Begin’s expansionist ambitions as a religious belief in “the inerrancy of the Old Testament,” a sentiment Falwell shared. Falwell also pushed for a U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and felt that construction of a Third Temple on the Temple Mount was necessary to usher in the end times and the second coming of Christ.

As Falwell helped turn Christian Zionism into a major political force in the United States, he also made himself a key political figure in the Reagan era and an important go-between for U.S.-Israel relations. In 1981 Begin informed Falwell of his plans to bomb an Iraqi nuclear facility before he informed the Reagan administration with the hopes that Falwell would “explain to the Christian public the reasons for the bombing.” According to Canadian academic David S. New, Begin told Falwell during that phone call: “Get to work for me.” 

In addition, Falwell frequently met with Begin, whom he later called a personal friend, and these meetings often overlapped with Begin’s official meetings with Reagan. A year later, Begin gave Falwell Israel’s Jabotinsky award, making Falwell the first non-Jew to receive the honor for his advocacy on behalf of Israel and, more specifically, Likud policies and ambitions.

Though the Moral Majority officially shuttered its doors in 1989, its political legacy persisted long after, as did Falwell’s political clout. Indeed, following Begin’s model, Benjamin Netanyahu, during his first term as prime minister, also made a habit of visiting Falwell, meeting with the controversial pastor even before he met with political officials in his visits to Washington. 

Netanyahu, left, meets Falwell at a hotel in Washington, Jan. 19, 1998. Greg Gibson | AP

During one trip to D.C. in 1998, Netanyahu’s first visit was to an event co-hosted by Falwell, where the pastor praised Netanyahu as “the Ronald Reagan of Israel.” The New York Times described the purpose of Netanyahu’s U.S. visit not as a visit aimed at meeting with government officials, but rather one intended “to shore up his base of traditional support in the United States. Conservative Christian groups have long been ardent supporters of Israel because of its religious importance to Christianity.”

However, this relationship between Christian Zionists like Falwell and prominent right-wing Israeli politicians has not been without its controversy, especially given that pro-Israel evangelicals like Falwell have a history of making anti-semitic statements.

For example, during a 1999 sermon, Falwell discussed his interpretation of end-times prophecy, widely shared by Christian Zionist evangelicals, that the Second Coming would follow not just the creation of the state of Israel but the construction of a Third Temple on the Temple Mount, from which a figure known to Christians as the “Antichrist” would reign. In responding to his own rhetorical question as to whether the Antichrist is “alive and well today,” Falwell stated that “Probably because when he appears during the tribulation period he will be a full-grown counterfeit of Christ. Of course, he’ll be Jewish.”

Falwell’s comments were immediately condemned by a variety of Jewish groups, including the pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Rabbi Leon Klenicki, then-director of interfaith affairs for the ADL, noted that Falwell’s view is a “common theological position” among American evangelicals and that Falwell was “an influential voice among evangelical and charismatic Christians” who “only supports Israel for his own Christological ends.” “He sees us only as the ones who prepare the coming of Jesus,” Klenicki stated at the time. “It is a great disappointment after more than 30 years of dialogue; he’s still in the Middle Ages.”

Another prominent dispensationalist with great political and literary influence is Hal Lindsey, the author and co-author of several books, including the popular Left Behind book series. Lindsey’s work greatly influenced many prominent U.S. politicians like Ronald Reagan, who was so moved by Lindsey’s books that he invited Lindsey to address a National Security Council meeting on nuclear war plans and helped make Lindsey an influential consultant with several members of Congress and the Pentagon.

As noted by Israeli historian Gershom Gorenberg, Lindsey sees Jews as serving “two central roles” in Christian dispensationalist eschatology: 

[T]he first — despite his insistence of love for Jews — is the classic one of Christian anti-Jewish polemic: They are ‘the Jewish people who crucified Jesus’ and the archetype of those who ignore the truth of prophecy. The second role is to fulfill prophecy despite themselves.”

Gorenberg further notes that Lindsey believes that Jews have fulfilled two of the three crucial prophecies that will usher in the end times, with the first being the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the second being the Israeli conquest and occupation of Jerusalem after the Six Day War in 1967. According to Lindsey: “There remains but one more event to completely set the stage for Israel’s part in the last great act of her historical drama. That is to rebuild the ancient Temple…”

As Falwell’s and Lindsey’s comments reveal, the eschatological views of dispensationalism frequently perceive the Jewish people as little more than pawns that must fulfill certain requirements — e.g., establishing the state of Israel, conquering Jerusalem, building a Third Temple — in order to hasten the salvation and “rapture” of evangelical Christians. Meanwhile, Jews in Israel who do not convert to Christianity are expected to die horrible deaths, though some Christian Zionists in recent years, as will be seen shortly, have sought to adjust this still common theological position.

Despite the anti-semitic motivations underlying evangelical support for the state of Israel and the Likud-supported vision of “Greater Israel,” the politically active Christian Zionist movement that Falwell helped create translated into a strong support base for Israel and right-wing Likud policy that has made it crucial to prominent Israeli politicians. 

For instance, significantly more American Christians (55 percent) than American Jews (40 percent) believe that God gave Israel to the Jews while that sentiment is shared by only 19 percent of Israeli Christians. In addition, with regards to the Trump administration’s pro-Israel policies, only 15 percent of evangelical Christians believe that President Trump favors Israel too strongly while 42 percent of American Jews hold the view that Trump is biased in favor of Israel.

In a video recorded in the early 2000s — later broadcast on Israeli TV —  Netanyahu, speaking to a family of Jewish settlers, described the mass support among Americans, particularly evangelicals, for Israel as “absurd,” saying: 

America is something that can be easily moved. Moved in the right direction. They won’t get in our way; 80 percent of the Americans supprt us. It’s absurd.”

In a 2017 speech to the Christian Zionist group CUFI, Netanyahu made it clear that much of this “absurd” support came from American evangelicals, stating that “America has no better friend than Israel and Israel has no better friend than America, and Israel has no better friend in America than you.”

 
Richard Silverstein — an academic and journalist whose work has been published in Haaretz and MintPress, among other outlets — has argued that Israeli politicians, particularly Netanyahu, have sought out support from evangelical groups despite their anti-Semitic undertones and the fact they the act out of self-interest in pursuing their political objectives. 

In a 2017 article, Silverstein stated that for Israel’s nationalist right-wing:

Judaism is not a spiritual value, it is a physical manifestation of power in the world. These Israelis understand that not all Jews are their “brothers.” Some Jews are too effete, too liberal, too humane, too universalist. These Jews are the detritus which will be washed away by the tide of history. Israeli nationalists need to replace these traditional Jewish allies and have done so by finding new ones: Christian evangelicals, African dictators, European neo-Nazis. Zionism as they define it is less a movement dedicated to ethics and more one dedicated to self-interest.”

 

A “vital part of Israel’s national security”

As Falwell began to fade from public view in the early 2000s, his legacy has largely fallen to a handful of preachers now at the forefront of Christian Zionism and Christian Zionist political activism, with Falwell’s son, Jerry Falwell Jr., ranking prominently among them. However, of the preachers that followed in Falwell’s footsteps, one stands out: John Hagee.

Hagee is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, which has an active membership of over 22,000. A charismatic Christian who believes in dispensationalist eschatology and thinks that Christians are biblically required to support Israel, Hagee has long been a major advocate for Israel within evangelical and charismatic Christianity circles and has raised over $80 million for Israel since he first began hosting “A Night to Honor Israel” events in the early 1980s.

In 2006, Hagee sought to create the “Christian AIPAC” and revived a then-defunct organization previously founded in 1975 known as Christians United for Israel, or CUFI, mentioned at the beginning of this installment. Since its re-founding, CUFI has grown exponentially, now counting 7 million members, a figure that exceeds the Jewish population of the United States, which stands at around 5.7 million. Hagee chairs its executive board, which included Jerry Falwell up until Falwell’s death in 2007.

Vice President Pence, left, greets Hagee at CUFI’s annual summit, July 8, 2019, in Washington. Patrick Semansky | AP

CUFI is exempt from paying U.S. taxes and from publicly disclosing its finances because it is officially registered as a church, though it is often likened to an arm of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States and actively promotes and funds illegal West Bank settlements. CUFI also advocates for Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount and the construction of a Third Temple.

Much has been written about CUFI’s influence in the Republican Party, which began under the George W. Bush administration soon after its founding. As journalist Max Blumenthal noted in a 2006 article for The Nation: “Over the past months, the White House has convened a series of off-the-record meetings about its policies in the Middle East with leaders of Christians United for Israel (CUFI).” 

As a result of these meetings, CUFI aligned itself tightly with the neoconservatives that were well represented in the Bush administration, even appointing neoconservative and Christian Zionist Gary Bauer to its board and naming Bauer the first director of its lobbying arm, the CUFI Action Fund. Bauer is a founding member of the highly controversial and now-defunct neoconservative group, Project for a New American Century (PNAC), and has also served on the executive board of the neoconservative group Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD). 

CUFI has since won powerful allies and counts neoconservative Elliott Abrams; former CIA director James Woosley; neoconservative archon Bill Kristol; former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee; Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Ted Cruz (R-TX); Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence among its staunchest supporters. At a CUFI summit last year, Netanyahu described CUFI as a “vital part of Israel’s national security.”

In addition, CUFI has close ties to casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the top donor to President Trump and the entire Republican Party. Adelson even received a special award from Hagee at a 2014 CUFI event. “I’ve never had a greater warm feeling than being honored by Pastor Hagee,” said a beaming Sheldon Adelson at the time. 
At the most recent CUFI summit, held on Monday, the Trump administration sent Pence, Pompeo, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, and National Security Advisor John Bolton, all of whom spoke at the summit. 

CUFI’s 2019 Washington Summit is days away and includes speakers @VP @Mike_Pence, @SecPompeo, @USAmbIsrael David Friedman, NSA @AmbJohnBolton, Assistant to President Trump @JdGreenblatt45, @DennisPrager, and @PastorJohnHagee.

Register at https://t.co/q1hsRMLNnA. pic.twitter.com/EO1Bi11llR

— Pastor John Hagee (@PastorJohnHagee) July 4, 2019

In addition to its own influence as an organization, the group has made Hagee himself a major political player. In 2007, then-Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) compared Hagee to Moses, stating:

I want to take to opportunity to describe Pastor Hagee in the terms the Torah used to describe Moses. He is an Ish Elohim. A man of God. And those words really do fit him. And I have something else. Like Moses, he’s become the leader of a mighty multitude. Even greater than the multitude that Moses led from Egypt to the Promised Land.” 

Efforts by prominent politicians to court Hagee were once numerous, until evidence of Hagee making remarks about the Holocaust that were widely considered anti-semitic surfaced during the 2008 presidential campaign. In those remarks, Hagee asserted that Adolf Hitler had been sent by God to act as a “hunter,” and force Jews by means of the Holocaust to resettle in Palestine as a means of fulfilling Biblical prophecy. Then-Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who had aggressively courted Hagee’s endorsement, was forced to distance himself from Hagee after those comments resurfaced. 

Yet, the stigma around Hagee has since worn off and his influence is again on the rise following Trump’s election to the presidency, as evidenced by the attendance of numerous top Trump officials to the 2019 CUFI Washington Summit earlier this week.

Though he was not included on the official board of Trump’s evangelical advisers early in Trump’s presidency, several slightly less controversial allies and associates of Hagee were, including Tom Mullins, Jerry Falwell Jr., and Kenneth Copeland. Then, a few months after Trump’s inauguration, Hagee “dropped by” the White House unannounced and met with Trump in the Oval Office to discuss U.S. support for Israel. He also met with Trump a few weeks before Trump announced plans to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a meeting at which Trump had reportedly promised Hagee that the embassy would soon be moved and told the pastor “I will not disappoint you.” Hagee described Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem as having “biblical timing of absolute precision.” 

More recently, Hagee was part of an exclusive group of evangelical leaders who met with White House officials this past March prior to the partial release of the so-called “Deal of the Century,” aimed at bringing “peace” to the Israel-Palestine conflict, which is widely viewed as greatly favoring Israel and is expected to be rejected outright by Palestinian leadership. 

After the meeting, Hagee issued an urgent prayer request. ”Our topic of discussion was discussing the forthcoming peace plan concerning Israel. Israel and the Jewish people need our prayers and our advocacy like never before,” Hagee said in a video posted to the CUFI Twitter page soon after the meeting. “The Bible gives the command, ‘For Zion’s sake, I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not keep my peace.’ I urge you tonight to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”

 
As the final installment of this series will show, the shared apocalyptic visions of extremist religious Zionists and Christian Zionists regarding a Third Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount is a major driver behind the Deal of the Century and was also a major factor in the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, despite Palestinian hopes that East Jerusalem would serve as the capital of their future state. Notably, Christian Zionists believe that Palestinians must be expelled from the state of Israel. In addition, these end-times beliefs are also a factor in the administration’s push for war with Iran, which Christian Zionists like Hagee and Pompeo believe is also a requisite for the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy.

While Hagee’s influence and the influence of his organization CUFI are stronger than ever with Trump in the White House, his political clout with the Trump administration is, at least partially, due to the presence of staunch Christian Zionists in two of the top offices in the executive branch: vice president and secretary of state.

 

Pence and Pompeo push “holy war” 

Though several Trump officials spoke at the recent CUFI summit, two stand out — not just for their high-ranking positions but also for their open admissions that their Christian Zionist beliefs guide their policies. These officials are Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State and former CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

After Trump chose his running mate, Pence’s religious fervor came under media scrutiny, with several outlets noting that he was known to be an ardent Christian Zionist. Pence’s faith gained particular attention owing to his past statements on Israel, which he has often described in prophetic terms. 

Though raised Catholic, Pence gradually transitioned to an “evangelical Catholic” and then to an evangelical Protestant and has since become a key political figure representing the fundamentalist Christian movement that promotes “dominionism,” an ideology that varies in its interpretations but ultimately seeks to see the secular nature of the U.S. government shift towards one governed by “Biblical law.” Pence’s association with this movement has led prominent voices in the media to accuse him of supporting a theocratic form of government.

Though many of the initial concerns about Pence revolved around his likely effects on domestic policy, much of his influence has instead been seen in foreign policy, including the administration’s Middle East policy. His public identification as a Christian Zionist and his speech to the 2017 CUFI summit, the first vice president to ever speak at the annual event, have led some to worry that the Christian Zionist view of prophecy is guiding Pence’s political actions.

Pence visits the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site in Jerusalem’s Old City, Jan. 23, 2018. Oded Balilty | AP

Following Pence’s first speech at CUFI, Daniel Hummel, a scholar and fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School, told the Washington Post:

Christian Zionism has a long history in American politics, but it has never captured the bully pulpit of the White House. Past administrations often used general biblical language in reference to Israel, but never has the evangelical theology of Christian Zionism been so close to the policymaking apparatus of the executive branch. 

By identifying with Christian Zionism while in office, Pence risks the Trump administration’s ongoing search for an ‘ultimate deal’ to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and erodes the U.S.’ claim that it can be an ‘honest broker’ in the Middle East.”

Concerns that the U.S. is under the influence of extremist religious Zionism and Christian Zionism that would prevent the country from acting as an “honest broker” in the Israel-Palestine conflict have, unsurprisingly, been proven true. In fact, Pence’s religious beliefs are believed to have been a major factor in Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the U.S. Embassy to the contested city.

Though Mike Pence is the highest-ranking member of the Trump administration who is openly a Christian Zionist, it is Pompeo that is the most overt and open about how his religious beliefs regarding the end times guide his decision-making as head of the U.S. State Department.

For uch of his political career, Pompeo has framed U.S. counterterrorism policy as a “holy war” between Christianity and Islam, which he believes is the earthly equivalent of a cosmic battle between good and evil. In 2017, as CIA director, Pompeo claimed:

Radical Islamic terror [will] continue to press against us until we make sure that we pray and stand and fight and make sure that we know that Jesus Christ is our savior [and] truly the only solution for our world.” 

That same year, Pompeo created a new CIA “mission center” targeting Iran headed by Michael D’Andrea, whose CIA nickname is “The Prince of Darkness.” Pompeo, like many Christian Zionists, believes that war between the United States and Iran is part of the end times, a belief that is outright alarming given his prior control over CIA covert operations and his focus on Iran, as well as his current role as the U.S.’ chief diplomat, in which he has also been laser-focused on promoting an aggressive policy towards Iran.

In addition to his views on “holy war,” Pompeo also frequently discussed his views on the rapture while serving as CIA director. TYT reported last year that Pompeo had spoken about the rapture so frequently that it had reportedly frightened top CIA officials. 

According to Michael Weinstein — founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group on issues of religious freedom in the military and intelligence community — who was quoted in the TYT report: 

He [Pompeo] is intolerant of anyone who isn’t a fundamentalist Christian. The people that worked under him at the CIA that came to us were never confused — they never had time to be confused. They were shocked and then they were scared shitless.” 

A 2015 video of Pompeo that surfaced while he was CIA director also shows the former congressman describing politics as “a never-ending struggle … until the rapture.”

More recently, a New York Times article published in March again brought Pompeo’s obsession with the end times back into public view. Titled “The Rapture and the Real World: Mike Pompeo Blends Beliefs and Policy,” the article detailed how Pompeo has made it standard operating procedure to mix his Christian Zionist views with his approach to foreign policy. That article also referenced the statement Pompeo made earlier this year, in which he opined that it was “certainly possible” that President Trump had been sent by God to “save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace.”

Pompeo made those statements during an official trip to Jerusalem that was also controversial for other reasons. Indeed, in a state department video shared on social media and meant to publicize Pompeo’s trip, footage of a model of the Third Jewish Temple was included while footage of the Al Aqsa mosque was notably excluded, despite it being the most iconic building in Jerusalem. 

 
Given that Pompeo had also visited the tunnels that have worn away the historic mosque’s foundations, many Palestinians took the video as a sign that the Trump administration was colluding with the Temple Activist movement in Israel, which was discussed in detail in Part II of this series.

 

Joining forces to target Jerusalem

Well before Theodore Herzl founded political Zionism and published The Jewish State, Christian Zionists in the United States and England were already seeking to direct and influence the foreign policy of both nations in service of a religious obsession with ushering in the end times. The historical record clearly shows how Christian Zionists have influenced events throughout history, particularly in regard to the founding of the state of Israel and subsequent developments in the Israel-Palestine conflict. 

In the pursuit of these dispensationalist end-times prophecies, Christian Zionists have forged alliances with Jewish Zionists and each has opportunistically used the other in order to usher in the common events that are believed to facilitate the coming of their respective apocalypses or to aid more secular, political goals. From Hechler and Herzl, to Scofield and Untermeyer, to Begin and Falwell, these alliances have shaped the policy of Western governments, particularly the U.S. and England, for over a century.

Today, only one such prophecy has yet to be fulfilled, the construction of a Third Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount, which is currently occupied by the Al Aqsa mosque compound. Now, more than ever before, Israel’s government, as shown in Part II, is filled with high-ranking officials who openly call for Al Aqsa’s destruction and seek to hastily construct a Third Temple. Similarly, as this report has shown, the Trump administration is greatly influenced by Christian Zionists who also seek the mosque’s destruction, in hopes that the Third Temple will soon be built.

Yet, the Trump administration’s ties to this apocalyptic ideology go even deeper than has been discussed in this article, as many other influential members in the Trump administration — especially top Trump advisers Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman — also share and actively promote this extremist religious Zionist ideology that seeks to rebuild a Third Temple. As will be seen in the next installment of this series, this ideology is also a driving factor for top Trump and Republican Party donors such as Sheldon Adelson. 

The end result is that the hold of this apocalyptic ideology on both the governments of Israel and the United States appears to be stronger now than ever, meaning that the danger currently facing Al Aqsa mosque, and with it world peace, looms large.

Feature photo | Texas evangelist John Hagee of Christians United for Israel addresses a crowd of his followers and Israeli supporters at a rally at the Jerusalem convention center, April 6, 2008. Sebastian Scheiner | AP

Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.

The post The Untold Story of Christian Zionism’s Rise to Power in the United States appeared first on MintPress News.

Then CIA is Invoking Wikileaks to Push for the Expansion of a Cold War Era Secrecy Law

When the CIA and other agencies in the United States government pushed for the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) in 1981, it was crafted to exclude “covert agents” who resided in the U.S.

There was consideration by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of how the legislation might “chill or stifle public criticism of intelligence activities or public debate concerning intelligence policy.”

More than three decades later, the CIA is apparently unsatisfied with the protections the bill granted “covert agents. It has enlisted a select group of senators and representatives to help expand the universe of individuals who are protected, making members of the press who cover intelligence matters more vulnerable to prosecution.

Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee, was involved in adding language to expand the IIPA to the Intelligence Authorization Act moving through Congress.

“Schiff is once again putting the interests of the intelligence agencies in concealing their misdeeds ahead of protecting the rights of ordinary Americans by criminalizing routine reporting by the press on national security issues and undermining congressional oversight in his Intelligence Authorization bill,” declared Daniel Schuman, who is the policy director for Demand Progress.

Schuman added,

Schiff’s expansion of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act beyond all reason will effectively muzzle reporting on torture, mass surveillance, and other crimes against the American people—all at the request of the CIA. Schiff is clearly the resistance to the resistance, and he should drop this provision from his bill.”

The CIA put their specific request for what language they would like amended in writing and sent it to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Their request was essentially copied and pasted, with no changes, into the intelligence bill.

“Undercover agency officers face ever-evolving threats, including cyber threats,” the CIA argued. “Particularly with the lengths organizations such as WikiLeaks are willing to go to obtain and release sensitive national security information, as well as incidents related to past agency programs, such as the RDI investigation [CIA torture report], the original congressional reasoning mentioned above for a narrow definition of ‘covert agent’ no longer remains valid.”

A composite showing some of the images of torture contained in a senate ‘torture report’ released as part of a ACLU lawsuit.

“This proposal would provide protection for all undercover agency officers by allowing for the prosecution of individuals responsible for disclosing the identities of those officers, regardless whether the undercover officer serves inside or outside of the United States,” the agency additionally stated.

Schiff supports the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and shares the CIA’s view that WikiLeaks is a “non-state hostile intelligence service,” not a media organization.

In 2018, when Assange was willing to speak with investigators about the Russia probe, he replied, “Our committee would be willing to interview Julian Assange when he is in U.S. custody, not before.”

“I deplore the potentially treasonous disclosure of classified and sensitive national security information, and urge the Department of Justice to bring any responsible party to justice,” Schiff stated in 2010.

Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, said he is concerned about how the bill expands the IIPA so that it applies indefinitely, including to individuals who have been in the United States for decades and have become senior management or have retired.”

“I am not yet convinced this expansion is necessary and am concerned that it will be employed to avoid accountability,” Wyden declared. “The CIA’s request that the Committee include this provision, which invoked ‘incidents related to past Agency programs, such as the RDI [Rendition, Detention and Interrogation] investigation,’ underscores my concerns.”

Gina Haspel, the CIA director, likely favors the law because she faced scrutiny over her role in the destruction of torture tapes that showed the waterboarding of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. She was still a “covert agent” when news of this scandal erupted, and the protection of her identity played a role in enabling her ascension to the top of the agency.

Various groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Demand Progress, Human Rights Watch, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Physicians for Human Rights, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Society of Professional Journalists, wrote a letter objecting to the proposed expansion that was sent to both intelligence committees.

“The provision would expand the definition of ‘covert agent’ for purposes of prosecution under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, in what appears to be a clear attempt to subvert transparency, oversight, and accountability,” the groups assert.

The groups contend it would “harm congressional oversight of the intelligence community, making it much more difficult to obtain information about almost any individual’s relationship to intelligence agencies and allowing the executive branch to avoid oversight through arbitrary classification. Additionally, it would potentially make it more difficult for intelligence community whistleblowers to approach Congress with reports of fraud, waste, and abuse.”

The letter further argues it would be “significantly damaging” because it is an “extremely broad expansion of felony criminal penalties and delegates authority to when those penalties apply to the executive branch.”

“Because of the potentially widespread legal ramifications for working with individuals who have retired or otherwise left their work with the intelligence community, this provision would likely have a profound chilling effect on journalists’ and public interest organizations’ work,” they conclude.

 

Radical acts of transparency

When the IIPA was drafted in 1981, the ACLU initially opposed [PDF] it. Yet, as Angus MacKenzie described, ACLU attorney Jerry Berman and Morton Halperin, who became the ACLU director in 1984 after the passage of the bill, worked with the CIA on a compromise in July 1981, which offered journalists some small measure of protection.

“Halperin’s compromise was a signal that the ACLU would not mobilize its quarter-million members to lobby Capitol Hill in defense of the First Amendment rights of government employees or reporters,” MacKenzie wrote. “As the ACLU position became clear in the ensuing months, the traditional liberal coalition against secrecy began to disintegrate both inside and outside Congress. Over the next twelve years, the Reagan and Bush administrations were emboldened to invent new means to control information.”

Nonetheless, before the Senate Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism, which was part of the Judiciary Committee, Halperin articulated a case against the IIPA on May 8, 1981.

Halperin suggested it would be better for the government to focus on taking steps to “make it impossible for foreign terrorist groups or American citizens” to “identify covert agents.” Legislation impinging on the First Amendment should not be passed for a “symbolic purpose.” It should pass because it will have some “real effect on protecting lives.”

The ACLU and other organizations believed the legislation, as it was drafted, would make it a crime “for the press to publish information which it lawfully acquires, whether it acquires that information from foreign intelligence sources, from foreign governments, from foreign newspapers, [or] from official publications of the United States government.”

“It would be a crime for a reporter or a scholar to engage in an effort to mine those sources to learn the identities of agents and to publish, for any purpose, even to ferret out corruption or illegal activities,” Halperin said.

There was nothing in the language that required a “bad purpose” to exist in order for a person to be prosecuted.

It is not like the law has not been abused by the U.S. government.

In 2013, the Justice Department successfully prosecuted former CIA officer John Kiriakou for confirming the name of an officer involved in the CIA’s RDI program to a reporter, even though he did not have a “pattern of activity” which involved trying to out “covert agents.”

Kiriakou a U.S. District Courthouse after pleading guilty to leaking names of covert operatives to journalists. Cliff Owen | AP

Members of Congress specified in the IIPA that a person must be engaged in a “series” of acts or a “pattern of activity” that was intended to “impair or impede the foreign intelligence activities of the United States by the fact of such identification and exposure.”

It was viewed as a kind of protection for journalists. However, in Kiriakou’s case, there was enough ambiguity to deploy it against a former officer who had a public record of opposing the agency’s use of waterboarding against detainees in the “war on terrorism.”

The Justice Department did not use the law when CIA officer Valerie Plame had her cover blown by officials in President George W. Bush’s administration. Her outing was retaliation against her husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson, who exposed part of the fabricated case for regime change in Iraq.

Former CIA case officer Philip Agee, who sought to reveal how the CIA was involved in “secretly intervening in country after country to corrupt politicians and to promote political repression,” was the key inspiration for the CIA push to pass the IIPA. Agee published a column, “Naming Names,” that outed agents allegedly involved in the activities he exposed.

In 1975, Agee was blamed by the CIA for the murder of Richard Welch, the CIA station chief in Athens, but Agee maintained the publication had nothing to do with the murder of Welch.

“By removing the mask of anonymity from CIA officers, we make it difficult for them to remain at overseas posts,” Agee wrote. “We hope that the CIA will have the good sense to shift these people to the increasingly smaller number of safe posts, preferably to a desk inside the CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia. In this way the CIA will protect the operatives named—and also the lives of their potential victims.”

Three decades ago, the CIA mobilized to protect itself from radical acts of transparency, and now, with the internet and organizations like WikiLeaks, it hopes to be able to further isolate and criminalize those who directly challenge the agency’s activities.

Feature photo | From left, FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats arrive to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 29, 2019. Jose Luis Magana | AP

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, “Unauthorized Disclosure.

Published in partnership with Shadowproof

The post Then CIA is Invoking Wikileaks to Push for the Expansion of a Cold War Era Secrecy Law appeared first on MintPress News.

Norway, Bachelet, and the Twilight of Guaido’s Insurrection

Venezuelanalysis Guaido’s uprising is going through its terminal phrase. He does not yet appear to have reached his end as leader, as he still produces and consolidates an important consensus among the opposition. What has decisively failed is his attempt to form a government without elections with the backing of the hawks in Washington. In almost six months since his self-swearing in as “interim president,” it has become palpable that his governing is truly impossible. The coup de grace was delivered by Michelle Bachelet when she visited the National Assembly, of which he is president and a deputy. The UN high commissioner for human rights did not recognize him as president of the republic, but she did propose a roadmap for pressuring the Maduro government, which Guaido accepted even though it represents a deviation from Washington’s strategy.

The Trump administration invested a large part of its political and diplomatic capital in overthrowing Maduro, especially in the first six months of 2019. And it didn’t achieve it. Pence, Pompeo, Bolton, and Abrams squandered a valuable amount of time with disastrous results. Since talks began in Norway, the hawks have opted to wash their hands of the matter and leave Guaido to his own fate.

The fracture in the opposition deepens with every defeat. The faction of the opposition favored by the US government is stronger online than it is in the streets, where it grows weaker every day. Voluntad Popular (VP), Leopoldo Lopez and Juan Guaido’s minoritarian radical party with only 14 seats in the 165-seat legislature, was chosen by the hawks to lead a new offensive that has not only been defeated on its own terms, but VP has been accused of “appeasement” by its own radical sectors after promoting dialogue with the Maduro government under the auspices of Norway. As the Venezuelan popular saying goes, “they were left without the goat and without the leash.” That is, the much-anticipated invasion never came and the actors that could maneuver in the national political sphere, namely the large opposition parties, were displaced by those who imposed a media-driven politics that looks to foreign powers for solutions. And now what?

The anti-government march on July 5 demonstrated that the opposition now does not even mobilize the bases of its own parties. Looking at the social media feeds of the most radical and mobilized opposition currents, it’s clear that they blame Guaido for failing in his attempt to govern and for his inefficient endeavor to secure foreign military intervention. Also weighing heavy are the allegations of corruption on the part of his team in the provision of humanitarian aid, exposed by opposition media outlets.

From January of this year, when Guaido swore himself in, it was foreseeable that street mobilizations would not be enough to oust Maduro, not even those of January 23, whose widespread support was even evident in hardcore protests in some Caracas barrios. What was anticipated was some kind of direct action by the US armed forces, or those of a neighboring country, so that the escalation of the conflict in the media actually reached the national territory. The climax, which took place on February 23 around the attempted forced entry of humanitarian aid, quickly petered out. The same thing happened on April 30 with the coup attempt. They were very weak movements that drew Maduro and the armed forces closer together – the opposite of what was sought.

But the decline of Guaido does not mean a definitive victory for Chavismo. It can even debilitate it as we will see.

 

Bachelet’s report

The three-day visit to Venezuela by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet on June 19-21 and subsequent release of her report on July 5 can be read as a change of scene in the Venezuelan conflict.

During her stay, Bachelet met with President Maduro in the presidential palace and with Juan Guaido in the National Assembly. This may surprise us if we remember that since January over fifty foreign governments have recognized Guaido as “interim president,” although he has not been able to exercise any functions beyond naming “ambassadors.” Bachelet put an end to the farce and showed things as they really are, something which the international community has not dared to do: she removed the virtual throne from under Guaido and recognized Maduro as the only president.

Bachelet, left, chats with Maduro as they walk out of a meeting at Miraflores Presidential Palace, in Caracas, June 21, 2019. Ariana Cubillos | AP

Bachelet’s report effectively displaces the conflict to the political arena because it is accepted enthusiastically by the opposition, even though the document doesn’t repeat its mantra of the “end of the usurpation,” and is welcomed by Maduro, who made two important gestures: the release of 22 “political prisoners” and the rumored proposal for Bolivarian deputies to return to their seats in the National Assembly, which they had abandoned since the emergence of the National Constituent Assembly in August 2017. In this way, Maduro opens up the possibility of negotiation, in which the Norway experience can play a pivotal role.

The report presents interesting options for both parties in the conflict. For Maduro, it legitimates his refusal to recognize Guaido’s “interim presidency” and it sidelines Washington in the dispute for hegemony over the Venezuela question. For the opposition, which suffered another defeat and internal division following Bachelet’s recognition of Maduro, the report allows it to double down on its call for foreign military intervention. The radicals on either side have simultaneously launched a broadside of criticisms at the ex-president, but significant sectors in both camps have recognized the legitimacy of the report, which sets the table for Norway-mediated talks.

 

Chavismo in its trench

The elements of cohesion in Chavismo are more external than internal. Chavismo closes ranks when confronting an enemy force of the proportions of the governments of the US or Colombia, or when the opposition resorts to violence. Once the “Guaido effect” is exposed as an impotent act, the Maduro government is left standing without tangible opponents and begins to face a crisis situation in which it is itself completely helpless. That is when the seams in the institutional armor covering the government become visible, due to its inability to control an economy that is already liberalized.

People watch a military parade marking Independence Day in Caracas, July 5, 2019. Ariana Cubillos | AP

What has also become apparent recently is the government’s lack of control over state security forces. Obviously, Chavismo resents having to confront situations like the death by alleged torture of Captain Acosta Arevalo on June 29, as well as the arrest of grassroots Bolivarian militant Jose Ramon Rodriguez on July 5. In the first case, arrests have been made, and in the second, Ramon Rodriguez has been freed. However, the accusations of grave misconduct on the part of the security forces, detailed in the Bachelet Report, are a concern shared by some currents of Chavismo.

Other sectors, including the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, reject the Bachelet report. Even now Maduro has demonstrated – and Bachelet has recognized it – that he is making moves to set the stage for negotiations: is there movement towards a power-sharing agreement or rather tactical maneuvers to remain in power?

Regardless, it is undeniable that negotiations driven by Norway open the way for a scenario that can overcome the stalemate in the internal political game. A shift in political and diplomatic relations is needed in order to extricate Venezuela from its current economic quagmire, which is impacting the region.

Feature photo | Venezuela’s opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaidó waves as he arrives to present details of his “Plan Pais” or Plans for the Country, to members of the agro-food sector, in Caracas, Venezuela, June 19, 2019. Ariana Cubillos | AP

Ociel Alí López is a Venezuelan researcher who has published numerous written and multimedia works. He is dedicated to analyzing Venezuelan society for several European and Latin American media outlets. He is a co-founder of alternative Venezuelan state television station Avila TV in 2006. He is the recipient of the CLACSO/ASDI researcher prize and the Britto Garcia literature award.

The post Norway, Bachelet, and the Twilight of Guaido’s Insurrection appeared first on MintPress News.

UAE’s Yemen Troop Withdrawal Follows New Houthi Weapons and Threats of Attack on Dubai

SANA’A, YEMEN — Yemen’s Houthi-allied armed forces have unveiled a package of new domestically-manufactured military hardware, including ballistic and winged missiles and drones. The weapons were unveiled in the Yemeni capital city of Sana’a on Sunday afternoon during an exhibition named after Saleh al-Samad, the president of Yemen’s Supreme Political Council, who was killed in a targeted Saudi airstrike in Hodeida in April 2018. The unveiling of the weapons comes as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced it would begin withdrawing troops from Yemen, confirming that the Houthi strategy of striking Saudi-led Coalition targets on their own territory has succeeded in acting as a deterrent. 

On Tuesday, the media bureau of Yemen’s Operations Command Center displayed the Samad 3 reconnaissance drone and the Qasef 2K drone, both of which had not been previously publicly displayed. Both the Samad 3 and the Qasef 2k have been used to hit vital targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The drones were used to strike the Abu Dhabi Airport and Dubai Airport, as well as in several other recent drone and missile attacks targeting Saudi Arabia’s southern regions of Khamis Mushait and Jizan.

According to a statement by the Yemeni army issued on Tuesday, the Samad 1 is capable of flying over 500 km and has the ability to monitor targets directly and relay that data back to an operations room. The army statement placed the range of the Samad 3 at 1,500 to 1,700 km and said it was equipped with advanced technology that would render it difficult for air defense systems to detect.

The Sammad 3

The Samad 3 is laden with explosives that allow it to detonate a shaped charge which explodes downwards towards its target. Footage provided to MintPress by Yemen’s Operations Command Center shows the Samad landing on an asphalt runway, confirming that the drone is now capable of conducting operations and then returning to base.

 
Sunday’s exhibition — which was opened by Mahdi al-Mashat, the Head of the Supreme Revolutionary Committee of Houthis — also included the Quds 1 winged missile, which was used in an attack on the Barakah nuclear power station in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, in December 2017. The UAE denied that an attack on the power station ever took place. 

Brigadier General Yahya Saree, the spokesman for the Sana’a-based Yemeni Armed Forces,  said during a press conference in the capital on Tuesday that there are several generations of Quds 1 winged missile still undergoing development. “The Quds system proved its great ability to hit its targets and to bypass enemy interceptor systems.” Saree said. On June 12, the Saudi-led Coalition confirmed that Houthi forces had fired a “projectile” at the Abha Airport in southwestern Saudi Arabia, roughly 100 miles from the Yemeni border, claiming it had killed one person and injured nearly 30.

A collage shows images of some of the weapons on display at the Houthi’s Sunday exhibition. Twitter | @MaherFarrukh

The Yemen army’s exhibition also included the Borkan (Volcano) H-1 and H-2. The Borkan is a modified Scud and was used in a strike on the King Khalid International Airport near Riyadh, more than 800 km from Yemen’s northern border. The missile was able to evade U.S. Patriot missile air-defense systems. A high-ranking Yemeni official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told MintPress News that Yemeni forces have manufactured a new version of the Borkan that will be revealed in the next few days. The coming iteration will be able to hit targets even farther than the previous versions used in strikes on Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Yemen’s Houthis and the allied Yemeni Armed Forces have been increasing the production and use of domestic drones and ballistic missiles in recent months, as UN-backed peace talks with the Saudi-led Coalition have failed and Saudi airstrikes continue to hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties, killing thousands of Yemeni civilians.

The Houthis hope that by striking the Saudi-led Coalition on its own territory, they can deter the deadly attacks on Yemen that have been ongoing since 2015 when the Coalition began its air campaign. The strategy appears to be working, as Saudi Arabia’s main partner in its war on Yemen, the UAE, recently announced it would begin a drawdown of troops from the country. 

 

UAE withdrawal follows credible threat of Dubai attack

The announcement from the UAE came after Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi threatened to target vital objectives in Dubai if the UAE continued its involvement in the war against Yemen, according to a statement by a high-ranking source allied with the Saudi-led Coalition, who asked to remain anonymous.

On Monday, an unnamed UAE official told the Emirates News Agency that the Gulf state had already pulled out some of its forces from areas including the southern port of Aden and the western coast. A local source also told MintPress that the UAE has totally vacated its military bases in Khokha, about 130 km south of Hodeida, and Sarwah near Marib province. A Yemeni military official told MintPress that any withdrawal would not hinder the UAE’s long-term ambitions to control Yemen’s ports and resources.

A convoy of military vehicles marks the return of the first batch of UAE military personnel from Yemen in 2015. Ryan Carter | WAM via AP

For their part, the Houthis have called for the full withdrawal of all Saudi-led Coalition troops from Yemen. Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a high-ranking official in the Houthi movement, tweeted on Monday: “Withdrawing from Yemen is the ideal decision that must be taken at this time.” 

Al-Houthi followed Monday’s tweet with another on Tuesday that went even further: 

We call on the countries of aggression to announce their withdrawal from Yemen, as the Republic of Yemen rejects the aggression, siege, and embargo…

It is enough that the countries of aggression have used Yemen as a testing field for European and American weapons for the past five years and proved the ugliness of their criminality to the world.”

In reality, the UAE’s involvement in Yemen is far from over. If a full military withdrawal does not occur, the UAE will resume its goal to control strategic ports, islands and other locations across Yemen, but instead of relying on its military it will likely employ paid mercenaries to secure its interests. “We are not worried about a vacuum in Yemen, because we have trained a total of 90,000 Yemeni forces,” an unnamed UAE official was quoted as saying on Monday, referring to the myriad of armed Yemeni tribal groups that are armed and funded by the UAE.

Feature photo | An exhibition in Yemen’s capital city of Sana’a shows a variety of the Houthi’s domestically manufactured drones. Photo | AMC

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

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“Go Forth and Lie” Israel Rolls Out Mandatory Course for Students Travelling Abroad

JERUSALEM, PALESTINE — While Israel tries to portray a friendly face to the outside world, internally it is promoting racism and violence at levels that are more alarming than ever before. A course to prepare young high school students traveling overseas to be good “ambassadors” stands in contrast to racist policies and the advancement of a military that is encouraged to exercise unprecedented violence against civilians. 

 

Young ambassadors

Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, recently demanded that the Israeli Education Ministry halt an online course that was designed to prepare young Israelis traveling abroad to be “good ambassadors.” The content, particularly regarding anti-semitism and BDS (the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement), is so offensive to Arabs and Muslims that a school in Nazareth canceled an exchange program for high school students from the city to go to Sweden, rather than having the students exposed to the content of the course. 

To actually see the content of the course, one has to enroll, and so I did. The course has 12 chapters, starting with an introduction by former Minister of Education Naftali Bennett. Bennett begins by explaining “what is an ambassador,” and then gives examples of how to be a good one.

Bennett’s introduction is friendly, straightforward and full of praise for Israel. He provides students with tools with which they can “explain” Israel. For example: 

If it wasn’t for Israel, you could never wake up in the morning, because the chip in your cell phone that works as an alarm is made in Israel. You couldn’t find your way to work because the application WAZE is an Israeli product, so you’d get lost. If you made it to work somehow you wouldn’t have a computer because Intel produces its parts in Israel, and then your account would be hacked because cyber security is made in Israel. On top of that, you would have no cucumbers to eat because Israel invented the irrigation systems that make it possible to grow cucumbers.”

Bennett also mentions that the students may encounter people saying crazy things about Israel like that it is an “apartheid state,” and that Israeli soldiers are killing Palestinians, and that, of course, this is all nonsense. Israel, he says, as a photo of Palestinian Knesset member Ahmed Tibi is shown, is the only democracy where the minority Arab population has freedom and participates in a real democracy. 

Catchy animations and upbeat music accompany the videos

Other chapters include “What is a State,” “The Status of Jerusalem,” “Israeli Accomplishments,” “How to Combat Anti-Semitism,” and “BDS,”  among others. It is stated by Gideon Bachar, a special ambassador for issues of anti-semitism, that historically Jews suffered from persecution due to anti-semitism by Christians in Europe and Muslims in the Arab world. Today anti-semitism in Europe is fuelled by massive immigration from Muslim countries.

BDS, Talia Gorodes explains, is a coalition of “green and red.” According to Gorodes, Director of “Reut” Institute for Strategic Thinking, green represents Islamic fundamentalism and red represents radical leftist groups. Together they create a powerful front to delegitimize Israel. However, not to worry, Israel has a plan and “you student ambassadors are part of the plan.” The students are told that the way they conduct themselves and listen and explain things will dramatically change the way the world perceives Israel and change it for the better.

Adalah’s letter stressed that the “Education Ministry’s propaganda exam focuses on core issues of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that are the subject of deep political controversy.” The course guides students — indeed they are required to choose specific “correct” positions, as though “they reflect an objective factual truth.” The course, Adalah also claims — and. having taken it, I must agree — presents a racist ideological perspective that creates an equivalence between Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and anti-semitism and violence.

This course is also required of Palestinian high school students who are citizens of Israel and study in the Israeli school system.  

 

Notorious general promoted

As the Ministry of Education is preparing students going overseas to show the kind and gentle face of Israel, Ha’aretz reports on the promotion of notoriously violent IDF officer Ofer Winter to the rank of major general. His new job is one of the most prestigious in the IDF: commander of the 98th Division, also known as the Fire Formation, which includes the Paratroopers Brigade, the Commando Brigade, and two reservist brigades. 

Winter’s promotion was delayed for several years by the previous IDF Chief of Staff owing to his role in what is called Black Friday in Rafah. “Black Friday” is the name given to a massive, irrational and vengeful attack on Rafah during the Israeli assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014. Winter, then a colonel and commander of the infamous “Givati” Brigade, came to public attention twice, once as the result of a letter he sent to the unit commanders, in which he wrote that they were fighting “a blasphemous enemy that defiles the God of Israel.” His use of religious terminology was cause for concern even in Israel but should come as no surprise.

Winter, center, speaks to IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz during the Black Friday massacre on Rafah. August 2, 2014. Photo | IDF

Winter was educated in two radical, religious-Zionist educational institutions. The first is Yeshivat Or Zion, which is headed by Haim Drukman, one of the most notorious leaders of the “settlers movement.” The second is the military preparatory academy “Bnei David,” in the settlement of “Ali.” Bnei David has come under severe criticism for racist comments made by fanatic Zionist rabbis who teach there. They are known to follow an aggressively racist curriculum and have been quoted teaching that Arabs are slaves and Jews are masters and that Hitler was not wrong, he was just on the wrong side.

Winter also raised concerns when, under his command, the Givati brigade was criticized for its conduct during Black Friday. It was August 1, 2014 in Rafah and a cease-fire was in place when hundreds of innocent people were killed as a result of what is known as the “Hannibal Directive.” Ha’aretz reported at the time that “[t]his was the most aggressive action of its type ever carried out by the IDF.” Codeword “Hannibal” is an IDF military directive that is given when a soldier is taken, prisoner. It allows for unrestrained use of firepower to stop the abduction, even at the price of the life of the soldier that was taken.

In this case, the directive was given after an Israeli officer was captured following a clash with Palestinian fighters in which an officer and a soldier were killed. It was during what was supposed to have been a cease-fire for humanitarian purposes. According to a report by Amnesty International, when the IDF attacks began: 

The roads in eastern Rafah were full of disoriented civilians moving in all directions. Believing a ceasefire had begun, they had returned – or were returning – to their homes. Many decided to turn around, attempting to flee under a barrage of bombs and gunfire.” 

According to testimony given by Palestinian witnesses, the attack included “jets, drones, helicopters and artillery.” The attack was described as “raining fire at pedestrians and vehicles at the intersections, indiscriminately hitting cars, ambulances, motorbikes and pedestrians.”  Ofer Winter was the brigade commander. Now he has been given what many consider to be the most prestigious commands in the IDF, which will no doubt make him a strong candidate to be a future army chief of staff.

A child is evacuated following an Israeli airstrike on the Al Ghoul family home in Rafah, Gaza, Aug. 3, 2014. Eyad Baba | AP

 

Racist municipal ordinances

Following an election promise to act against the “conquest” by Arab residents from surrounding communities of a city park, the municipality of the city of Afula issued an ordinance that says only city residents may enter the city park. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, reports from the northern city of Afula that when Attorney Nareman Shehadeh-Zoabi who lives in neighboring Nazareth brought her infant to the park, a security guard stopped them from entering because they are from Nazareth, which is a Palestinian Arab city. 

This is not the first time that Afula is in the news owing to racist tendencies. In 2018, Jewish residents of Afula, along with the mayor, protested against the sale of a home to an Arab family. Afula is not alone. The establishment of admissions committees in kibbutzim, moshavim, and other communities were created to stop Palestinian citizens of Israel from moving in. 

It is no coincidence that Israel’s nation-state basic law includes a clause that authorizes “a community, including those belonging to one religion or nationality, to maintain separate community living.” This basic law affirms Israel’s policy of segregation and makes it constitutional and thus unchallengeable in court.

Israel is more overtly racist and violent than ever before, and yet it is preparing Israeli youth who travel overseas to paint it with bright, friendly colors. If ever there was a time when the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions — BDS — against Israel was not only justified but urgent, it is now.

Feature photo | School children sit on a tank as they listen to an Israeli soldier speaking about Israel’s wars before a ceremony marking Memorial Day in Latrun near Jerusalem. Ariel Schalit | AP

Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

The post “Go Forth and Lie” Israel Rolls Out Mandatory Course for Students Travelling Abroad appeared first on MintPress News.

The Book of Palestine: National Liberation vs Endless Negotiations

Those who are still hoping that the new American agenda on Palestine and Israel is temporary, or reversible, should abandon this false hope. Washington’s complete adoption of Israel’s messianic, extremist policies regarding Occupied Palestine has been a long time in the making. And it is here to stay. 

Despite the unmistakable clarity in the American political discourse regarding Palestine, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is still trapped in a 25-year long, ineffectual political paradigm. Unable to move past their disproportionate reliance on American validation, and lacking any real strategic vision of their own, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his men are operating within a clichés-centered trajectory of a ‘negotiated peace’ – a discourse that was, itself, invented and championed by Washington and its allies. 

Newly-appointed (not elected) Palestinian Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, conveyed this very sentiment in his June 24 interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “If you look at the literature, if you look at the statements, our President has been working by the book,” he said. 

What book was Shtayyeh referring to? Certainly not the book of international and humanitarian law, which has devised a clear path aimed at achieving Palestinian freedom, rights and territorial sovereignty. 

It is, rather, a book that is written by Washington, from which a brazen pro-Israel agenda has preceded the Donald Trump administration by decades. 

This is, in fact, the core ailment of Palestinian politics, as practiced by the PA. Throughout the years, the PA has received hundreds of millions in American funds, in exchange for sidelining the UN in favor of complete American hegemony over the so-called ‘peace process’. Abbas’ recent attempts at reviving the role of the UN and its affiliated institutions is a belated attempt at correcting a historical mistake. 

President Trump shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after a meeting in Bethlehem, May 23, 2017. Evan Vucci | AP

What will it take for Shtayyeh, and his boss in Ramallah, to abandon the American option and, instead, to develop a rounded strategy that is founded on national unity, democratic representation and international solidarity? Much precious time has been lost subscribing to the one-sided American book, which has no room for a Palestinian discourse of national liberation, unconditional freedom and basic human rights. 

While Trump’s advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was referring to Palestinians as “hysterical and erratic,” following the two-day Bahrain economic conference (June 25-26), US Middle East ‘peace envoy’, Jason Greenblatt, was challenging the very terminology used by the entire  international community regarding the illegal Israeli Jewish colonies in Occupied Palestine. 

“People (should) stop pretending (that) settlements, or what I prefer to call ‘neighborhoods and cities,’ are the reason for the lack of peace,” the American envoy told participants at the ‘Israel Hayom Forum for US-Israeli Relations’.” 

For the record, the widely-circulated rightwing Israeli newspaper, ‘Israel Hayom’ which sponsored the conference, is financed by pro-Israel American casino mogul, Sheldon Adelson. The latter is known to be the primary advocate behind Trump’s misguided policies in Palestine, including Washington’s recognition of Occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem as part of Israel’s capital. 

Greenblatt is but one of several unabashedly pro-Israel American politicians, who have taken the already biased US foreign policy to a whole new low. This clique also includes former US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, and Washington’s Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. 

In an interview, also with ‘Israel Hayom’ on June 11, Haley tried to assure Israelis that “Israel should not be worried,” about having to make any political concessions in exchange for Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or of Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. 

“Through the Middle East plan (so-called ‘Deal of the Century’), one of the main goals that Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt focused on was to not hurt the national security interests of Israel,” Haley said. “They understand the importance of security; they understand the importance of keeping Israel safe.”

While Haley’s, Kushner’s and Greenblatt’s statements can be viewed as part of the ever-skewed, pro-Israel language emanating from Washington, one must not be too hasty. The fact is, Washington has now fully embraced the Zionist Israeli discourse without the slightest attempt at playing the role of the impartial arbitrator. 

It is as if Haley, et al are now members of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party. 

But no one represents this blatant American realignment into the Israeli camp better than Ambassador Friedman, who has, in an interview with the New York Times, on June 8, backed any future Israeli annexation of parts of the Occupied West Bank.

A few weeks later, in a disturbing and highly symbolic gesture, the American Ambassador carried a sledgehammer and broke open a tunnel that snakes underneath the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. The tunnel, part of Israel’s expansionistic policy in Occupied Jerusalem, has already damaged the foundation of over 80 Palestinian homes. 

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman talks during the opening of a tunnel cutting through the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. Tsafrir Abayov | AP

The determined and gratified look on Friedman’s face spoke volumes about the ‘hysterical, erratic’ and extremist US foreign policy under Trump.  

So what hope is left for the PA in Ramallah, now that Washington has taken all the political, financial and every other practical step to sideline Palestinians, to marginalize their rights and push them into submission? And what good will appealing to American sensibilities through CNN and any other platform do, considering that Washington’s strategy is deeply entrenched and irrevocable? 

Much can be said about Palestinian failure to change course when it became repeatedly clear since the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993, that Washington has no interest in pressuring Israel to end illegal settlement construction and to respect international law. Worse, while Washington paid lip service to ‘peace’, it supported the Israeli war machine, military occupation and settlement construction with billions of dollars.  

While it is good that the PA is finally waking up to the fact that subscribing to Washington’s foreign policy book is a historic mistake, mere awareness is simply not enough. 

It is time for the Palestinians to write their own book, one that is guided by the concept of national liberation, not endless negotiations; one that is predicated on unity, not mortifying factionalism; one that appeals to the whole global community, not to American handouts. 

Feature photo | A wall with graffiti depicts U.S. President Donald Trump with a footprint on his face in Gaza City, June 25, 2019. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are observing a general strike, with stores and public institutions shuttered in protest of the Trump administration’s conference in Bahrain. Khalil Hamra | AP

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His last book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and was a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

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Reading Reuters between the Lines: Why the US Puppet President of Venezuela Is Toast

Even the corporate media are losing enthusiasm for the US government’s ploy to replace the democratically elected President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela with the US-anointed security asset Juan Guaido.  Reuters reports in a July 1 article, “Disappointed Venezuelans lose patience with Guaido as Maduro hangs on,” that the US-backed “military uprising” has “unraveled.” A critical reading of the article explains why.

Reuters correctly notes that “the 35-year old (Guaido) had risen to prominence three months before,” though a little more background information would have been helpful. For instance, Guaido was unknown to 81% of Venezuelans a little more than a week before he got a telephone call from US Vice President Pence telling him to declare himself interim president of Venezuela, which Guaido dutifully did the following morning at a street rally flanked with US and Israeli flags. A member of a marginal far-right Venezuelan political party, Guaidó was not even in the top leadership of his own grouplet.

For background, Reuters tells the reader that President Maduro “took office in 2013 following the death of his political mentor, Hugo Chávez,” but fails to mention that Maduro took office via a democratic national election. Guaido has never stood in a national election. He was elected to the National Assembly but became head of that body through a mechanism where the political parties in the legislature rotate which party’s representative occupies the office. 

Reuters continues that after Maduro took office, he “has overseen an economic collapse that has left swaths of the once-wealthy country without reliable access to power, water, food, and medicines.” Not mentioned by Reuters is the economic war being waged against Venezuela by the US and its allies that has employed unilateral coercive measures – sanctions – responsible for taking the lives of some 40,000 people.

This illegal collective punishment of the Venezuelan people by the US government has diverted legitimate funds of the Venezuelan government. Reuters obliquely mentions “Guaido has gained control of some of the Venezuelan assets in the United States.” In fact, the US government seized those assets, which would have gone to preventing the “economic collapse” that Reuters supposedly laments.

Reuters reports: “The opposition’s momentum has slowed since the April 30 uprising. Attendance at Guaido’s public rallies has dropped and the opposition has held no major protests since then.” Reuters hints why Guaido’s fortunes are eclipsing: “the opposition says it is…seeking to build a grassroots organization.” That is, the US surrogate does not have a meaningful grassroots presence. 

This is further confirmed by Reuters’ admission that Guaido’s organization is now “focused on expanding a network of Help and Freedom Committees…to organize at the local level – something the ruling Socialist Party has done successfully.” Reuters continues, “so far the committees have gotten little traction.” That is, Guaido lacks significant organized popular support outside of Washington and its allies.

Guaido visited Washington shortly before his self-appointment and subsequently toured a number of Latin American countries but has “only traveled to 11 of Venezuela’s 23 states,” according to Reuters. Guaido’s handlers have directed him to “travel to at least five more this month to motivate his supporters.”

Recent polls cited by Reuters show support for Guaidó is falling. Reuters quotes a paid political consultant for Guaidó: “We can expect Guaido’s popularity to continue to erode the longer he is not exercising power.”

President Maduro, according to Reuters, had waged a “crackdown on the opposition.” That is, the Venezuelan government has defended itself against US-backed assets who have actively engaged in attempts to violently overthrow the democratically elected government and assassinate key government and social movement leaders. 

In the alternative universe of corporate media, which ignores the economic war being waged against Venezuela, Reuters bemoans that the “crackdown” on Guaido’s agents has failed to receive “significant retaliation from the international community.” In reality, Venezuela has massively suffered from the US-orchestrated punishments for resisting reverting to the status of a client state.

While not consulting anyone associated with the elected government of Venezuela, Reuters gives full voice to an anonymous “US administration” official as is the practice of the corporate media. The US official states: “The United States continues to execute the president’s strategy of maximum pressure to achieve a peaceful transition to democracy in Venezuela.” Not mentioned is that the “military option” is a prominent part of the “peaceful transition”; deposing a democratically elected president is part of the “transition to democracy”; and “maximum pressure” is preventing vital foods and medicines from reaching Venezuela.

The anonymous US government official further claims, “Only Maduro wishes for the US to give up now.” Reuters does not question how incredibly circumscribed is the universe occupied by that official, which renders invisible the two-decade-old Bolivarian grassroots movement in Venezuela in support of their elected government and its international allies. The Venezuelans most adversely hurt by the US sanctions are those most militantly in support of their government.

Nor does Reuters question why in the US, with the conceit of a supposedly free press, the government is allowed to hide behind a cloak of anonymity. Reuters cites the names of a Venezuelan taxi driver, doctor, former police student, and teacher to give a patina of authenticity to the article but can’t name an official US government functionary who is quoted authoritatively.

Reuters reports Guaido’s supporters “have demanded that Guaidó shift strategy and request a US-led military intervention.” So much for democracy!  “We can’t get rid of Maduro with votes. It will have to be a violent exit.” Meanwhile, the polling firm Datanalisis, according to Reuters, tells us that less than 10% of Venezuelans support such an action.

In short, a critical reading between the lines of the Reuters article confirms that Washington has failed to cobble together a united opposition in Venezuela that is popular enough to win in the polls, so the alternative is violent regime-change supposedly in the name of “democracy.” The lesson that the Venezuelans themselves are the best agents of history to address their own destiny has yet to be learned by the world’s hegemon and its media apologists.

Feature photo | Venezuela’s self-proclaimed President Juan Guaido is silhouetted as he attends the Conindustria congress in Caracas, Venezuela, June 26, 2019. Ariana Cubillos | AP

Roger Harris is with the Task Force on the Americas (http://taskforceamericas.org/), a 33-year-old human rights organization, and is active with the Campaign to End US-Canadian Sanctions Against Venezuela (https://tinyurl.com/yd4ptxkx).

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Voices from Syria’s Rukban Refugee Camp Belie Corporate Media Reporting

AD-DUMAYR, SYRIA — A little over a year ago — just after the Syrian army and its allies liberated the towns and villages around eastern Ghouta from the myriad armed jihadist groups that had waged a brutal campaign of torture and executions in the area — I interviewed a number the civilians that had endured life under jihadist rule in Douma, Kafr Batna and the Horjilleh Center for Displaced People just south of Damascus.

A common theme emerged from the testimonies of those civilians: starvation as a result of jihadist control over aid and food supplies, and the public execution of civilians.

Their testimonies echoed those of civilians in other areas of Syria formerly occupied by armed anti-government groups, from Madaya and al-Waer to eastern Aleppo and elsewhere.

Despite those testimonies and the reality on the ground, Western politicians and media alike have placed the blame for the starvation and suffering of Syrian civilians squarely on the shoulders of Russia and Syria, ignoring the culpability of terrorist groups. 

In reality, terrorist groups operating within areas of Syria that they occupy have had full control over food and aid, and ample documentation shows that they have hoarded food and medicines for themselves. Even under better circumstances, terrorist groups charged hungry civilians grotesquely inflated prices for basic foods, sometimes demanding up to 8,000 Syrian pounds (US $16) for a kilogram of salt, and 3,000 pounds (US $6) for a bag of bread.

Given the Western press’ obsessive coverage of the starvation and lack of medical care endured by Syrian civilians, its silence has been deafening in the case of Rukban — a desolate refugee camp in Syria’s southeast where conditions are appalling to such an extent that civilians have been dying as a result. Coverage has been scant of the successful evacuations of nearly 15,000 of the 40,000 to 60,000 now-former residents of Rukban (numbers vary according to source) to safe havens where they are provided food, shelter and medical care.

Silence about the civilian evacuations from Rukban is likely a result of the fact that those doing the rescuing are the governments of Syria and Russia — and the fact that they have been doing so in the face of increasing levels of opposition from the U.S. government.

 

A harsh, abusive environment

Rukban lies on Syria’s desolate desert border with Jordan, surrounded by a 55-km deconfliction zone, unilaterally established and enforced by the United States, and little else aside from the American base at al-Tanf, only 25 km away — a base whose presence is illegal under international law.

Credit | War on the Rocks

It is, by all reports, an unbearably harsh environment year-round and residents of the camp have endured abuse by terrorist groups and merchants within the camp, deprived of the very basics of life for many years now.

In February, the UNHCR reported that young girls and women in Rukban have been forced into marriage, some more than once. Their briefing noted:

Many women are terrified to leave their mud homes or tents and to be outside, as there are serious risks of sexual abuse and harassment. Our staff met mothers who keep their daughters indoors, as they are too afraid to let them go to improvised schools.”

The Jordanian government, home to 664,330 registered Syrian refugees, has adamantly refused any responsibility in providing humanitarian assistance to Rukban, arguing that it is a Syrian issue and that keeping its border with Syria closed is a matter of Jordan’s security — this after a number of terrorist attacks on the border near Rukban, some of which were attributed to ISIS and one that killed six Jordanian soldiers.

According to U.S. think-tank The Century Foundation, armed groups in Rukban have up to 4,000 men in their ranks and include:

Maghawir al-Thawra, the Free Tribes Army, the remnants of a formerly Pentagon-backed group called the Qaryatein Martyr Battalions and three factions formerly linked to the CIA’s covert war in Syria: the Army of the Eastern Lions, the Martyr Ahmed al-Abdo Forces, and the Shaam Liberation Army.”

Those armed groups, according to Russia, include several hundred ISIS and al-Qaeda recruits. Even the Atlantic Council — a NATO- and U.S. State Department-funded think-tank consistent in its anti-Syrian government stance — reported in November 2017 that the Jordanian government acknowledged an ISIS presence in Rukban.

The Century Foundation also notes the presence of ISIS in Rukban and concedes that the U.S. military “controls the area but won’t guarantee the safety of aid workers seeking access to the camp.”

The Rukban camp, sandwiched between Jordan, Syria borders and Iraq, Feb. 14, 2017. Raad Adayleh | AP

Syria and Russia have sought out diplomatic means to resolve the issue of Rukban, arguing repeatedly at the United Nations Security Council for the need to dismantle the camp and return refugees to areas once plagued by terrorism but that have now been secured.

As I wrote recently:

The U.S. stymied aid to Rukban, and was then only willing to provide security for aid convoys to a point 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) away from the camp, according to the UN’s own Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock. So, by U.S. administration logic, convoys should have dropped their Rukban-specific aid in areas controlled by terrorist groups and just hoped for the best.”

The U.S., for its part, has both refused the evacuation of refugees from the camp and obstructed aid deliveries on at least two occasions. In February, Russia and Syria opened two humanitarian corridors to Rukban and began delivering much-needed aid to its residents.

Syria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Bashar al-Ja’afari, noted in May 2019 that Syria agreed to facilitate the first aid convoy to Rukban earlier this year, but the convoy was ultimately delayed by the United States for 40 days. A second convoy was then delayed for four months. Al-Ja’afari also noted that the U.S., as an occupying power in Syria, is obliged under the Geneva Conventions to provide food, medicine and humanitarian assistance to those under its occupation.

Then, in early March, the Russian Center for Reconciliation reported that U.S. authorities had refused entry to a convoy of buses intending to enter the deconfliction zone to evacuate refugees from Rukban.

According to a March 2019 article from Public Radio International:

[W]hen Syrian and Iranian forces have entered the 34-mile perimeter around the base, American warplanes have responded with strikes — effectively putting Rukban and its residents under American protection from Assad’s forces.”

Despite the abundance of obstacles they faced, Syria and Russia were ultimately able to evacuate over 14,000 of the camp’s residents to safety. In a joint statement on June 19, representatives of the two countries noted that some of the camp’s residents were forced to pay “militants” between $400 to $1000 in order to leave Rukban.

 

Media reports on Rukban … from abroad

While Rukban — unlike Madaya or Aleppo in 2016 — generally isn’t making headlines, there are some pro-regime-change media reporting on it, although even those reports tend to omit the fact that civilians have been evacuated to safety and provided with food and medical care.

Instead, articles relieve America and armed Jihadist groups of their role in the suffering of displaced Syrians in Rukban, reserving blame for Syria and Russia and claiming internal refugees are being forced to leave against their will only to be imprisoned by the Syrian government.

Emad Ghali, a “media activist,” has been at the center of many of these claims. Ghali has been cited as a credible source in most of the mainstream Western press’ reporting on Rukban, from the New York Times, to Al Jazeera, to the Middle East Eye. Cited since at least 2018 in media reporting on Rukban, Ghali has an allegiance to the Free Syrian Army, a fact easily gleaned by simply browsing his Facebook profile. He recently posted multiple times on Facebook mourning the passing of jihadist commander and footballer Abdul Baset al-Sarout. As it turns out, Sarout not only held extremist and sectarian views, but pledged allegiance to ISIS, among other less-than-noble acts ignored by most media reports that cite him.

Ghali paid homage to ISIS commander Abdul Baset al-Sarout on his Facebook page

Citing Ghali as merely a “media activist” is not an unusual practice for many covering the Syrian conflict. In fact, Ghali holds the same level of extremist-minded views as the “sources” cited by the New York Times in articles that I reported on around the time Ghouta was being liberated from jihadist groups in 2018.

Four sources used in those articles had affiliations to, and/or reverence for the al-Qaeda-linked Jaysh al-Islam — including the former leader Zahran Alloush who has been known to confine civilians in cages, including women and children, for use as human shields in Ghouta — Faylaq al-Rahman, and even to al-Qaeda, not to mention the so-called Emir of al-Qaeda in Syria, the applauded Abu Muhammad Al-Julani.

Claims in a Reuters article of forced internment, being held at gunpoint in refugee centers, come from sources not named in Rukban — instead generically referred to as “residents of Rukban say”…

An article in the UAE-based The National also pushed fear-mongering over the “fate that awaits” evacuees, saying:

[T]here is talk of Syrian government guards separating women and children from men in holding centres in Homs city.There are also accusations of a shooting last month, with two men who had attempted an escape from one of the holding centres allegedly killed. The stories are unconfirmed, but they are enough to make Rukban’s men wary of taking the government’s route out.”

Yet reports from those who have actually visited the centers paint a different picture.

An April 2019 report by Russia-based Vesti News shows calm scenes of Rukban evacuees receiving medical exams by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, who according to Vesti, have doctors there every day; and of food and clean, if not simple, rooms in a former school housing displaced refugees from Rukban. Notably, the Vesti journalist states: “There aren’t any checkpoints or barriers at the centre. The entrance and exit are free.”

The Russian Reconciliation Center reported on May 23 of the refugee centers:

In early May, these shelters were visited by officials from the respective UN agencies, in particular, the UNHCR, who could personally see that the Syrian government provided the required level of accommodation for the refugees in Homs. It is remarkable that most of the former Rukban residents have already relocated from temporary shelters in Homs to permanent residencies in government-controlled areas.”

Likewise, in the Horjilleh Center which I visited in 2018 families were living in modest but sanitary shelters, cooked food was provided, a school was running, and authorities were working to replace identity papers lost during the years under the rule of jihadist groups.

 

Calling on the U.S. to close the camp

David Swanson, Public Information Officer Regional Office for the Syria Crisis UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs based in Amman, Jordan, told me regarding claims of substandard conditions and of Syrians being forcefully held or mistreated in the centers that,

People leaving Rukban are taken to temporary collective shelters in Homs for a 24-hour stay. While there, the receive basic assistance, including shelter, blankets, mattresses, solar lamps, sleeping mats, plastic sheets, food parcels and nutrition supplies before proceeding to their areas of choice, mostly towards southern and eastern Homs, with smaller small numbers going to rural Damascus or Deir-ez-Zor.

The United Nations has been granted access to the shelters on three occasions and has found the situation there adequate. The United Nations continues to advocate and call for safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian assistance and access to Rukban as well as to all those in need throughout Syria. The United Nations also seeks the support of all concerned parties in ensuring the humanitarian and voluntary character of departures from Rukban.”

Hedinn Halldorsson, the Spokesperson and Public Information Officer for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) based in Damascus, told me:

We looked into this when the rumours started, end of April, and concluded they were unfounded – and communicated that externally via press briefings in both Geneva and NY. The conditions in the shelters in Homs are also adequate and in compliance with standards; the UN has access and has done three monitoring visits so far.”

Syrian Arab Red Crescent members unload food and water for Rukban’s evacuees. Photo | Eva Bartlett

Halldorsson noted official UN statements, including:

“Alleged mistreatment of Rukban returnees

  • The United Nations is aware of media reports about people leaving Rukban having been killed or subject to mistreatment upon arrival in shelters in Homs.
  • The United Nations has not been able to confirm any of the allegations.

 Regarding the issue of shelters, Halldorsson noted that as of July 1st:

  • Nearly 15,600 people have left Rukban since March – or nearly 40 per cent of the estimated total population of 41,700.
  • The United Nations has been granted access to the shelters in Homs on three occasions and found conditions in these shelters to be adequate.”

Confirming both UN officials’ statements about the Syrian government’s role in Rukban, the Syrian Mission to the United Nations in New York City told me:

The Syrian Government has spared no effort in recent years to provide every form of humanitarian assistance and support to all Syrians affected by the crisis, regardless of their locations throughout Syria. The Syrian Government has therefore collaborated and cooperated with the United Nations and other international organizations working in Syria to that end, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 46/182.

There must be an end to the suffering of tens of thousands of civilians who live in Al-Rukban, an area which is controlled by illegitimate foreign forces and armed terrorist groups affiliated with them. The continued suffering of those Syrian civilians demonstrates the indifference of the United States Administration to their suffering and disastrous situation.

We stress once again that there is a need to put an end to the suffering of these civilians and to close this camp definitively. The detained people in the camp must be allowed to leave it and return to their homes, which have been liberated by the Syrian Arab Army from terrorism. We note that the Syrian Government has taken all necessary measures to evacuate the detainees from the Rukban camp and end their suffering. What is needed today is for the American occupation forces to allow the camp to be dismantled and to ensure safe transportation in the occupied Al-Tanf area.”

Given that the United States has clearly demonstrated not only a lack of will to aid and or resettle Rukban’s residents but a callousness that flies in the face of their purported concern for Syrians in Rukban, the words of Syrian and Russian authorities on how to solve the crisis in Rukban could not ring truer.

 

Very little actual coverage

The sparse coverage Rukban has received has mostly revolved around accusations that the camp’s civilians fear returning to government-secured areas of Syria for fear of being imprisoned or tortured. This, in spite of the fact that areas brought back under government control over the years have seen hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians return to live in peace and of a confirmation by the United Nations that they had “positively assessed the conditions created by the Syrian authorities for returning refugees.”

The accusations also come in spite of the fact that, for years now, millions of internally displaced Syrians have taken shelter in government areas, often housed and given medical care by Syrian authorities.

Over the years I’ve found myself waiting for well over a month for my journalist visa at the Syrian embassy in Beirut to clear. During these times I traveled around Lebanon where I’ve encountered Syrians who left their country either for work, the main reason, or because their neighborhoods were occupied by terrorist groups. All expressed a longing for Syria and a desire to return home.

In March, journalist Sharmine Narwani tweeted in part that, “the head of UNDP in Lebanon told me during an interview: ‘I have not met a single Syrian refugee who does not want to go home.’”

Of the authors who penned articles claiming that Syrians in Rukban are afraid to return to government-secured areas of Syria, few that I’m aware of actually traveled to Syria to speak with evacuees, instead reporting from Istanbul or even further abroad.

On June 12, I did just that, hiring a taxi to take me to a dusty stretch of road roughly 60 km east of ad-Dumayr, Syria, where I was able to intercept a convoy of buses ferrying exhausted refugees out of Rukban.

 

Merchants, armed groups and Americans

Five hundred meters from a fork in the highway connecting a road heading northeast to Tadmur (Palmyra) to another heading southeast towards Iraq — I waited at a nondescript stopping point called al-Waha, where buses stopped for water and food to be distributed to starving refugees. In Arabic, al-Waha means the oasis and, although only a makeshift Red Crescent distribution center, and compared to Rukban it might as well have been an oasis.

A convoy of 18 buses carrying nearly 900 tormented Syrians followed by a line of trucks carrying their belongings were transferred to refugee reception centers in Homs. Members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent distributed boxes containing beans, chickpeas and canned meat — the latter a scarcity among the displaced.

Buses transported nearly 900 refugees from Rukban Camp to temporary shelters in Homs on June 12. Photo | Eva Bartlett

As food and water were handed out, I moved from bus to bus speaking with people who endured years-long shortages of food, medicine, clean water, work and education … the basic essentials of life. Most people I spoke to said they were starving because they couldn’t afford the hefty prices of food in the camp, which they blamed on Rukban’s merchants. Some blamed the terrorist groups operating in the camp and still others blamed the Americans. A few women I spoke to blamed the Syrian government, saying no aid had entered Rukban at all.

An old woman slumped on the floor of one bus recounted:

We were dying of hunger, life was hell there. Traders [merchants] sold everything at high prices, very expensive; we couldn’t afford to buy things. We tried to leave before today but we didn’t have money to pay for a car out. There were no doctors; it was horrible there.”

An elderly woman recounted enduring hunger in Rukban. Photo | Eva Bartlett

Aboard another bus, an older woman sat on the floor, two young women and several babies around her. She had spent four years in the camp: “Everything was expensive, we were hungry all the time. We ate bread, za’atar, yogurt… We didn’t know meat, fruit…”

Merchants charged 1,000 Syrian pounds (US $2) for five potatoes, she said, exemplifying the absurdly high prices.

I asked whether she’d been prevented from leaving before. “Yes,” she responded.

She didn’t get a chance to elaborate as a younger woman further back on the bus shouted at her that no one had been preventing anyone from leaving. When I asked the younger woman how the armed groups had treated her, she replied, “All respect to them.”

But others that I spoke to were explicit in their blame for both the terrorist groups operating in the camp and the U.S. occupation forces in al-Tanf.

An older man from Palmyra who spent four years in the camp spoke of “armed gangs” paid in U.S. dollars being the only ones able to eat properly:

The armed gangs were living while the rest of the people were dead. No one here had fruit for several years. Those who wanted fruit have to pay in U.S. dollars. The armed groups were the only ones who could do so. They were spreading propaganda: ‘don’t go, the aid is coming.’ We do not want aid. We want to go back to our towns.”

Mahmoud Saleh, a young man from Homs, told me he’d fled home five years ago. According to Saleh, the Americans were in control of Rukban. He also put blame on the armed groups operating in the camp, especially for controlling who was permitted to leave. He said, “There are two other convoys trying to leave but the armed groups are preventing them.”

Mahmoud Saleh from Homs said the Americans control Rukban and blamed armed groups in the camp for controlling who could leave. Photo | Eva Bartlett

A shepherd who had spent three years in Rukban blamed “terrorists” for not being able to leave. He also blamed the United States: “Those controlling Tanf wouldn’t let us leave, the Americans wouldn’t let us leave.”

Many others I spoke to said they had wanted to leave before but were fear-mongered by terrorists into staying, told they would be “slaughtered by the regime,” a claim parroted by many in the Western press when Aleppo and other areas of Syria were being liberated from armed groups.

The testimonies I heard when speaking to Rukban evacuees radically differed from the claims made in most of the Western press’ reporting about Syria’s treatment of refugees. These testimonies are not only corroborated by Syrian and Russian authorities, but also by the United Nations itself. 

Feature photo | An elderly women evacuated from Rukban complained of hunger due to extremely high food prices. Photo | Eva Bartlett

Eva Bartlett is a Canadian independent journalist and activist. She has spent years on the ground covering conflict zones in the Middle East, especially in Syria and occupied Palestine, where she lived for nearly four years. She is a recipient of the 2017 International Journalism Award for International Reporting, granted by the Mexican Journalists’ Press Club (founded in 1951), was the first recipient of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism, and was short-listed in 2017 for the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. See her extended bio on her blog In Gaza. She tweets at @EvaKBartlett

The post Voices from Syria’s Rukban Refugee Camp Belie Corporate Media Reporting appeared first on MintPress News.

Africa and Palestine: A Noble Legacy That Must Never Be Betrayed

Europe’s “Scramble for Africa” began in earnest in 1881, but never ended. The attempt at dominating the continent using old and new strategies continues to define the western relationship with this rich continent. 

This reality was further validated when I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya on June 23. Although my objective was to address various Kenyan audiences at universities, public forums and the media, I also came here to learn. Kenya, like the rest of Africa, is a source of inspiration for all anti-colonial, liberation movements around the world. We, Palestinians, can learn a great deal from the Kenyan struggle. 

Although African countries have fought valiant battles for their freedom against their western colonizers, neocolonialism now defines the relationship between many independent African countries and their former occupiers. Political meddling, economic control and, at times, military interventions, as in the recent cases of Libya and Mali, point to the unfortunate reality that Africa remains, in myriad ways, hostage to western priorities, interests and dictates. 

In the infamous Berlin Conference of 1884, western colonial regimes attempted to mediate among the various powers that were competing over Africa’s largesse. It assigned each with a share of the African continent as if Africa was the property of the west and its white colonists. Millions of Africans died in that protracted, bloody episode unleashed by the west which, shamelessly, promoted its genocidal oppression as a civilizational project. 

Like most colonized countries in the Southern hemisphere, Africans fought disproportionate battles to gain their precious freedom. Here in Kenya, which became an official British colony in the 1920s, Kenya’s freedom fighters rose in rebellion against the brutality of their oppressors. Most notable among the various resistance campaigns, the “Mau Mau” rebellion of the 1950s remains a stark example of the courage of Kenyans and the cruelty of colonial Britain. Thousands of people were killed, wounded, disappeared or were imprisoned under the harshest of conditions. 

A member of the Mau Mau is held at gunpoint during a 1952 midnight roundup by British troops. Photo | AP

Palestine fell under Brtish occupation, the so-called British Mandate, around the period that Kenya also became a British colony. Palestinians, too, fought and fell in their thousands as they employed various methods of collective resistance, including the legendary strike and rebellion of 1936. 

The same British killing machine that operated in Palestine and Kenya around that time, also operated, with the same degree of senseless violence, against numerous other nations around the world. 

While Palestine was handed over to the Zionist Movement to establish the State of Israel in May 1948, Kenya achieved its independence in December 1963. 

At one of my recent talks in Nairobi, I was asked by a young participant about “Palestinian terrorism”. I told her that Palestinian fighters of today are Kenya’s “Mau Mau” rebels of yesteryear. That, if we allow western and Israeli propaganda to define the discourse of national liberation on Palestine, then we condemn all national liberation movements throughout the Southern hemisphere, including Kenya’s own freedom fighters. 

We, Palestinians, however, must shoulder part of the blame of why our narrative as an oppressed, colonized and resisting nation is now misunderstood in parts of Africa

When the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) committed its historical blunder by signing off Palestinian rights in Oslo in 1993, it abandoned a decades-long Palestinian discourse of resistance and liberation. Instead, it subscribed to a whole new discourse, riddled with carefully-worded language sanctioned by Washington and its European allies. Whenever Palestinians dared to deviate from their assigned role, they were decreed by the west to return to the negotiating table,” as the latter became a metaphor of obedience and submission. 

Throughout these years, Palestinians mostly abandoned their far more meaningful alliances in Africa. Instead, they endlessly appealed to the goodwill of the west, hoping that the very colonial powers that have primarily created, sustained and armed Israel, would miraculously become more balanced and humane. 

However, Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, etc., remained committed to Israel and, despite occasional polite criticism of the Israeli government, continued to channel their weapons, warplanes and submarines to every Israeli government that has ruled over Palestinians for the last seven decades. 

Alas, while Palestinians were learning their painful lesson, betrayed repeatedly by those who vowed to respect democracy and human rights, many African nations began seeing in Israel a possible ally. Kenya is, sadly, one of those countries. 

Understanding the significance of Africa in terms of its economic and political potential (support for Israel at the UN General Assembly), rightwing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has launched his own “Scramble for Africa”. Netanyahu’s diplomatic conquests on the continent have been celebrated by Israeli media as “historic”, while the Palestinian leadership remained oblivious to the rapidly changing political landscape. 

Kenya is one of Israel’s success stories. In November 2017, Netanyahu attended the inauguration of Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, who supposedly received an astonishing 98% of votes in the last elections. While Kenyans rose in rebellion against their corrupt ruling classes, Netanyahu was seen embracing Kenyatta as a dear friend and ally. 

Kenyans run as riot police use tear gas to disperse a 2009 protest against Israel’s bombing of Gaza in Nairobi, Kenya. Khalil Senosi | AP

Netanyahu’s strategy in Kenya – and the rest of Africa – has been based on the same logic, where Israel would use its security technology to support corrupt and undemocratic regimes, in exchange for their political support. 

Tel Aviv had hoped that the first-ever Israel-Africa summit in Togo would usher in a complete paradigm shift in Israeli-African relations. However, the October 2017 conference never actualized, due to pressure by various African countries, including South Africa. There is still enough support for Palestine on the continent to defeat Israeli stratagem. But that could change soon in favor of Israel, if Palestinians and their allies do not wake up to the alarming reality. 

The Palestinian leadership, intellectuals, artists and civil society ambassadors must shift their attention back to the Southern hemisphere – Africa, in particular – rediscovering the untapped wealth of true, unconditional human solidarity that is provided by the peoples of this ever-generous continent. 

The legendary Tanzanian freedom fighter, Mwalimu Nyerere – who is also celebrated in Kenya – knew too well where his solidarity lay. “We have never hesitated in our support for the right of the people of Palestine to have their own land,” he once said, a sentiment that was repeated by the iconic late South African leader, Nelson Mandela, and many other African liberation leaders. 

This generation of African leaders should not deviate from that noble legacy. If they betray it, they betray themselves, along with the righteous struggles of their own peoples. 

Feature photo | British Tommies man a security post behind barbed wire along the road from Jaffa to Tel Aviv, Palestine, March 3, 1947 as young people around the gun position awaiting developments. Photo | AP

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His last book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and was a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

The post Africa and Palestine: A Noble Legacy That Must Never Be Betrayed appeared first on MintPress News.

How the Third Temple Movement in Israel Rebranded Theocracy as “Civil Rights”

JERUSALEM — In a troubling trend that continues to be overlooked by international media, the Temple Activist movement that seeks to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and replace it with a Third Temple continues to advance its agenda. The movement’s forward progress is largely thanks to its successful efforts in recent years to rebrand as a “civil rights” movement — securing support from secular and religious Zionists alike — as well as to growing levels of support in Israel’s executive and legislative branches of government.

As was detailed in Part I of this series, the Temple Activist movement is now more mainstream than ever before and its effort to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam, has advanced with great rapidity since the year began and has picked up precipitously in recent weeks. Yet this new face of the Temple Activist movement — one that claims that its quest is to wrest control of the holy site from Jordanian and Palestinian custody in the name of “equal rights” for Israeli Jews — obfuscates the troubling origins of this once-fringe yet now normalized campaign.

Beginning in earnest after the Six Day War in 1967, the Temple Activist movement within Israel was largely formed by two groups of people: 1) a small, then-fringe group of messianic religious Zionists led by Rabbi Shlomo Goren that supported the complete annexation of Palestine, particularly Jerusalem with the Al-Aqsa mosque; and  2) former members of the secular Zionist paramilitary groups Irgun and Lehi, known for their penchant for massacring Palestinian civilians for political gain, who either became religious messianists following Israel’s 1967 victory or remained secular and felt that salvation for Israeli Jews necessitated the miltiary conquest of Palestine and the destruction of its mosques and churches — particularly the site of Al-Aqsa mosque, often referred to as either the Temple Mount or Haram El-Sharif (Arabic for “the Noble Sanctuary”).

The modern “friendly” face of the Temple Activist movement — embodied by figures like Yehuda Glick, former executive director of the Temple Institute and a member of Israel’s Knesset — hides the extremist and largely secular origins of this quasi-religious movement that — as Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss of Neturei Karta, an international organization of ultra-Orthodox Jews opposed to Zionism, told MintPress in Part I — is ultimately colonial (i.e., Zionist) in nature and uses religious imagery and appeals “to excuse their occupation and to try to portray this [the occupation of Palestine] as a religious conflict.”

As this installment of this multi-part series on the current threats facing the historic Al-Aqsa Mosque compound will show, the Temple Activist movement’s extremist origins and increasing normalization in Israeli society parallels the rise of Israel’s political far-right, particularly of the Likud Party — whose roots, much like those of the Temple Activist movment, trace back to secular Zionist paramilitaries like Irgun. 

Miko Peled, Israeli author and human-rights activist, described this trend to MintPress as “the resurgence of the ‘good old days’ when young zealots were the forefront of the Zionist project.” Peled pointed out that these zealots set up the foundations for actions that are later pursued and consolidated by the Israeli state, such as in the context of the settler movement where, as Peled noted: 

The [Israeli political] establishment comes in and takes over and turns an ‘outpost’ [established by a small group of extremists] into a settlement and then a city. The Haram El-Sharif or Temple Mount compound will be the same. These zealots, young and old are the cutting edge of Zionist ideologues and they do the ‘dirty work.’ Now they do not seem so radical any more and soon the state will come in full force.”        

For that reason, and as this report will show, there is a significant degree of overlap between the dominant parties of Israeli politics today and the Temple Activist movement, with a majority of current Israeli government ministers, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself, and a large and influential lobby of lawmakers in Israel’s Knesset openly supporting the Israeli government takeover of Al-Aqsa mosque and its destruction and replacement with a Third Temple. Subsequent installments of this series will show how such an outcome is a grave threat to peace — not just in Israel/Palestine, but the entire Middle East — and a major yet widely overlooked motivation behind the foreign policy objectives of not only Israel’s current government but the Trump administration.

 

Shlomo Goren: The man who lit the match

The Israeli military’s conquest of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967 was seen by some of its soldiers as a sign from the divine that end-times prophecies were being fulfilled. Among those who were the first to arrive at the newly conquered historic district of Jerusalem were three men who — in distinct ways — would go on to lead a movement aimed at remaking this area of Jerusalem in the image of their specific, and then-fringe, interpretation of Biblical prophecy. They were Shlomo Goren, then-Rabbi of the IDF and later Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel; Geroshon Salomon, then-soldier and later founder of the Temple Mount Faithful; and Yisrael Ariel, Rabbi and founder of the Temple Institute. 

Goren, center, carries a Torah and submachine gun during a 1956 Israeli assault on Gaza. Photo | AP

Shlomo Goren, euphoric after the Israeli military’s takeover of the Temple Mount, led the celebration, where both Ariel and Salomon were present. Per Ariel’s recollection, Goren’s words about the prophetic significance of the Israeli takeover of the Temple Mount gave meaning to the occasion and would go on to inspire Ariel, as well as Salomon, to found organizations devoted to Goren’s vision of a Third Temple in the place of Al-Aqsa mosque, which currently sits on the Temple Mount of Haram El-Sharif. 

Soon after the celebratory mood had faded that fateful day in 1967, Goren — according to several accounts — pushed the IDF’s Chief of Central Command Uzi Narkiss to seize the opportunity to bring down the historic mosque with explosives, something Goren felt was best done under the cover of war. Narkiss’ rejection of Goren’s plea would subsequently be remembered bitterly by Goren and his allies, Ariel and Salomon among them, as a missed opportunity and, for some, an act of “treason.” Such bitter feelings were reserved, not just for Narkiss or then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, both secular Zionists, but also for the State’s rabbinical authorities who, following the 1967 capture and subsequent occupation of Jerusalem, maintained the centuries-old opinion that it was against Jewish religious law for Jews to ascend the Temple Mount.

While the 1967 war did not result in the destruction of the Al-Aqsa mosque or the Dome of the Rock as Goren and others had hoped, Goren dedicated much of his future career to advancing what is now often referred to as the Temple Activist movement, which aims to replace the Al-Aqsa mosque compound with a Third Temple. Goren specifically believed that the Third Temple must be built before the Messiah could be revealed, as opposed to after he is revealed, and that the conquest of the site in the 1967 war meant that the time had come to build a new temple where Al-Aqsa sits. 

It is worth pointing out that Goren’s beliefs were, and remain, at odds with the rabbinical authorities both within Israel and abroad. As Motti Inbari, scholar of Jewish fundamentalism and messianism and associate professor of religion at UNC Pembroke, wrote for The Times of Israel in 2015: 

According to halakha (Jewish religious law), anyone who enters the mount will be punished by karet — death sentence carried out by God. This decision has been reinforced in innumerable rulings. One was handed down by the chief rabbinate after the capture of the Mount during the Six-Day War in 1967… And this custom is followed by the vast majority of ultra-Orthodox rabbis.”

Goren’s rise to further prominence was meteoric after the 1967 war, and he became Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, Israel’s most important state rabbinical position, just a year after retiring as the IDF’s first chief rabbi in 1972. Miko Peled, Israeli author and human rights activist, told MintPress that Goren’s role as chief Rabbi made him “a strong influence on the ‘Religious Zionist’ movement that sought to settle all of the ‘Land of Israel’” — meaning “Biblical Israel,” which includes all of occupied Palestine and large parts of territory of several neighboring countries. 

Goren’s quick ascension to the most prominent position in Israel’s Rabbinate was dogged by accusations that he had cut a secret deal with the then-Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, and that Goren had promised to assist Meir in finding solutions to pressing conflicts that had arisen between Israel’s actions as a state and Jewish law. As chief rabbi, Goren would adapt Jewish religious law to scientific advances and military conflicts, solving many of the problems that had concerned Meir in the early 1970s.

As chief rabbi of Israel, Goren later developed a close relationship with Menachim Begin — former leader of the Irgun paramilitary and terrorist group, and Israel’s prime minister from 1977 to 1983 — who was denounced as a fascist and a terrorist by numerous Jewish American intellectuals and public figures – including Albert Einstein. Goren became an important liaison between Begin and U.S. President Ronald Reagan at a time when Begin was actively courting the American evangelical right, specifically Christian Zionists. Begin and Goren had both long advocated for complete Israeli control over the Temple Mount and both shared a vision of a “Greater Israel,” where the state of Israel would expand through all of the occupied Palestinian territories and into several surrounding countries.

Begin, right, bows his head to receive a blessing from Shlomo Goren in 1977 at Ben-Gurion Airport. Max Nash | AP

In one example, Goren claimed that he had been sent by Begin to the White House to personally deliver Reagan a message regarding the withdrawal of Israel from the Sinai Peninsula and “to provide Reagan with a sense of the moral and spritual feeling in Israel,” which included warning against the formation of a Palestinian state, keeping Jerusalem “united,” and recognizing the city as exclusively Israeli.

As chief rabbi of Israel, Goren’s “activism” regarding the Temple Mount continued unabated and arguably grew with his growing political influence, both within Israel and abroad. Having led extremists in ascending the Temple Mount since the Old City’s conquest in 1967, Goren’s stature as chief rabbi allowed him to continue and expand his efforts to push for an increased presence of extremist religious Zionists on the Temple Mount. Following the 1967 war, Goren also created detailed maps of the Temple Mount with the intention of delineating where the Third Temple should be built and where he believed the long-lost treasures of the Ark of the Covenant were hidden beneath the Temple. Those maps are still used by Temple Activists today.

Yet Goren’s “activism” on behalf of a Third Temple was much more far-reaching during his time as chief rabbi. In 1981, Goren along with Rabbi of the Western Wall Yehuda Getz, began excavating a series of tunnels under the Temple Mount, without archaeological approval, in an alleged search for the Ark of the Covenant artifact. They believed that finding the Ark of the Covenant would signal that the time to build a Third Temple had arrived. One of the volunteers aiding Getz and Goren was Gersh Salomon, who had founded the Temple Mount Faithful a few years prior. 

The tunnels — conducted without archeological supervision, as is required by Israeli law — were dug with the support of Israel’s Religious Affairs Ministry. There was also another government connection to the illegal project, owing to the intimate involvement of Rafi Eitan in the project. Eitan was an influential counterterrorism and security adviser to three Israeli prime ministers (Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres), a former officer for the Mossad and Shin Bet, and a “personal and close family friend” of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He later gained notoriety for recruiting Jonathan Pollard, a former United States Navy intelligence analyst convicted of spying for Israel, and serving as his handler. 

Goren, Getz and their group of volunteers managed to reach Warren’s Gate, an ancient subterranean passage leading to the Temple Mount. Accordig to Salomon, “We needed just two days more to come to the place where the Ark of the Covenant is located.” However, their ambitions were cut short when Palestinians guarding Al-Aqsa heard strange noises coming from below Al-Aqsa Mosque and quickly discovered the group’s excavations. A riot nearly broke out and Israeli authorities subsequently sealed the tunnel.

A few years later, in 1986, three years after leaving his position as chief rabbi, Goren, together with other prominent rabbis, issued a religious edict that called for the immediate construction of a Third Temple on the Temple Mount and for public Jewish prayers on the site, an act historically forbidden by Jewish law. Prior to the end of his life in 1994, Goren issued several other controversial religious edicts, such as one that ruled that IDF soldiers could disobey government orders in order to remove extremist settlers from the West Bank, and another stating that Jewish law compelled Jews to murder Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

 

The Temple Mount Faithful

Goren’s impact on the Temple Activist movement is unique, as his actions following the Israeli conquest of Jerusalem’s Old City were the spark that inspired the two other most notable forces in laying the ground for the Temple Activist movement of today: Gershon Salomon and Yisrael Ariel.

Salomon was one of the paratroopers who helped “liberate” the Temple Mount and the Western Wall in 1967 and he went on to found the Temple Mount Faithful soon after. Following the war, he “dedicated himself to the vision of consecrating the Temple Mount to the Name of G‑d, to removing the Muslim shrines placed there as a symbol of Muslim conquest, to the rebuilding of the Third Temple on the Temple Mount, and the godly redemption of the People and the Land of Israel,” according to the Temple Mount Faithful website. He worked directly with Goren for a number of years, and others who were greatly influenced by Goren, such as Ariel, later joined Salomon’s group.

Gershon Salomon, right, poses in front of al-Aqsa Mosque in 1967.

Goren participated directly with the Temple Mount Faithful on some occasions, such as in hosting a “conference” in front of the Temple Mount where Goren, Salomon and other attendees called on Israel’s government “to purify the Temple Mount from its Arab and Islamic presence and desecration,” as it was later described by Salomon. 

The group attracted members from the messianic fringes of religious Zionism, as well as more secular, fascist elements that were associated with the precursors to the modern-day Likud Party. Indeed, Motti Inbari has noted that most of the Temple Mount Faithful’s membership during its “golden years” (from the late 1960s to 1987) were former members of the Irgun and Lehi Zionist paramilitary groups, both of which have deep ties to Israel’s Likud Party. 

For decades, the Temple Mount Faithful’s main activities were demonstrations that Inbari, who attended several of the group’s demonstrations, states were intended to “cause provocations and riots bordering on hysteria among the [Palestinian] Muslim public.” These provocations center around the group attempting to physically place cornerstones they commissioned for a future Third Temple on the Temple Mount. One of the group’s cornerstone demonstrations led to what became known as the Al-Aqsa massacre of 1990, which resulted in rioting among Palestinian worshippers who were then at the mosque. Israeli police shot and killed over 20 Palestinians and wounded an estimated 150 more.

Yet, beginning in the mid-1980s, a rift started to emerge in the Temple Mount Faithful between the religious and secular Zionists within the group. The rift was initiated by Rabbi Yosef Elboim and saw religious Zionists, like Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, leave the Temple Mount Faithful en masse, as they felt the movement could only grow in influence if it focused more strongly on the Third Temple’s religious and ritual importance, as opposed to its importance as a nationalist and Zionist symbol, a view espoused by Salomon.

Though Salomon frequently uses religious and biblical imagery when discussing the Temple and sees the construction of the Temple as his divine mission, he ultimately viewed the Temple as a symbol of Israeli nationalism. This view of the Temple as a nationalist symbol was first articulated by members of the Zionist and fascist paramilitary group Lehi, also known as the Stern Gang. The view helped Salomon win over some influential secular Zionists to the Temple Activist movement, though it caused him to lose influence with religious Zionists. Yet this loss of support from religious Zionists led Salomon to reach out and forge ties with another group, the Christian Zionists of the West.

Temple Mount Faithful members step on a mock coffin symbolizing Palestine during a 2007 parade in Jerusalem. Alex Kolomoisky | AP

The 1987 rift with the Temple Mount Faithful resulted in the official creation of the Temple Institute, which was founded by Rabbi Ariel and has since become the most prominent organization of its type within Israel. Soon after its creation, the Institute joined an alliance of other Temple Mount Faithful splinter groups and associated groups, known collectively as the Movement for the Establishment of the Temple, but did not include the Temple Mount Faithful itself.

 

The Jewish Underground

While many former members of Irgun and Lehi joined the Temple Activist movement following its formation in the late 1960s, others chose an even more extreme approach than that offered by the Temple Mount Faithful. Shabtai Ben-Dov, a former member of Lehi who believed that the Third Temple and Jewish Messiah could only be achieved through violence and blood-soaked conquest, was one of the “guiding lights” of a group known as the Jewish Underground.

Ben-Dov is an obscure figure to most Israelis, but his impact on Jewish messianic groups in Israel was profound. He was an enthusiastic member of Lehi — or, as noted above, “the Stern Gang” — a Zionist paramilitary group known for its use of terrorism as well as its role in comitting several civilian massacres; the assassination of UN and British officials; its attempts to formally ally with the Nazis; and desire to create a Jewish state in Palestine based on “nationalist and totalitarian principles.”

Ben-Dov, who became increasingly more religious following the founding of the state of Israel and the dissolution of Lehi, turned to writing and argued that Lehi’s totalitarian vision for the state of Israel should be realized through the establishment of a theocracy, led by a king and the Sanhedrin, a council that served as the main political, judicial and religious force for Jews during the Roman period and was guided by the values of “conquest and holy war.” Furthermore, he believed — like Avraham Stern, who founded Lehi —  that the Third Temple must be built as soon as possible and that doing so would solve all of the problems then facing the Jewish people.

Though his beliefs didn’t catch on — then, at least — Ben-Dov’s writings were dramatically inspirational to Yehuda Etzion, a settler activist who became profoundly disillusioned with the efforts to broker peace between Israel and Egypt that eventually resulted in the Camp David Accords in 1979. Shortly prior to Ben-Dov’s death and soon after the accords were formalized, Etzion sought out the former Lehi member, who successfully convinced the young Etzion to actively participate in the “messianic process.” When Etzion asked Ben-Dov if destroying the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque would catalyze the “redemption” process and usher in the coming of the messiah, Ben-Dov responded, “If you want to do something that will solve all the Jew’s problems, do that.”

With that, the planning of the now infamous plot of the Jewish Underground to destroy Al-Aqsa began, a plot that was narrowly foiled just a few years later in 1984. Indeed, Etzion and his co-conspirators, all of whom were later convicted of terrorism, had raided an Israeli military outpost in the occupied Golan Heights and had managed to steal over 2,000 pounds of explosives, which were used to build at least 27 bombs with which to commit the deed. For reasons that will become more relevant in a future article in this series, Etzion and his co-conspirators also believed that destroying Al-Aqsa mosque would first lead to a war with rival Middle Eastern nations, a war from which Israel would emerge victorious — and only then could the Third Temple and a theocratic Israel take shape. 

Israeli police carry Yehuda Etzion after he breached the Temple Mount in 1997. Zoom 77 | AP

After his arrest, Etzion had lamented that the plot had failed only because “the generation was not ready.” As noted in Part I, he called for the building of “a new force that grows very slowly, moving its educational and social activity into a new leadership,” a force that — as this article and Part I of this series clearly show — has been spectacularly successful. 

Though a convicted terrorist and a proponent of theocracy and “holy war,” Etzion today is considered “the most revered figure among patrons of the Temple Mount,” according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Etzion was even the subject of a rather sympathetic New York Times article in 2015, as the rebranding of the Temple Activist movement (discussed shortly) was in full swing. That article asserted that Etzion “laments violence now used against Palestinians,” despite noting that Etzion “does not regret, exactly, helping plant bombs in the cars of Palestinian mayors and plotting to blow up the Dome of the Rock in the 1980s, nor does he express remorse.” 

Though Etzion’s ideology may once have been fringe and his embrace of violence odious, it has gone increasingly mainstream, much like the Temple Activist movement itself, and there is considerable overlap. A fitting example of such overlap was seen just a few months ago when Bezalel Smotrich — now Israel’s Transportation Minister, who has openly called for the construction of a Third Temple and incited settlers to violently attack Palestinains in the occupied West Bank — called for Israel to be ruled by Jewish law and to become a theocracy at a time when he was under consideration for the position of Justice Minister. 

Smotrich is but one example of how the ideas promoted by figures like Etzion have found their way into Israel’s halls of power. Indeed, Israel’s current Minister of Strategic Affairs, Internal Security, and Information Gilad Erdan, former Minister of Education Naftali Bennett, and Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein are all close associates and supporters of Etzion and his Chai Vekayam (Alive and Existing) movement.

Carmi Gillon, former head of Israel’s internal security service Shin Bet, stated last year that the former members of Jewish Underground have become so influential that they have won the battle for Israel’s future. Gillon told Haaretz

They are more devoted to their idea. It’s exactly what you see with Hamas or Hezbollah. A religious person who believes he is commanded from on high can’t compromise on that command. A secular person is more pragmatic to begin with. But they have one goal: to turn Israel into a Jewish state governed by religious Jewish law, to perpetuate the occupation and to rescind liberal laws.”

 

The “Moderate” facade of the Temple Institute

Today, the Temple Institute, founded by Yisrael Ariel, is treated by many media sources as the “moderate face” of the Temple Activist movement. Yet, Ariel — much like Salomon, Etzion and other prominent figures in the Temple Activist movement — has long been an extremist, making his institute hardly “moderate.” As the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

After following Shlomo Goren to the Western Wall the day of its conquest in 1967, Ariel became deeply involved in the settler movement and became the “unofficial” rabbi of an Israeli settlement in the Sinai Peninsula. After that settlement was dismantled as part of the Camp David Accords, which saw the Sinai returned to Egypt, Ariel returned to Jerusalem and joined one of the most radical, racist political parties in Israel’s history, Kach.

Yisrael Ariel oversees a Temple Mount Faithful enactment of rituals for a rebuilt Third Temple. Tomer Appelbaum | Haaretz

The Kach Party was founded in 1971 by American-born Rabbi Meir Kahane, a convicted terrorist known for his racist, extremist positions that advocated Jewish supremacy, the expulsion of Palestinians from the occupied territories, and prison sentences for Palestinian men accused of having intimate relations with Jewish women. In addition, an often overlooked aspect of his radical platform was complete Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount.

In the 1981 elections, Ariel ran as Kahane’s number two right-hand man as a member of Kach, later served as Kahane’s deputy in the Knesset, and continued to be active in the party until it was banned from participating in Israeli elections in 1988. A few years after Kahane was assassinated in 1990, Baruch Goldstein, a Kahane follower and Kach member who murdered scores of praying Palestinians in a Hebron mosque, was praised by Ariel as a “martyr” and “our advocate in Heaven,” even as Goldstein’s actions led the Kach Party and its spinoffs to be labeled terrorist organizations by Israel, the United States and several other countries.

During his lengthy association with the Kach Party and Meir Kahane, Ariel founded the Temple Institute, registering it first as an association in 1984 and then creating a more formal organization in 1987 soon after other religious Zionist elements of the Temple Mount Faithful left that group en masse.

Ariel’s reason for doing so was based on his view that the Third Temple must be pursued at all costs. Ariel’s “Holy Temple Prayerbook” as cited on the Temple Institute’s website, summarizes his beliefs in his own words:

Through the years, the more I studied the more I began to understand that we had only ourselves and our own inaction to hold accountable: God does not intend for us to wait for a day of miracles. We are expected to act. We must accomplish that with which we have been charged: to do all in our power to prepare for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, and the renewal of the divine service.”

Furthermore, Ariel feels that the Temple lies at the heart of Israel’s future as a state and as a panacea for all of its problems. He stated the following in 2005: 

The State of Israel can be only one thing — a state with a Temple at its center. Otherwise it is no different from any other state. All of today’s troubles originate in the sin of abandoning the Temple Mount and the site of the Holy Temple…The Holy Temple is the solution to all of our problems.” 

This same view that held that the Temple would solve all of Israel’s problems was also voiced by Shabtai Ben-Dov, the former Lehi member who advised members of the radical Jewish Underground terrorist group to blow up Al-Aqsa mosque in the early 1980s.

While the worldview of Ariel and his ideological allies can easily be dismissed as that of an extremist, the issue is that — over the past few decades — the Temple Institute he founded has taken a central role in the Temple Activist movement and has found growing levels of support from Israel’s government, including financial support.

Since its formation, the Temple Institute has created detailed blueprints of its vision for a Third Temple, based partially on the maps first made by Shlomo Goren in 1967, as well as 3-D computer animations and physical models of that Temple. In addition, it has created several artifacts for use in a future temple, including a golden menorah, incense altars, priestly garments and a variety of ritual vessels, among others. The menorah alone is estimated to have cost 5 million NIS (about $1.3 million USD).

A Temple Institute workshop in Jerusalem where tailors produce garments for Third Temple priests. Kevin Frayer | AP

These artifacts and models have allowed the Temple Institute to obfuscate its extremist origins by opening a museum dedicated to the Third Temple, a museum that enjoys Israeli government sponsorship. That museum, dubbed the “Disney Land for Temple fundamentalism” by the Times of Israel, receives hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.education

Beyond its creation of artifacts and structures to be used in a future temple, the Institute has also dedicated itself to training a new generation of Levite priests with the intention that they perform ritual sacrifices in the future temple, and has also attempted to recreate a “Red Heifer” for use in a purification ritual. 

Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss of Neturei Karta — an ultra-Orthodox group of Haredi Jews founded in Palestine in 1938, who believe Jews are forbidden from having their own state until the Jewish Messiah is revealed — told MintPress that these rituals cannot be performed because the red heifer, among other objects, is no longer available as these objects were when these rituals were practiced nearly two thousand years ago. Yet, the Temple Institute has made efforts to recreate a red heifer using advanced techniques in animal husbandry and artificial insemination and claimed to have produced a suitable red heifer in 2018.

Over the years, the Institute has received increasing levels of support from Israel’s government, even though the Institute’s activities run counter to official Israeli government policy in relation to the Temple Mount and also violate a 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan that explicitly forbids non-Muslims from praying on Haram el-Sharif (the Temple Mount), in keeping with Islamic theological doctrine regarding its most holy sites. According to Israeli non-profit Ir Amim, the Temple Institute has been receiving direct funding from Israel’s government since at least 2008 —  receiving an estimated 412,000 NIS (~$114,775) annually from Israel’s Ministry of Culture, Science and Sports, headed by Miri Regev, as well as Israel’s Ministry of Education from 2008 to 2012. In 2012 alone, the educational arm of the Temple Institute, the Midrasha, received 189,000 NIS (~$52,650) from the Ministry of Education. 

Prior to obtaining direct government funding, the Temple Institute received funding from “persons in different government ministries,” according to statements made by Ariel in 1992 when thanking members of the government for helping finance the Institute and offset its debts. Notably, government funding of the Temple Institute is a small portion of its estimated $1 million annual operating budget. However, direct government funding of the organization suggests that the current Likud government led by Netanyahu is relatively supportive, at least covertly, of its mission.

This is corroborated by the fact that recent years have seen overt support for the Institute and its objectives by prominent Israeli politicians. For instance, in 2013, Nir Barkat — then-mayor of Jerusalem and member of the ruling Likud Party — presented Ariel with an award for his work at the Temple Institute. It was subsequently revealed that the Temple Institute had received a government contract from Israel’s Ministry of Education. That contract paid the Temple Institute to develop a mandatory social studies curriculum that would instill a “longing for the Temple” in children at the kindergarten level and above. Critics argued that the curriculum “could drive students to take violent actions to advance the building of the Third Temple,” according to Haaretz. The Institute’s relationship with Israel’s government is further revealed by Israel’s allowing of women to perform their mandatory national service in lieu of mandatory military service by working as tour guides in the Institute’s Museum.

A schoolbook created jointly with Israel’s Ministry of Education depicts the rebuilding of the Third Temple. Credit | Ir Amim

The combination of government support for the Temple Institute and the Institute working as a government contractor in developing a national educational curriculum has resulted in growing support for the Third Temple among religious and secular Israelis alike.

Miko Peled told MintPress that the type of material being taught and normalized in schools throughout the country had been a key factor in the Temple Activist movement’s goals becoming mainstream: 

The mainstreaming of these fringe [Temple Activist] groups is possible only because within the mainstream in Israel there is a desire to see the Temple ‘restored.’ The mythical narrative of King David and King Solomon and his magnificent temple are taught as history, and so even secular Israelis see this as a symbol of their identity and a right. This is taught in schools, through Israeli folk songs, etc. Furthermore, among the ‘tour’ organizers and the Temple activists there have always been non-religious Israelis.”

As the Temple Institute’s influence has grown and as it has perfected the capacity to speak to more moderate as well as extremist factions within religious Zionism, Ariel has notably felt emboldened to articulate the controversial, extremist beliefs he has long held. In a video recorded in 2015, he made overt calls for genocide and murder based on his interpretation of the works of 12th-century Jewish sage Maimonides.

In that video, publicized by Canadian journalist David Sheen, Ariel makes several outrageous statements, including claims that Jewish law compelled religious Jews to assassinate then-President of the United States Barack Obama, and calling for a Jewish army to conquer the entire Middle East, specifically Iran, and to destroy all mosques and churches. 

Ariel also called for the murder of all Muslims and Christians who do not renounce their religions in order to follow the “Noahide laws,” which Ariel and other extremists believe must be imposed on all of humanity, aside from practitioners of Judaism, as a condition of their existence. A year later, Ariel again garnered attention from Israeli media for claiming that the Temple Mount must be “flattened and cleaned” of the Al-Aqsa mosque so a Third Temple could be rebuilt.

 

From extremist to “civil rights” movement

Though Rabbi Yisrael Ariel is often considered the face of the Institute, the Institute’s increasing prominence has been aided by a somewhat younger generation of Temple Activists who have become influential in Israeli politics.

There is no better example of such a figure than Yehuda Glick, who was the Temple Institute’s executive director for five years and became a member of Israel’s Knesset for the ruling Likud Party in 2016. Largely thanks to the “affable” face Glick and some of his contemporaries have lent to the Temple Activist movement, it has been able to rebrand from an extremist colonialist project to a “civil rights movement” promoting “equal rights” for Jewish Israelis when it comes to praying on the Temple Mount. Yet Glick differs little, in terms of ideology, from the old guard, as evidenced by his personal beliefs and his close relationships with figures such as Etzion and Ariel.

Glick, through his prominent role in the Temple Institute and the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation, had become a well-known figure in the Temple Activist movement by the time he was attacked and shot in early February 2014, almost losing his life to his assailant, who was alleged to have been a young Palestinian. Glick’s serious injuries, which he survived, became the basis for a subsequent and successful media campaign within Israel that helped paint the Temple Activist movement as a “civil rights” movement aimed merely at securing “equal rights” to pray on the Temple Mount, for both Jews and Muslims alike. 

This narrative soon went beyond Israel, with prominent media outlets like the New York Times euphemistically describing Glick as an “agitator who has pushed for more Jewish access and rights at a hotly contested religious site in Jerusalem.” Left unmentioned was Glick’s history of arrests for participating in provocations at the Temple Mount, his assault of a Palestinian woman at the contested site, and the fact that he lives in an illegal West Bank settlement.

Yet, there is much to doubt about the narrative surrounding Glick’s attempted murder, leading some critics to suggest that the attempt on his life may have been a “false flag” aimed at creating enough public outrage so as to force Israel’s government to alter the current status quo on the Temple Mount. Indeed, just a week before he was nearly killed, Glick had told Haaretz that the situation on the Temple Mount would only change after a Jew was violently attacked by an Arab.

Yehuda Glick arrives to cast his vote during Likud party elections in Jerusalem, still healing from an alleged attack, Dec. 31, 2014. Oded Balilty | AP

“When will the change take place?” Glick told the Israeli newspaper, answering: 

As soon as the Arabs harm someone on the Temple Mount, the prime minister will wake up and it will be too late…Violence is escalating every day, and the police are simply helpless. Police impotence leads to violence…Bibi is tying their hands and the Jordanians are tying their hands.” (emphasis added)

Soon after the murder attempt, Ali Abunimah detailed at Electronic Intifada many of the other discrepancies regarding the events that led to Glick’s injuries, including the swift extrajudicial execution of his alleged attacker before an investigation or trial could take place and some of the dubious claims made by witnesses at the scene, particularly witnesses known to be greatly involved in the Temple Activist cause. Two of the witnesses were none other than Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, founder of the Temple Institute, and Moshe Feiglin, then-Likud member of the Knesset and outspoken Temple Activist, each of whom later called the attack on Glick “inevitable” and “expected,” respectively.

A year and a half after the attack that threatened his life, Glick became a member of Israel’s Knesset for the Likud Party, occupying the post left by former Defense Minister Mosha Ya’alon, who had resigned. Though Glick had previously served a minor role in government, his ascent to the Knesset as a Likud lawmaker gave him a platform to continue to promote Temple Activism as an issue of “civil rights,” one that was received by outlets like Forward with great sympathy. 

“The discrimination on the Temple Mount is obvious,” Forward quoted Glick as saying soon after he became a member of the Knesset. “[Under Jordanian control] the Temple Mount became a center of incitement and hate instead of a center of peace.”

Miko Peled described the effort to rebrand what was once a radical, fringe movement as a “civil rights” struggle that has been “very successful” and played a role in the increasingly mainstream status that the Temple Activist movement now enjoys. Peled told MintPress:

Their [the Temple Activists] entire discourse is now about their rights, and the denial of the rights of Jewish [people] to freedom of worship, etc. This works well in promoting them as more moderate and friendly and as victims of a reality that once again discriminates against Jews. They realize that what is working for the Palestinians is the fact that their narrative is framed as an injustice and they now do the same. You hear them complaining that while the world, and even the Israeli “Left,” stand for Palestinian rights, they — once again — don’t stand for the rights of Jews.”

 

Powerful mainstream proponents

Since the attack on Glick and the subsequent rebranding of Temple Activism as a “civil rights” movement, the decades-long effort to manufacture consensus among both secular and religious Israelis has grown dramatically. The growth of this movement, much of which is detailed in Part I of this series, has been most noticeable within Israel’s halls of power, with a large number of Israel’s most powerful politicians, and a majority of Israel’s current cabinet, now openly pushing for Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount and for the reconstruction of a Third Temple. 

In the interest of brevity, MintPress has compiled the following list of current Israeli government ministers who have shown or expressed varying degrees of public support for the construction of a Third Temple, the destruction of Al-Aqsa, and/or complete Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount. Some of the individuals listed below hold multiple ministerial positions.

Current Israeli Government Ministers Supportive of Temple Activism

    • Miri Regev, Minister of Culture and Sport
    • Rafi Peretz, Minister of Education
    • Bezalel Smotrich, Minister of Transportation
    • Uri Ariel, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
    • Gilad Erdan, Minister of Strategic Affairs, Minister of Internal Security, Minister of Information
    • Yisrael Katz, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy
    • Yoav Galant, Minister of Construction
    • Amir Ohana, Minister of Justice
    • Ze’ev Elkin, Minister of Jerusalem, Minister of Environmental Protection
    • Ofir Akunis, Minister of Science, Technology and Space
    • Tzachi Hanegbi, Minister of Communications, Minister of Regional Communications

Those listed above account for more than half of all Israeli government ministers (11 out of 20) and nearly 60 percent of all ministerial positions (16 out of 27) that are not currently held by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is currently serving as the Minister of Health, Defense, and Diaspora Affairs in addition to being Prime Minister.

While it may come as a shock that more than half of all current Israeli government ministers are supportive of key aspects of Temple Activism, numerous other prominent Israeli politicians in the Knesset and other positions of political power are also strong advocates for altering the current Temple Mount status quo.

The strong presence of Temple Activist supporters in Israel’s halls of power has not been lost on leaders within the movement. Rabbi Chaim Richman, head of the Temple Institute’s International Department, told Christian Headlines in 2017 that:

Today there’s a lobby in the Knesset … many members of the Knesset that are constantly speaking about Jewish rights to pray on the Temple Mount. There are members of the Knesset that actually talk about rebuilding the Holy Temple.  Do you realize that 20 years ago these people wouldn’t have been given a moment on prime time television to say these things. They would have been laughed out.”

 

Netanyahu’s dance

In addition to its increasingly strong hold on Israeli legislatures, the Temple Activist movement’s reach stretches all the way to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu, given his role as prime minister, has long avoided any explicit endorsements of Temple Activism, though his actions over his decades-long political career offer enough insight to conclude that he is, at the very least, supportive of the movement and some of its objectives.

Netanyahu, from his prominent political position, has publicly maintained that his government seeks to maintain the current status quo on the Temple Mount, likely to avoid stoking unrest and protests. Yet, such claims are at odds with the fact that a majority of his ministers have publicly stated that they wish to wrest control of the holy site from its current custodians. 

Furthermore, Netanyahu himself in 2017 told the Knesset the following: “To you, the members of the Knesset, the citizens of Israel, and to the entire world, I want to make it clear: The Temple Mount and the Western Wall will stay under Israeli sovereignty forever.” In that same speech, Netanyahu referred to Palestinian sovereignty over Jerusalem prior to 1967 as a “black cloud” that had hung over the city.

Though Netanyahu has been relatively mum on the subject of the Third Temple specifically, his practice of remaining silent after prominent members of his government and political party promote Temple Activism has not escaped the notice of Israeli media, which has repeatedly pointed out that the claims of government officials close to Netanyahu qualify as incitement under Israeli law, a punishable offense. Such silence has been taken by some Netanyahu critics as tacit support for Temple Activists, as has Netanyahu’s recent appearances at events where Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock have been edited out of the Jerusalem skyline, despite the compound’s iconic status.

Netanyahu attends an event back-dropped by an image of the Temple Mount with a dome-less mosque, June 13, 2019. Olivier Fitoussi | AP

Yet Netanyahu is silent not only about many of his closest political associates embracing Temple Activism, but about the considerable support that some of his most important political donors have given to Temple Activist groups. A 2015 Haaretz investigation found that top Netanyahu donor Kenneth Abramowitz — an American billionaire who also heads American Friends of Likud — had given more than $1.3 million to the Israel-based institution that funds all of Yehuda Glick’s Temple Activist organizations. 

In addition to funding Netanyahu, Abramowitz has also donated to Yisrael Katz and Gilad Erdan — current Minister of Foreign Affairs and current MInister of Strategic Affairs, Internal Security and Information, respectively — both of whom support upending the current status quo on the Temple Mount. Palestinian academic and journalist Ramzy Baroud told MintPress that Gilad Erdan is “the main person advocating for this [Temple Activist] movement within Israel’s government and within Israeli politics.”

Another key financier of Netanyahu — U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson — also appears to be supportive of Temple Activism. For instance, Israel Hayom — the Israeli newspaper that Adelson funds — has published numerous articles supportive of Temple Activism, including front-page stories that call for the destruction of Al-Aqsa mosque. Furthermore, Adelson has grown increasingly close to Israeli politician Naftali Bennett, who has increasingly pushed for increased Israeli control over the Temple Mount in recent years. Adelson even allegedly favored Bennett over Netanyahu for the position of prime minister at one point. 

Bennett, who until recently was Education Minister, spent his tenure at that ministry inserting Temple Activist educational material into mandatory school curriculums, some of which were developed by the Temple Institute as part of a contract with the Bennett-led Education Ministry. In addition, Bennett — after failing to secure enough seats in Israel’s elections this past April — is mulling joining forces with Moshe Feiglin, one of the most pro-Third Temple Israeli politicians of all. 

Beyond his close association with donors and politicians who support Temple Activism, Netanyahu’s relationship with prominent religious leaders have led to speculation that he supports the construction of a Third Temple on the Temple Mount. During a meeting in 1990 with Rabbi Mencahem Schneerson — then leader of the Chabad Lubavitch movement, an international Orthodox Jewish organization that has gained global prominence and also invited controversy — Netanyahu asked Schneerson, often referred to simply as “the Rebbe,” for advice on both personal and political matters. 

Schneerson, who up until his death was a strong advocate for the religious messianic belief that physical actions could speed up the fulfillment of end-times prophecy and the coming of the Messiah, advised Netanyahu that he “do something to hasten his [the Messiah’s] coming.” Netanyahu responded, “We’re doing, We’re doing…,” at which the Rebbe interrupted him, saying “Apparently, it’s not enough,” urging him to do more still, and eventually garnering a “Yes” from Netanyahu. After that meeting, Schneerson stated that Netanyahu would later “hand his keys over to Moshiach [the Messiah],” suggesting that Netanyahu’s political career would culminate in the building of a Third Temple, a prerequisite for the appearance of the Messiah per Schneerson’s teachings.

 
Given that Schneerson heavily promoted the construction of a Third Temple during his lifetime and frequently received Third Temple models from devotees as offerings and gifts, this exchange has contributed to speculation that Netanyahu supports the same vein of religious messianism and vision propounded by Temple Activists.

However, leaked audio of a private meeting between Netanyahu and other Likud Party members provided evidence that Netanyahu does not personally approve of constructing a Third Temple, but turns a blind eye to those that do within his ruling coalition and among his donors purely out of political expediency. In that leaked audio, recorded in 2015, the prime minister stated that if Israel wanted to destroy Al-Aqsa “it would not require a great effort… but it goes against everything we stand for.”

Yet, in the years since that meeting took place, the prime minister has made some moves that have suggested that he may no longer think that destroying Al-Aqsa is “against everything we stand for,” especially given that Temple Activism is much more mainstream now than it was in 2015. Such claims of possession and right have increased following the beginning of the Trump administration in the United States, which — as the next installment of this series will show — also contains numerous figures who are committed to building a Third Temple on the Temple Mount, albeit for different reasons.

Netanyahu poses with Yehuda Glick, who is holding his Temple Activist “guide book” to the Temple Mount

During his speech last May at the dedication of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem — a political move heralded by numerous Temple Activists and Netanyahu himself as having “fulfilled prophecies” related to the Third Temple — Netanyahu made numerous references to the Temple and the Temple Mount and linked Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount to the presence of a physical temple. 

According to Miko Peled, Netanyahu’s recent ministerial appointments following Israel’s recent elections in April reveal his private support for Temple Activism. Peled told MintPress:

Recently, Netanyahu brought two new members into his cabinet — Bezalel Smotrich and Rafi Peretz. They are from the heart of the settler, religious Zionist, messianic, Temple movement. They are clear about their political goals and are not shy about stating their goals. 

They talk about giving the “Arabs of Israel,” as they call the Palestinians, three options: surrender and live without rights in a Jewish state, leave, or die. They make no secret of their desire to build a temple in place of Al-Aqsa. Netanyahu brought them in only because he agrees with them, shares their vision, but cannot express it as they do for fear of losing his international standing as a ‘statesman.’”

While Netanyahu may share their vision, as Peled asserted, other political moves he has made since the April elections suggest that he is likely not ready to enact such a vision, at least in regard to the Temple Mount. For instance, while he did include Smotrich in his cabinet, Netanyahu denied the controversial politician the ministerial positions he had desired, either Defense Minister or Justice Minister, precisely because of Smotrich’s comments about and stances regarding the Temple Mount. 

 

Mainstreaming the apocalypse

As Yehuda Etzion had hoped back in 1985, writing from his prison cell after his failed effort to destroy Al-Aqsa, the “new force that grows very slowly, moving its educational and social activity into a new leadership” in the Israeli political establishment has now clearly manifested. Thanks to the efforts of Etzion and other Temple Activists like Yisrael Ariel and Yehuda Glick, the Temple Activist movement has become more mainstream within Israeli culture and politics than ever before, largely owing to the movement’s huge success since 2014 in rebranding itself as a “civil rights” movement, despite its origins steeped in religious extremism and terrorism.

In Part I of this series, the urgency with which the Israeli political establishment and Temple Activists are pursuing their agenda targeting Al-Aqsa and the Temple Mount was detailed, revealing – as Ramzy Baroud described it – that support for the Third Temple within Israeli society is now “greater than at any time in the past.”

Yet, as the next installment of this series will show, none of this would be possible without strong support from the United States government, where powerful politicians and individuals – particularly within the Trump administration – share the vision of the Temple Activists, although many of them, being Christian Zionists, do so for radically different reasons. The combination of strong support for using political force as a driver of eschatology — among certain groups, whether of Christians or Jews — has increasingly become a common denominator between U.S. and Israeli politics in recent years, one that has colored the foreign policy of both countries.

However, far from a benign influence, the end-times prophecies that are motivating these influential individuals are stocked with future events that portend untold suffering, mass loss of life and cataclysmic wars. Given that both Christians and Jews that favor this interpretation of the end-times believe that active steps must be taken to usher in these apocalyptic scenarios by those with the capacity to do so — e.g., politicians, political donors and so on — it makes understanding this often overlooked aspect lurking behind current Israeli and U.S. foreign policy both a critical and urgent task.

Feature photo | Israeli Knesset member Yehuda Glick, center, speaks to journalists after visiting at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, Aug. 29, 2017. Sebastian Scheiner | AP

Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.

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