Israel’s Most Important Source of Capital: California

The New Gold Rush



Last Saturday between one and two thousand protesters marched on the Port of Oakland to blockade one of its busy marine terminals and prevent an Israeli ship from docking. After confronting a line of police guarding the waterfront the protesters declared victory; the Zim Lines vessel hovered offshore, afraid to dock, they said, and port workers wouldn’t be unloading its cargo.

One protester, looking beyond the line of police guarding the port, explained that the purpose of the action was to “impede the flow of capital.” Stopping one of Zim’s ships—the company’s vessels arrive in Oakland about four times a month, according to Zim’s web site—was a small, but real economic blow against Israel.

But if it’s a matter of stopping the flow of capital, the ports are a relatively small conduit of trade between California and Israel. For over 20 years California’s technology industry has been channeling billions of dollars to finance the growth of Israeli tech firms. In that time, tech has become a key sector for Israel’s economy. The flow of capital between California and Israel is digital, transmitted as currency and intellectual property. And this flow of capital occurs mostly through the decisions of a small number private equity firms and perhaps as few as a dozen large corporations. These flows of capital supporting Israel’s economy are less susceptible to social movement pressure.

The amount of support of for Israel’s economy originating from Silicon Valley’s private equity firms is especially large. In 2001, during the first year of the Second Intifada, Sequoia Capital Partners, a private equity company headquartered in Menlo Park, raised $150 million to invest in Israeli technology companies. This was Sequoia’s second Israel-focused venture capital fund. Last year Sequoia raised its fifth Israel-dedicated fund, totaling $215 million. Since 1999 Sequoia Capital has injected over $789 million into Israel’s software and electronics industries. Much of this money managed by Sequoia Capital was contributed by California investors, including major tax-exempt institutions like the J. Paul Getty Trust, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Accel Venture Partners, another one of the giants of Silicon Valley private equity, set up its first Israel-focused investment vehicle in 2001. Joseph Shoendorf of Accel told the Haaretz newspaper in 2007 that Accel has invested over $200 million in 20 Israeli companies. He added that many of Accel’s investments in Israel are not the run-of-the-mill consumer apps and gadgets that are so popular in the Bay Area’s tech scene. Although Israeli engineers produce plenty of that, Shoendorf said, “the world’s security situation is expected to get worse, and as a result, inventiveness will increase. The armies of the world are seeking solutions to a problem, and will encourage technological answers.”  Last March, Accel successfully raised $475 million for a fund that will burn a lot of its powder supporting Israeli tech companies.

You’re starting to get the picture. Billions flow from California’s Bay Area into Israel to support chip manufacturers, Internet startups, and telecommunications companies.

A lot of California’s venture capital has been exported to Israel to fund military and cybersecurity startups. Israeli society, constantly mobilized for a counter-insurgency war and occupation, creates an environment in which the nation’s hi-tech firms see their main role as contributing to the security of the Jewish state.

But the U.S. tech industry is also steeped in surveillance and weapons companies, and even the big consumer and enterprise brands like Google, Microsoft, and Cisco produce militarized software and hardware for use in the “homeland” and abroad. The contributions of Hewlett Packard in creating Israel’s biometric tracking system to control the movements of Palestinians is well known. Hewlett Packard also maintains the Israel Defense Ministry’s server farms, a job IBM previously held.  What makes the California-Israel economic connection powerful, however, isn’t so much the nature of the technologies being traded, and the capabilities they provide the Israeli state and military, but more so the sheer economic value of these transactions.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Israel received $1.846 billion in direct investment from U.S. investors in 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available. This is about two thirds of the total military aid the U.S. government provided Israel the same year.

U.S. investors have built up large positions in Israel’s economy, mostly through ownership of stock in Israeli corporations. In 2012 U.S. investors held a $19.7 billion stake in Israel’s economy, more than double the interest owned by all European countries combined. And corporations registered in the Cayman Islands, a tax shelter where thousands of American investors establish offshore funds, owned another $8.6 billion of Israel’s economy. For example, the Sequoia Capital Partners venture firm of Menlo Park raised $215 million last August to invest entirely in Israel. The legal place of incorporation for this fund? The Cayman Islands.

California investors own and manage stakes in Israeli companies like Mellanox Technologies, Ltd.. In 2002 Silicon Valley venture capital firms and several U.S. tech companies provided Mellanox with $64 million in funding. The American investors included three Menlo Park private equity firms, Sequoia Venture Partners, U.S. Venture Partners, and Bessemer Venture Partners, as well as technology giants IBM and Intel. Using this capital, Mellanox, headquartered in Yokneam, Israel, grew from a small company into a transnational technology giant valued today at $1.8 billion. It’s a key supplier of hardware to Hewlett Packard, IBM, and Intel. It’s main office in Yokneam looks like any other tech campus you can see in San Mateo County off the 101 Highway with gleaming glass mid-rise buildings tucked among trees and grass.

Yokneam is in the heart of Israel’s Silicon Wadi (“wadi” being a dry stream bed in Arabic, meaning “valley” in colloquial Hebrew). Prior to 1948 Yokneam was called Qira, the site of a Palestinian village and farms, but the area was “depopulated” and occupied by Israeli forces, and later settled and transformed into one of Israel’s most affluent cities.

Lots of Silicon Valley venture capital firms have set up offices in Israel. The location of choice for California investors seems to be Herzliya Pituach, a posh ocean side district of the city of Herliya. North of Tel Aviv, Herzliya is named after Theodor Herzl, considered by many to be the intellectual father of Zionism. The Herzliya Pituach is one of the wealthiest spots in all of Israel, home to many of the nation’s elite families. Bessemer Venture Partners’ Israel office is located just a few blocks from the Marinali Marina yacht harbor, and a short drive from million dollar beachfront homes. Sequoia Venture Partners maintain an office on Ramat Yam in one of the high rise towers with views of the azure Mediterranean Sea.

The business links between Silicon Valley and Israel aren’t apolitical. Many of California’s venture capital investors and technology executives are staunch supporters of pro-Israel causes. They have established numerous nonprofit organizations to strengthen economic and political ties between California and Israel.

The California-Israel Chamber of Commerce, located in Sunnyvale in an office park filled with software firms, is funded by Silicon Valley investors, corporations and law firms including Intel, Paypal, Silicon Valley Bank, and Morrison Foerster. Executives from these companies sit on the Chamber’s board of directors. Their ties to pro-Israel political groups are numerous.

Zvi Alon, a director of the California-Israel Chamber, runs a family foundation out of his Los Altos Hills home. Alongside a donation of $9,900 in 2011 to the California-Israel Chamber, Alon also made donations worth $36,000 to the Friends of Israeli Defense Forces. Alon is also credited as being a founder of Israel21C, an “online news magazine offering the single most diverse and reliable source of news and information about 21st century Israel to be found anywhere.”

Operating out of offices on Montgomery Street in downtown San Francisco, across the Street from Israel’s consulate, Israel21C produces media promoting Israel’s technology companies. Recent articles published by the group include “20 top tech inventions born of conflict,” and a profile of the “maverick thinker” behind the creation of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. A recent film produced by the organization promotes Tel Aviv as a startup epicenter similar to San Francisco.

The General Consul of Israel in San Francisco, Andy David, is a board member of the California-Israel Chamber, as is the president of Silicon Valley Bank.

Nir Merry, another board member of the California-Israel Chamber, was born and partly raised in Israel in the Ma’agan Michael kibbutz. His father worked in a hidden underground ammunition factory making armaments used by Jewish commandoes in the battles that created the state of Israel. In a talk to students at the University of California, Santa Barabara, Merry elaborated on the links between Israel’s technology companies and its military.

“I volunteered to become a commando. It’s quite related to the topic of innovation,” said Merry. “Because to be a commando we have to be very innovative.”

Silicon Valley’s financial and technological assistance to Israel is by no means only a private sector effort. In March of 2014 Governor Jerry Brown signed a memorandum of understanding with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promising to promote economic links between California and Israel. The setting for the signing ceremony, Mountain View’s Computer History Museum, underscored the centrality of the tech industry in the agreement.

On the same trip Netanyahu visited Apple’s Cupertino headquarters where he was ushered into the executive board room for a chat with the company’s leaders. He also toured Stanford University.

Netanyahu’s California appearance was designed to beat back the Palestinian solidarity movement’s boycott, divest and sanction campaigners who, in recent years, have increased pressure on California’s universities and other public institutions to divest from companies that do business with Israel. During the signing ceremony for the MOU that would give Israeli companies access to California’s technology infrastructure, Netanyahu thanked Governor Brown for California’s divestment from Iran. In 2012, California virtually barred insurance companies from owning Iranian assets. Earlier the state passed legislation requiring its pension funds to divest from Iranian companies. As a result of these laws, the state’s teachers retirement fund CalSTRS even consults with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee regarding its investments.

Netanyahu also thanked Brown for the economic benefits that California’s giant public employee pension funds, CalPERS and CalSTRS, provide to Israel. Both are major investors in Israel’s economy.

The California-Israel MOU originated from California assembly member Bob Blumenfield’s office. Blumenfield, the sponsor and author of several Iran sanctions bills, is now a city council member in Los Angeles. Blumenfield is a staunch ally of Israel, and has used his political offices, from Sacramento to the state’s largest city, to strike back against the boycott, divest, sanction movement aimed against the Israeli military occupation of Palestine. Most recently Blumenfield organized LA’s top elected officials, including mayor Eric Garcetti, to make a public statement in support of Israel.

“We stand with Israel against a Hamas regime that terrorizes Israelis from the skies and now, from beneath the ground,” Blumenfield told the public.

Mayor Garcetti called Israel “our strongest ally in a tumultuous region.”

Palestinian solidarity activists inside Israel’s biggest economic and military partner, the United States, and inside one of its biggest investors, California, have struggled for years to build a boycott, divest and sanction movement. They’ve asked pension funds and universities to divest from companies that do business with the state of Israel, and they’ve asked academics and musicians to boycott Israel by canceling concerts and shunning conferences. They’ve had some success, but as California’s continuing links to Israel show, their task is a difficult one.

Their struggle will continue long after Zim’s ship pulls anchor and leaves Oakland’s harbor. Supporters of Israel will be working to strengthen California’s ties to their cause and prevent any economic protest movement from gaining traction. This coming October the California-Israel Chamber of Commerce will be hosting an international business summit at the Microsoft Campus in Mountain View where innovation and investment will be among the topics of discussion. And between now and then another six to eight Israeli vessels will probably also moor along Oakland’s waterfront trading millions in goods.

Darwin Bond-Graham is a sociologist and investigative journalist. He is a contributing editor to Counterpunch. His writing appears in the East Bay Express, Village Voice, LA Weekly and other newspapers. He blogs about the political economy of California at

The Islamic State: a monster US empire created

by Jerome Roos on August 18, 2014

Post image for The Islamic State: a monster US empire created

The rise of fundamentalism is a decidedly modern phenomenon in which US imperialism has always played a major role. The Islamic State is no exception.

As the jihadi militants of the Islamist State — IS, formerly known as ISIS — rampage through Syria and Iraq, wantonly beheading infidels and sending hundreds of thousands scurrying for safety, many in the West are still all too eager to reduce the rapidly escalating conflict to a sectarian struggle between Sunnis and Shias, or a broader clash of civilizations between Muslims and everyone else — between Islam and other religions, between Islam and non-believers, or between Islam and the modern world.

But, its own practices and ideological narratives aside, the Islamic fundamentalism of IS is not some kind of barbaric relic from an unenlightened religious past, nor can the ongoing wars in the Middle East be reduced to a simplistic binary narrative. Like European fascism, Islamic fundamentalism is a decidedly modern phenomenon, and wherever we look in modern history, we find that the Western powers have always played a major role in its rise. The Islamic State is no exception.

The jihadists of IS and its antecedent groups initially rose to prominence in the vacuum left by the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. When the US toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, they did not only purge the state apparatus of his Baathist allies, but they purged it of the entire Sunni minority of which Saddam himself had been a part. Most dramatically, large parts of the majority-Sunni army were disbanded, leaving tens of thousands of combat-savvy and frustrated young men without pay and without any meaningful influence on the new Shia-dominated and US-backed political establishment in the country.

As was already obvious to many observers back then, the US invasion thus set the stage for a disastrous backlash. Many of Saddam’s former Sunni soldiers ended up joining the jihadist insurgency against the US occupation, giving Al Qaeda a new foothold in Iraq — a country where it had previously had no real influence to speak of. The bloody sectarian strife that subsequently broke out, killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and preparing the ground for further radicalization, was not the cause but the outcome of the destabilization of the Iraqi state at the hands of the occupying forces.

In fact, the link between the US occupation and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq is more direct than most realize. Last week, the New York Times ran a fascinating background article about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Muslim cleric and ruthless leader of IS who just crowned himself Caliph of the Islamic world, which noted that, “at every turn, Mr. Baghdadi’s rise has been shaped by the United States’ involvement in Iraq — most of the political changes that fueled his fight, or led to his promotion, were born directly from some American action.”

When the US army first detained Baghdadi in Fallujah in early 2004, he was considered little more than a “street thug.” But according to the Hisham al-Hasimini, an Iraqi scholar who studied Baghdadi’s background for Iraq’s intelligence agency, the current IS leader underwent a process of radicalization during his five years’ imprisonment in a US detention facility. “Iraqi to the core,” the Times writes, “his extremist ideology was sharpened and refined in the crucible of the American occupation.”

In subsequent years, Baghdadi surrounded himself with former members of Saddam’s Baathist party, who — despite their lack of credentials as radical Islamists — turned out to be key allies in the establishment of Al Qaeda in Iraq (the immediate antecedent to ISIS) as an insurgent movement and para-state, replete with its own army of jihadists, its own base of taxation (or extortion), its own oil revenues from the fields it managed to capture in Syria (and now Iraq), and increasingly its own public services (like local transport and religious education) in the areas under its control.

But while the world’s morbid fascination with IS stems from its lightning advances and its campaign of brutality in western Iraq last June, it was in Syria — as the world largely looked the other way — that the jihadist group groomed its warrior feathers, gaining a strategic stronghold, mopping up moderate Islamist groups to significantly expand its own numbers, rooting out the Free Syrian Army, besieging the Kurdish resistance, and obtaining various additional sources of income that were to prove crucial in  its further campaigns and its efforts to cement itself as a self-sustaining para-state.

Meanwhile, as it brandished its anti-Shia credentials, ISIS received lavish financial support from one of the United States’ main allies in the region: Saudi Arabia. The other Gulf states — Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates — are also implicated in directly or indirectly financing various extremist groups in Syria, including Jabhat al-Nusra, the official Al Qaeda affiliate in the country and second biggest faction after ISIS. But as one senior Qatari official affirms, “ISIS has been a Saudi project.” Patrick Cockburn, a long-term Middle East correspondent, notes that “Saudi Arabia has created a Frankenstein’s monster over which it is rapidly losing control.”

Given the United States’ historical support for extremist groups — most notably its sponsoring of the mujahideen in their struggle against communism in Afghanistan, which directly paved the way for the rise of the Taliban and Al Qaeda — it should not come as a surprise that, this time around, the US has also been directly involved in enabling the rise of ISIS. In fact, it turns out that leading US lawmakers, including Republican Senator John McCain, have been actively pressing their allies to support the Syrian opposition and oust Assad. “Thank God for the Saudis and Prince Bandar, and for our Qatari friends,” McCain exclaimed as as recently as February 2014. (Prince Bandar is alleged to be the Saudi point man behind the funding of ISIS.)

At the same time, another important US ally in the region, Turkey — a NATO member — has been a crucial hub for ISIS by deliberately opening its 500-mile border to allow Syrian rebels to fall back onto Turkish territory and to permit Western jihadists – alienated young Muslim men from Europe, Australia and the US – to join their comrades in Syria. Consistent rumors have been doing the rounds that the head of Turkey’s intelligence services, Hakan Fidan, a key confidante of Prime Minister Erdogan, was personally responsible for the country’s covert support for ISIS.

Greatly strengthened by Gulf financing and an influx of foreign fighters, with Turkey providing a much-needed back-base and thoroughfare, and with the Obama administration actively refusing to support the democratic Syrian resistance, ISIS quickly destroyed and eclipsed the moderate opposition, solidly growing into the main rebel group in Syria and finishing off the last-remaining strongholds of the Syrian revolution — until it deemed itself powerful enough to launch back into Iraq and march right up to Tikrit without encountering any serious resistance.

Now, in one of the greatest ironies of all, the United States finds itself back in Iraq, eleven years after its original invasion, bombing its own tanks, its own artillery pieces, and its own armored personnel vehicles — once provided to the Iraqi army during the eight-year occupation and summarily seized by ISIS as it sacked deserted bases across western Iraq — to stem the advances of an extremist enemy that its own imperial misadventures gave rise to. Once again, the US and its allies have created a monster they can no longer control. Once again, they will go to war to try to eradicate it. And once again, they will probably end up making an even bigger mess in the process.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine. This article was written as part of his weekly column for TeleSUR English.

Cell Phone Guide For US Protesters, Updated 2014 Edition

August 15, 2014 | By Eva Galperin and Parker Higgins

With major protests in the news again, we decided it’s time to update our cell phone guide for protestors. A lot has changed since we last published this report in 2011, for better and for worse. On the one hand, we’ve learned more about the massive volume of law enforcement requests for cell phone—ranging from location information to actual content—and widespread use of dedicated cell phone surveillance technologies. On the other hand, strong Supreme Court opinions have eliminated any ambiguity about the unconstitutionality of warrantless searches of phones incident to arrest, and a growing national consensus says location data, too, is private.

Protesters want to be able to communicate, to document the protests, and to share photos and video with the world. So they’ll be carrying phones, and they’ll face a complex set of considerations about the privacy of the data those phones hold. We hope this guide can help answer some questions about how to best protect that data, and what rights protesters have in the face of police demands.

Before The Protest

Think carefully about what’s on your phone. When we last visited this question, law enforcement in many states were arguing that they could search the contents of a phone incident to arrest without a warrant. Today, thanks to the unanimous Supreme Court decision in Riley v. California, that’s no longer the case. Still, if you can avoid carrying sensitive data, you don’t have to worry about it getting pulled off the phone. That can include photos, your address book, application data, and more. If you don’t need it for the protest, consider removing it for the duration.

If you have access to a temporary phone with only the essentials, that might be a better option. Modern smartphones record all sorts of data, and there may be overlooked sources of sensitive information.

Password protect your phone. Password protection can guard your phone from casual searches, but it can still be circumvented by law enforcement or other sophisticated adversaries.

Start using encrypted communications channels. Text messages, as a rule, can be read and stored by your phone company or by surveillance equipment in the area. If you and your friends can get comfortable with encrypted communications channels in advance, that can keep prying eyes off your texts while they’re in transit.

Direct messages through social media may be encrypted while in transit, but can be subject to subpoenas from law enforcement. You may wish to explore end-to-end encrypted options, like Whisper Systems’s TextSecure,1 Guardian Project’s mobile IM software ChatSecure, or the mobile version of Cryptocat, which only store the contents of your communications in an encrypted, unreadable form.

End-to-end encryption does not protect your meta-data. In other words, using end-to-end encrypted communications will keep law enforcement from being able to read the contents of your messages, but they will still be able to see who you’re talking to and when you’re talking to them.

At The Protest

Keep control of your phone. You may wish to keep the phone on you at all times, or hand it over to a trusted friend if you are engaging in action that you think might lead to your arrest. In any case, you can set the lock screen to turn on quickly, so that if you do lose control of your phone, nobody else gets access easily.

Take pictures and video of the scene. As the ACLU says in a recent Know Your Rights guide, “Taking photographs of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is a constitutional right.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop law enforcement officers from occasionally demanding that protesters stop doing exactly that.

If you’re planning to document the protest, you should read the whole guide ahead of time. There are special considerations for videotaping, too, so make sure to brush up on that if you plan to be recording video.

Finally, you may wish to explore options that upload directly to another server. Livestreaming sites, and even social media services, can make sure photos and videos get online before law enforcement officers have a chance to delete them.

Help, I’m being arrested!

You have a right to remain silent—about your phone and anything else. If questioned by police, you can politely but firmly decline to answer and ask to speak to your attorney.

If the police ask to see your phone, tell them you do not consent to the search of your device. Again, since the Supreme Court’s decision in Riley, there is little question that officers need a warrant to access the contents of your phone incident to arrest, though they may be able to seize the phone and get a warrant later.

As we said in the last guide, if the police ask for the password to your electronic device you can politely refuse to provide it and ask to speak to your lawyer. Every arrest situation is different, and you will need an attorney to help you sort through your particular circumstance. Note that just because the police cannot compel you to give up your password, that doesn’t mean that they can’t pressure you. The police may detain you and you may go to jail rather than being immediately released if they think you’re refusing to be cooperative. You will need to decide whether to comply.

OK, now how do I get my phone back?

If your phone or electronic device was seized, and is not promptly returned when you are released, you can file a motion with the court to have your property returned. If the police believe that evidence of a crime is on your electronic device, including in your photos or videos, the police can keep it as evidence. They may also attempt to make you forfeit your electronic device, but you can challenge that in court.

Increasingly, we keep our most sensitive communications and personal information on our cell phones. We carry in our pockets these devices that can tremendously enhance our ability to exercise our First Amendment rights, but which also carry serious privacy risks. We hope that with these tips in mind, you can take the necessary precautions with your digital technology.

Last updated August 2014.

  • 1. Currently Android-only, but with iPhone support on the way

Talking With Hamas




Conflict Resolution 101




The world awaits with bated breath to see if the interim truce negotiated by US Secretary of State John Kerry will lead to a long-term ceasefire. But if US mediation is to be sincere and effective, the American government needs to take Hamas off its terrorist list and allow Hamas to be fully represented at the table.

For the past month, Secretary Kerry has been traveling around the the Middle East trying to negotiate an end to the violence. He has had ongoing discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. He consults regularly with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He’s convened with the governments of influential countries in the region, such as Egypt, Turkey, and Qatar. But there’s one glaring omission in his efforts as mediator: he doesn’t talk directly to Hamas, which has been on the US terrorist list since 1997.

Conflict Resolution 101 says “negotiate with all relevant parties.” Senator George Mitchell, who successfully brokered the Good Friday Accord in Northern Ireland, said that serious negotiations were only possible once the British stopped treating the Irish Republican Army as a terrorist organization and began dealing with it as a political entity. The Turkish government learned this lesson more recently. After decades of fighting the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan decided to remove the PKK from the terrorist list and began direct negotiations with imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan–a move that has given new life to the peace process.

You can’t presume to be a mediator and then exclude one key party because you don’t like them. That lesson surely applies to Gaza. If the position of Hamas is only heard through intermediaries, Hamas is much more likely to refuse the outcome. Look at Kerry’s July 15 ceasefire proposal. It was negotiated with the Israeli government, and Netanyahu boasted about Israel’s willingness to accept the proposal. But Hamas was never consulted and actually heard about the “take it or leave it” proposal via the media. Little wonder they rejected it. Former UN rapporteur Richard Falk called Kerry’s efforts “a diplomatic analogue to the theater of the absurd.”

The military wing of Hamas, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has certainly been involved in terrorist activities–from suicide bombings in the 1990s to launching rockets into civilian areas in Israel. But Hamas has a social welfare wing that has long provided social services oftentimes not provided by the Palestinian Authority. And after it won the elections in 2006, its political wing had to start functioning as a government, overseeing not only security but more mundane institutions such as the Ministries of Health, Education, Commerce and Transportation. The more moderate members of Hamas tend to run the government agencies, oftentimes at odds with the more militant members.

On one of the CODEPINK humanitarian delegations to Gaza, soon after the horrific 2009 Israeli incursion that left over 1,400 Palestinians dead, I had firsthand experience with some of these government officials when they asked for a meeting with three members of our delegation, including two of us who had identified ourselves explicitly as Jewish Americans.

I expected the meeting to be tense, with rancor expressed toward us as Americans–– after all, our government had been funding the recent operations –– and as Jews. We were not only warmly welcomed by the group of about a dozen men, but told repeatedly: “We have no problems with the Jewish religion; in fact, we find it very close to Islam. Our problem is with Israeli policies, not Jews.”

I realized that Hamas, like any political organization, is made up of a variety of individuals with different political perspectives. Some are hard-line Islamists, antagonistic toward the West and bent on the destruction of Israel. Others, like the ones we met with, had earned university degrees in Western universities, appreciated many aspects of American and European culture, and believed they could negotiate with the Israelis.

The following day, the Hamas leaders we met with gave me a letter to take back to President Obama asking for his help. It was signed by Dr. Ahmed Yousef, Deputy Foreign Minister and senior advisor to Gaza’s Prime Minister Ismael Haniya. The language was free of anti-Israel rhetoric and instead infused with references to international law and human rights. It called for a lifting of the siege on Gaza, a halt to all settlement building and a US policy shift that would show evenhandedness based on international law and norms. It stated that Hamas was willing to talk to all parties, obviously including Israel, “on the basis of mutual respect and without preconditions.”

I found it astonishing that these representatives of a government that had been subject to a recent and brutal assault, financed in large part with US tax dollars, were reaching out to President Obama with such a well-reasoned plea to intervene. Even more astonishing is the fact that they gave the letter to me–– a feminist, Jewish, American woman–to try to deliver to the administration.

Back in Washington DC, I delivered the letter but despite my insistence, the Obama administration refused to even acknowledge its receipt, much less send a reply. It was yet another loss for the Hamas moderates and a win for those who saw armed resistance as the only way to win concessions from Israel.

Like the letter I received in 2009, the counterproposals Hamas has put forth in the last month have been very reasonable, including the following:

-Withdrawal of Israeli tanks from the Gaza border

-Freeing the prisoners arrested after the killing of the three youths

-Lifting the siege and opening the border crossings to commerce and people, under UN supervision

-Establishing an international seaport and airport under U.N. supervision

-Increasing the permitted fishing zone to comply with international norms

-Reestablishing an industrial zone and improvements in further economic development in the Gaza Strip

Not only are these conditions reasonable, they form the basis of a long-lasting truce that gets at the underlying, systemic problems. The only way this will happen is if Hamas is taken off the US terrorist list and given the opportunity–and responsibility–to negotiate these systemic changes the Palestinians so desperately need and deserve.

Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human rights group Global Exchange. She is the author of Drone Warfare: Killing By Remote Control.

Protesters denounce UK and US support for Israeli military massacres

By Daniel O’Flynn
4 August 2014

Thousands of protestors gathered outside the Israeli embassy in London, Friday, to express their opposition to Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip. Kensington High Street was filled with placards and banners reading “Gaza, stop the massacre, Gaza stop the siege.’”

A section of the protest outside the Israeli embassy

The demonstrators expressed popular disgust with the war crimes being carried out by the Israeli regime, with the full backing of the UK and US governments. At the same time, the leadership of the protest—the Stop the War coalition, which is made up of various pseudo-left, Green and union organizations—provided no way forward. Instead it encouraged illusions in pressuring the UN and the US and British governments.

Brian Wilson

Several protesters spoke to the WSWS. Brian Wilson explained, “I am here because of the complicity of our government in what is happening in Israel and Gaza and that of USA as well. Only this week they have agreed to give more arms to Israel while innocent people are dying every day. Israel has their Iron Dome, their defence system, but the Palestinians have nothing.

“The Israelis are targeting hospitals and children, and if you don’t stand on the street and show some solidarity with these people no one else will. One aspect why the governments are supporting this bombardment is profit. War is money, isn’t it? Arms are money, that’s the way I see it. The Labour Party and the trade unions are doing nothing and I do know what to think about that, to be honest. It’s also very hard to see a way out of this, a way forward. First of all they have to stop the massacre. Then they’ve got to end the siege.

“It is Israel and Egypt that are stopping people from leaving the country or moving around. We have got to take these settlements away from Israel and give it back to Palestinian people. Why do people have to have checkpoints in their own country and show their passports? It’s just not right. I am just a man on the street and I opposed the apartheid regime many years ago. I am doing the same today against Israeli Apartheid.”


Dana Husseini said, “I am originally Palestinian, but like most Palestinians I also have a Canadian passport and a Jordanian one because I don’t have a homeland really. I am studying in the UK and I am supporting this demonstration. I have come here to do something.

“The problem is I don’t think Israel will stop without international pressure and unfortunately they are just getting international support. So this will never end unless the big powers like the UK and the US decide to take a strong stance and tell them that you can’t do this anymore. Basically protests like this will also help, hopefully.

“It’s horrible that all the major political parties are supporting Israel and not the Palestinians. It does not reflect what the people think, it’s just what the governments of the different countries think.”

Mr. and Mrs. Clavier

Mrs. Clavier said, “I understand that there is a ceasefire at the moment. Something has got to be done about the rights of the Palestinian people. They have got no rights of movement in their own country. I want to see action and I want to see this killing stopped. I want to see action taken against the Israeli government for what they have done so far, because up to this point they have gotten away with it.”

Her husband added, “I am here to show my solidarity with the people of Gaza and to highlight the injustices.

“The situation is terrible and I don’t know how things will change. Our government does not seem to be doing much, nor the United Nations–all the general people we looked to help sort out the situation. Hopefully the voices of the people will do something. Since this situation has happened I have been researching quite a bit and it seems to me it’s the Americans and the English that helped set up Israel in the first place and it seems that it all stems from there. I think there is a lot of double talk going on and hypocrisy and there is lot of hidden things going on, which is kept away from the public.

“This thing has been going on far too long and I think over the last 10 years, the flow of information has made everybody aware of what’s going on and more able to see through the broken mirrors of the media and biases and misrepresentation. What people understand now is that what’s being reported is not what is going on the ground.

“Because of this a lot of people are standing up and do not accept the lies that are coming through the British and American media. That’s what’s brought these demonstrations about. It is getting people to recognise that still there’s a lot more to do until we bring people together and put pressure on governments. Basically the governments are there to serve us but they don’t.”


Bernadette said, “I have come today because I have witnessed complete atrocities on my TV. Defenceless people being bombed, children, kids, young people and hospitals being bombed. It’s madness. I can’t understand why this is being sanctioned. I can’t understand why the Obama governments is allowing aid to Israel to kill people and Palestinians have been moved out of their homes. They have no right to uproot people from their homes and hand them over to Israelis.

“This is shocking and this really makes me mad. So that’s why I am here. I have been asking family friends. I am on Facebook all the time asking people what we can do about all this. I don’t know what else to do, but to come here and protest. It is not acceptable.

“I think in the past Israel in history, particularly in the Second World War, the Jews were oppressed so there was a lot of sympathy towards the Jewish people. But today I don’t understand it. There are groups of people that seem to think that Jewish people are more important than Palestinians. That’s what appears to me and I can’t stand that.

“I demonstrated against Apartheid and I campaigned against Apartheid and I supported the anti-Apartheid movement. This is Apartheid. It’s the same thing done to different people. I don’t know the history of Israel in depth, but what I do know is what’s wrong–not just uprooting Palestinians, but killing them as well. You can’t just oppress and kill them and target children.”

Manolada workers: ‘no Greek would want this job anyway’

by Tamara van der Putten on August 1, 2014

Post image for Manolada workers: ‘no Greek would want this job anyway’As a Greek court frees the shooters and employer of 35 Bangladeshi strawberry pickers, the plight of Greece’s migrant workers is brought back into focus.

Photography by Piet den Blanken

In the small Greek town of Nea Manolada, the smell of strawberries fills the air. Located in the region of Ilia in the western Peloponnese, a large number of enterprises occupy hundreds of hectares of land for intensive greenhouse cultivation. With a turnover of more than 90 million euros, strawberry production covers the largest part (up to 95%) of the Greek market, while 70% is exported to countries such as Russia, Germany and the UK, among others.

Idyllic posters of the plump red fruit can be found on every street corner, and spotting excessively luxurious villas is not a difficult task. In 2011, in the midst of Greece’s sagging economy, former “Socialist” Prime Minister George Papandreou praised farm owners for their bold entrepreneurial spirit and agricultural innovation. But at what — and most importantly at whose — cost is the so-called Manolada “miracle” sustained?

Inside a hot and stuffy tent, twenty-year-old Murad Alemir is wearing a towel around his waist, preventing a swarm of flies from sticking to his sweaty chest. The young migrant worker joins a crowd of ten others on the floor. Most of them are sleeping; others are eating strawberries. Like a sardine in a can, another man is lying on his side struggling to type on his phone. This is a typical Manolada shelter — a 30 square meters makeshift tent made out of plastic, cartons and bamboo sticks.

Lodging up to 25 strawberry pickers, temperatures in the tent rise up to 40 degrees in summer. There is no electricity, nor a sewage system. Three months a year, they shower and clean their clothes in a stream located behind the nearest gas station. The rest of the season, they use a hose that only functions two days a week.

More than 70 Bangladeshi workers live in this particular camp. There are about 25 similar camps, all close to the greenhouses where the men toil practically all day under conditions highly hazardous for their health. Following a fire breakout in one of the shacks in 2006, and statements by the regional fire brigade that characterized the workers’ accommodation as a “human rubbish dump”, labor and health inspections have been conducted several times — but nothing has changed since then.

Still, the workers do not wallow in self-pity. “It only took us four days to build it,” Murad says proudly of the camp. He guides us around the storage areas, “toilets” (simply a hole in the ground), their vegetable garden, and even a small praying space. As he kneels down, I notice buckshot scars all over his legs. Indeed, Murad is one of the survivors of a brutal shooting that took place last year. That, and nothing else, is the Manolada miracle.

Exploitation, blood and impunity perhaps best describe the grim reality behind the red-tainted fields. On April 17, 2013, three foremen of the area’s largest strawberry company opened fire on a crowd of striking Bangladeshi workers, leaving 35 wounded and several in critical condition, after the men demanded six months’ worth in outstanding wages.

The three shooters and their employer Nicos Vangelatos were arrested on charges of labor trafficking, illegal possession of firearms, and breaches of employment laws. On June 6, a court in Patras finally opened the case, with an elite group of the nation’s most notorious criminal lawyers representing Vangelatos and his foremen.

In the public debate surrounding the case, the shooters were quickly denounced as members of Golden Dawn, the neo-Nazi party that — despite a recent government crackdown — garnered the third largest vote in the recent European Parliamentary elections. In light of the shooting, however, Golden Dawn denied any involvement. Instead, the party leadership condemned the shooters for “employ[ing] illegal immigrants, depriving a living from thousands Greek families.”

As it turns out, anti-immigrant sentiment is prevalent in the surrounding area: just a 1o-minute drive from Manolada, a family-run hotel hands out swastika key chains to its customers. Many here are quite explicit in their views — even if they often present them with a twist. “I don’t have a problem with the migrants,” a young local from a nearby village says, ”as long as they don’t come near me.” Taking a casual drag on his cigarette, he adds: “They have diseases, you see, because they live with a lot of men.”

Manolada itself, a small town of around 2.000 Greek residents, is also home to some 4.000 migrants — mainly from Bangladesh and Pakistan, but also first-wave immigrants from Albania, Romania and Bulgaria. Most of them are undocumented, and they are either seasonal workers or reside there permanently.

As in much of Europe, Greece’s agriculture relies heavily on cheap migrant labor, and many here are employed under appalling conditions for measly wages (22 euros a day) — that is, when they do get paid. As shocking videos and witness accounts of the aftermath revealed truly degrading conditions akin to modern slavery, calls for a boycott of the “blood strawberries” soon began circulating online.

Wednesday’s ruling, however, exposed the true side of Greek justice. The court in Patras acquitted two of the accused — including Vangelatos, the employer — while the charges of labor trafficking were dropped. The two other men, the actual shooters, received initial sentences of over 14 and 8 years, but they were both conditionally released after appealing against the verdict, with the option of paying a five-euro fine per day instead.

Outside the courthouse, scores of migrants were seen crying in shock and disbelief at the ruling. “I’m ashamed to be Greek,” the migrants’ lawyer Moises Karabeyidis told the assembled media. But unfortunately, in a country already marked by rising xenophobia and impunity for perpetrators of racist attacks, the court’s decision does not come as a surprise.

Last year, government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou still denounced the shooting as an “unprecedented and shameful act [that] is foreign to Greek ethics.” Needless to say, these are the same “ethics” that drive Greece’s conservative-run government to violently crack down on immigrants: from the massive police sweep operation launched in 2012 — euphemistically named Xenios Zeus, after the ancient Greek God of hospitality — in which tens of thousands of undocumented migrants have been rounded up for abusive identity checks, to the subsequent detention of around 7.000 people in so-called “hospitality centers”, where they face up to 18 months in truly inhumane conditions (a recent law allows for this period to be extended indefinitely).

These are also the same ethics that drove the Minister of Public Order, Nikos Dendias, to complain about the “invasion” and “low quality” of migrants arriving to the country. When confronted with the Manolada case, however, Dendias promptly stated that “the exploitation of hundreds of thousands of our fellow human beings is not acceptable.”

According to the establishment logic, then, the exploitation of migrant workers is only deemed unethical and contrary to Greek moral standards when it reaches the most extreme level of attempted murder. Such overt crimes obviously need to be condemned. At the end of the day, however, these empty words are not enough to secure justice for the actual victims of abuse. Once again, the ones responsible for such shameful acts manage to get away with shocking complicity from the authorities.

The Manolada shooting is only the latest instance in a long history of racist violence against the area’s migrant workers. The most recent reported incident dates from 2012, when two farmers – one of whom is last year’s shooter – beat up a 30-year-old Egyptian, stuck his head in a car window and dragged him around for one kilometer. A similar attack took place in 2009, when two Greeks allegedly tied two Bangladeshi workers to a motorcycle and hauled them through the central square.

On two separate occasions in 2008 and 2011, journalists were viciously attacked and threatened by local farmers as they sought to report on the conditions of uncontrolled exploitation. As Dina Daskalopoulou, one of the journalists who broke the story, told the New Statesman:

When the owners picked up on our presence and what we were doing, they ganged up around us, started pushing us and yelling at us […] I was called “an enemy of the Greeks,” an “anti-Christian” and much more. The police, despite having full knowledge of the incidents there, did nothing. No district attorney took action, nothing, even when I was getting anonymous calls telling me “2.000 euros are enough to have you killed around here.”

The outrageous court verdict and the resulting impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of racist violence has been described by many as a black day for justice in Greece. Meanwhile, the migrant workers who truly sustain the so-called Manolada “miracle” remain powerless in the face of economic exploitation, physical abuse and institutional racism. Their rights and dignity denied by the economic and legal system, the migrants’ only value to Greek society appears to be their unremunerated labor power.

Back in the camp, Murad discusses the pervasive sense of injustice the strawberry pickers face on a day-to-day basis. “They can easily come and arrest us,” he says of the local authorities, which have consistently closed an eye to the highly profitable illegal labor practices in the area. “They don’t disturb us because they know they need us.” Looking down at the bullet wound scars on his legs, he adds: “No Greek would want this job anyway.”

Tamara van der Putten is a medical anthropologist and former volunteer at the Greek Council for Refugees in Athens. She would like to thank the GCR and in particular Vassilis Kerasiotis, who represented the strawberry pickers in court, for his tireless dedication to the case and for making this photo-report possible. Any opinions expressed in this article are her own.

Piet den Blanken is a Dutch documentary photographer and photojournalist specializing in international migration. His work focuses on the lives and working conditions of those dwelling on the margins of society (website).

America’s Stupid and Self-Obsessed Capitalist Culture, Perfectly Lampooned by … Weird Al?


Why the nerd comic might be the most relevant artist of the moment.

Photo Credit:

Remember Weird Al Yankovic? That geekmeister from the ’80s who did hilarious parodies of pop hits? He’s back, and critics are calling him the most relevant comedian of the moment, one going so far as to pronounce him “America’s greatest living artist.” His new album, “Mandatory Fun,” just rocketed to the top of the Billboard 200 on its debut week — the first parodic album ever to do so.

Looks like something’s percolating in pop culture, revealing our growing discontent with America’s twisted brand of capitalism. Is it any wonder? We know we’re lied to. We know we’re manipulated. We get that the country is stuck in airtight self-obsession. So we’re starting to gravitate toward artists who confront our slow-boiling anxiety. If death-obsessed pop siren Lana Del Rey (whose “Ultraviolence” album topped the charts earlier in July) is the zombie bride of capitalism, Weird Al is the court jester.

Right sorely do we need him just now.

Who is this guy, anyway?

Raised on Mad Magazine and encouraged by his parents to learn the accordion, Weird Al cut his comedic teeth on Dr. Demento’s radio show in the late ’70s and early ’80s, where he began to conjure catchy parodies of songs like “My Sharona” (“My Bologna”) and “Another One Bites the Dust” (“Another One Rides the Bus”). If you’re Gen X, you remember gleefully sharing these tunes along with your Cheetos during lunchtime.

Eventually he grabbed the national spotlight with his 1984 monster hit “Eat It,” a parody of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”  A hero to sci-fi nerds and to every kid burdened with an inner bullshit detector on high alert, Weird Al became a crusader against clichés and an antidote to the toxic inanities of pop culture. Somewhere along the way, he started moving beyond simply goofy and spoofy to something deeper. Obesity, grunge rock, the Amish — there was no sacred cow he would not poke. He held up a funhouse mirror to our foibles.

By 2006, he was introducing a younger generation to his comedic gifts with the hit “White and Nerdy,” a send-up of the hip-hop song “Ridin,’” in which Weird Al portrays a Dungeons & Dragons-playing science nerd who yearns to hang with the gangstas.

Off the Charts

Comedians typically get less cred than other artists, but they are no less essential to society. With “Mandatory Fun,” Weird Al takes his rightful place among those who have explored our strained relationship with the American dream, forcing us to grapple with it. From Charlie Chaplin up through the Yes Men, Russell Brand and Stephen Colbert, these tricksters have connected us to our pain and channeled our collective revulsion.

Why does Weird Al stick to comedy? His answer, in typical fashion, mocks the question. “There’s enough people that do unfunny music,” Weird Al once said. “I’ll leave the serious stuff to Paris Hilton and Kevin Federline.”

For his most recent blockbuster album, Weird Al cleverly used social media to market and grab viral attention, releasing eight videos on YouTube one at a time. More than 46 million people watched. Album sales surged.

In “First World Problems,” done in the style of the Pixies, Weird Al takes on our bourgeois obsession with comfort and consumption, while simultaneously poking fun at the indie rock preoccupations of suburban white kids who complain about their cushy lives: “My house is so big I can’t get wi-fi in the kitchen,” whines the douchey blonde kid Al plays in the video.

Tacky,” set to the tune of Pharrell’s overplayed hit “Happy,” skewers not only the tackiness of dressing cluelessly, but wandering the Earth in a solipsistic bubble: “Nothing wrong with wearin’ stripes and plaid/I Instagram every meal I’ve had…Can’t nothin’ bring me shame.” The brilliance lies in Weird Al’s intimation that the happiness sold by slick pop icons like Pharrell is predicated on a state of oblivious solipsism that cuts us off from the plight of our fellow humans.

Perhaps the best song of all is the Crosby, Stills & Nash-inspired “Mission Statement,” made for everyone who has found herself sinking in the mire of meaningless gibberish that flows through the modern corporate office. In the video, which features that annoyingly overused trope of a hand scribbling illustrations, the despair of office alienation is juxtaposed with the relentlessly upbeat buzzwords and conventions taught in MBA schools. What’s particularly resonant about this song is how Weird Al skewers the corporate capitalism which promised us all the wonders of efficiency, harmony and prosperity, only to deliver us to Dilbert’s cubicle of despair.

In “Mission Statement,” the dreams of love and peace echoed in ’60s folk tunes have congealed into a nightmare in which we can’t escape capitalism’s relentless propaganda, brought to a kind of posthuman wretchedness in which we are forced to speak in the tongues of abstract gods of the market.

As students of the human psyche know, the line between humor and horror is often thin. Weird Al gets us to laugh when we might ordinarily scream. Lighthearted though Weird Al may seem, there’s a deeply moral theme in “Mandatory Fun,” about how capitalism’s servants — narcissism, greed, vulgarity, and all-around douchiness — have to carry out its orders to beat us into a pulverized pulp of compliance.

Weird Al gets our number because he does what we all yearn to do: He bites back.

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of “Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture.” She received her Ph.D. in English and cultural theory from NYU. She is the director of AlterNet’s New Economic Dialogue Project. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.