Israel’s Diplomatic Wars of Aggression
Israel these days seems to be increasingly at odds with a good portion of the rest of the world. In just the past few months it has quarreled with:
- Spain over arrest warrants issued for Netanyahu and six other Israeli officials for the 2010 attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla;
- Sweden over comments by its foreign minister who has called for an investigation into extrajudicial executions of Palestinians;
- college campus student groups supporting the BDS movement;
- academic associations who have issued calls for academic boycotts of Israeli universities;
- Brazil over its refusal to recognize an Israeli ambassador who hails from the right-wing Israeli settler movement;
- The EU over labeling of products from Israeli settlements.
- The UN over Ban Ki-moon’s recent criticism of the settlements
And really, if truth be known, Israel is probably not too happy just now with Italy either, which recently received Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on a state visit, resulting in a number of agreements between the two countries’ energy sectors as well as cooperation on a future high-speed rail project. Naor Gilon, the Israeli ambassador to Italy, complained that Rouhani was being treated like “the king of the world.”
War with Sweden
All in all, Gilon’s comments would have to be viewed as rather tame, however–at least by comparison. For some of the statements issuing from Israelis now, particularly those aimed at Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, are positively chilling in their level of malice expressed, and frankly it might behoove the Swedish official to consider hiring a bodyguard at this point, if she hasn’t already done so.
As I noted in an article five days ago, Wallström is now regarded in Israel as “public enemy number 1” (the Jerusalem Post’s words, not mine) because of remarks she has made critical of Israel, including a recent call for an investigation into extrajudicial killings of Palestinians.
Now it seems there may be those in Israel hankering for the foreign minister’s blood–literally. If you haven’t read my article, Swedish Media Target Country’s Foreign Minister Following Her Remarks on Israel, I suggest you do so as it will place what follows into greater perspective. One day after posting that article, I became aware of two other articles, one by blogger Richard Silverstein and the other by Jonathan Ofir and posted at Mondoweiss, both of which discuss what appears to have been a scarcely veiled threat on Wallström’s life by a former Israeli official.
The comment was made by Zvi Zameret, a former official in the Israeli Ministry of Education, in an op-ed piece he wrote for an Israeli newspaper owned by Nevada casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. In the article, Zameret waxes lyrical on the 1948 assassination of Swedish diplomat Folke Bernadotte, and then goes on to suggest that Wallström might meet a similar fate. Here is a bit from Silverstein’s commentary on the matter:
Zvi Zameret, the former director for instruction for the Israeli education ministry has written an op-ed in Makor Rishon, Sheldon Adelson’s pro-settler newspaper, praising the 1948 assassination of UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte by Yitzhak Shamir’s Lehi gang. Zameret accuses Bernadotte of being an anti-Semite and claims that his views originated in a Swedish society that was suffused with this perspective. He claims that ridding the world of the Swedish Count was necessary to protect Israel’s new existence.
He wends his way through a long historical discourse involving material already well-known related to Bernadotte’s proposals, which were rejected by Arabs and Jews alike. Then he brings us up to the present day by alleging that remarks of the current Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallstrom, demanding that Israel be held accountable for the 160 Palestinians killed over the past two months in the latest Intifada, stem from the same well of Swedish anti-Semitism.
Silverstein says Zameret “hints that Wallström herself should share a similar fate to Bernadotte” and then gives us a direct quote from his article as per its English translation:
“What do the things I have mentioned attest about Bernadotte? [They indicate] covert anti-Semitism, ignorance and arrogance, collaboration with senior elements in Israel [Hebrew University President Judah Magnes] and interests that play a decisive role. Has anything changed in the Swedish DNA in the decades following Bernadotte’s death? Nothing has changed.
The Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallstrom, in the covert anti-Semitism which characterizes her, along with her ignorance and arrogance, and anticipation of the interests of her future Muslim voters–she too is attempting to battle against the basic foundation of the State of Israel. I am certain that her intentions will be defeated, just as were those of the disreputable Count Bernadotte.
Bernadotte was assassinated by Lehi, also known as the Stern Gang, the same Jewish terrorist group that carried out the Deir Yassin massacre. Zameret’s glorification of his murder doesn’t seem entirely lucid or rational–during World War II Bernadotte negotiated the release of 31,000 prisoners from German concentration camps, including a large number of Jews. After the war, he became the UN Security Council’s unanimous choice, in a vote on May 20, 1948, to try and mediate a settlement in the Palestine-Israeli conflict.
His murder took place September 17, 1948, carried out by a four-man team of assassins. The Stern Gang had been around since 1940. Its stated goal was to terminate the British mandate in Palestine and set up a “new totalitarian Hebrew republic,” and one of its members, Yithak Shamir, ended up becoming an Israeli prime minister. It was Shamir, in fact, who ordered Bernadotte’s assassination. The man who actually pulled the trigger, Yehoshau Cohen, later became a close confidante of David Ben Gurion and was never charged in the case.
In October of 2014, shortly after Wallström took over as foreign minister, Sweden became one of the first Western countries to recognize Palestinian statehood. Wallström called it “an important step that confirms the Palestinians’ right to self-determination” and added that “We hope that this will show the way for others.”
In November of last year, shortly after the Paris terror attacks, Wallström suggested that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians could be helping to fuel terrorism. She followed that up with a comment in December about Israeli “extrajudicial executions,” and this month called for an investigation of Israel.
“Whether Zameret advocates Wallstrom’s demise explicitly or implicitly is hardly important,” comments Silverstein. “Even if you accept the argument that he isn’t explicit, clearly the reason Bernadotte failed in his mission is that Jewish terrorists assassinated him. When you say you wish her intentions to be defeated just as his were, the line between murder and political defeat becomes exceedingly murky.”
Boycott Sweden! say Israeli Mayors
But of course it isn’t just Zameret. Lots of people in Israel despise Wallström and have “vociferously attacked her contentious words,” as an article here puts it. And this apparently applies to a good many Israeli officials. The same article goes on to give us the low-down on a “boycott movement” launched by 15 Israeli mayors and aimed at Sweden. The mayors were planning to attend a conference in the Scandinavian country in March, but recently announced they have cancelled, while former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has also called for a boycott of Ikea.
War With Spain
In November of last year, a Spanish judge issued arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and six other officials in connection with Israel’s 2010 raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, a violent episode in international waters which resulted in the deaths of 10 people.
The warrants were issued by Judge Jose de la Mata, and in effect meant that should any of the seven officials set foot on Spanish soil they would be subject to arrest.
“Spain is just the latest member of the international community to accuse Israel of war crimes and pursue Israeli officials over the affair,” the Jerusalem Post reported at the time. And that is indeed correct. Both South Africa and Turkey had previously issued similar warrants.
Predictably, the Israeli government expressed hostility and outrage.
“We consider it to be a provocation,” said an Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson. “We are working with the Spanish authorities to get it cancelled. We hope it will be over soon.”
What do you suppose the words “working with Spanish authorities” might imply? Did it include issuing threats? Whatever it was, it took only two months to accomplish. The arrest warrants were in fact cancelled, according to a report published January 13 by the Adelson-owned Israel Hayom newspaper.
War with Brazil
Brazil, on the other hand, seems to be showing a little more resilience. According to a report here, “Israel and Brazil remain at loggerheads five months after Brazil refused to recognize Israel’s appointment of a right-wing settler as its next envoy to the South American country.”
“Settlers are Zionist agents that the world cannot accept, they steal others’ land, they are an insult to Brazil, to the government, and to millions of Brazilians with roots in the Arab world,” said Brazilian parliament member Carlos Maron.
Maron isn’t alone. A group of 40 retired Brazilian diplomats signed a statement against the appointment of Dani Dayan, who lives in the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Shomron, in the Occupied West Bank. Dayan is an advocate of the settler movement and has made no secret of his views, having widely published articles in the mainstream media, including the New York Times.
“We consider it unacceptable that the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has publicly announced the name of the person he intended to appoint as his country’s new Ambassador to Brazil before submitting it, in accordance to the norm, to our Government,” said the diplomats. The announcement of Dayan’s appointment was reportedly posted initially on Twitter rather than being communicated directly to the Brazilian government.
The statement continues:
This rupture with a diplomatic practice seems to have been on purpose, an attempt to establish facts, since the appointed, Dani Dayan, between 2007 and 2013, was the President of the Yesha Council, responsible for the settlements in the West Bank, which are considered illegal by the international community, and has already declared himself contrary to the creation of the Palestinian State, which counts on the support of the Brazilian Government and was already recognized by over 70% of the UN member States.
Reportedly a group of 200 Brazilian academics have also endorsed a boycott of Israel. Netanyahu has refused to withdraw Dayan’s nomination or to appoint someone more acceptable to the Brazilians. If the Brazilian government stands its ground, it will mean a de facto end to diplomatic relations between the two countries.
War with the EU
On January 18, the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council reaffirmed requirements that export products from the Israeli settlements be labeled as such. More or less as with Sweden, Spain, and Brazil, the EU’s action has prompted cries of Israeli outrage. Netanyahu pronounced his unwillingness to “accept the fact that the EU labels the side being attacked by terror,” while ‘Justice’ Minister Ayelet Shaked called the EU measure “anti-Israel and anti-Jewish.”
Likewise, opposition party leader Isaac Herzog (supposedly a liberal) compared it to the “Zionism equals Racism” resolution passed by the UN in 1974, while Yair Lapid, another opposition party member, denounced the EU for “capitulating to the worse elements of jihad.”
War Against the BDS Movement
In summer of 2015, ‘Justice’ minister Shaked announced she was preparing lawsuits against BDS activists. The announcement was reported at the time by the Times of Israel in a story which also mentions that Shaked has expanded one of the departments within her ministry in order to “push ahead with the program as soon as possible.”
Ministry officials believe that legal circumstances present the option of suing activists for damaging Israeli trade, and for discrimination and racism, based upon laws as they currently exist in various countries, the report said.
So far as I’m aware, no lawsuits have been filed against individual activists, however Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home Party, seems to be generally in support of the idea of striking back in some manner at the BDS movement.
“Let it be clear to any company or organization that’s considering boycotting us: We will hit back. We will attack our attackers. We will boycott our boycotters,” Bennett said.
“The boycott weapon is a double-edged sword,” he added. “If you’re thinking of boycotting Israel, keep in mind that there are tens of millions of Israel supporters around the world — Jews and non-Jews — with considerable buying power and boycott power. Whoever boycotts Israel will be boycotted. Whoever hits Israel, will be hit back. We will no longer remain silent.”
Bennett’s comments about the “tens of millions of Israel supporters around the world” are perhaps salient. Also last summer, Adelson hosted an anti-BDS summit in Las Vegas with the aim of establishing and funding “successful strategies for countering the wave of anti-Israel activity on college campuses.” Held at the billionaire’s Venetian hotel on the Vegas strip, the conference was attended by a number of wealthy Jews, including Haim Saban.
“The key decision reached at the conference was that there would be a concerted effort to curtail BDS,” reported the Jerusalem Post.
Though Netanyahu did not attend, a letter from him was read aloud to the conference participants. “De-legitimization of Israel must be fought, and you are on the front lines. It’s not about this or that Israeli policy. It’s about our right to exist here as a free people,” the letter stated.
Reportedly the Israeli government intends to allocate NIS 100 million, or roughly $25.2 million, to the anti-BDS effort.
War Against Academic Associations
At a business meeting held in November, members of the American Anthropological Association voted overwhelmingly (88.4 percent) in favor of a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. A similar measure was passed that same month by the National Women’s Studies Association Executive Committee. These aren’t the first boycott actions taken by academic organizations in the US. The American Studies Association, The Association for Asian American Studies, and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association have all passed academic boycott measures against Israel. And this is just in the US.
Measures have also been passed by academic organizations in Brazil, South Africa, Canada, the UK, and, of course, in Palestine, and probably elsewhere. And perhaps most recently a group of 71 British doctors have called upon the World Medical Association to expel the Israeli Medical Association. The physicians have accused Israeli doctors of “medical torture” on Palestinian patients and want to see a ban on joint projects with Israeli universities.
On January 20, the Science and Technology Committee of the Israeli Knesset held a meeting to discuss the issue (H/T Helvena). A press release on the discussion which took place can be found here on the Knessett’s website. One of those who gave input at the meeting was Peretz Lavie, president of Technion, or the Israeli Institute of Technology.
“We have no complaints against the global academic leadership; our problem is the campuses,” Lavie said. “Initially it was insignificant campuses, but it quickly spread to leading campuses in the United States.”
When Lavie says he has “no complaints against the global academic leadership” he is probably referring to the Association of American Universities, which on January 14, in response to the vote by the Anthropological Association, re-issued an earlier statement in opposition to academic boycotts. The AAU is an organization whose leadership consists of the presidents and chancellors of the 60 universities (in both the US and Canada) that are its members. Membership is by invitation only. The group’s statement opposing boycotts was initially released in 2013 in response to the boycott actions taken by the American Studies and Native American and Indigenous Studies associations.
The group’s re-release of that canned statement from more than two years ago was described by the Jerusalem Post as “a blow to the BDS movement.”
“Students who are exposed to this activity will be the next generation’s senators, and therein lies the great danger in the long term,” Lavie went on in his testimony before the Science and Technology Committee.
“In its report, the American Anthropological Association referred to us as universities of apartheid and decided to conduct a survey on whether the Israeli academia should be boycotted. We have to reach all 12,000 members of the Association. It is a symptom, and if we do not act now, it will spread. There must be one entity that will concentrate all the efforts related to this issue,” he added.
Another person who gave testimony was Ze’ev Feldman of the Israel Medical Association. It was Feldman who informed the committee of the recent statement by the 71 British doctors.
”The sword of the boycott is being raised on the Israeli scientific-medical community,” he said.
Ariel University Chancellor Yigal-Cohen Orgad asserted that Israel has “a real problem with governments, including western governments that encourage boycotts,” while Professor Zvi Ziegler warned, “We are unable to stop anyone with our meager resources.”
Several committee members are also quoted, including Chairman Uri Maklev:
“There is no doubt that the academic boycott phenomenon is expanding and is connected to the financial and consumer boycotts on Israel. Economic and commercial boycotts are associated with politics, but an academic boycott by educated and moderate people has a very strong effect.”
But rather than calling for an end to the settlements, most of the committee members seemed to be of the opinion that the Israeli government needed to devote more resources to fighting the boycott movement. The one exception to this was Arab Knesset member Basel Ghattas:
The world considers the settlements to be illegitimate. You can think differently from the entire world, it is your right, but it is also the world’s right to take measures in order to force you to establish two states.
War with the UN
On October 1, 2015, Netanyahu gave a speech before the United Nations General Assembly that was marked by a 45-second segment during which he paused and projected hostile glares out at those present:
On January 26, 2016, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon broke the UN’s “deafening silence” and, in a rare display of courage, issued a scathing criticism of Israel’s settlement policies.
Progress towards peace requires a freeze of Israel’s settlement enterprise.
Continued settlement activities are an affront to the Palestinian people and to the international community. They rightly raise fundamental questions about Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution.
I am deeply troubled by reports today that the Israeli Government has approved plans for over 150 new homes in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.
This is combined with its announcement last week declaring 370 acres in the West Bank, south of Jericho, as so-called “state land”. These provocative acts are bound to increase the growth of settler populations, further heighten tensions and undermine any prospects for a political road ahead.
The inevitable furious response came quickly, with Netanyahu excoriating the UN chief for helping to “stoke terror.”
“There is no justification for terrorism,” he said. “The Palestinian terrorists don’t want to build a state; they want to destroy a state, and they say that proudly. They want to murder Jews everywhere and they state that proudly. They don’t murder for peace and they don’t murder for human rights.”
He went on to assert that the UN has “lost its neutrality and its moral force, and these statements by the Secretary-General do nothing to improve its situation.”
A Lack of Imagination?
Perhaps most striking in all this is the Israeli lack of imagination–or at least that is one way of looking at it. Nowhere in his hostile comments aimed at his various enemies on the global stage does Netanyahu give the slightest indication of having once thought about halting the settlements and pulling back to Israel’s internationally recognized pre-1967 borders. Ditto with the other Israeli officials quoted above, with the lone exception of the Arab Knessett member. It is almost as if the idea has never even occurred to them.
If that is the case, one could perhaps ascribe all of this to a lack of imagination. Certainly at this point, after 68 years of oppression, it probably does indeed require considerable imagination to conceive of how the two peoples could live at peace. But of course it wasn’t always so. And had Israel, starting in 1967, respected the people of the West Bank, and above all else respected their space rather than crowding them in with settlements and walls and soldiers, a peaceful resolution to the conflict probably could have and would have been achieved by this time.
Yet even now, it isn’t too late. Though it would be politically difficult, Israel could dismantle its settlements (anything is possible when the national will is present) and pull back to the pre-1967 borders–basically the terms of the Arab Peace Initiative proposed back in 2002. If necessary, and it probably would be for a lengthy period of time, UN peacekeeping troops could be deployed along the border.
But Israel’s response to the Arab Peace Initiative was to call it a “non-starter,” and that seems to be its position today as well. And not only is there little prospect of dismantling of presently-existing settlements, but we see even a refusal to halt the construction of new ones. All of which would suggest that Ban Ki-moon is correct and that the settlement enterprise raises “fundamental questions about Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution.”
Or in other words, Israel has no intentions of making peace.
Certainly it’s possible that things could change, and that a new slate of leaders could arise in Israel with the imagination necessary to see the wisdom of complying with international norms of conduct. And that is what its more liberal Jewish supporters in America seem to be hoping for. But failing this, Israel’s wars with the rest of the world are likely to grow in stridency and ferociousness, and at some point could expand from the realms of diplomacy and/or covert operations fully outright into the military arena.
Former members of a U.S.-trained death squad in El Salvador may finally face justice after massacring 6 priests and two women 26 years ago.
In El Salvador, the beginning of a new year brings with it the opportunity to heal old wounds.
In the first weeks of January, nearly 20 retired military officers accused of human rights violations during the country’s civil war have been called to answer for their crimes. While the great bulk of the charges being leveled against the former soldiers relate to a single massacre carried out in San Salvador, at least one of the former commanders is known to have directed multiple atrocities during the 12-year conflict. In all, some 75,000 were killed during the war, while thousands more were disappeared in a rampage of human rights atrocities largely perpetrated by the U.S.-backed, right-wing government’s forces.
The importance of these developments cannot be underscored enough.
In addition to the closure that may be offered to victims of civil war-era human rights abuses and their families, the apprehension and trial of accused war criminals in El Salvador signals the end of impunity enjoyed by members of the old guard—some of whom were responsible for brutal campaigns of violence, like the massacre of six priests and two others at a university in San Salvador.
On Nov. 16, 1989, a small band of soldiers stormed the campus grounds of the Central American University (UCA). Members of El Salvador’s elite Atlacatl Brigade—a death squad armed and trained by the United States—murdered a group of Jesuit priests, a campus housekeeper, and the woman’s teenage daughter. Among the dead was Ignacio Ellacuria, rector of the university, prominent proponent of liberation theology, and a critic of the conservative ruling regime governing El Salvador during the war. The other five priests were Spanish nationals.
The military initially tried pinning the blame on FMLN rebels. The Actlacatl Brigade used weapons that had been captured from guerilla fighters and, after murdering those inside the compound, staged a phony assault on the campus to make it appear as if rebels had carried out the slaughter. In order to ensure that no one would question who was responsible for the UCA massacre, the troops placed a cardboard sign near their victims which read: “The FMLN has executed the spies who informed on them. Victory or death. FMLN.”
Despite the fact that few believed the military’s deception, justice in this case—as it was for countless other victims of human rights violations during the civil war—has proved elusive. In 1991, a group of the officers involved were put on trial. Two soldiers were found guilty, and sentenced to prison. Shortly after, however, all of the accused were relieved of responsibility for the killings. An amnesty law approved by the legislative assembly following the 1992 peace accords offered the shelter of impunity to everyone implicated in war crimes over the previous decade.
On Jan. 5, a Spanish court asked that arrest warrants be issued for the 17 retired military men connected to the slaughter at the university. The following day the Salvadoran government signaled its willingness to cooperate. Salvadoran Human Rights Ombudsman David Morales, speaking at a press conference, told reporters that “there is an obligation to prosecute these acts and, in the absence of domestic justice, there is an obligation to collaborate with the legal process that the Spanish National Court is leading in this case.”
Spanish authorities have tried to have the officers arrested in the past, but to no avail. In 2011, Spain pushed for their apprehension but was rebuffed by the Salvadoran high court. The court found that the warrants issued by Interpol for the 17 soldiers mandated that Salvadoran authorities locate the men in question, not apprehend them, and that the officers were protected under the old amnesty law governing civil war crimes. This changed last year in a welcome reversal by the court, which has opened the door to their arrest and extradition.
The impending arrests aren’t the only sign that the limits of impunity for past crimes may have been reached in El Salvador. A week after the 17 military officers were identified for arrest, a former minister of defense, Jose Guillermo Garcia Merino, was deported from the United States—where he had been residing since the late 1980s—to El Salvador for war crimes committed on his watch. Among other incidents, Garcia has been tied to the murder of four American nuns, the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, as well as the Rio Sumpul and El Mozote massacres.
In expert testimony included in the case of Garcia-Merino, Terry Lynn Karl, professor of political science at Stanford University, argued that El Salvador’s armed forces “engaged in a widespread pattern and practice of massacres, torture, and arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings, and other gross violations of human rights” under Garcia’s command. “General Garcia presided over the worst period of repression in modern Salvadoran history,” Karl wrote. “At least 75 percent of reported violence in El Salvador occurred during General Garcia’s tenure as Defense Minister.”
These developments mirror a similar push for justice underway in the region more broadly. Most prominently, a series of actions have been taken against military officers in Guatemala accused of human rights violations in that country’s civil war. While the trial of former strongman Efrain Rios Montt has been subject to a lengthening series of delays, prosecutions of other alleged war criminals appear to be advancing successfully. And on the same day that El Salvador agreed to take action against those involved in the UCA massacre, Guatemala arrested 18 of its own retired soldiers for war crimes.
Even as Guatemala appears poised to make steady advances to ensure transitional justice, El Salvador faces many obstacles in following suit. Foreign courts were responsible for kickstarting these latest proceedings against Salvadoran war criminals while, to date, domestic courts themselves have not taken up the mantle of pursuing cases related to crimes committed during the war. Indeed, while government officials have promised to extradite the seventeen officers to Spain, none have yet been brought into custody. Nor is it clear what legal fate awaits Garcia following his deportation from the United States.
And there are still serious concerns about the selective nature of accountability in the country. The constitutional court’s recent ruling on “terror,” for example, came back into focus recently when Chief Inspector Joaquin Hernandez demanded that El Diario de Hoy be investigated for instigating “fear and terror” in its coverage of the gangs. Repugnant as El Diario’s politics may be, claims that the paper is abetting terror raise alarming questions about press freedom in El Salvador, and could set an ugly precedent in the government’s war against the gangs, and political opposition.
Nevertheless, the fact that government officials appear ready to play their part in the apprehension and prosecution of those charged with war crimes suggests an important shift has taken place in El Salvador. The ruling establishment has historically been wary of broaching issues of transitional justice leftover from the war. To his credit, former president Mauricio Funes took courageous steps by acknowledging the state’s role in wartime atrocities, but nothing came of it. Over the past several weeks, however, official reluctance to redress past wrongs seems to be dissipating.
Whatever the cause—domestic or international pressure, successful internal maneuvering by brave judges and lawyers within the country’s judicial system, or something else—an opportunity to begin striking down the impunity haunting El Salvador for decades has presented itself. Will the government shy away due to the very real political risks involved in dredging up the past? Hopefully not. Will it honestly reckon with the country’s recent history, and those responsible for its bloodiest episodes, to ensure that justice for those victimized by a ruthless war is no longer denied, even after all these years?
Better late than never.
Spain’s United Left party has adopted the call for the global boycott of Israel (BDS), with the support of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, as members of the Castrillon City Council in the Asturias province voted in favour of the campaign.
Having reviewed the reasons for adopting the BDS campaign, the general coordinator of the Unified Left, Jose Luis Garrido, called on other Spanish cities to take the same action and to boycott Israel at all levels until it withdraws from the occupied territories and respects international law and the rights of the Palestinian people to independence and freedom.
In his speech before members of the municipal council he highlighted international laws and United Nations resolutions that Israel has not implemented. He also mentioned the illegality of the settlements and the Separation Wall, in addition to the issue of refugees, Israel’s racist policies and the suffering of the residents of the Gaza Strip.
This move comes in light of similar decisions to boycott Israeli which were made by other Spanish institutions, the most recent being the University of Barcelona.
The deanship at the Central University of Barcelona (UAB) announced the official boycott of Israel, with the cut of all kinds of communication and relations with the Israeli universities and institutions which are related directly or indirectly to the occupation.
The university agreed to be a part of the global initiative “places without racism”, which includes hundreds of municipalities, institutions, universities and organizations around the world.
This achievement, according to Al Ray Palestinian Media Agency, comes in the context of the achievements derived by the Boycott movement network (BDS), operating in dozens of European countries and the Americas, Africa and Australia, which has become a real worry for Israel.
In Spain, the BDS movement was formed in 2007, and promotes many activities with regard to the facilitation of solidarity and awareness. The movement acts effectively against Israeli lobbying through business, cultural and academic sanctions, and has many achievements in these areas.
The Canary Islands adopted the boycott of Israel two weeks ago, during a visit by Ambassador of the State of Palestine in Spain, Kefah Odeh, in celebration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Seville and dozens of other Spanish cities have adopted the boycott movement in support of the Palestinian cause, and the BDS activities.
A group of lawyers and journalists are taking Spain to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over the country’s controversial “gag law,” which activists say is an attack on freedom of speech and information rights.
The coalition of activists, known as ‘Defender a quien defiende’ (DqD) launched a triple lawsuit with the ECHR, calling for the immediate repeal of the law.
The highly controversial Citizen Security Law, dubbed the ‘gag law’ by critics, was passed by the governing Popular Party (PP) earlier this year and came into action in July, despite widespread protests and demonstrations.
DqD has labeled the law “authoritarian,” with critics arguing that it restricts the right to legitimate protest and allows authorities to harshly crack down on any form of anti-government demonstration.
Under the law, the vague description of “disrespecting a police officer” can attract a fine of US$662 (€600), while those guilty of staging an “unauthorized protest” can be hit with financial penalties as high as US$662,000 (€600,000).
Many photojournalists have taken aim at the law, which also makes it illegal to photograph a police officer, with many arguing that it severely affects their ability to do their job.
DqD argues that such provisions “violate” basic freedoms, expressions and the right to protest, in turn restricting journalists and photojournalists from subsequently sharing certain pieces of information with the public.
“They are particularly affected since the law jeopardizes their main function: to report on events of public relevance,” the lawsuit states.
Photojournalists are “obliged by police to stop filming or photographing police actions for fear of being penalized,” the lawsuit says, amid fears that it may allow instances of police misconduct to go undocumented and unreported.
The law has already attracted controversy since it came into effect in July after a man was fined US$662 (€600) for calling police “slackers” on social media.
In another controversial instance a woman was fined US$883 (€800) for taking a photo of a police car parked illegally in a disabled zone, however the fine was later scrapped.
The timing of the ECHR lawsuit, which is to be officially launched with a press conference on Tuesday, comes at a critical time for the ruling controversial Popular Party (PP) ahead of the country’s December 20 election.
All three major opposition parties have vowed to scrap the highly unpopular law if they win power, with some analysts saying the controversy around the matter could influence swing voters who remain undecided on who to vote for in the national election.
A group of victims of the dictatorship of Francisco Franco called Friday for the creation of a truth commission that would investigate the crimes of the dictatorship that ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975.
Spain, which never fully investigated the era of dictatorship, is set to have legislative elections on December 20 and the Platform for Truth Commission, which brings together various victims groups, is asking for all political parties to support the creation of a truth commission during the next legislative period.
Jordi Gordon, spokesperson for the coalition, told AFP that the goal was to “establish a parliamentary commission of truth, to recognize victims of the Franco regime as such and establish the facts.”
“We are talking about 150,000 missing, at least. Then there are the 2,381 mass graves that have been located that have not yet been opened.”
Gordon said that this makes Spain the country with the most disappeared after Cambodia.
“The Franco regime wanted to get rid of the bodies, the documents and even remembrance,” he told the French news agency.
Franco consolidated his power when his forces of General Francisco Franco declared victory over Republican forces in the Spanish civil war in 1939.
In 2007 the government of then Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero approved the Law of Historic Memory that was meant to create an office for victims of the dictatorship but that office was gutted with the arrival of the People’s Party to power in 2011. The People’s Party is considered a descendent of the dictatorship.
The victims group is also calling for the Valle de los Caidos, a mausoleum built partially through the forced labor of Franco’s opponents, to be repurposed into a center to remember the era of the dictatorship instead of serving as a monument to Franco, who is buried there.
The head of the regional government in Catalonia has been indicted for unconstitutionally calling a referendum on independence from Spain last year. This comes just two days after his party and other secessionist forces won a regional election.
Recently, Artur Mas has promised his fellow Catalans that if pro-independence parties secured the majority in the regional parliament, independence from Spain would be a done deal. And so, on Sunday, the foundation of that promise was attained: absolute majority was secured, although, the parties only won 48 percent of the vote.
Despite the gains, Mas now has been summoned by Catalonia’s Supreme Court (TSJC) for pushing through a non-binding referendum last November, even after Spain’s Constitutional Court explicitly forbade him doing so.
He faces preliminary charges of disobedience, abuse of authority and usurping authority and will have to appear in court in October.
As it becomes more evident that Catalonia wants independence, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has once again repeated that he will not discuss “the unity of Spain.” With a general election coming up in December, he has ruled out any possibility of a referendum on the issue.
Meanwhile, Rajoy’s own People’s Party is getting historically low numbers in the Catalan election – the lowest in 20 years. Experts believe this to be directly related to the continued blocking of Barcelona’s independence referendum.
The Catalan Government said in a statement that it hasn’t “done anything illegal,” according to the Catalan News Agency. It further labeled the court’s decision to indict Mas as “a democratic anomaly” and “a political judgment.”
The left-wing leader Oriol Junqueras called Madrid’s tactics “the best example” of why Catalonia must secede. “As long as we belong to the Spanish State, normal things such as asking the citizens’ opinion will turn into lawsuits and summonses,” he said in a radio interview.
Various Catalan institutions and departments joined in the criticism against Madrid, although some in the region, such as the Conservatives, are diametrically opposed to Mas, believing that Catalonia can’t have a leader who is summoned for disobedience.
Left wing party coalition leaders have been sworn in as mayors of Madrid and Barcelona, assuming control of the Spain’s two largest cities. This is yet another case of parts of Spain showing their opposition to the country’s conservative rule.
In the Spanish capital, a 71-year-old former judge, Manuela Carmena has put an end to the 24 years of conservative mayorship. She defeated her rival, 63-year-old Esperanza Aguirre from the People’s Party, in what proved to be a very close race.
The new mayor managed to claim 20 seats in the city chamber during the May 24 vote against Aguirre’s 21. However, Carmena managed to forge an alliance with the main opposition Socialist Party to secure victory. She was officially elected mayor by 29 of the 57 council representatives on Saturday morning.
Carmena, a former communist and rights activist, promised to improve the living conditions for the poor, who have been struggling since the 2008 financial crisis. She also echoed the calls of the massive Indignados (Outraged) protest movement that was formed in 2011 to fight corruption, government spending cuts and evictions.
“We are at the service of the citizens of Madrid. We want to govern by listening. We want them to call us by our first names,” Carmena said after being voted in.
Among her chief promises to the electorate are the development of public transport and increased support for poor families. She has promised to slash her salary by more than half to €45,000 ($51,000).
In Barcelona, 41-year old Ada Colau, an active protest leader, has become the city’s first female mayor. She rose to publicity after helping to organize the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages (PAH) movement, in Barcelona in 2009, to defend citizens against evictions caused by the collapse of the Spanish property market.
“Thank you for making possible something that had seemed impossible,” said Colau, representing the Barcelona en Comu party, after being elected mayor.
Her administration will now draft a list of 30 measures aimed at creating jobs and fighting corruption. Along with her colleague in Madrid, Colau announced that she will slash her salary from €140,000, down to €35,000.
Both Carmena and Colau secured victory during the May 24 local elections with the support of Pomedos, a new pro-worker and anti-establishment party that emerged last year.
Parties born out of the Indignado protest movement now rule five major Spanish cities: Madrid, Valencia, Zaragoza, Cadiz, and Barcelona.
The latest success of anti-establishment candidates in the two largest Spanish cities shows a major shift in the country’s politics, and erosion of the bipartisan system. The Popular Party and the main opposition Socialist Party together won just over half of the vote on May 24. The rest of the seats at the local elections went to candidates representing smaller populist parties who are demanding change.
By William Hawes | Global Research | June 4, 2015
The captivating rise of Spain’s new left-leaning party Podemos has captured the world’s attention by emphasizing participative democracy. The formerly fractured Spanish left, in the past marred by petty infighting in Spain, coalesced from grassroots protests over austerity measures and gained steam in 2011. Working with the Anti-Capitalist Left activist base, Podemos began in 2014 by starting local public meetings, called citizen circles, to organize; using the web to organize, poll, and debate issues; and heavily promoting anti-austerity measures and poverty reduction. Young adults especially have been swept up in the Podemos’ rise, as unemployment for youths stands at anywhere from 30-50% by region.
Last month, anti-poverty activist Ada Colau gained the most seats to become Barcelona’s mayor with backing from Podemos. Podemos-backed Manuela Carmena came in a strong second in Madrid’s mayoral election as well. A coalition with Spain’s Socialist Party (PSOE) may secure both ladies’ spots. Now all eyes turn to the general election slated for December. At center stage as leader of Podemos is Pablo Iglesias, former college professor and TV host.
The ideology of Podemos was incubated during the May 2011 protests in Madrid centered on the skyrocketing unemployment and austerity measures employed by the Zapatero-led government. Spain’s protests erupted nationwide and were centered in the Puerta del Sol square in Madrid, led by social networks and citizen assemblies. Protesters were dubbed Indignados (“the outraged”, or “the angry ones”), for their rejection of Spain’s increasingly corrupt two-party system and the “austericide” measures strangling the economy and vitality of the nation. Spreading throughout the country, it is estimated that about 6.5-8 million participated. Protests have continued under the Rajoy regime. (1)
After the protests, Podemos formed from a coterie of radical professors from Madrid’s Complutense University. The most notable are Iglesias, political theorist and the face of the movement; Jesús Montero, former communist and political organizer, and Iñigo Errejón, university lecturer and campaign strategist. Beginning to channel citizens’ hopes, despair, and anger over poor economic conditions, Iglesias’ TV programs, La Tuerka and also Fort Apache, became hits and launched him into the national spotlight.
Debating conservatives on national broadcasts pushed Iglesias into the stratosphere in Spain, with bona-fide rock-star status, which he backs up: Iglesias accepts only quarter of his salary as a member of the European parliament. He flies coach on all his trips. He routinely rips Rajoy and his cadre of corrupt officials. He lives in a graffitied neighborhood in Madrid, has credentials as a respected academic, and visits with famous theorist Chantal Mouffe.
Iglesias and Podemos certainly have their critics and detractors, however. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has blasted the party recently, calling them “incompetent populists”. Some have questioned Iglesias’ decision to run Fort Apache, as it was produced by an Iranian state-run TV company. Others frown upon members’ past consulting work with the Venezuelan government. And co-founding member Juan Carlos Monedero has recently quit the party, commenting that Podemos needs to “go back to its origins”. (2)
Despite the backlash, there is no doubt that Podemos represents the best hope for the future in Spain. Monedero still claims they are “the most decent force in Spanish politics”. Iglesias has shown citizens who the ruling People’s Party (PP) and the rival Socialists’ Workers Party (PSOE) really are: la casta (the caste), the establishment, corrupt leaders and officials who do nothing as nearly 6 million people are out of work and 2 million households have no net income. (3) The party is also aware of their limitations in an integrated EU economy: this is why they have called on the help of friends like Greece’s Syriza to fight the EU technocracy, ECB, and IMF. No doubt, Podemos would be wise to send feelers to Italy’s PM Matteo Renzi and Ireland’s Sinn Fein party to ally the periphery, mainly southern Europe, against the unjust policies of Brussels.
Iglesias has shown moderation and fairness in nearly every aspect of Podemos’ agenda. He supports Spain’s membership in the EU, but only under fair laws and loan agreements. He wants benefits and social programs expanded, but he is not calling for nationalization of entire industries. Podemos supports sharing more power with the autonomous regions of the Basque Country, Catalonia, and Galicia, and even states that the party would allow a Catalonian referendum, which the PP and PSOE oppose. (4)
Podemos is more than a vehicle to bring to life the hopes and dreams of Spaniards alone. As political theorists, leaders of Podemos cannot be accused of intellectual laziness. By employing a narrative of anti-elite rhetoric within a framework of social justice, they have created a message appealing to citizens of the whole nation. By linking digital democracy, through social media, with participative elements, such as meetings to combat poverty, lobby for public health initiatives, the arts, and more, Podemos has provided a contemporary deliberative democratic blueprint for the world.
The party has helped lay ground for democracy with revolutionary potential, but not within a traditional, left/right framework. Though favoring a moderate social democracy, Iglesias and the leadership deny that they are partisans. Iglesias explained the left/right divide succinctly at a rally in Barcelona: “Power doesn’t fear the left, only the people”. (5) At its core, Podemos is attempting to challenge the power structure, and deliver democracy to the masses, even if it means deviating from its anti-capitalist, leftist origins.
By moving towards the center, and consolidating power mostly between Iglesias and Errejón, Podemos risked alienating its activist base. These are undoubtedly the reasons for Monedero’s resignation from the party. Charisma and charm will only take you so far, and pandering towards the middle will only work up to a point. Besides, the populist, new center-right party Ciudadanos is also mining the center for votes with this strategy.
Podemos should continue to act as a movement led by activists, and evade the traps of capitulation and compromise that mainstream parties fall into. Breaking the two-party stranglehold of the PP and PSOE has been impressive. By concentrating on poverty reduction, debt restructuring, ending austerity, and listening to its citizen circles, Podemos and Iglesias can win wider support, unity, and solidarity. If focus can be kept on their grassroots campaigns, Spain will begin to see what a true, albeit messy, participative democracy looks like.
William Hawes is a writer specializing in politics and environmental issues. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A proposed declarative resolution by a group of MEPs has called on the European Union to step up sanctions against Russia, provide Ukraine with weaponry and further strengthen NATO forces in Eastern Europe, should Russia refuse to return Crimea to Ukraine or fail to abide by the Minsk ceasefire, a press statement for the body stated Tuesday.
The aggressively worded document, drafted Monday and liaised by Romanian MEP Ioan Pascu for the parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, warns that increased Russian military presence in Crimea necessitates EU nations to strengthen their military capabilities, stating that NATO must give its East European members a “strong strategic reassurance.”
Commenting on the proposed resolution, Pascu suggested to the EU’s news service that the strengthening of Russian defense capabilities in Crimea is “in practice creating another launching pad, of the proportions of Kaliningrad, this time in the Black Sea.” The MEP threatened that “in one year the defensive force which existed there has been transformed into a strike force… with which Russia can threaten Central Europe, the Balkans, Southern Europe and also [the] Eastern Mediterranean and even the Middle East.”
Supported by MEPs from Lithuania, Estonia, Poland and Spain, the belicose resolution, pending Foreign Affairs Committee approval, also accuses Russian authorities of mistreating the Crimean Tatars. Furthermore, it suggests that Russia may next move to cut off Ukraine from the Black Sea entirely by annexing its coastal territories. Pending approval, the belligerent document will face a vote at the parliament’s upcoming session in June, asking “EU member states to speak with one united voice,” regarding “EU relations with Russia.”
Yesterday three laws widely criticized by the opposition and human rights groups were approved in Spanish Congress. The Penal Code, the new Anti-Terror Law and the Law on Citizen Safety. The three new texts challenge freedom of expression in the streets and on the Internet. All three laws are scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2015.
Law on Citizen Safety (Gag Law)
“The gag law is revenge against social movements that emerged after 15M” – Patricia Martin, Avaaz
Under the new Citizen Safety Law or Ley Mordaza (Gag Law) as human rights defenders have renamed it, public protests, freedoms of speech and the press and documenting police abuses will become crimes punishable by heavy fines and/or jail. Some key points on the Ley Mordaza:
- Photographing or recording police – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- Peaceful disobedience to authority – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- Occupying banks as means of protest – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- Not formalizing a protest – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- For carrying out assemblies or meetings in public spaces – 100 to 600€ fine.
- For impeding or stopping an eviction – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- For presence at an occupied space (not only social centers but also houses occupied by evicted families) – 100 to 600€ fine.
- Police black lists for protesters, activists and alternative press have been legalized.
- Meeting or gathering in front of Congress – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- Appealing the fines in court requires the payment of judicial costs, whose amount depends on the fine.
- It allows random identity checks, allowing for racial profiling of immigrants and minorities.
- Police can now carry out raids at their discretion, without the need for “order” to have been disrupted.
- External bodily searches are also now allowed at police discretion.
- The government can prohibit any protest at will, if it feels “order” will be disrupted.
- Any ill-defined “critical infrastructure” is now considered a forbidden zone for public gatherings if it might affect their functioning.
- There are also fines for people who climb buildings and monuments without permission. (This has been a common method of protest from organizations like Greenpeace.)
The Gag Law will also affect internet freedoms as tweets calling for demonstrations or protests may be subject to penalties and fines for organizers. While an individual user may not be considered “an organizer” it could also be construed to include anyone who disseminates a call to protest through any media, including social media.
“This is the worst cut of rights and freedoms since the Franco regime,” – Virginia Pérez Alonso, PDLI
As the Ley Mordaza makes it illegal to publish photos of the police or other authorities without permission, sharing those images on social media could also be considered a felony resulting in a fine up to 30,000 euros.
Reform of the Penal Code (Código Penal)
Reforms to the Código Penal include some vague and controversial wording that could have wider implications involving copyright, cyberactivism and online porn. Below we will outline some of the points in question.
Copyright and Downloads
Reform of the Copyright Act was already approved but the new Penal Code reform also covers cases of copyright infringement imposing a penalty of six months to four years in prison for those who, among other things, “facilitate access or localization” of works that are being shared without permission of the owners with the intention of obtaining a direct or indirect financial gain.
Another controversial section refers to those who “intentionally store copies of works” to be aimed at public communication which is a crime. Article 270 mentions imprisonment for those who provide methods or systems to remove anti-copy protection of specific content.
The new Penal Code imposes imprisonment from six months to three years those who, for commercial purposes, manufacture, import, put into circulation, design, produce, adapt or perform to facilitate the removal or circumvention of any technical device that was used to protect computer programs or any other works.
Revenge Porn & Child Pornography
The new Penal Code imposes penalties for revenge porn and child pornography. Under Article 197 terms of incarceration for revenge porn range from three months to one year. Article 189 contains new wording regarding the definition of child pornography referring to any material whether real or simulated whose protagonist “seems to be a minor” except in cases where they are proven to have been eighteen years or older at the time of depiction. It also explains that “accessing a sexually explicit website containing content that appears to be a minor may be grounds for arrest and trial.”
Together with the Citizen Safety Act, the new Penal Code will also criminalize online activism and organizing imposing sentences between three months to one year to those who “emit slogans or messages”, “incite any offense of disorderly conduct,” incuding “disturbing the public peace.”
Distribution or public dissemination through any medium, of messages or slogans that incite the commission of any offense of disorderly conduct under Article 557 of the Penal Code, or serve to reinforce the decision to carry them out shall be punished with a fine of three to twelve months or imprisonment from three months to a year.
After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, Partido Popular and PSOE reached an agreement to amend the criminal code on terrorism which was also approved yesterday in Congress. The law again contains some vague language which leaves room for interpretation.
The new law uses a broad definition of “terrorism”: Among other things, cybercrime is now considered a terrorist act if the goal is to disrupt and/or disturb the public peace or cause a state of terror. For example, an attack on a Ministry website will now be a terrorist attack.
Viewing web pages with content targeted for or deemed as “suitable for terrorists” in a habitual manner can carry a penalty of two to five years in prison, but the law does not specify what is “habitual” or which websites are being targeted.
By expanding the definition of terrorism, it also expands what can be considered “glorifying terrorism” which can include for example tweeting certain content.
Glorification and public justification of crimes under Articles 572-577 or those who participated in its execution or performance of acts involving disrepute, contempt or humiliation of victims of terrorist offenses or their families, shall be punished with imprisonment of one to three years and a fine of twelve to eighteen months.
Paying for technological services could now be considered collaborating with terrorists.
Shall be punished with imprisonment from five to ten years and fined eighteen to twenty four months which takes place, soliciting or facilitating any act of collaboration with the activities or purposes of an organization, group or terrorist element, or commit any of the offenses covered by this chapter. In particular acts of collaboration of information or surveillance of individuals, […] the provision of technology services, and any other equivalent form of cooperation or assistance to the activities of organizations or terrorist groups, groups or individuals for the preceding paragraph.
Blocking content: The judge may order any service provider (search engines, etc.) to remove links to illegal content related to terrorism.
If the facts were committed through services or content accessible through the Internet or electronic communications services, the judge or court may order the removal of content or illicit services. Alternatively, you can order the service providers to withdraw illegal content, the search engines to abolish links pointing to them and providers of electronic communications services to prevent access to illegal content or services provided if they fulfill the following assumptions: a) When the measure is proportionate to the gravity of the facts and relevant information and necessary to prevent its spread. b) When it exclusively or predominantly diffuses the contents to which are referred to in the previous paragraphs.
Essentially, Spanish citizens should throw their computers out the windows, smash their hard drives to bits and never log on to the internet ever again. Forget about public organizing and any press freedoms that previously existed will be sharply curtailed once the new trifecta of insanely repressive laws goes into effect this coming July.
Why the European Central Bank’s Trillion Euro Plan will Only Help Keep the Banks Afloat
SHARMINI PERIES: In an effort to relieve some pressure on the struggling European economies, Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, announced a 1 trillion euro quantitative easing package on Monday. Quantitative easing is an unconventional form of monetary policy where a central bank creates new money electronically to buy financial assets like government bonds. And this process aims to directly increase private-sector spending in the economy and return inflation to target.
Well, what does that mean and what might be wrong with it is our next topic with Michael Hudson. Michael Hudson is a distinguished research professor of economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. His two newest books are The Bubble and Beyond and Finance Capitalism and Its Discontents. His upcoming book is titled Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy.
Michael, the Fed and some economists will argue that this is what got the U.S. out of its 2008 financial crisis. In fact, they put several QE measures into place. So what’s wrong with quantitative easing?
MICHAEL HUDSON: Well, the cover story is that it’s supposed to help employment. The pretense is an old model that used to be taught in textbooks a hundred years ago: that banks lend money to companies to invest and build equipment and hire people.
But that’s not what banks do. Banks lend money mainly to transfer ownership of real estate. They also lend money to corporate raiders. They lend money to buy assets. But they don’t lend money for companies to invest in equipment and hire more workers. Just the opposite. When they lend money to corporate raiders to take over companies, the new buyers outsource labor, downsize the work force, and try to squeeze out more work. They also try to grab the pensions.
The Fed was pretty open in what quantitative easing is supposed to do since 2008. It’s supposed to lower the interest rates, which raises bond prices and inflates the stock market. Since 2008 they’ve had the largest monetary inflation history – $4 trillion of quantitative easing by the Fed. But it’s gone via the banks into the stock and bond market.
What has this done for the economy as a whole? For starters, it’s obviously helped stock and bond holders get richer. And who are they? They’re the 1 percent and the 10 percent.
People are wringing their hands and saying, why isn’t the economy getting richer? Why is it that since 2008, economic inequality and the distribution of wealth have worsened instead of gotten closer together? Well, it’s largely because of quantitative easing. It’s because quantitative easing has increased the value of the stocks and the bonds that are held mainly by the 1 percent or the 10 percent hold. This hasn’t helped the economy because the Fed is really concerned with its constituency, which are the banks.
Quantitative easing hasn’t helped one class of investors in particular: pension funds. It’s done just the opposite. Pension funds made the assumption a few years ago that in order to break even with the rate of contributions that corporations, states and municipalities are paying, they have to make eight percent or eight and a half percent a year as a rate of return. But quantitative easing lowers the interest rate.
Today’s lower interest rates have made pension funds desperate. The risk-free rate of return is less than 1 percent on short-term Treasury bills. If you buy longer-term treasuries you can make 2 percent, but then if the interest rates ever go up, you’re going to take a loss as the bond price declines. So pension funds have said, “We’re desperate; what are we going to do?”
They’ve turned their money over to Wall Street money managers and hedge funds. The hedge funds take a huge rake off of fees to begin with. But even worse, when hedge funds and the big banks – Goldman Sachs, Citibank – see a pension fund manager coming through the door, they think, “How can I take what’s in his pocket and put it in mine?” So they rip them off. That is why there are so many big lawsuits against Wall Street for mismanaging pension fund money.
To summarize, the effect of the quantitative easing has been to make pension funds desperate, and to support real estate prices, as if higher costs to obtain housing will help recovery. It doesn’t help recovery, because to the extent that quantitative easing supports a re-inflation of housing prices, new homeowners have to pay even more of their income to the banks as mortgage interest. That means they have less money to pay for goods and services, so markets for goods and services continue to shrink.
What the quantitative easing has not been used for is what was promised in 2008. Before President Obama won the election and took office, Congress said that the TARP bailout and TALF were supposed to go for debt reduction. Some was to write down mortgages, so that people could afford to stay in their homes rather than the millions of home owners that have been foreclosed on and thrown out. But even before Obama came into office, Hank Paulson, the Secretary of the Treasury, told Democrats in Congress, yes, we’re willing to write down debts. But as Barney Frank explained in exasperation, Obama said no, he’s not going to do that. Obama ended up supporting the banks. So almost none of the TARP bailout money has been used for debt write-downs.
The same phenomenon is happening in Europe.
PERIES: So, Michael, what’s wrong with what the ECB has announced in terms of a trillion euros worth of quantitative easing for Europe?
HUDSON: They head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, has said that he’ll do whatever it takes to keep banks afloat. He doesn’t say that he’ll do whatever it takes to help economic recovery, or to help labor more. The ECB’s job is to help banks make more money.
Draghi was vice chairman of Goldman Sachs during 2002 to 2005. His view is that of Wall Street. It’s not a vantage point helping labor or helping economies grow. So it’s not surprising that the trillion euros of new money that the eurozone’s central bank is creating hasn’t gone to help Greece, for instance, survive. It hasn’t gone to help Greece, Spain, Italy, or Portugal get out of depression by fueling government spending. It’s simply been given away to the banks to buy bonds and stocks, including buying American stocks and bonds.
Behind this policy is the trickle-down theory that if you can make the financial sector richer, if you can make the one percent and the 10 percent richer, it’s all going to trickle down. This is the view of Paul Krugman, and it’s the view of the advisers that Obama has had. But instead of trickling down, the stock and bond price gains by the 1% and 10% drive a wedge in the economy, by increasing the value of stocks and bonds and real estate and wealth against labor. So quantitative easing is largely behind the fact that the distribution of wealth has become worse rather than better since 2008.
PERIES: One of the things that has happened in Europe that you wrote to me actually in an email was the disappearing central banks’ role in stimulating economies. Why is this an issue?
HUDSON: Central banks originally were designed to monetize government deficits. Governments are supposed to spend money into the economy, because that helps economies grow. But in Europe the Lisbon agreements say governments can’t run a deficit more than 3 percent of national income.
Furthermore, the role of the European Central Bank is not to give a penny to governments. They say that if you give a penny to government, you’ll have hyperinflation like you had in Weimar. So the central bank can only give money to banks – to invest in stocks and bonds. But the ECB won’t buy fresh bonds to finance new government spending. The result of this policy of not funding government deficits is that if the economy is to grow, it has to be entirely dependent on commercial banks for credit.
We had this situation in the United States in the last few years of the Clinton administration when the United States actually ran a budget surplus instead of a deficit. Now, how do you think the United States could grow when there’s a budget surplus sucking money out of the economy?
The answer is that commercial banks and bondholders have to supply the money. But the banks only supplied money in the form of junk mortgages and other forms of an economic bubble, such as takeover loans and a stock market bubble.
The interest of banks is not to help economies grow; it’s to extract interest from the economy. The financial sector uses part of its rising wealth to lobby for privatization sell-offs. The problem with this is that when you privatize a public utility, you give away a monopoly – and if you deregulate the economy, you let the monopoly set up tollbooths over the economy, for toll roads, communications or whatever is being privatized.
The ECB is telling Greece to privatize to raise the money to pay its bondholders, the ECB and IMF. So you have quantitative easing going hand-in-hand with the insistence on privatization. The result is debt deflation as the economy is forced to depend more and more on banks for the money to grow, instead of on government spending into the economy. You’re having the governments not being able to spend on infrastructure, letting it fall apart, as is happening with bridges and tunnels in the United States.
The next step is for the government to say, “I’m sorry, the central bank doesn’t have enough money to help us build new infrastructure. So we’ve got to sell it off to private investors who do have the money.” The next thing you know, you have the economy ending up looking like Chicago. That city sold off its sidewalks and its parking meters to Goldman Sachs and to other Wall Street firms. All of a sudden the prices of parking, driving, and living in Chicago went way, way up instead of lowering the costs as privatization promised.
You have the same phenomenon here that England suffered under Margaret Thatcher: costs for hitherto public services go up. Transportation costs go way up. Road costs go up. Communications, internet costs, telephone costs, everything that is privatized goes way up. Financialization leads to a rent-extractive, almost neo-feudal economy.
In that sense, quantitative easing and the refusal of central banks to fund governments (except to pay bondholders and bail out commercial banks) is a new kind of class war. It’s not the old kind of class war, which was between employers and their workforce over what wages will be. It’s by the financial sector trying to take over the economy, and especially to take over the public sector, to take over the public domain, to take over public utilities and whatever assets a government has. If governments cannot borrow from central banks, they have to begin selling off property.
PERIES: Michael, this is exactly what’s happening in Greece right now. The SYRIZA government is somewhat forced to continue privatization as a part of the agreement of the loans that they have been given by European banks. What could they do in this situation?
HUDSON: This is really a scandal, because most privatizations are corrupt insider dealings. The SYRIZA Party came in and said, wait a minute, the privatizations that have been done are by governmental officials to their own cronies at a giveaway price. How can we balance the budget if we’re giving away the public utilities instead of getting a fair price for them?
The European Central Bank said, no, you have to give away privatization to cronies at pennies on the dollar just like Russia did under Yeltsin, just like the United States did with the railroad giveaways of the 19th century.
Remember, the American privatization to the railroad barons and their financial backers created essentially the ruling class of the 20th century. It created the American stock market. The same thing is happening in Greece. It’s being told to continue the former politicians’ drive to endow a new oligarchy, a new kind of a feudal monopoly lord, by these privatization giveaways. The ECB says that if you don’t do that, we’re going to bankrupt the banking system.
Yanis Varoufakis went back to the party congress in Parliament and asked whether they would approve this. The left wing in Greece has said, no, we won’t approve the giveaways.
The pretense is that privatization is to make money, but the European Central Bank is saying, no, you can’t make money; you have to give it away to our cronies. It’s all one happy financial family. This is escalating financial warfare.
I can assure you that neither Varoufakis nor SYRIZA has any interest in this kind of privatization giveaway. It’s trying to figure out some way of perhaps prosecuting the cronies for bribery, for internal connections, or figuring out some way of legally stopping the rotten policies that they’re told to follow by the European Central Bank – which isn’t giving a single euro to help Greece get over the economic depression that debt deflation has brought on. The euros are only given to the financial sector, basically to help declare war on the Greek government, the Spanish government, the Italian government.
This financial warfare is trying to achieve the same thing that military warfare did in the past. It’s aim is to grab the land, to grab control of the public infrastructure, to grab control of governments themselves. But it’s doing it financially rather than militarily.
PERIES: Right. The SYRIZA Party last week did agree to the conditions of privatization, that they would not roll back on the existing agreements that had been made by previous government. They agreed to not roll back on ones that are underway, and that they’re actually not even averse to privatization as a statement by Yanis Varoufakis. What does all this mean for Greece?
HUDSON: The financial gun was put to their head. If they wouldn’t have said that, there would have been a total breakdown, and the European Central Bank would have tried to bankrupt the Greek banks. So he didn’t have much of a choice. Everything that Varoufakis has written, and all that the political leader of SYRIZA has said, has been exactly the opposite. But they had to give lip service to what they were told to do, and any agreement that’s made has to be ratified by Parliament. So, what they’ve said is, okay, we’re going to play good cop, bad cop. We’ll be the good cops with you, and let Parliament and our left wing be the bad cops and say that we’re not going to stand for this.