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Defense Secretary Mattis issues new ultimatum to NATO allies …

Posted: February 19, 2017 at 10:57 am

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says the NATO military alliance is central to ties between America and Europe and remains of importance to the United States. (Reuters)

BRUSSELS Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued an ultimatum Wednesday to allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, warning that if they do not boost their defense spending to goals set by the alliance, the United States may alter its relationship with them.

I owe it to you all to give you clarity on the political reality in the United States and to state the fair demand from my countrys people in concrete terms, Mattis said. America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defense.

The statements came during a closed-doors meeting with defense ministers from other NATO countries and were provided to reporters traveling with the defense secretary to Brussels. It marks an escalation in Washingtons long-running frustration that many NATO countries do not spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product as they have pledged. President Trump often made that point during his upstart run for the White House, at various times calling the alliance obsolete while grousing that its 28 members need to pay their fair share.

[Trumps calls for Europe to increase defense spending could force other upheaval]

Mattis, a retired Marine general, recalled Wednesday that when he was NATOs supreme allied commander of transformation from November 2007 to September 2009, he watched as then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned NATO nations that Congress and the American people would lose their patience for carrying a disproportionate burden of the defense of allies.

That impatience, Mattis said, is now a governmental reality.

No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defense of Western values, Mattis said. Americans cannot care more for your childrens security than you do. Disregard for military readiness demonstrates a lack of respect for ourselves, for the alliance and for the freedoms we inherited, which are now clearly threatened.

Currently, just five of NATOs 28 countries spend at least 2 percent on defense: the United Kingdom, Estonia, Poland, Greece and the United States. Major members of the alliance that do not include France (1.78 percent), Turkey (1.56), Germany (1.19), Italy (1.11) and Canada (.99), according to NATO figures. Others have pledged to do so but not until 2024.

[Flynn departure erupts into a full-blown crisis for the Trump White House]

Mattis said Washington needs the help of other nations already spending 2 percent to urge the others to do so. Those already with a plan to boost spending must accelerate it, and countries without one must establish one soon, he said.

The remarks come as NATO nations confront how to handle Russia following its 2014 annexation of Ukraines Crimean Peninsula and U.S. intelligence assessments that Russia hacked Democratic Party officials during the presidential campaign last year. Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, resigned under pressure Monday night as Trumps national security adviser after revelations that he misled Vice President Pence about secret communications with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, regarding sanctions imposed by the Obama administration in response to the alleged hacking.

[In first under Trump, Russian jets buzzed a U.S. destroyer at close range]

Fellow ministers, when the Cold War ended, we all had hopes, Mattis said. The year 2014 awakened us to a new reality: Russia used force to alter the borders of one of its sovereign neighbors, and on Turkeys border [the Islamic State] emerged and introduced a ruthless breed of terror, intent on seizing territory and establishing a caliphate. While these events have unfolded before our eyes, some in this alliance have looked away in denial of what was happening.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg sought to downplay any suggestion that Mattiss message constituted a threat, saying that the United States was simply pressing its allies to live up to their own commitments.

This is not the U.S. telling Europe to increase defense spending, Stoltenberg said at a news conference after the tough meeting. This is 28 allies, heads of state, that all were sitting around the same table in 2014, and looking into each others eyes and agreeing that we shall increase defense spending.

I welcome all pressure, all support to make sure that happens, Stoltenberg said, adding that Lithuania and Romania have pledged to reach 2 percent soon.

Others in the room when Mattis spoke saw his message differently.

If you pardon my French, we got the message. Pay up or be pushed, one European diplomat said, using a more vulgar term for what the United States might do to its allies. If you take him literally, then the message is indeed that theres no unconditional guarantee of security any more, the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity to speak openly about the reaction.

But not every leader felt that the message was a major departure from longtime U.S. policy to ratchet up its allies defense spending.

Its nothing new, to be honest, Dutch Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said in an interview. Mattis asked for milestones, so all of us will go home and work on them.

Public opinion in the Netherlands which currently spends 1.17 percent of its annual economic output on defense is in favor of spending increases, she said.

Public support has increased because its a rough world out there and people have noticed, she said. Europe and also the Netherlands for way too long were accustomed to peace and American leadership.

Mattiss ultimatum could have the largest effect for Germany. If it were to meet the 2 percent bar, it would boost its defense spending to about $75 billion per year, resulting in a military larger than Britains. That would bea profound shift for a country that has long had a pacifist tradition that held it back from embracing a global defense presence as greatas its economic might.

Mattiss demands were echoed by British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, who met head-to-head with the U.S. defense chief before the main NATO conclave. Fallon said that Britain which spends the second-largest amount on defense in the alliance is proposing that countries that spend less than NATO guidelines commit to an annual defense budget increase.

An annual increase would at least demonstrate good faith, Fallon told a small group of reporters in Brussels. Fallon said that Mattis had underlined a 100 percent commitment to NATO.

Britain has generally triedto ally itself with the Trump administration as London negotiates an exit from the European Union. But British leaders have urged Trump to maintain his military commitment to NATO and to Europe.

Related stories:

Mattis attempts to reassure NATO allies as the Trump administration deals with fallout from Flynns ouster

Placing Russia first among threats, Mattis warns of Kremlin attempts to break NATO

Mattis makes first trip to Europe as Pentagon chief while mulling changes in Afghanistan and anti-ISIS fight

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Pence offers ‘unwavering’ NATO pledge – York Daily Record/Sunday News

Posted: at 10:57 am

The Associated Press 9:55 p.m. ET Feb. 18, 2017

United States Vice President Mike Pence, left, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet for bilateral talks during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017. The annual weekend gathering is known for providing an open and informal platform to meet in close quarters.(Photo: Matthias Schrader, AP)

MUNICH (AP) America’s commitment to NATO is “unwavering,” U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said Saturday, reassuring allies about the direction the Trump administration might take but leaving open questions about where Washington saw its relationship with the European Union and other international organizations.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for strengthening a range of multilateral bodies the EU, NATO and the United Nations and lauded the benefits of “a free, independent press.”

In his first foreign trip as vice president, Pence sought immediately to address concerns raised by President Donald Trump’s earlier comments questioning whether NATO was “obsolete.”

Pence told the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of diplomats and defense officials: “I bring you this assurance: The United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to our trans-Atlantic alliance.”

“Your struggles are our struggles. Your success is our success,” Pence said. “And ultimately, we walk into the future together.”

Merkel, speaking before Pence, told him and other leaders that “acting together strengthens everyone.”

Her address came amid concerns among allies about the Trump administration’s approach to international affairs and fears that the U.S. may have little interest in working in international forums.

“Will we be able to continue working well together, or will we all fall back into our individual roles?” Merkel asked. “Let’s make the world better together and then things will get better for every single one of us.”

Trump has praised Britain’s decision to leave the 28-nation EU. And a leading contender to be the next U.S. ambassador to the EU, Ted Malloch, has said Washington is “somewhat critical and suspicious” of the bloc and would prefer to work with countries bilaterally.

Pence did not mention the European Union in his speech, something picked up on by French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault who wrote on Twitter: “In Munich, Vice President Pence renews America’s commitment to the Atlantic alliance. But not a word on the EU.”

Pence did say, however, that the U.S. was on a path of “friendship with Europe and a strong North Atlantic alliance.”

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel also indicated skepticism about Pence’s pledges, saying that he agreed Europe needed to work with the U.S. on the basis of common values. But in a barely veiled reference to Trump, he said “both countries must define their interests, and our foreign policies should not be driven by ideology.”

“Ideologies lead to hostile concepts that might not be able to be overcome,” said Gabriel, who is chairman of the Social Democratic Party, Merkel’s junior coalition partner.

Going ahead, he said Europeans “should hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”

In pledging the Trump administration’s support for NATO, Pence said the U.S. expected all countries to live up to commitments to spend at least 2 percent of gross domestic product spending into defense.

“Europe’s defense requires your commitment as much as ours,” he said.

Merkel reiterated that Germany is committed to the 2 percent goal though Germany currently only contributes about 1.3 percent.

“We will do everything we can in order to fulfill this commitment,” she said. “But let me add, however, that I believe while NATO is very much in the European interest, it’s also in the American interest it’s a very strong alliance where we are united together.”

Gabriel suggested that development aid and humanitarian moves such as in Germany’s decision to take in nearly 900,000 refugees last year should also be part of the consideration when looking at defense spending.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told The Associated Press, however, that both things were necessary.

“We need a comprehensive approach and of course development aid and funding for refugees is also very important,” he said. “But there’s no contradiction between being focused on development aid and security actually the only way we can create development is to preserve the peace. We need security to be able to facilitate economic development.”

Merkel, who met with Pence one-on-one following their speeches, acknowledged that Europeans couldn’t fight global issues like Islamic extremist terrorism alone.

“We need the military power of the United States,” she said.

She renewed a call for Islamic religious authorities to speak “clear words on the demarcation of peaceful Islam and terrorism in the name of Islam.”

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told the security conference that Trump is working on a “streamlined” version of his executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim nations to iron out the difficulties that landed his first order in the courts.

Kelly said next time Trump will “make sure that there’s no one caught in the system of moving from overseas to our airports” during the travel ban.

The nations affected by the original ban were Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Kelly mentioned “seven nations” again on Saturday, leading to speculation they will all be included in Trump’s next executive order on immigration.

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EU leaders defiant over US pressure to increase Nato defence budgets – The Independent

Posted: at 10:57 am

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has ruled out increasing Nato defence spending less than a week after the Trump administration issued an ultimatum to members.

Ms Merkel said Germany would honour its long-standing commitment to increase defence budgets by 2024 but would not accelerate its plans.

It came as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker urged Europe’s leaders to resist US pressure to increase European defence spending.

Donald Trump has repeatedly called for Nato members in Europe to increase their defence spend, and his defence secretary James Mattis said the US would be ready to “moderate its commitment” to the alliance if other members did not pay their fair share.

Nato guidelines call for all 28 members of the collective defence alliance to spend two per cent of GDP on military budgets.

However, only five of those members do so in reality America, Britain, Greece, Estonia and Poland.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, General Mattis warned of an “arc of instability” on Europe’s periphery and called on Nato allies to contribute more.

“We all see our community of nations under threat on multiple fronts as the arc of instability builds on Nato’s periphery and beyond,” he said.

However, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Europe should not allow itself to be “pushed into this.”

It has been the American message for many, many years, he said. I am very much against letting ourselves be pushed into this.

Mr Juncker argued the EUs development and humanitarian aid spending made up for any shortfalls in military financing, and echoed Ms Merkels sentiments that development and crisis prevention had to be areas of focus.

If you look at what Europe is doing in defence, plus development aid, plus humanitarian aid, the comparison with the United States looks rather different. Modern politics cannot just be about raising defence spending, he said.

“Europeans must bundle their defence spending better and spend the money more efficiently.

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If It Walks Like a Duck – ChicagoNow (blog)

Posted: February 18, 2017 at 4:36 am

If It Walks Like a Duck

In the Donalds words, there is no one less Anti-Semitic youve ever seen. There is no one less racist, so sayeth our tiny handed, orange tinged, and unhinged leader. Trump, it has been noted, has Jewish grandchildren, a Jewish daughter and son-in-law. And according to Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu has been a friend for decades and never once called him an Anti-Semite. His defense is the equivalent of Im not racist because I have black friends / family! His daughter may have taken on the faith, but Trump seems willfully ignorant on any subject that doesnt concern his favorite subject, himself.

Im really starting to wonder: at what point does his silence, outright deflection, and actions outweigh any pronouncement to the contrary? Trump took his sweet time in denouncing David Duke. His right-hand, Steve Bannon, is a man with very troubling thoughts on Jews and Judaism. Trump readily parrots stereotypes of Jews, sayingyoure not going to support me because I dont want your money, and in the process bombing in a room of conservative, Jewish donors. Retweets of white nationalism with anti-Semitic and racist overtones featured prominently in his campaign.

Jews were conspicuously left off the Holocaust Remembrance Day proclamation. There was no mention of the 6 million plus murdered, or how centuries of vibrant European Jewish life was snuffed out. True, Jews were not the only victims – Roma and Slavs were also targeted because of their ethnicity. Yet, Nazism hand-picked the Jews from the outset, a convenient minority that had sheltered blame since their European arrival. Discussing the Holocaust and leaving out the Jews is a lot like saying All Lives Matter when discussing a singular issues like police treatment of African American communities. There was speculation that its was either ignorance or oversight, but evidence shows the contrary. This was intentional.

The Jewish community represents perhaps 2% of our national population, yet we Jews represent 53.3% of religiously motivated hate crimes. Crimes went up 9% in 2015 alone, to say nothing of the rash of attacks and threats since election day. In January 2017, 57 bomb threats were made to 48 Jewish centers throughout the United States, prompting evacuations, police sweeps, and closures. While nothing was found, it has rattled the Jewish community. White supremacists have been emboldened to spray-paint swastikas, or vandalize synagogues (including here in Chicago). According to watchdog groups, the amount and tenor of Anti-Semitic language has skyrocketed. We cant afford to view these developments as idle threats. Even in a country where Jews have flourished, we remain targets of hate.

Against that backdrop, Jake Turx, an Orthodox Jewish reporter from Ami Magazine asked a softball of a question. While taking great pains to comment that Trump wasnt seen as Anti-Semitic, how was the government going to deal with the rise of Anti-Semitism? An easy answer would have been to say, The United States does not tolerate, nor condone Anti-Semitism. We will do everything we can to prevent its spread and prosecute those who perpetuate it. Easy. 15 seconds at most. Our fears are somewhat placated, and he can move on to whatever insanity he chooses.

Instead, Turx was cut off mid-question. Trump gave a customary non-answer while self-aggrandizing (surprise!). Turx persisted and was cut off yet again (quiet, quiet, quiet and sit down). There was nothing offensive about the question, but ever thin-skinned, Trump took it as a personal affront despite the lengthy preface. From CNN, later on in the news conference, Sirius XM’s Jared Rizzi said, I’ll follow up on my colleague’s question about anti-Semitism. It’s not about your personality or your beliefs. We’re talking about a rise in anti-Semitism around the country. Some of it by supporters in your name. What can you do to deter that?

In response, Trump said, Some of it is written by our opponents. You do know that? Do you understand that? You don’t think anybody would do a thing like that? He went on to insist anti-Semitism was coming from his political opponents, who were doing it to generate anger: Some of the signs you’ll see are not put up by the people that love or live Donald Trump.

What?!?! I cannot wrap my head around a man who somehow believes that being labeled an Anti-Semite (even though he wasnt!) is somehow worse than actual Anti-Semitism. And its not as if we dont know who is saying what or what groups are most committed to anti-Jewish ideology and action. We know there is a subset of the Right who do this. Richard Spencer, for one with his intimidation campaign in Whitefish, Mont. Trump is on the warpath against any group he believe to be opposed to him, whether its the entire mainstream press corps or anyone from the Democratic Party. Its true that Anti-Semitism is not unique to the Right, but in addition to deflecting the original question, hes perfectly fine spreading any lies that suit his agenda.

If walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and acts like a duck – it is a duck. I hope the pressure increases for Trump to formally denounce Anti-Semitism. I hope it leads him to actually address this rising tide. I hope he goes deeper than tired stereotypes. I hope, maybe, he listens to his daughter and son-in-law and acts, if for no other reason than deference to them. I hope he actually listens to real fears and concerns from the Jewish community. But, Im not holding my breath.

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Europe’s TREASURE Will Be the King of All GPSs – Singularity Hub

Posted: at 4:34 am

Today, most of us carry the world in our pockets. Global navigation satellite systems (GNSS)what most people typically just call GPSarent simply about sending geo-located tweets from our favorite restaurants. Countless industries rely on high-precision navigation, from agriculture to construction. The brave new world of self-driving cars and Amazon booty delivered by drone is largely predicated on all those satellites orbiting the planet.

The accuracy of these systems is amazing. The signals broadcast from US Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites are accurate to within less than three feet 95 percent of the time, according to the official US government website GPS.gov. In reality, the signal is never quite that good. Local features such as buildings and trees can affect the signal, not to mention atmospheric interference. The typical smartphone is accurate within a 16-foot radius.

A consortium of European universities, institutes and companies thinks it can do better by integrating the worlds four main GNSS constellations. Its called TREASURE, squeezing all these words into the acronym: Training, REsearch and Applications network to Support the Ultimate Real time high accuracy EGNSS solution.

The TREASURE team plans to integrate signals from the USs GPS constellation, along with Russias Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS), Chinas BeiDou Navigation Satellite System and Europes new Galileo navigation system.

This multi-GNSS would provide accuracy within just a few centimeters in real time.

Although accuracy is at the core of our vision, the improvement we are aiming for is not only to do with accuracywe are also especially concerned with robustness, explains project lead Marcio Aquino, from the Nottingham Geospatial Institute, by email. The big challenge today is to enable centimeter-level accuracy anywhere, anytime in the world.

It wont be easy. For example, GPS uses a different transmission system than Russias GLONASS. Signals from Galileo are similar to GPS but with slightly different carrier frequencies, according to Aquino. Not to mention that the various constellations use different time and geodetic reference systems.

One of the goals of the TREASURE project is to reduce atmospheric disturbances to the signals beamed from satellites back to Earth. Most of the problems occur in the upper layer of the atmosphere, known as the ionosphere, located about 50 to 375 miles above Earth. Thats where solar radiation from the sun ionizes atoms and molecules, creating a layer of electrons. Free electrons can interfere with satellite signals, especially during space weather events.

The atmosphere poses the greatest threat to the success of robust high-accuracy GNSS positioning, whatever individual constellation you consider, Aquino says. The ionosphere, in particular, may be so disturbed that it can render these services pretty useless, especially during periods of high solar activity and in parts of the globe that are more prone to suffer with these effects, such as equatorial and high-latitude regions.

Aquino explains that the ability to use the signals from the different GNSS constellations will make it much easier to monitor and measure disturbances, because of the greater number of signals probing the atmosphere. The same applies for local interference, he notes, where the more signals you have, the better your chances of modeling and countering the problem.

Interestingly, GPS satellites themselves carry special sensors that collect data about space weather. Los Alamos National Laboratory recently released more than 16 years of data in the journal Space Weather to researchers.

Carried on 23 of the 30 current GPS satellites, the sensors measure the energy and intensity of charged particles trapped in Earths magnetic field. The sensors take detailed measurements of the trapped particles, which form the Van Allen radiation belts, every six hours.

The measurements provide data on variations in the largest of the Van Allen radiation belts, including how it responds to solar storms. That information should help researchers develop models to forecast space weatheran important step in protecting the satellites themselves and the signals they emit back to Earth.

High-precision GPS for self-driving cars and unmanned drones is an obvious application of a multi-GNSS. However, a team of researchers at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) believe GPS alone isnt the answer to reliable navigation for autonomous systems. They have developed a navigation system that instead uses environmental signals such as cellular and WiFi.

They note that GPS signals dont do well in some environments, such as deep canyons. Signals can be intentionally jammed and even hacked. This has led manufacturers of autonomous systems like cars and drones to add cameras, lasers and other sensors for navigation.

By adding more and more sensors, researchers are throwing in everything but the kitchen sink to prepare autonomous vehicle navigation systems for the inevitable scenario that GPS signals become unavailable. We took a different approach, which is to exploit signals that are already out there in the environment, says Zak Kassas, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at UCRs Bourns College of Engineering, in a press release.

Using what they call signals of opportunity, the scientists are working toward building software-defined radios that can extract timing and positioning information from environmental signals. The project also includes developing navigation algorithms and testing the final system on autonomous vehicles and drones.

Self-driving cars and many other applications rely on a combination of different sensors where multi-GNSS is definitely a major player, Aquino notes. Our main goal, however, is to make multi-GNSS robust and accurate as a technology that can be relied upon as the backbone of these applications, and therefore provide the means for new multi-GNSS-based ideas to flourish.

A highly accurate multi-GNSS wouldnt just be a boon to navigation on Earth. Deep-space missions might also benefit from a more robust satellite navigation system, though thats beyond the scope of TREASURE.

NASA has already been working to improve the use of GPS signals above low Earth orbit, defined as between 100 and 1,200 miles. LEO, as its known, is where most space missions take place. The International Space Station, for example, cruises around the planet at about 250 miles. Meanwhile, GPS satellites fly in medium Earth orbit (MEO) at an altitude of about 12,500 miles.

However, GPS signals above LEO are much weaker. Several years ago, the space agency developed the Navigator GPS flight receiver, which significantly boosted the signals. In fact, last year NASAs Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission satellites (MMS) set a Guinness World Record for highest altitude fix of a GPS signal at 43,500 miles above Earth. MMS is studying the connections between the Earth and suns magnetic fields.

Now NASA is developing a new technology called NavCube. The nameand the technologymerges the Navigator GPS flight receiver with SpaceCube, NASAs fast flight computing platform. NASA believes the combined technology has the potential to improve navigation to areas of space near the moon.

In addition, the technology might also demonstrate X-ray communication in space. NASA scientists say it has the potential to transmit gigabits per second through the solar system.

GPS: Its more than just a cool feature on your smartphone. And the better it gets, the more we can explore the worldand beyond.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA – Heritage Florida Jewish … – Heritage Florida Jewish News

Posted: at 4:03 am

Large swastika painted on car in Florida Jewish neighborhood

(JTA)A large swastika was spray-painted on the side of a car in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Boca Raton, Florida.

The incident occurred early Sunday morning, according to local report. The white swastika took up the entire drivers-side door of the black Ford Mustang.

The owner of the car is a teenager who is visiting Israel, the Miami Herald reported. It is not know if the teens visit to Israel made him the intended target.

This is a direct hate message, Yona Lunger, an activist in South Floridas Jewish community, told the Miami Herald. We are shocked, devastated.

Many Holocaust survivors live in the neighborhood, residents told local media.

The Palm Beach County Sheriffs Office has launched an investigation into the incident. Residents have asked the local police for increased patrols and some plan to install surveillance cameras, according to reports.

The swastika comes on the heels of several bomb threats on Jewish community centers in South Florida, part of a wave of bomb threats on JCCs across the country.

Poll: Americans nearly split over support for Palestinian state

(JTA)Americans are nearly evenly divided over support for a Palestinian state, according to the latest Gallup poll.

Some 45 percent of Americans back the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip and 42 percent oppose it, according to the poll taken during the first week of February. Some 13 percent said they have no opinion.

One year ago, support for a Palestinian state was at nearly the same level, 44 percent, but a lower percentage, 37 percent, opposed it. At that time, 19 percent said they had no opinion.

Broken down by political party affiliation, 61 percent of Democrats, 50 percent of Republicans and 25 percent of Independents are in favor of a Palestinian state.

The results are from Gallups annual World Affairs poll conducted Feb. 1-5. A random sample of 1,035 Americans over 18 was polled. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

The poll also asked respondents if their sympathies lie more with the Israelis or the Palestinians.

Some 62 percent of Americans said they sympathized more with the Israelis and 19 percent with the Palestinians in numbers that are similar to the past several years. Another 19 percent responded with no preference, broken down into 5 percent who say they sympathize with both equally, 6 percent who sympathize with neither, and 8 percent who responded that they have no opinion.

In the splits by political party, 82 percent of Republicans, 47 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Independents said they sympathized with Israel.

Asked about their opinions of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, some 49 percent of respondents said they viewed him favorably and 30 percent unfavorablyboth figures the highest recorded in the pollwith 13 percent saying they never heard of him and 8 percent saying they have no opinion.

Broken down by party, 32 percent of Democrats viewed Netanyahu favorably and 41 percent unfavorably, and 73 percent of Republicans viewed Netanyahu favorably and 11 percent unfavorably. In 2015, before Netanyahu spoke against the Iran nuclear deal in Congress, a speech that was boycotted by several Democratic members of Congress, 31 percent of Democrats viewed him favorably and 31 percent unfavorably, and 60 percent of Republicans favorably and 18 percent unfavorably.

McGill student leader doubles down on punch a Zionist today message

MONTREAL (JTA)A McGill University student leader who advised on Twitter to punch a Zionist today is refusing to resign or retract the comment amid rising Jewish anger on campus against him.

Council member Igor Sadikov did not relent at what was described as a tense meeting of the student union legislative council on Thursday.

According to witnesses who attended, Sadikov appeared to double down on his stance, arguing that Jews were not a a legitimate ethnic group, according to Bnai Brith Canada.

I have never felt so targeted, disgusted or disappointed in my life, Jewish McGill student Molly Harris later wrote in a post on Facebook.

Sadikov, who also is active in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, has denied he is anti-Semitic, noting that his father is Jewish and his mother is half-Jewish. He said his original tweet, which he later deleted, was meant to criticize a political philosophy, not Jews.

McGill has condemned Sadikov, joining the Jewish groups Bnai Brith, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The universitys undergraduate arts society formally called on Sadikov to resign and Bnai Brith asked police to investigate whether Sadikov had incited hatred with his tweet.

But the mass condemnation seemed to do little to appease pro-Israel students at McGill, who say they feel increasingly isolated and vulnerable on campus.

At the Thursday meeting, according to reports, council members voted by a wide margin against censuring Sadikov, while a leader of McGills BDS group asked why an individual pro-Zionist member of the council was not being impeached.

Critics at the meeting charged that council members stayed silent as Sadikov took his stand and also in reaction to the pro-BDS speaker.

McGills student union also has the power to impeach Sadikov, but has not moved to do so.

The campus newspaper, The McGill Daily, which Sadikov once served as editor, recently enacted a policy to ban pro-Zionist opinion from its pages.

British government proposes guideline to prevent municipal boycotts against Israel

(JTA)The British government has unveiled a proposed guideline that is meant to counteract and prevent the passing of resolutions in favor of boycotting Israel by local municipalities.

The Department for Communities and Local Government published its plan for ending such initiatives on Monday in a leaflet containing proposed additions and revisions to a document titled the Revised Best Value Statutory Guidance, which offers guidelines on various issues pertaining to local government, including procurement policies.

Authorities should not implement or pursue boycotts other than where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the Government, the proposal reads.

The British government has a longstanding policy of value for money in public procurement, the document further reads. Procurement legislation in the United Kingdom and the European Union requires public authorities to treat suppliers fairly and equally and this guidance has been updated to reflect that and make it clear that boycotts in public procurement are inappropriate outside where formal legal sanctions have been put in place.

Individuals who want to offer their feedback to the government, including arguments in favor and against the revision, must do so before March 28, the document states.

A spokesman for the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the national umbrella of the Jewish community of the United Kingdom, said his group warmly welcomes the Governments measures since these boycotts are divisive and undermine good community relations. The new steps will ensure that all suppliers of goods and services receive equal treatment and do not need to fear prejudice.

Resolutions favoring boycotts of Israel were passed recently in several municipalities in Britain, including the Leicester City Council in 2014. Similar measures were discussed but not taken in Nottingham.

The Conservative-led British government has threatened to fine municipalities that vote on boycotting Israel and has announced plans for laws making such initiatives illegal.

Amazon selling books in US, UK online stores that deny the Holocaust

(JTA)Amazon has removed books that deny the Holocaust from online stores in countries where Holocaust denial is illegal, but they remain available in the United States and the United Kingdom.

The British newspaper The Independent reported that the books were removed in some countries, including Italy, France and Germany, after Amazon was contacted about the sale of such books by The Sunday Times of London.

Among the books still available on Amazons U.S. and U.K. online stores are Did Six Million Really Die? by Richard Harwood; The Six Million: Fact or Fiction?, and The Myth of the Extermination of the Jews.

Gideon Falter, chairman of the British charity Campaign Against Antisemitism, told The Independent: Every day, Amazon promotes a selection of literature advocating Holocaust denial and Jew hatred. Anybody searching Amazon for books about the Holocaust, including children working on school projects, will inevitably be shown Amazons squalid cesspool of neo-Nazi titles.

One Amazon customer who complained to the company told The Sunday Times he received a message from Amazon saying, If you feel this book constitutes hate speech and malicious lies, then please check out the other hundred thousand books we carry to find something you like. I hope this helps!

Steven Goldstein, executive director of the U.S.-based Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, called for a boycott of Amazon until it stops selling the books everywhere.

When Amazon sells Holocaust denial books and even offers readers an opportunity to borrow Holocaust denial books on Amazon Kindle, Amazon is a repugnant accomplice to Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism of historic proportions, Goldstein wrote in a statement. This makes Amazon a worldwide embarrassment to human decency. We call on everyone to stop shopping at Amazon until all divisions of Amazon in every part of the world stop selling Holocaust denial books and other works immediately.

Russian lawmaker: Ancestors of Jewish politicians boiled us in cauldrons

(JTA)A Russian lawmaker in President Vladimir Putins party said the ancestors of two Jewish opposition politicians had killed Christians.

Christians survived despite the fact that the ancestors of Boris Vishnevsky and Maksim Reznik boiled us in cauldrons and fed us to animals, Vitaly Milonov said Sunday, according to Agence France-Presse.

Jewish groups and leaders condemned Milonovs statement.

For a State Duma deputy, it is unacceptable to make such irresponsible statements, said Rabbi Boruch Gorin, the spokesman for the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, AFP reported.

The president of the Russian Jewish Congress told AFP that it was clear to any normal person that these lawmakers are of Jewish descent and that he means Jews.

The National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry, an American nonprofit advocating for Jews in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, urged the Russian government to condemn the remarks.

Milonovs rhetoric invokes dangerous anti-Semitic hatred that has historically been used to justify widespread violence against Jews in Russia, the group said Monday in a statement. NCSEJ urges Russias local and national government to repudiate Milonovs remarks and make clear that he does not speak for the government of Russia or the Russian people.

In 2014, Milonov made statements suggesting that Jews killed Jesus.

They vilify any saint, it is in their tradition of 2,000 years, beginning with the appeals to crucify the Savior, ending with accusations of anti-Semitism against St. John of Kronstadt, Milonov said during a speech before the citys legislative council.

Milonov was advocating a bill to declare June 14 a municipal holiday in honor of John of Kronstadt, a 19th-century leader of the Orthodox Russian Church. His legacy remains controversial because of his membership in the Black Hundred, an ultranationalist and declaredly anti-Semitic movement that supported pogroms against Jews.

But Milonov said such criticism was based on complete lies, a modern neo-liberal fable with a sulfuric, deep history of Satanism.

Populist party in Germany set to oust member for denigrating Berlin Holocaust memorial

BERLIN (JTA)Germanys rising right-wing populist party voted to begin proceedings to oust a prominent member for calling Berlins Holocaust memorial a monument of shame.

Bjoern Hoecke, leader of the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, in the former East German state of Thuringia aroused ire nationwide with remarks in January denigrating the memorial and suggesting that more attention be paid to German victims of World War II.

Frauke Petry, who heads the 3-year-old AfD, said Monday that the expulsion procedure could take quite a while, but that she was convinced most party members would support the move.

Critics within the AfD said Hoeckes remarks threatened to destabilize the party, which hopes to become the third largest in the Bundestag in national elections in September.

The partys decision followed a legal and political evaluation of Hoeckes remarks.

He had told young supporters in Dresden on Jan. 17 that We Germansthat is, our peopleare the only people worldwide that has planted a memorial to shame in the heart of our capital.

Ten days later, the Buchenwald Concentration Camp Memorial barred Hoecke from entering for a memorial ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Hoecke has enjoyed some support from party leaders in his own state, as well as those in the former East German state of Brandenburg. Alexander Gauland, chair of the Brandenburg faction, told German radio rbb that no one should be thrown out after making one mistake. He also said he feared people would leave the party in protest.

In Thuringen, party leaders suggested the decision was politically motivated to force certain people and opinions out of the party

Petrys co-chair, Jrg Meuthen, reportedly also opposed her on the matter, saying he did not believe the expulsion procedure was likely to succeed, even though his speech was really very bad.

AfD President Georg Pazderski told the daily newspaper Tagesspiegel in Berlin that he thought Hoeckes speech had the potential to frighten off voters. Pazderski said Hoecke had endangered the partys goal of representing mainstream conservative Germans.

Following Mondays vote, Hoecke told reporters he was worried for the unity of the party. But he expressed confidence that the arbitration panel would not find him guilty of transgressing the partys legal statutes or principles. If he is found guilty, he can appeal.

The anti-immigrant party has been struggling with its extreme right-wing flank. Last July, it began proceedings to expel politician Wolfgang Gedeon over anti-Semitic writings. He remains a member of the Baden-Wrttemberg state parliament, though was forced to step down from the AfDs bloc.

One year ago, a court in Brandenburg rejected accusations that AfD party member Jan-Ulrich Weiss had published an anti-Semitic caricature.

Elena Roonan AfD candidate for the Bundestag from Nurembergrecently shared a photograph of Adolf Hitler online with the caption, Missing since 1945: Adolf, please call home! Germany needs you! The German nation!

The German media reported that Roon also shared an image of Hitler tearing his hair out in frustration, with the caption Islamists… I forgot about them!

The party chair in Bavaria has launched an investigation.

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‘Modi combines Savarkar and neoliberalism’: Pankaj Mishra on why this is the age of anger – Yahoo News

Posted: at 4:02 am

We live in a disorienting world. In West Asia, the Islamic State uses displays of cruelty and religious fanaticism as a propaganda tool. In large swathes of Europe, far right nationalism is rearing its head for the first time since after the defeat of fascism in World War II. The worlds only superpower, meanwhile, has a president elected to office on an explicit programme of racial and religious bigotry, attacking Muslims and non-White Americans in his campaign speeches.

And, of course, closer home in India, the ideology of Hindutva, which considers India to be a Hindu nation, grows ever stronger, assaulting Muslims and Dalits in its wake.

In his new book, intellectual Pankaj Mishra tries to explain this fury enveloping the world. Titled Age of Anger: A History of the Present, the work traces traces todays discontentment to the rapid changes of the 18th century, when modernity was shaped.

You say that the enlightenment gave rise to some irresistible ideals: a rationalistic, egalitarian and universalising society in which men shaped their own lives. So why do so many people disagree with the way in which you see the enlightenment? Youve shown it to be a very positive thing. So how are, say, Islamists looking at it differently? Why do they disagree?Well, I am not sympathetic to their critique and I am not sure that theyre directly critiquing the Enlightenment rather than the consequences of the kind of thinking introduced by the Enlightenment philosophers in the late 18th century. And lets be careful here: many of the consequences werent anticipated by these philosophers themselves.

What they were talking about was a polity. And for them a polity was the church and then the monarchy. And they thought individuals could use reason since there had been enough scientific breakthroughs, enough revelations about the nature of reality out there. They did not need intermediaries like the church to tell us what to think about the world, what to think about reality. We could use our individual reason to construct our own worlds essentially and shape society. That was the fundamental message they had. They had no idea what would happen in the 19th century.

What happened in the 19th century was something very different: large nation-states came into being, the process of industrialisation started, the use of individual reason expanded, science took off, all kind of new technologies came into being, and large political and economic webs were built.

The Islamist critique of that would be: too much responsibility for shaping the world was placed upon the extremely fallible minds and sensibilities of the human individual. That this was going against centuries of custom, tradition and history. Human beings had always been seen as being very frail and weak creatures who needed some kind of constraint and that was the role of traditional religion.

Religion reminded humans being of the severe limitations that life imposes on everyone. Whereas the promise of freedom and emancipation sets off all kinds of unpredictable processes that result in actually more oppression and more pain.

So that would be or has been the modern critique of the Enlightenment which is shared by a pretty broad spectrum of people, not just the Islamists. Mahatma Gandhi himself voiced many of these critiques of modern science, modern industry and the modern nation-state. You have to remember that Rabindranath Tagore himself expressed those critiques. So we also have to look at these other critics of Enlightenment rationalism.

You go into some detail in describing Savarkar in the book. In many ways, a very good argument could be made that Savarkar was a rationalist. He said Hindus should eat beef, for example. How does a Savarkar then map to the more modern forms of Indian conservatism? How do you go from Savarkar to the current-day gau rakshak?I think Savarkar is essentially a child of Enlightenment rationalism despite all the claims made for an unbroken Hindu tradition. The important thing to note about the Savarkar variety of Hindu nationalism is that it is deeply European and deeply modern. Which was one reason why Gandhi was so opposed to it. He said this was the rule of Englishmen with the English in his book Hind Swaraj.

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So Savarkar does not partake of a critique of the Enlightenment. He, in fact, in very much a product of 19th century Europe, which advances Enlightenment rationalism in unexpected directions. He starts to think of a national community of like-minded individuals. He starts to think of a past which can be recruited by the present, that can be deployed politically. Savarkar subscribes to everyone of these political tendencies which are elaborated most prominently by [Giuseppe] Mazzini. So he comes out of that particular tradition.

So this whole reverence for figures and symbols from the past which the gau rakshak seems to manifest is a total 19th century fantasy. People did not think of the past in that way before that century. The past was very deliberately enlisted into a nationalist project. Every nationalist and I write this in the book had made some sort of a claim upon the past, made some sort of connection.

We are now looking at history as a series of ruptures and new beginnings. In Savarkars case, the rupture would be the Muslim invasion of India. Thats also the case for [VS] Naipaul. That was the big rupture that violates the wholeness of the Hindu past. And now we are invested in a new beginning, which is the revival of Hindu glory.

This whole way of looking at time, of looking at human agency and identity is a product of the European 19th century. And thats where Savarkar should be placed. I think we spend too much time comparing him to the Germans and the Italians of the 1930s. I think we should go back and look at the 19th century more closely. And also look at Savarkar which Ive done in the book together with various other tendencies such as Zionism.

But its not only Savarkar whos doing this, right? Theres a whole galaxy of Indian leaders, right from Nehru to Jinnah, taking off from the Enlightenment. In your book, you quote Dostoyevsky, who underlined a tragic dilemma: of a society that assimilates European ways through every pore only to realise it could never be truly European. Is there anything that can be done to break this dilemma?The short answer would be a pessimistic one: that there is no way to break this. Because once we make that original break from pre-modern/rural/traditional society, break away from belief in god, from belief in a horizon that was defined by transcendental authorities, once you stop living in that world, then you are condemned to finding substitute gods. And the national community and the nation state has been that substitute god or transcendental authority for hundreds and millions of people for the last two hundred years.

And one reason it endures even though in many ways the nation state has lost its sovereign power after being undermined by globalisation is that as an emotional and psychological symbol, and as a way to define the transcendental horizon, the nation state is still unbeatable. So once we make that basic move away from the pre-modern modes of life into this modern, industrialised, urbanised mode of existence, we have basically embarked on a journey where theres no turning back. Theres no breaking out of that.

Where do you situate Modi on this scale?I think Modi is an interesting case. Hes not only someone who incarnates the tendencies that we identify with Savarkar who is a model for Modi but also mirrors many contemporary tendencies which one can identify with a sort of aspirational neoliberalism. The man from nowhere who makes it big: thats the story that Modi has tried to sell about himself. That hes the son of a chaiwallah who has overcome all kinds of adversity including violent, vicious attacks from the countrys English-speaking elites who wanted to bring him down but failed. And he has overcome all these challenges to become who he is. And he invites his followers to do the same.

So, in that sense, he not only is a Hindu nationalist in the old manner of thinking of India as primarily a country of Hindus and as a community of Hindus which needs to define itself very carefully by excluding various foreigners, but also someone who is in tune with the ideological trends of the last 30 years, which place a lot of premium on individual ambition and empowerment, not just collective endeavour. So he is a very curious and irresistible mix, as it turns out, of certain collectivist notions of salvation with a kind of intensified individualism.

You used a very interesting phrase there: aspirational neoliberalism. In the book, you use another term, neoliberal individualism. In my opinion, you take a negative opinion of this sort of individualism. Could you tell us what neoliberal individualism is, how is it different from, say, Enlightenment individualism and why are you taking a negative view of it.Individualism really is synonymous with modernity, which is all about individual autonomy and reason. The most important difference is that the previous forms of individualism had certain constraining factors. There would be religion, the nation state, the larger collective.

When [Alexis de] Tocqueville goes to America and begins to describe individualism at work in the worlds first democratic society, he is aware that all of this is made possible because religion is a very important factor. There are many intermediate institutions there to mediate between individuals and the larger reality of society. So these factors were extremely important for individualism to actually work properly.

What neoliberal individualism proposes, though, is essentially that we dont actually need these intermediaries. It buys into a kind of extreme libertarian fantasy of the kind we see people like Peter Theil [co-founder of PayPal and vocal Trump supporter] expressing. Theyre saying, we dont need government, we dont need collective endeavour of any kind, we dont really need notions of collective welfare, general welfare or common good.

They believe individuals pursuing their self-interest can create a common good. And the marketplace would be where these individual desires and needs could be miraculously harmonised. So its a kind of mysticism, really, neoliberal individualism. It basically argues that we dont need any constraining factors. We do not need any intermediate institutions of the kind Tocqueville argued for in America. Neoliberal individualism says, all we really need is individual initiative, individual energy, individual dynamism and, of course, individual aspiration. So this is how neoliberal individualism is different from previous forms of individualism.

It is interesting that you mention Peter Theil, a major supporter of Trump. Is neoliberal individualism then powering Trump?Well, no. Thats the thing. There are many contradictory elements in this mix. To go back to Modi, he comes from a party which has as part of its extended family the Swadeshi Jagran Manch. The Manch believes in Swadeshi but Modi wants to attract foreign investment.

I think we have to start thinking of a world where archaisms, modernity, post-modernity all exist simultaneously yet differently. You can think of it as different territories. Trump can therefore mobilise a whole lot of disaffected individuals who have believed in the neoliberal ideology and have felt themselves victimised by various technocratic elites and attract a figure like Theil, who claims to be a libertarian, and at the same believe that economic protectionism is the way to go.

I think there are many different contradictory tendencies that have come together to produce events or personalities like Donald Trump and Modi. I think if we were to follow this old analytic method of either/or we would miss many of these contradictory aspects of modern politics and economics. In the same way, Erdoan mixed in neoliberalism with Islamism and Putin mixed in Orthodox Christianity with Russian Eurasianism. There are all kinds of mixtures on offer.

The central argument being that they correspond to the acute, inner divisions of human beings. Of people wanting individual power, expansion and at the same time wanting identity, longing and a sense of community. So this is, in a way, a little snapshot of where we are a kind of endless transition.

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Age of Anger: A History of the Present, Pankaj Mishra, Juggernaut Books.

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‘Modi combines Savarkar and neoliberalism’: Pankaj Mishra on why this is the age of anger – Yahoo News

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Hubble Telescope’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, being built in Maryland – Fox Baltimore

Posted: at 3:58 am

The most advanced space telescope in the world –and beyond — is being built in our own backyard. (Photo courtesy NASA)

BALTIMORE (WBFF) — The most advanced space telescope in the world –and beyond — is being built in our own backyard.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), an international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), is slated for launch from French Guiana in October of 2018.

Dr. John Mather is the Senior Project Scientist and is one of thousands working on the infrared telescope, which will be a successor to the Hubble Telescope.

The technology is undergoing extensive tests to ensure it will survive the launch.

When this telescope is a million miles away there’s no way to fix it, so potential problems are solved at Goddard’s facility in Maryland.

“We have the capability here and we might be the only place in the entire universe that can do this,” Dr. Mather said. “We are certainly the only place in NASA that can lead this project.”

Next, parts will ship to California where the observatory is being built but once the telescope is in space, it will be monitored right from Baltimore.

“The operations of the observatory are going to be in Baltimore,” Dr. Mather said. “At the Space Telescope Science Institute where they also run the operations for the Hubble Telescope.”

Scientists are eagerly awaiting the launch. There’s no telling what the findings will reveal about the universe.

“We think we will be able to see the first galaxies being born,the first black holes being born,” Dr. Mather said, adding, “if we guess right about how they actually do. How the galaxies grow.”

He is confident about the team in place preparing the advanced technology for its deep space mission.

“We have a wonderful team here,” Dr. Mather said. “The engineers are are some of the best I’ve met. They make things happen you could only wish for. Eventually we will point the telescope at the sky and discover things you’ve never knew about.”

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‘From predictable position of force?’ NATO’s chief tells Russia’s FM there’s ‘room for dialogue’ – RT

Posted: at 3:57 am

The NATO chief says the alliance is ready to reestablish political dialogue with Moscow from a predictable position, which the Russian FM, during their meeting in Germany, quickly deciphered as a position of force for those unfamiliar with diplomatic parlance.

Im glad that NATO is still interested in talking to us… and look forward to discussing some practical things, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at the start of the meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

In a brief courtesy exchange that followed, NATOs chief noted that the alliance strongly favors a dialogue with Russia, to which Lavrov replied slightly laughing: I know, I know, from the position of force.

From a predictable and a predictable position,a seemingly confused Stoltenberg insisted, also with a smile, before the meeting between the Russian and the NATO delegations got under way behind closed doors.

Following the talks, Stoltenberg was quick to point out to reporters that the decision to unilaterally suspend cooperation with Russia in April 2014 still stands.

But we have underlined that the suspension of practical cooperation does not mean that we suspend political dialogue,Stoltenberg noted, according to TASS, adding that its useful to have dialogue also on issues where we have different views, like for instance Ukraine.

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The head of NATO said they discussed a wide range of issues, including Libya and Syria.

So there is room for dialogue and for engagement with Russia even though we continue to suspend our practical cooperation, he said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said after the meeting that the parties had discussed the current state and prospects of relations between Russia and NATO, touching on a number of issues on the international and European agenda.

Relations between Russia and NATO ceased after Crimea voted to join Russia following a government coup in Ukraine in 2014.

Moscow has long been accusing NATO of threatening its borders with crawling expansion and a significant air and military buildup. NATO religiously says its a proportional counter measure to so-called Russian aggression.

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Merkel testifies on NSA spying affair – Deutsche Welle

Posted: at 3:57 am

German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared as a witness at the final hearing in the three-year existence of the parliamentary committee charged with investigating the 2013 NSA scandal. Although she admitted to technical and organizational mistakes, she parried suggestions that she knew or should have known about widespread American and German spying on allies at an early stage of the affair.

Merkels testimony was particularly anticipated not just because of her position as chancellor, but because of her high-profile statement in 2013: “Spying among friends – that simply isnt done.”

The chancellor, appearing relaxed, began with a 25-minute statement full of self-quotations from 2013-15. In it she tried to prove that she had consistently come out against intelligence surveillance of allies in the wake of the Snowden leaks in 2013. She also sought to show that she had only gradually learned about the extent of the NSAs spying on Germans and the German foreign intelligence service BNDs monitoring of German allies, which emerged after journalistic inquiries in 2015.

She said that she had complained to then US President Barack Obama about the US spying in 2013 and insisted that US intelligence services operating on German soil follow German law.

“Were not in the Cold War any more,” Merkel quoted herself as telling Obama.

Merkel said that the situation had been made more complicated by the complex and constantly evolving nature of surveillance technology.

“There are always some contradictions between freedom and security, and a balance must be maintained,” Merkel said.

Merkel downplayed the importance of so-called “handygate”

The cell phone affair

The conservative chairman of the committee Patrick Sensburg was far less aggressive in his questioning of Merkel than he had been grilling high-ranking chancellors office leaders on Monday. One main thread of his queries had to do with alleged NSA eavesdropping on Merkel’s cell phone.

Speaking without notes other than her opening remarks, Merkel said that it was never proven that the American intelligence service had listened in on her conversations. She added that she had received assurances from Obama that her phone was not tapped and wouldnt be in the future.

When asked why she didn’t have her cell phone forensically examined, she said that she didnt want to give additional insights into her communication habits. She said it was easier for her just to procure a new device.

Deficits or something more?

The Social Democrats, the Left Party and the Greens sought to suggest that Merkel had violated her own principle that allies shouldnt spy on one another by failing to pursue the matter vigorously enough with Washington and to ensure that similar practices by BND were discontinued.

Merkel says she didn’t know until 2015 that the BND spied on allies

In response to Merkel’s insistence that she only gradually learned about the BND’s use of so-called selectors, computer search terms, aimed at European political leaders and businesses, Christian Plisek of the SPD asked: “Is it responsible to demand things of intelligence services abroad, when youre not sure what our own ones are doing?”

When Plisek asked if she had inquired about where the BND got information it passed along to her, Merkel replied tersely: “I dont need information about sources of information.”

Merkel said that her assertion that “friends” should spy on one another was a statement of political belief and not an assertion that Germany didnt run surveillance on allies. When pressed why it took until March 2015 for the BND to discontinue using certain controversial selectors, the chancellor blamed “technical and organizational deficits.”

“You say that it cant be that friends spy on one another and yet the BND did precisely that over years,” objected Andr Hahn of the Left Party. “And that was just down to ‘technical and organizational deficits?'”

Merkel denied any deeper knowledge of German surveillance practices before 2015 and any responsibility for mistakes made by her subordinates. She said that she as chancellor set policy targets and trusted others to see that they were met.

Few tense moments

The mood at the hearing was fairly congenial

Konstantin von Notz of the Greens suggested that talk of a no-spy agreement between Germany and the US in 2013, which ultimately yielded no results, was a strategy to blunt the political damage of the NSA affair. Merkel denied that thiswas the case.

Notz also asked Merkel to name the reason why the former president of the BND Gerhard Schindler went into early retirement in 2015. The chancellor refused to do so, but said that she was happy thatGermanys foreign intelligence service was able to make a “new start.”

The committee succeeded in highlighting mistakes madein the BND and to a lesser extent in the chancellors office. But it didnt uncover evidence of any massive misdeeds by Merkel or her associates.

In a break in the testimony, Plisek told reporters that he believed that chancellor didn’t know about the practices within the BND when she made her “friends don’t spy on friends” remark, although he did add that she seemed to have erected a “protective wall” around herself to keep from knowing more than she absolutely had to.

Although Merkel appeared to grow slightly more irritable as the hearing wore on, none the questioners managed to provoke her into an unmeasured response. Indeed, during the break she joked with reporters as though at a social event rather than a parliamentary investigative hearing.

Merkel’s testimony ends the main investigative work of the committee, which was formed in March 2014. It now has until the second half of June to file its final report on the NSA-BND spying affair.

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Merkel testifies on NSA spying affair – Deutsche Welle

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