Saturday, August 22, 2020

Raising The Black Flag against Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel

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Vanshita Banuana

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Raising The Black Flag against Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel

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Global Views 360

Publication Date

August 22, 2020

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President Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel | Source: Government Press Office, Israel

The past few months have seen an unprecedented uprising against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, owing to rapidly rising unemployment rates and mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis. Protestors have been gathering at Netanyahu’s residences and demanding that he resign.

Many claim that while the government was initially able to control the spread of the coronavirus, it was too quick to reopen the economy, which led to a more devastating second wave of cases and ended up only hurting small businesses and employment even more. The crashing down of the economy and public healthcare system is touted as evidence of a selfish government which is too distant from the interests of its citizens.

Additionally, Netanyahu is facing trial for charges of corruption. Though the charges first began to surface back in 2016, the indictment came last November. On top of that, it is being alleged that Netanyahu is trying to leverage the pandemic to delay court hearings. In light of the corruption charges, calling Netanyahu “Crime Minister” has emerged as a popular slogan at the protests.

Anti-Government protest in Israel | Source: Middle East Monitor

The protests seem to be mostly organised and led by Israeli leftists, who hold up black flags representing their anti-Netanyahu, anti-corruption and pro-democracy stance. Some protestors have also taken to dressing up in space-themed costumes, in response to a comment by Netanyahu’s son calling the protestor’s “aliens.”

The biggests protests are those held regularly outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem and his private home in the high-profile neighbourhood of Caesarea. The police presence at the protests has been heavy; clashes and arrests are common. Small international protests in support of the ones in Israel have been organised in the United States and Britain.

The protests usually bring a mixed crowd of those protesting corruption charges and business In terms of demographics, some have noted that religious Israelis and Israeli Arabs have been a minority presence in the protests, perhaps the former due to political leanings and the latter due to marginalisation and disenfranchisement. At the same time, the protests are being admired for bringing together citizens across political lines, religious beliefs, and ages, as well as the sight of many families attending protests together.

Protests against Netanyahu 2020 Jerusalem | Source: Nir Hirshman Communication via Wikimedia

The supposed political leanings of the majority of the protestors is the key argument Netanyahu has given while dismissing them, calling them “anarchists,” while also reportedly accusing local media of giving them more coverage than they deserve. He has also denied the allegations of corruption levelled against him.

There have been many reports of counter-protests by right-wing groups, often alongside the anti-Netanyahu ones. Supporters of Netanyahu, attempted to ram a car into a protest, called protestors “germs”,  pepper sprayed and attacked them with bottles and clubs. For now, the courts seem to be protecting the Israelis’ rights to freedom of speech and to protest from appeals to curtail the protests in any manner.

There is speculation regarding whether resignation is the “right” demand, since it seems unlikely that someone like Netanyahu will ever follow through on that. But the people of Israel are out in the streets in the thousands. They are called aliens or anarchists all day but denial is a facade that can only last for so long.

Benny Gantz leader of Blue and White Party | Source: Reuven Kapuchinsky via Wikimedia

Netanyahu is now the longest serving prime minister of Israel. He started the new term when his right-wing Likud party signed a coalition deal with Benny Gantz led Blue and White Party which provisioned 18 month long terms for both of them. Gantz’s term is to begin from November 2021 and some analysts predict that Netanyahu might hold early elections to deny prime ministership to Gantz and in the process, delay Israel’s next budget.

The biggest ally of Netanyahu so far in his political career was his luck which finally seems to desert him. He might be thinking that the protests can be waited out and accountability can be avoided. However this time, his political instinct and survival skill may come up short in the face of determined opposition from the common citizens of Israel.

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January 19, 2021 8:34 AM

Internet privacy in Brazil: An example of already weakened state of Democracy

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro’s ascent to power attracted international attention for their potential impact on human rights. His highly controversial positions on Brazil’s past military dictatorship, civil rights and his greater support for conservative agenda is very likely to jeopardize freedom of expression and the nation’s fragile democracy. Bolsonaro’s ascent to power has not been welcomed by people around the globe.  His blind eye towards democracy has created a human rights crisis in Brazil. In 2017, violence reached a new record in the books of Brazil with an estimated 64,000 killings. More than 1.2 million cases of domestic violence were pending in the courts at the start of 2018. About 5,144 people were killed due to police brutality in 2017 and weakening state control of prisons has facilitated gang recruitments. Brazil has lost over 100,000 people to COVID-19, the pandemic which Bolsonaro strongly repudiated as a conspiracy. The president’s desperate authoritarian attempts to forcibly seize control has pushed the nation into a political crisis inter alia free fall of the economy, a pandemic, a human rights crisis and a democratic recession. “This is the worst crisis Brazil has faced in its history. It’s a political crisis, an economic crisis, and a public health crisis. I’ve thought about this a lot, and I can’t think of another moment when the country was in worse shape than it is right now.” These are the exact words of Professor James Green, a Brazilian studies teacher at Brown University, a man who has lived through the military dictatorship in Brazil which lasted from 1964 to 1985.

Amidst these crises, Bolsonaro has periled the integrity and autonomy of Brazil’s most vital democratic institutions. In May 2020, the scandalous president even contemplated ramping up the military to shut down Brazil’s Supreme Court as they continued investigations into his network of advisors and his family. The anti-terrorism bills pushed in the senate after the ascent of Bolsonaro is another key example of endangerment to democracy. The vague and broad definitions of terrorism in the bill potentially criminalizes protests and even basic social movements. These are inconsistent with the standard of precision that Brazilian criminal law maintains. The capricious characterization of a “terrorist act” leaves the door open to subjective and arbitrary decisions which is not new to the nation.

The anti-terrorism bill says that it is “terrorist act” to interfere or tamper computer systems or databases with any political or ideological motivation even without a malicious intent. This would jeopardize the work of several security researchers and journalists in Brazil. Unfortunately, they are not alone.

On 30th June 2020, the Senate of brazil passed the PLS 2630/2020   (Law of Freedom, Liability, and Transparency on the Internet) popularly known as the fake-news law. Fake news has definitely been a problem all over the world. 17 states have passed some form of regulation directing disinformation during the pandemic. The term “fake-news” has been engraved in the global political discourse in the last half decade. With the decline in global levels of press freedom, the domino effect of so-called “fake-news laws” is attracting some serious risks to press freedom and freedom of expression. It is certain that Bolsonaro took advantage of the pandemic situation and passed the fake-news law with the excuse of COVID-19 misinformation. There are several underlying concerns and apprehensions about this law.

  1. Traceability requirements for private messaging services like WhatsApp and Signal would require the apps to store the logs and records of “broadcasted messages” which implies all the messages sent by over 5 users which reaches at least 1000 people within the span of three months. Messaging service companies are required to report most of the information to the government of Brazil hence creating a centralized log of data interactions. This breaks the end-to-end encryption service provided to the users by some of the messaging apps. If companies do not oblige to weaken the technical protection given to the users of Brazil, the bill forces them to leave the country.
    This imposition of “tech mandate” was condemned by Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) as they called it out for weakening privacy protection. Attached to this is a “technical capability derivative”, whether or not platforms will be able to trace back individual messages.
  1. Article 37 of the law mandates all the private messaging and social networking apps having a customer base in Brazil to appoint a legal representative who will have the power to remotely access user logs and databases. This pseudo attempt to localize the measures not just gives rise to privacy concerns but also questions if the Brazilian Senate has undermined United States’ laws such as Electronic Communication Privacy Act and CLOUD Act. Both of these laws mandate US-based social networking service providers to follow and check certain legal safeguard before handing the private data to any foreign law enforcement agents.
  1. If any social media account is reported to be inauthentic or automated, the online platform would have to confirm the identity of the user and verify the identity with any government ID in Brazil or a passport for a foreigner. The government can also demand confirmation of identity for any account through the means of a court order. This provision broadly attacks anonymity and privacy of users online and ignores its benefits on the internet such as whistle blowing and protection from stalkers.
  1. This law also makes it illegal to create or share any content online which may pose a risk to” economic order or social peace” in Brazil. Both of these terms are vaguely defined and even vaguely present. This opens gates to a wide range of content creators to be called out as “illegal”. The law also criminalizes intentionally being a member of an online group whose main activity is sharing defamatory content. This includes all meme groups which primarily share memes about anyone in an authoritative position in Brazil. This definitely puts a subjective cap and poses significant challenges to the freedom of expression and restricts basic ability of Brazilians to engage in discourse on online platforms.

The fake-news law makes social media companies legally liable for content published online on their platforms which acts as an incentive to them to restrict the freedom of speech of Brazilians at the time of any social or political unrest or even times like the present. While Brazil faces a real problem of fake news, this hastily written statute is not the right solution. At the time of a pandemic, when most of the world is functioning on a virtual sphere, the reckless fake-news law has added weight onto the fragile thread holding Brazil’s democracy. Jair Bolsonaro has managed to push democracy to a breaking point even without the drastic steps that he earlier contemplated.

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