The Simon Wiesenthal Center is criticizing YouTube for allowing the proliferation of videos such as this one, posted by an account associated with the terrorist group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

YouTube, Google graded poorly on hate, terrorism by Wiesenthal Center


The video-sharing site YouTube and its parent company, Google, fared poorly in the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s annual social media report card for their handling of hate- and terrorism-related material.

The Wiesenthal Center, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that fights hate speech, says YouTube is being exploited by terrorists to encourage acts of violence and instruct would-be attackers in their methods. The site received a C- in the category of “terrorism” and a D for “hate.”

“Google/YouTube is rightfully under fierce criticism for placing digital ads from major international brands like AT&T and Johnson & Johnson next to extremist videos celebrating terrorist attacks that should never have been allowed on its platform in the first place,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean, said March 28 at the media briefing where the grades were unveiled. It took place at the New York City comptroller’s office, four blocks from ground zero.

DTH grades17_Poster

Courtesy of Simon Wiesenthal Center.

He said the Wiesenthal Center awarded YouTube its low grades for allowing terrorism “how to” videos to proliferate on its platform, and for failing to take down thousands of posts by hate groups. He pointed to a number of videos posted on the site in the wake of a recent terrorist attack outside the Houses of Parliament in London, praising the attack and encouraging others to follow suit.

YouTube did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A more in-depth report, “Digital Terrorism + Hate,” available at digitalhate.net, details the ways in which terrorist groups use social media to recruit, network and instruct potential attackers. The report names a number of accounts, tactics and pages associated with terrorism.

“Frankly, one of the things that we need is for the companies to be more responsive to their responsibilities,” Cooper told the Journal. “Almost all the companies set rules, and some try a lot harder than others to live up to them.”

He lauded recent changes at Twitter, whose grades have improved since the Wiesenthal Center began issuing the report cards in 2015. The company’s grade for “hate” rose from a D to a C since last year. Cooper said the change was due to Twitter’s move to deactivate hundreds of thousands of accounts associated with terrorism and hate speech.

Facebook received the highest marks because of its “sophisticated in-house system of blocking” objectionable accounts and content, according to Cooper. Other platforms, such as YouTube and Twitter, are reactive rather than proactive, he said.

But in general, Cooper said Silicon Valley has demonstrated a lack of leadership when it comes to fighting hate online. He said the Wiesenthal Center hopes to convene social media companies to comprehensively address the problems of digital hate speech and web use by terrorists. Failing that, the nonprofit would look into other, more drastic measures.

“If they don’t get a handle on this, we can be looking at the horrible R-word — regulation,” he said in the interview. “I’m not particularly enamored with that solution. It’s always messy when you go to Washington.”

However, he said he will be educating public officials about the trends highlighted in the report.

At the press conference, Cooper also announced that the Wiesenthal Center will be offering tutorials for high school students “to empower young people to deal with the tsunami of hate.” The center plans to pilot the tutorials with teens in New York City.

He told the Journal, “Since they usually see [online hate speech] before the adults anyway, we’re going to do our best to try to empower them with some guidelines about how to deal with it.”

Rachel Bloom

Rachel Bloom’s Jewiest music videos


‘You Can Touch My Boobies’

YouTube (2012)

 

While Bloom preps young Jeffrey Goldstein for his bar mitzvah, he falls into a dream in which she reappears as a fishnet-clad vixen ready to make him a man.

Best line: A cameo appearance by “Golda Meir” in which she scolds, “You’re going to be a rapist!”

Views: 5 million+

‘Chanukah Honey’

YouTube (2013)

 

In a parody of “Santa Baby,” Bloom wears a blue-and-white Santa outfit to try to seduce her Jewish crush by playing up their tribal bond and cooing, “Come and bless my challah tonight.”

Best line: “At the JCC / you play basketball / so tall! / You must be five foot eight.”

Views: 447,000+

‘JAP Rap Battle’

‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ (2016)

 

Rebecca Bunch (Bloom) and her childhood nemesis, Audra Levine (Rachel Grate), duke it out in the Jewish American Princess Rap battle. These two “She-brews from Scarsdale” drop crazy Jewish verse, insulting each other with references to Birthright, AEPi and seder plates.

Best line: “We’re liberals / duh / progressive as hell / though of course I support Is-ra-el.”

Views: 422,000+

‘Remember That We Suffered’

‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ (2017)

 

At a bar mitzvah in Scarsdale, Rebecca’s childhood rabbi (Patti LuPone) and over-the-top mother (Tovah Feldshuh) prove that even during celebration, trauma is never too far from the Jewish psyche. This horah contains “the sweet and the bitter / Streisand and Hitler.”

Best line: “When I say ‘We,’ you say ‘Suffered’ / We — Suffered! / We — Suffered!”

Views: 112,000+

‘F—- Me, Ray Bradbury’

YouTube (2010)

 

Bloom proves she’s a person of the book with this explicit entreaty to “the greatest sci-fi writer in history.”

Best line: “I’ll feed you grapes and dandelion wine / and we’ll read a little Fahrenheit 69.”

Views: 3.7 million +

‘Historically Accurate Disney Princess Song’

YouTube (2013)

 

Bloom offers a feminist send-up of Disney fairy tales as she searches for her prince in a medieval village decimated by the plague where Jews hide in the forest out of fear for their lives.

Best line: “Oh look everyone! It’s my friends from the forest — The Jews! Hello Jews! … Tell me, have you ever had a dream you thought wouldn’t come true? Oh I see, your dream is that people won’t want to kill you. Well, that’s definitely a dream that won’t come true!”

Views: 1.2 million+

Jewish groups welcome Facebook, Twitter pledge to crack down on hate speech


Jewish groups welcomed a pledge by four internet giants to crack down on online hate speech, though some questioned the firms’ commitment to act.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft on Tuesday signed a code of conduct with the European Commission that requires them to delete the majority of reported illegal hate speech within 24 hours, The Telegraph reported.

The European Jewish Congress offered an “enthusiastic welcome” to code of conduct” in a statement Tuesday. The World Jewish Congress reacted more coolly in a statement the same day, voicing “skepticism about the commitment of these firms to effectively police their respective platforms.”

YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and others “already have clear guidelines in place aimed at preventing the spread of offensive content, yet they have so far utterly failed to properly implement their own rules,” the CEO of the World Jewish Congress, Robert Singer said in the statement.

“Tens of thousands of despicable video clips continue to be made available although their existence has been reported to YouTube and despite the fact that they are in clear violation of the platform’s own guidelines prohibiting racist hate speech … Nonetheless, YouTube gives the impression that it has been cracking down on such content. Alas, the reality is that so far it hasn’t.”

Last week, France’s Union of Jewish Students, or UEJF, and the anti-racist organization SOS Racisme sued Twitter, YouTube and Facebook for failing to remove anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic content, Le Parisien reported.

The two groups, together with SOS Homophobie, said that on March 31 and May 10, they found 586 examples of such content. Only 4 percent of the content was deleted by Twitter, 7 percent by YouTube and 34 percent by Facebook, the groups said.

In 2013, the Paris Court of Appeals issued a landmark ruling forcing Twitter to block the hashtag #UnBonJuif — which means “a good Jew” — and to remove the thousands of associated anti-Semitic tweets that violated France’s law against hate speech.

The ruling was a turning point in the fight against online hate speech in France and beyond because it caused Twitter to abandon its previous policy of applying as little censorship as is permissible in the United States, where Twitter’s head office is based and where there are fewer limitations on free speech than in many countries in Europe.

YouTube has since permanently banned videos posted by Dieudonne, a French comedian with 10 convictions for inciting racial hatred against Jews.

In 2014, Facebook removed the page of Soral, the Holocaust denier, for “repeatedly posting things that don’t comply with the Facebook terms,” according to the company. Soral’s page had drawn many complaints in previous years.

Despite complaints of partial compliance on hate speech removal by the internet giants, European Jewish Congress Moshe Kantor, celebrated the accord Tuesday as “a historic agreement that could not arrive at a better time.” It is “very important” that governments and online companies “work in tandem to make the internet a safer space for all,” he said.

The President of the Conference of European Rabbis, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, was also optimistic, saying in a statement that “Internet hate leads to a culture of fear. We hope that today’s announcement will be the first step in combatting that culture.”

France’s Jewish student union joins hate-speech suit against Facebook, Twitter and YouTube


France’s Union of Jewish Students has joined two other French groups in suing Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for failing to remove anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic content.

SOS Racisme, France’s largest anti-racism group, and SOS Homophobie, a gay rights movement, announced Sunday in a statement that they were taking legal action against the three social media platforms, according to reports.

In a social media survey from March 31 to May 10, the groups said they found on those sites “586 examples of content that is racist, anti-Semitic or homophobic, denies the Holocaust or seeks to justify terrorism or crimes against humanity.”

Denying the Holocaust, justifying terrorism, and propagating racist, anti-Semitic or homophobic messages are illegal in France.

The survey found Twitter removed eight of the 205 “hate messages” flagged to administrators and YouTube took down 16 of 225 items, while Facebook removed 53 of 156 messages identified to the site by the groups, according to The Telegraph.

“In light of YouTube, Twitter and Facebook’s profits and how little taxes they pay, their refusal to invest in the fight against hate is unacceptable,” UEJF President Sacha Reingewirtz wrote in a blog post.

Bar mitzvah invitation comes with an added dimension


As they began organizing the bar mitzvah of their oldest son, Josh and Kareen Rubel knew they wanted to “do something creative.” 

Of course, a parent who works with product developers at YouTube — which is owned by Google — might have a different view of creativity than a person who flips through fonts and card stock at a traditional stationary merchant. 

Invitees to the March 5 ceremony at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills received not only a link to a 2 1/2-minute video invitation to Aidan’s bar mitzvah, they also got a Google Cardboard viewer enabling them to watch the video in 360-degree virtual reality. You might say the Rubels took a panoramic approach to their invitation … a 360-degree panoramic approach.

By accessing the YouTube app on their smartphones, viewers can “enter” the invitation, moving around inside the family’s house and the temple’s sanctuary. In that last location, Aidan stands at the bimah flanked by Rabbis Stewart L. Vogel and Gabriel Botnick. Pan to the left or the right and you encounter Aidan’s friends and relatives of all ages rocking out to an abbreviated version of Eminem’s award-winning song “Lose Yourself.” 

“Kids thought the invitation was cool,” Aidan said. “Some said it was the best invitation ever.”

A select 150 people received actual invitations to the ceremony, but as of March 11 more than 840 viewers have checked out the “World’s 1st 360/VR Bar Mitzvah Invitation,” as it’s titled on YouTube, since the family posted it Jan. 10. 

“We thought it would be a nice twist,” Josh Rubel said. “I know about 360-degree video through my work, and we came up with the idea and thought it would be a neat and different thing. … Technically, it was a little tricky, but not as tricky as explaining to people how to use the Cardboard who had never used it.”

Rubel originally intended to shoot the video himself but he ultimately elected to hire a production crew, which used a system of six GoPro cameras to film the locations from a multitude of angles. The two rabbis arranged to give up an hour to appear in the filmed invitation, with Botnick being particularly gung-ho about embracing the new technological frontier that efforts like this could usher in.

“The technology right now is not inexpensive, but the price is only going to come down,” Botnick said. “This invitation is proof of a concept of where we could be going in the next couple of years that ought to be really awesome. You have a glimpse into the relationship of the family, all the siblings and friends, in a much more personal way.” 

Asked whether his high-tech savvy earned him extra coolness credit with his son during the bar mitzvah ramp-up, Rubel demurred.

“I think for your children you’re never that cool, and I wouldn’t say we were trying to be cool,” said Rubel, who has three other children. “In fact, it was out of my personal comfort zone to do something like this — to be on camera, lip-syncing and doing my version of dancing.”  

In his professional life at Google, Rubel helps companies use YouTube to enhance their brands. He envisions 360-degree virtual reality capability as a tool that businesses will embrace with greater frequency. Imagine an automobile company that, through virtual reality technology, can place potential customers in one of their cars and send them rocketing down the Autobahn.  

Rubel and administrators at Temple Aliyah have also brainstormed ways that some of the technology could be used for educational purposes within the Jewish world.

“It would be really neat to be able to get tours of great synagogues all over the world, or be up on Masada,” Botnick said. 

Google denies deal to jointly monitor YouTube videos with Israel


Google has denied an Israeli government claim that it has agreed to jointly monitor YouTube videos that incite attacks on Israelis.

Google, which owns YouTube, on Monday denied that it had made such an agreement at a meeting last week of the company’s executives with Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely.

A statement about the meeting released by the ministry last week, which remains on its website, quoted Hotovely as saying, “We are engaged daily in confronting incitement to violence, a task which can benefit greatly from the cooperation of those companies that are involved in social media.”

The announcement of an agreement to jointly monitor inciting videos was removed from the statement, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman told the French news agency AFP.

Hotovely, who met with Google’s senior counsel for public policy, Juniper Downs, and YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki, was briefed on the companies’ system for identifying video clips that incite to violence, according to the statement.

A Google spokesman told AFP that the meeting was just “one of many that we have with policymakers from different countries to explain our policies on controversial content, flagging and removals.”

Radiohead singer Thom Yorke compares YouTube and Google to the Nazis


The singer of the English alternative band Radiohead said that YouTube and its parent company, Google, have “seized control” of art like the Nazis did during World War II.

“People continue to say that this is an era where music is free, cinema is free,” Thom Yorke said in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica on Saturday. “It’s not true. The creators of services make money – Google, YouTube. A huge amount of money, by trawling, like in the sea – they take everything there is.

“They’ve seized control of it – it’s like what the Nazis did during the Second World War,” he continued, according to the Guardian.

“Actually, it’s like what everyone was doing during the war, even the English – stealing the art of other countries. What difference is there?”

Yorke, 47, is an outspoken critic of music streaming services like Spotify, which he has called the “last desperate fart of a dying corpse” and claims does not fairly compensate new musicians.

“The funny thing is that YouTube has said ‘that’s not fair’ [to use an AdBlocker],” Yorke continued in the interview. “They say it’s not fair – the people who put adverts in front of any piece of content, making a load of money, while artists don’t get paid or are paid laughable amounts – and that seems fine to them. But if [YouTube] don’t get a profit out of it, it’s not fair.”

Radiohead is a Grammy-winning band that formed in England in 1985 and has sold over 30 million albums worldwide.

Israel says Facebook, YouTube videos encouraging Palestinian attacks


Israel said on Thursday it had asked Facebook and YouTube to remove videos it says have been encouraging Palestinian violence against Israelis in the past week.

Four Israelis have been killed in Jerusalem and the West Bank in the past week, and two Palestinians have been shot dead and scores injured in clashes with security services. Three suspected Palestinian assailants have been killed by police.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon, providing an excerpt from a letter sent to Google Israel, whose parent company owns YouTube, said contact had also been made with Facebook.

“The videos depict recent terror attacks, praise the assailants and present Jews and Israelis in a hateful and racist manner, and since their publishing, three more attacks have taken place so far,” the letter said.

Spokespeople for Facebook and Google Inc said they could not comment on specific videos or contacts with governments.

“YouTube has clear policies that prohibit content like gratuitous violence, hate speech and incitement to commit violent acts, and we remove videos violating these policies when flagged by our users,” said Google spokesman Paul Solomon.

The letter to Google included two YouTube video links, one of which has already been removed.

In one clip, archived on an Israeli news site, a song in Arabic-accented Hebrew calls for the killing of “Zionists” while another is an animation of the drive-by shooting of an Israeli couple killed in the West Bank a week ago.

Asked about the Israeli appeal, a Facebook spokeswoman said: “We want people to feel safe when using Facebook. There is no place for content encouraging violence, direct threats, terrorism or hate speech on Facebook.”

The spokeswoman declined to comment on whether Facebook had received complaints about anti-Arab postings.

But she said Facebook, as a rule, urged people “to use our reporting tools if they find content that they believe violates our standards so we can investigate and take swift action.”

Social media sites often flare-up when Israeli-Palestinian violence rises, such as the 2014 Israel-Gaza war, with fiery debates between users and sometimes even officials or fighters on either side, spreading across digital platforms.

A comment posted this week on the Facebook page of a prominent far-right Israeli settler activist called for people to use clubs to beat Arabs in Jerusalem's Old City, where two Israelis were stabbed to death.

Google unveils latest Nexus phones, tablet


Google Inc unveiled its new Nexus phones on Tuesday in its latest attempt to take a bite out of Apple's dominant share of the smartphone market.

The launch of the phones, the Nexus 6P and the Nexus 5X, comes a day after Apple Inc reported record first-weekend sales of its new iPhones.

The Nexus 5X 16 GB model will be priced at $379, while the Nexus 6P 32 GB will cost $499, Google said at an event live-streamed on YouTube.

Apple's 6s and 6s Plus start at $199 and $299, respectively, with a two-year service-provider contract.

Nexus devices, which typically do not sell as much as iPhones or iPads, are a way for the tech giant to showcase its latest advancements in mobile hardware and software.

Google also unveiled a tablet built entirely by the company based on its Android operating system.

The latest version of Android, dubbed Marshmallow, will be available to existing Nexus customers from next week.

The Android mobile platform is a key element in Google's strategy to maintain revenue from online advertising as people switch from Web browser searches to smartphone apps.

The Nexus 5X is made by South Korea's LG Electronics Inc and the Nexus 6P by China's Huawei Technologies Co Ltd. Both phones feature Google's new fingerprint sensor, Nexus Imprint, which is located on the back.

The fingerprint sensors will help quickly authorize purchases made through Android Pay, the one-touch payment app on Android devices that competes with Apple Pay.

The phones are available for pre-order on the Google Store from a number of countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Japan.

The Pixel C tablet will cost $499 for the 32 GB model and can be bought with a detachable keyboard, which will cost $149.

The tablet will be available in time for the holiday season on the Google Store.

The Pixel tablet puts Google in the sights of its biggest competitors, Apple's iPad Pro and Microsoft Corp's Surface tablets, which also have optional keyboards.

Google also unveiled a redesigned version of its Chromecast device for streaming Web content to TVs and introduced Chromecast Audio, which plugs into speakers to stream audio over Wi-Fi. Chromecast Audio, priced at $35, works with apps including Spotify, Pandora and Google Play Music. Chromecast competes with the Apple TV set-top box.

Google can show anti-Muslim film that sparked furor, court rules


A federal court in San Francisco ruled that Google does not have to remove a controversial anti-Muslim film from YouTube.

On Monday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an injunction that had prohibited Google from broadcasting “Innocence of Muslims” should be ended. The full 9th Circuit  Court decided to rehear the case after an earlier three-judge panel ordered Google to take down the film.

“Innocence of Muslims” ridicules the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. A 14-minute trailer dubbed in Arabic was cited as the catalyst for riots in 2012 throughout the Arab world and in Arab communities in other countries.

Cindy Lee Garcia, an actress who was featured in the “Innocence of Muslims,” filed a lawsuit in September 2012 against the film’s director, as well as YouTube and its parent company, Google Inc., in which she said she was the victim of death threats and could not visit her grandchildren due to her appearance in the film, which she believed was on a different subject and had been partly dubbed.

The lawsuit names Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian Coptic Christian living in Southern California, as the organizer of the film who misled Garcia. It also names Sam Bacile, who is believed to be an alias for Nakoula.

Bacile was named erroneously in the media as the film’s producer and was quoted in reports as saying that he was an Israeli-American real estate developer hoping to help Israel with the film. He also said the film was financed with $5 million by 100 Jewish donors — a claim that also was untrue.

Video shows Islamic State executing scores of Syrian soldiers


Islamic State fighters executed scores of Syrian soldiers captures when the militants seized an airbase in the province of Raqqa at the weekend, according to a video posted on YouTube on Thursday.

The video, confirmed as genuine by an Islamic State fighter, showed the bodies of dozens of men lying face down wearing nothing but their underwear. They were stretched out in a line that appeared to be dozens of yards long.

A separate pile of bodies was shown nearby. Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the video.

The caption beneath it said the dead numbered 250. An Islamic State fighter in Raqqa told Reuters via the Internet: “Yes, we have executed them all.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors violence in the war, put the death toll at more than 120.

Islamic State, a radical offshoot of al-Qaida, stormed Tabqa airbase on Sunday after days of clashes with the army and said it had captured and killed soldiers and officers in one of the bloodiest confrontations yet between the two sides.

The capture of Tabqa, the Syrian army's last foothold in that area, and apparent parading and killing of large numbers of its soldiers shows how Islamic State has cemented its grip on the north of the country.

The video begins by showing the captives apparently being marched in the desert with their hands behind their heads and watched by armed men. An Islamic State fighter repeatedly shouts out “Islamic State”, to which the men reply “It shall remain”.

NOT AN ALLY

Islamic State controls roughly a third of Syria, mostly areas in the north and east of the country. The United States has launched airstrikes on the same group over the border in Iraq and is considering doing the same in Syria.

The Syrian government, which is shunned by the West, has presented itself as a partner in a war on Islamist extremists.

But Washington, which has built its Syria policy on Assad leaving power, says he is part of the problem. French President Francois Hollande said on Thursday Assad was no ally in the fight against Islamic State.

Syrian warplanes on Thursday hit Islamic State targets in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor, another of its strongholds, in an air strike that killed some of the group's commanders, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Observatory said the planes struck a building used as an Islamic State headquarters during a meeting of its commanders.

Syrian state TV reported that the army “eliminated more than 10 terrorists” in an attack east of Deir al-Zor military airport, including two men it named as Islamic State leaders in the province, and destroyed 14 armoured vehicles.

Syrian state television reported on Sunday that its troops had withdrawn from the base and regrouped but it has not reported any army deaths or captures. It has said Islamic State suffered heavy losses in the battle over the base.

SECTARIAN INSULTS

Another video posted online appeared to show at least one Syrian soldier being interrogated before a group of other captured men in their underwear, as voices off camera shout sectarian insults.

The soldier identifies himself as an officer and says he is from the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, like Assad and the majority of high-ranking military officers. Islamic State members are Sunni Muslims.

The interrogator shouts insults at the soldier, suggesting Alawites are born out of wedlock. When at one point the soldier briefly looks down at the floor and rubs his eyes, another interrogator throws a metal rod at him, making him flinch.

“How many have you killed? How many have you raped?” the interrogator shouts. The soldier replies: “None. I've been stationed here in the airport.”

The interrogator asks why the soldier had been fighting on behalf of Assad and did not defect and he replies that he would have just been sent back to the army.

“They would have sent you right back to the army? And we're going to send you right back to hell: by slaughter,” the interrogator says, making him chant Islamic State slogans.

Although it is not clear how widespread public anger in Syria might be about the fall of the air base, some people supportive of the army have expressed anger on social media.

The Islamic State militants aim to set up a trans-border caliphate in the Iraqi and Syrian territory they have captured.

The United States has carried out air strikes on Islamic State in Iraq and left open the option for similar action in Syria.

Additional reporting by Beirut bureau; Editing by Tom Perry and Tom Heneghan

‘Rubble bucket challenge’ is latest online salvo in Gaza conflict


It’s been going on for weeks. Relentlessly. With each new salvo, we wonder: will it never end?

It is the #ALSIceBucketChallenge, a viral social media trend that’s inspired celebrities, politicians and thousands of everyday citizens to make videos of themselves dumping buckets of ice water over their heads, ostensibly to raise awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease colloquially known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

But as the summer wears on, the Ice Bucket Challenge has led many to create spinoffs of the meme — including the IDF, and now, Gazans.

The latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict has played out over social media since the start, with the IDF tweeting regularly and Hamas utilizing a number of accounts after repeated suspensions by Twitter.

So it seems only natural that each side should take up a bucket challenge, and its hashtag, to “raise awareness” for their cause.

While Israeli soldiers smeared their faces with hummus, Gazans have, not surprisingly given the devastation surrounding them, taken a darker approach: the #rubblebucketchallenge, created by Palestinian student Maysam Yusef and publicized by journalist Ayman Aloul.

In Aloul’s video, which has been viewed over 20,000 times on YouTube, the journalist stands amid the wreckage of several buildings and has a bucket of dust and gravel dumped over his head.

Alluding to severe water shortages in Gaza,  Aloul announces that “the use of water is too important to empty over our heads.” At the video’s end, once covered in rubble and dust, he says, “We do not have water, but this is what we have.”

The #rubblebucketchallenge (also known as the #Dustbucketchallenge or #remainsbucketchallenge) has attracted thousands of Facebook likes and inspired challenge videos from Mumbai, Germany, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

 

 

 

Hamas releases video of tunnel infiltration


On Monday, July 28, five IDF soldiers were killed at Kibbutz Nahal Oz by Hamas terrorists, who infiltrated a tunnel network and filmed the attack. This is the video. 

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

Facebook, please manipulate me


What do you call it when media try to manipulate your feelings without first asking for informed consent?

Tuesday. 

Example:  The average Facebook user sees only 20 percent of the 1,500 stories per day that could have shown up in their news feed.  The posts you receive are determined by algorithms whose bottom line is Facebook’s bottom line.  The company is constantly adjusting all kinds of dials, quietly looking for the optimal mix to make us spend more of our time and money on Facebook.  Of course the more we’re on Facebook, the more information they have about us to fine-tune their formulas for picking ads to show us.  That’s their business model: We create and give Facebook, for free, the content they use and the data they mine to hold our attention, which Facebook in turn sells to advertisers. 

Those are the terms of service that everyone, without reading, clicks “I Agree to” – and not just for Facebook. We make comparable mindless contracts all the time with Gmail, Yahoo, Twitter, Amazon, Siri, Yelp, Pandora and tons of other apps, retailers and advertiser-supported news and entertainment.  If you’re online, if you use a smartphone, you’re an experimental subject in proprietary research studies of how best to target, engage and monetize you.  They’re always testing content, design, headlines, graphics, prices, promotions, profiling tools, you name it, and you’ve opted in whether you realize it or not.    

Many of these experiments hinge on our feelings, because much of what makes us come, stay, buy, like, share, comment and come back is emotional, not rational.  So it should surprise no one that Facebook wants to know what makes its users happier.  But when they acknowledged last month that they had tested – on 700,000 people, for one week – whether increasing the fraction of upbeat posts in their news feeds made them feel more upbeat (it did), a ” target=”_blank”>the name of his book – in 1984, before the Web was spun. But that didn’t stop  entertainment, which is exquisitely attuned to the marketplace, from making its long march through our institutions.  Today, politics is all about unaccountable corporations manipulating our emotions; they're constantly testing and targeting their paid messages to voters, none of whom are asked for informed consent.  The news industry is all about the audience, and much of its content has long been driven by the primal power of danger, sex and novelty to trap our attention, but there's no clamor for shows and sites to warn us we're lab chimps.  

John Kenneth Galbraith called advertising ““>Neuroscience now shows what happens: Our emotions are faster than our reason, which we then use to reverse engineer some rationalization for our actions.

Is there any way to protect people from the “>banishment is an authoritarian solution.  More speech, not less, is the democratic answer to assaults on freedom and agency.  Open-source “>Media Impact Project.) And the place where countervailing speech really wants to get heard is in the media, whose industrial success, like Facebook’s, depends on monetizing our attention.  I’ve seen a lot of stories about Facebook fiddling with the happiness of our feeds.  The irony is that I encountered all of them on media whose owners are just as determined to push my buttons as Mark Zuckerberg.


Marty Kaplan is holds the Norman Lear chair at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@usc.edu.

Turkey says Syria security leak ‘villainous’ as YouTube blocked


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday denounced as “villainous” the leaking of a recording of top security officials discussing possible military action in Syria to the video-sharing site YouTube.

Turkish authorities ordered a shutdown of the site.

Erdogan's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu called the posting, an audio file with photographs of the officials involved, a “declaration of war” – an apparent reference to an escalating power struggle between Erdogan and rivals.

The anonymous posting followed similar releases on social media in recent weeks that Erdogan has cast as a plot by his political enemies, particularly a Turkish Islamic cleric based in the United States, to unseat him ahead of March 30 elections.

But it took the campaign to a higher level, impinging on a highly sensitive top-level meeting of security officials.

“They even leaked a national security meeting,” Erdogan said at a campaign rally. “This is villainous, this is dishonesty … Who are you serving by doing audio surveillance of such an important meeting?”

Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the recording.

The account posted what it presented as a recording of intelligence chief Hakan Fidan discussing possible military operations in Syria with Davutoglu, Deputy Chief of military Staff Yasar Guler and other top officials.

Speaking to reporters in Konya, Davutoglu confirmed the meeting took place and said: “A cyber attack has been carried out against the Turkish Republic, our state and our valued nation. This is a clear declaration of war against the Turkish state and our nation.”

Turkish authorities said they had taken an “administrative measure” to impose a block on YouTube, a week after they blocked access to microblogging site Twitter.

Erdogan has been the target of a stream of anonymous internet postings suggesting his involvement in corruption. He denies the allegations and accuses a former ally, Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, of unleashing a campaign to undermine him ahead of Sunday's elections.

Gulen, who has a large network of followers in the police, denies any involvement in the postings and in police graft investigations impinging on Erdogan and his family. Erdogan denies graft allegations.

The foreign ministry said the recording was of a crisis management meeting to discuss threats stemming from clashes in Syria and that elements of the recording had been manipulated. The leakers would face heavy punishment, it said.

“It is a wretched attack, an act of espionage and a very heavy crime to record and leak to the public a top secret meeting held in a place where the most delicate security issues of the state are discussed,” it said in a statement.

The conversation appears to centre on a possible operation to secure the tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, in an area of northern Syria largely controlled by militant Islamists.

Ankara regards the tomb as sovereign Turkish territory under a treaty signed with France in 1921, when Syria was under French rule. About two dozen Turkish special forces soldiers permanently guard it.

“NATIONAL SECURITY ISSUE”

Turkey threatened two weeks ago to retaliate for any attack on the tomb following clashes between militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al Qaeda breakaway group, and rival rebel groups in the area, east of Aleppo near the Turkish border.

“An operation against ISIL has international legitimacy. We will define it as al Qaeda. There are no issues on the al Qaeda framework. When it comes to the Suleyman Shah tomb, it's about the protection of national soil,” a voice presented as that of foreign ministry undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu says.

When the discussion turns to the need to justify such an operation, the voice purportedly of Fidan says: “Now look, my commander, if there is to be justification, the justification is, I send four men to the other side. I get them to fire eight missiles into empty land. That's not a problem. Justification can be created.”

The foreign ministry said it was natural for state officials to discuss defending Turkish territory.

“In the meeting it was confirmed that Turkey would take necessary steps decisively to protect the security of our personnel at the Suleyman Shah tomb and Turkey's will to defend it in the face of an attack was reiterated,” the statement said.

A source in Erdogan's office said the video sharing service was blocked as a precaution after the voice recordings created a “national security issue” and said it may lift the ban if YouTube agreed to remove the content.

Google said it was looking into reports that some users in Turkey were unable to access its video-sharing site YouTube, saying there was no technical problem on its side.

The ban on Twitter had already sparked outrage in Turkey and drawn international condemnation. Shortly after the YouTube move, the hashtag #YoutubeBlockedinTurkey was trending globally, although some users defended the latest government decision given the sensitive nature of the recordings.

Reporting by Daren Butler, Ece Toksabay, Can Sezer and Evren Ballim in Istanbul; Tulay Karadeniz, Orhan Coskun, Humeyra Pamuk and Jonny Hogg in Ankara; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Andrew Roche

Magical music of the Middle East


Almost two years ago, while watching a YouTube video of Mohammed Fairouz’s “Tahrir for Clarinet and Orchestra,” Neal Brostoff, a visiting lecturer in Jewish music history at UCLA, had an idea. The concerto sounded “surprisingly Jewish,” he thought, and not just because the soloist was the eminent klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer. 

At 28, the New York-born Fairouz is among the most accomplished composers of his generation. Many of his scores blend Aramaic, Hebrew and Arabic texts, an aspect of his art that further intrigued Brostoff. So he called Fairouz, who turned out to be as eloquent a speaker as he is a musician. 

“Mohammed is fascinated with Hebrew texts,” Brostoff said, “and that engaged my interest in Israeli composers Betty Olivero and Tsippi Fleischer, who are equally beguiled by Arabic poetry.”

Along with Neal Stulberg, music director of the UCLA Philharmonia, Brostoff developed “Listening to the Other: Mideast Musical Dialogues,” a week of public performances, master classes and panel discussions that will take place at multiple UCLA campus venues Dec. 2-8. Fairouz will be part of a symposium on the politics of Middle Eastern musical collaborations, “Remapping the Middle East Playlist,” on Dec. 4 at the Hammer Museum.

On Dec. 5 at UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall, vocalist Odeya Nini will lead two vocal chamber works —Olivero’s “Makamat” and Fleischer’s “Moderna” for female voice, cello and oud (an ancestor of the lute). The same program will feature a new work by David Lefkowitz, “On the Pain of Separation,” for ney (an Arabic flute), oud and chamber ensemble. 

“Listening to the Other” culminates on Dec. 8 at Royce Hall with two West Coast premieres: Fairouz’s  “Tahrir,” with Krakauer as soloist, and, in the program’s second half, his hour-long Symphony No. 3, “Poems and Prayers,” for mezzo-soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra.  

The American premiere of Alexander Krein’s “Kaddish,” symphonic cantata for tenor solo, mixed chorus and large orchestra, fills out the first half of the program.

“Poems and Prayers” features the UCLA Philharmonia, Chorale and University Chorus, with mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, baritone David Kravitz and tenor Ashley Faatoalia. 

“It was a wonderful vote of confidence that Mohammed not only entrusted us with the West Coast premiere, but with the work’s first commercial recording,” Stulberg said of Fairouz’s large-scale symphony. 

Indeed, the UCLA musicians will be recording both “Tahrir” and “Poems and Prayers” in Royce Hall for the Sono Luminus label.

Stulberg said the texts in the symphony “range from the ritual words of the Kaddish to the deeply personal reflections” of poets Yehuda Amichai, Mahmoud Darwish and Fadwa Tuqan.

“Our choral singers have spent all semester learning to pronounce and deliver Hebrew text,” Stulberg added. “The work features the orchestra as an equal and often independent element in the drama.”

Fairouz regards the Royce Hall recording sessions and concert as no less than a professional engagement. “I’m treating these students as the professionals they are,” Fairouz said. “This is an opportunity for them to interact with poetry in a musical setting that they ordinarily would not have. For me, it’s about that.”

Fairouz met Krakauer through mutual friends. “He wrote the concerto for me in an Arabic style, and I play it in a Jewish way,” Krakauer said. “So, symbolically that’s a very cool thing. His concerto gets this beautiful Jewish-Arabic musical dialogue going.”

Krakauer also performs on “Tahwidah” (Lullaby), a duo for clarinet and soprano, which opens “Native Informant,” Fairouz’s latest CD on Naxos. A version of “Tahwidah” appears in the symphony “Poems and Prayers.” 

In “Tahrir” — the title refers to the 2011 Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt, and is Arabic for “liberation” — Krakauer said Fairouz left him plenty of room to improvise. “There’s a lot of stuff I do with ornamentation, so he wrote a simple melody, and there are these quarter-tones he wanted,” Krakauer recalled. 

The clarinetist, who called Fairouz “a huge talent,” added that a slightly revised version of “Tahrir” will be performed at Royce Hall. “I haven’t seen it yet,” Krakauer said, “but he’s written something to give the piece a bit more structure and more of his imprint.”

For Krakauer, the importance of composers like Fairouz and events like “Listening to the Other” cannot be underestimated. “Being involved in the arts, playing music, is a great gift,” Krakauer said. “Without raising a flag or holding a gun, we can be strongly political by putting good things out in the world as a counterforce to all the unreasonable forces. A society without the arts is barbaric.”

Fairouz agrees. Besides giving great pleasure, he hopes his work acts as such a counterbalance. Indeed, having a choir and soloists singing great words by poets often thought of as being on different sides of the fence is a key element in his Symphony No. 3, “Poems and Prayers.” 

“That’s part of a larger return to language endeavor,” Fairouz said. “All of our problems are caused by a deterioration in the way we talk to each other, in the way that we use language. We are sharing something very vital when we empower people to see what sort of difference they can make by listening to one another.”

Fairouz said the cultural richness of the Arabic and Jewish communities is often taken for granted, and that only a shared cultural dialogue can bring lasting peace, rather than “a cold peace — a peace of nations and economics.” 

“Audience members and musicians may not know Amichai’s or Darwish’s poetry,” Fairouz said, “but as a Middle Eastern composer, when you sit down at your writing desk, the power of thousands of years of history is rushing through your veins. You are setting some of the most powerful words to music.”

Fairouz was the last student accepted by the late György Ligeti, and he recalls the innovative Hungarian composer telling him, “Your burden will be to make your music timely; your challenge, to make it timeless.”

Fairouz has just completed a violin concerto for Rachel Barton Pine, premiering in March, and is currently working on a cello concerto for Israeli cellist Maya Beiser and the Detroit Symphony, led by Leonard Slatkin. Fairouz is also writing a Kol Nidre for Beiser.

Engaging Jewish culture through poetry, prayers and other rituals does not feel alien to Fairouz. “It’s our shared heritage,” he said. “It’s not complicated. We are a family, one culture. We have differences, but Israel is not going into the sea, and the Arabs are not going to disappear.”

For a performance schedule or other information, visit

‘One Wish’ creators making the world a better place


The concept of the viral YouTube video “One Wish for Iran, Love Israel” was simple: Ask folks on the streets of Jerusalem what they want the people of Iran to know in anticipation of Hassan Rouhani’s inauguration this past summer as the nation’s president.

Creator and Angeleno Joseph Shamash said the idea was “to show the Iranian people a different message than what they’re used to getting in the media from Israel, which is: We want to bomb you.”

In response, the video posted in early August by a collective of young filmmakers known as the One Wish Project has racked up more than 90,000 hits. 

And there’s the potential for more success: Shamash was just accepted Oct. 25 as a PresenTenseLA Fellow to take the One Wish Project and make it into an educational tool. PresenTenseLA is a social entrepreneurship incubator program of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles that provides business and venture development assistance.

Shamash identifies as a Persian Jew; his family hails from Isfahan, Iran, although they emigrated permanently in December 1978. Growing up in Dallas in the 1980s, though, Shamash had no interest in either facet of his identity. 

His family moved to Los Angeles when Joseph was 11, and in eighth grade he got himself kicked out of Hillel Hebrew Academy for lighting a fire behind a teacher’s turned back. 

“At that point, I didn’t want anything to do with Judaism,” he explains now. “My parents wanted me to go to [the Modern Orthodox high school] YULA, and I sabotaged my entrance exams.”

His collaborators’ stories are less dramatic, but they all follow a similar vein. Jeffrey Handel, One Wish’s producer and cinematographer, says his West Los Angeles childhood was “as unaffiliated and unreligious as one could be, with the exception of spending Shabbos dinner and the occasional seder with observant cousins.” Raphael Sisa, who serves as their producer, was raised in Brentwood by Turkish Jews, recent immigrants from Istanbul who attended High Holy Days services but didn’t insist on any kind of formal Jewish education for their two sons. 

Davidson, 17, made the video with help from Milken alumna Talia Myers, 20, a sophomore at the University of Southern California and student of the school’s cinematic arts program.

Said Myers: “[Jake] said he would try to make it go viral, [and] I know what he is capable of. If he says he is going to do something, he is going to do it.”

Davidson and Myers shot the video, which lasts 1 minute and 46 seconds, in a single morning and afternoon on March 16. Filming was done at Myers’ home and on Mulholland Drive, where Davidson gets down on one knee and asks, “So, Kate, will you go to prom with me?” Davidson and Myers posted it to YouTube the following day.

On March 19, Upton tweeted: “You can call me Katie if you want! How could I turn down that video! I’ll check my schedule ;).” 

National attention followed. Perhaps the biggest surprise for Davidson was being asked to appear on NBC’s “The Today Show.” During the March 20 broadcast, Upton called in to talk to Davidson, who was joining the show from its L.A. studio.

“I absolutely loved the video. It was so hilarious and so creative,” Upton told him. 

Then, Davidson asked Upton again if she would be interested in going to prom.

“Well, I definitely have to check my schedule. And you seem like so much fun. And if everything works out, I would love to go with you,” Upton said.

The Los Angeles Times reported on March 26 that Upton turned down Davidson’s request due to her schedule being booked, but, speaking to the Journal three days later, Davidson said her official reply remained a maybe. Management company IMG World, which represents Upton, did not respond to the Journal’s e-mail asking if Upton planned to attend Milken’s prom.

Davidson, who lives in Sherman Oaks and plans to attend USC next year, said students from Milken and other Jewish schools, along with friends from Jewish summer camps and United Synagogue Youth, gave the video its initial push on Facebook. This pleased him more than anything else, he said. 

“It showed me how great the Milken community is, which sounds kind of cliché, for them to all share it and send it to their friends and stuff,” he said. “[It] was cooler to see that happening than to get all of the calls [from the media].”

Davidson said that he has not processed the experience enough to figure out what he has learned from it. But, he said, “If you have any type of goal or dream, just pursue it with reckless abandon.”

Donald Trump endorses Netanyahu in video


American billionaire Donald Trump endorsed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a video released on YouTube.

“My name is Donald Trump and I’m a big fan of Israel,” Trump says at the start of the 36-second video.

“You truly have a great prime minister in Benjamin Netanyahu — there’s nobody like him. He’s a winner. He’s highly respected. He’s highly thought of by all. And people really do have great, great respect for what’s happened in Israel.”

Trump concludes, “So vote for Benjamin. Terrific guy, terrific leader. Great for Israel.”

Trump endorsed Mitt Romney in the recent U.S. presidential election. Trump's daughter, Ivanka, is a convert to Judaism and married a Jewish businessman, Jared Kushner.

Moderate Muslims must battle fanticism


Blasphemy has become the focus of attention, with ongoing turmoil in the Middle East sparked by a crude YouTube trailer for a possibly nonexistent movie mocking Islam.

Some, including the president of Egypt, and American associate professor of religious studies Anthea Butler of the University of Pennsylvania, suggest that speech that insults faith should be criminalized. Others assert that the violent reaction shows Islam’s intolerance and that the Obama administration’s condemnation of the movie as offensive is itself a dangerous capitulation. Still others argue that Christian extremists in our own society can be intolerant when their beliefs come under attack. And there are those who say that the Mideast protests aren’t about blasphemy but anger at U.S. foreign policy.

It’s true that the video — posted to YouTube in July, then publicized by hard-line Islamist propagandists — was in some ways only a pretext for the riots. Yet there is, undeniably, a radical element in many Muslim societies that responds with violence to claims of blasphemy. Often, this has nothing to do with U.S. policies. The backlash against Salman Rushdie’s 1988 novel, “The Satanic Verses,” included not only a religious decree calling for the writer’s murder but also several terrorist acts. Last year, Pakistani provincial governor Salman Taseer was assassinated after criticizing blasphemy laws and speaking in defense of a Christian woman sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Mohammed. The assassin received support from many clerics and several political parties.

Fanaticism is hardly unique to Islam. Blasphemers were executed in Christian Europe just 300 years ago. In August, three women from the Russian punk rock group Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison for “desecrating” a Moscow cathedral with a vulgar protest song targeting the Kremlin regime and its ties to the Russian Orthodox Church. Some American conservatives, such as activist Janice Crouse, have defended the sentence and denounced support for the women as liberal anti-Christian bias.

Isolated acts of intimidation against religiously offensive speech have also occurred in this country — and religious groups have not always condemned them harshly enough. In 1998, a New York production of Terrence McNally’s play “Corpus Christi,” depicting a gay Jesus, was canceled over threats of bombing and murder; Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights president William Donohue disavowed the threats but claimed to be “delighted” by the cancellation.

Attempts to suppress distasteful speech are not limited to religion. Some on the right would ban flag burning. Some on the left would impose hate-speech codes targeting insults to their sacred values of equality. These are secular equivalents of blasphemy laws — indeed, modern-day attempts to criminalize blasphemy are often couched in hate-speech prohibitions.

But the parallels only go so far, and they shouldn’t lead us into the temptation of false equivalency. “Corpus Christi” eventually opened to entirely nonviolent protests. The same year, protests against the controversial movie “The Last Temptation of Christ” were peaceful except for one nondeadly attack on a French movie theater. Conservative Christians in the West who support penalties for sacrilege — and liberals who support bans on racist or sexist speech — do not advocate death for the offenders.

For whatever historical and cultural reasons, virulent intolerance in Islam today exists on a far larger scale than in any other major religion. Until moderate Muslims speak out — not only individually, as many have, but also collectively — this extremism will continue to threaten peace and progress, fanning anti-Muslim bigotry. We need to see more Muslims marching to protest deadly fanaticism, not just against insults to their prophet.

Harsh criticism of bigoted speech is certainly appropriate. But such criticism should never appear to reward those who respond to insults with violence. 

Actress sues California man behind anti-Muslim film


An actress in an anti-Islam film that triggered violent protests across the Muslim world sued a California man linked to its production on Wednesday for fraud and slander, saying she had received death threats after the video was posted on YouTube.

Actress Cindy Lee Garcia, who also named Google Inc and its YouTube unit as defendants, asked that the film be removed from YouTube and said her right to privacy had been violated and her life endangered, among other allegations.

It was the first known civil lawsuit connected to the making of the film that has circulated online as a 13-minute trailer, including under the title “Innocence of Muslims.”

The film, which portrays the Prophet Mohammad as a womanizer and a fool, helped generate a torrent of violence across the Muslim world last week. The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in an attack in Benghazi. U.S. and other foreign embassies were stormed in cities in Asia, Africa and the Middle East by furious Muslims.

Garcia accused a producer of the movie, whom she identified as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula along with the alias Sam Bacile, of duping her into appearing in a “hateful” film that she had been led to believe was a simple desert adventure movie.

“There was no mention of 'Mohammed' during filming or on set. There were no references made to religion nor was there any sexual content of which Ms. Garcia was aware,” said the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

For many Muslims, any depiction of the prophet is blasphemous. Caricatures deemed insulting in the past have provoked protests and drawn condemnation from officials, preachers, ordinary Muslims and many Christians.

“This lawsuit is not an attack on the First Amendment nor on the right for Americans to say what they think, but does request that the offending content be removed from the Internet,” the lawsuit said.

The suit accuses Nakoula, Google and YouTube of invasion of privacy, unfair business practices, the use of Garcia's likeness without permission and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

A representative for Nakoula's criminal attorney declined to comment on the lawsuit.

“We are reviewing the complaint and will be in court tomorrow,” said a Google spokesman.

Additional reporting by Gerry Shih; Editing by Cynthia Johnston

Afghan militants say deadly blast was revenge for film


Afghan militants claimed responsibility on Tuesday for a suicide bomb attack on a minivan carrying foreign workers that killed 12 people saying it was retaliation for a film mocking the Prophet Mohammad.

A short film made with private funds in the United States and posted on the Internet has ignited days of demonstrations in the Arab world, Africa, Asia and in some Western countries.

In a torrent of violence blamed on the film last week, the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in an attack in Benghazi and U.S. and other foreign embassies were stormed in cities in Asia, Africa and the Middle East by furious Muslims. At least nine other people were killed.

On Tuesday, a suicide bomber blew up a minivan near the airport in the Afghan capital and a spokesman for the Hezb-e-Islami insurgent group claimed responsibility.

“A woman wearing a suicide vest blew herself up in response to the anti-Islam video,” said militant spokesman Zubair Sediqqi. Police said the woman may have been driving a Toyota Corolla car rigged with explosives, which she triggered.

But the claim will raise fears that anger over the film will feed into deteriorating security as the United States and other Western countries try to protect their forces from a rash of so-called insider attacks by Afghan colleagues.

Thousands of protesters clashed with police in Kabul the previous day, burning cars and hurling rocks at security forces in the worst outbreak of violence since February rioting over the inadvertent burning of Korans by U.S. soldiers.

The protesters in Kabul and several other Asian cities have vented their fury over the film at the United States, blaming it for what they see as an attack on Islam.

The outcry saddles U.S. President Barack Obama with an unexpected foreign policy headache as he campaigns for re-election in November, even though his administration has condemned the film as reprehensible and disgusting.

In response to the violence in Benghazi and elsewhere last week, the United States has sent ships, extra troops and special forces to protect U.S. interests and citizens in the Middle East, while a number of its embassies have evacuated staff and are on high alert for trouble.

Despite Obama's efforts early in his tenure to improve relations with the Arab and Muslim world, the violence adds to a host of problems including the continued U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, Iran's nuclear program, the Syrian civil war and the fall-out from the Arab Spring revolts.

PROTESTS, BANS

The renewed protests on Monday dashed any hopes that the furor over the film might fade despite an appeal over the weekend from the senior cleric in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest shrines, for calm.

Afghan police said among the 12 dead in the Kabul bomb attack were eight Russians and South Africans, mostly working for a foreign air charter company named ACS Ltd.

It followed a bloody weekend during which six members of Afghanistan's NATO-led alliance, including four Americans, were killed in suspected insider attacks carried out by Afghans turning on their allies.

Protesters also took to the streets in Pakistan and Indonesia on Monday and thousands also marched in Beirut, where a Hezbollah leader accused U.S. spy agencies of being behind events that have unleashed a wave of anti-Western sentiment in the Muslim and Arab world.

Authorities in Bangladesh have blocked the YouTube website indefinitely to stop people seeing the video. Pakistan and Afghanistan have also blocked the site.

Iran has condemned the film as offensive and vowed to pursue those responsible for making it. Iranian officials have demanded the United States apologize to Muslims, saying the film is only the latest in a series of Western insults aimed at Islam's holy figures.

The identity of those directly responsible for the film remains unclear. Clips posted online since July have been attributed to a man named Sam Bacile, which two people connected with the film have said was probably an alias.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, a Coptic Christian widely linked to the film in media reports, was questioned in California on Saturday by U.S. authorities investigating possible violations of his probation for a bank fraud conviction.

Reporting by various bureaus; Writing by Robert Birsel

Sarah Silverman’s ‘Indecent Proposal’ to Sheldon Adelson and what that means for modern politics


By the time you read this, you probably will have watched Sarah Silverman in her underwear, demonstrating a lesbian sex act with her dog.

Because that’s the way politics works these days.

Silverman wrote and stars in a short video, called “Scissor Sheldon,” posted at scissorsheldon.com, in which she offers to, hmm, make casino magnate Sheldon Adelson very happy if he donates $100 million to the campaign of Barack Obama, instead of to Mitt Romney.

Adelson, the owner of The Venetian hotel and casino and one of the world’s richest men, has declared he is willing to spend that much money to help get the Republican candidate elected president.

“Sheldon, I have a proposal for you, and, I’m serious, look at me,” Silverman says to the camera. What follows — her proposal — is not really quotable in this newspaper, though, trust me, this video will introduce more young people to politics than student council.

The short video went online on the afternoon of July 16. By the time I saw it, early the next morning, it already had 11,000 “likes.” Major news outlets were covering it. It was wallpapered across my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Viral? Viruses could only wish.

The enormously popular, self-described “Jewess” comedian has used satirical political video before to great effect. In 2008, she launched The Great Schlep, urging young Jews to go to Florida to convince their grandparents to vote for Obama.

Story continues after the jump. (Warning: Explicit video)

Video courtesy of SchlepLabs

This time, she has once again teamed up with activists Ari Wallach and Mik Moore, co-founders of The Great Schlep. They run a pro-Obama super PAC with the anodyne name the Jewish Council for Education & Research (JCER). Its main backer is Alexander Soros, the 27-year-old New York University grad who also happens to be the son of George Soros.

“The most important political office is that of private citizen,” Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis once said — and his quote is the opening line on the Web page explaining JCER.

Wallach and Moore say their goal is to juice the campaigns of people they believe in by inspiring young Jewish voters to get involved.

“JCER is motivated by a deep love for the Jewish community and by a desire to ensure that Jews have access to accurate information as they engage in the electoral process,” the mission statement says.

For prior generations, that might have meant walking precincts, door to door, delivering speeches to Hadassah groups or passing out bumper stickers. Now, you submit your ideas on how to support Obama by using social media, humor and celebrity, and the super PAC picks the ones it likes best — like Silverman’s — and then produces and disseminates it. The Great Schlep generated 300 million impressions — at a cost of next to nothing. That’s a lot of precinct walking.

Merging politics with sex and celebrity used to be something only politicians did, after they were elected. Moore and Wallach have discovered it works even better before. Their successful campaigns leap far beyond the Jewish community and create national conversations. In the case of “Scissor Sheldon,” Moore said he hopes it will lead to a conversation on the role of unbridled political contributions in American elections and the outsized impact a billionaire like Adelson can have.

But here’s what makes me squirm — and it’s not at all Silverman’s offer — which, in her signature style, comes across as more adorable than raunchy.

It’s their relentless focus on one man — Adelson. The truth behind Adelson’s giving is that the entire system of unlimited, unaccountable campaign financing from so-called 527 organizations to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 is the single greatest threat to our democracy. Everybody who takes part — from Adelson to the secretive billionaire Tea Party funders, the Koch Brothers, Obama, Romney and also Alexander Soros — is part of the problem.

How is Adelson worse than Alexander Soros? At least Adelson steps out of the shadows and shoots off his mouth — as when he told jewishjournal.com that his former crush, Newt Gingrich, had “reached the end of the line.” Adelson makes his agenda clear. Politically, he and I may be far apart — but he is no hidden puppet master.

But the “Scissor Sheldon” Web site paints him to be exactly that. The spare site offers up a single, rather uncomplimentary photo of Adelson. On the page under the heading “Who Is the $100 Million Man?” you can find a 10-point list of all of Adelson’s supposed transgressions. It paints Adelson in an entirely one-dimensional way — a caricature — and lets others who dump swill in the political trough off the hook.

I get why Silverman chose to address Adelson. It’s personal, the way Silverman looks her landsman in the eye. This is like The Great Schlep, and he’s Super Zayde.  Fortunately, we American Jews live in a time and in a country where we can feel perfectly safe and secure attacking one another using Der Stürmer — like iconography. Yes, “Scissor Sheldon” will provide a Jewish National Fund-sized forest of kindling to ignite every Jew-hater out there — but those freaks will hate us anyway.

My greater concern is that unlike, say, Stephen Colbert’s masterful Colbert super PAC shtick, in which he used the same broken laws to create his own unaccountable super PAC, the “Scissor Sheldon” bit won’t go beyond Adelson.

In fact, by the time you read this, this week’s big viral campaign may already be last week’s news.

Unless, of course, Sheldon Adelson says “yes.”

VIDEO: YouTube video purports to show Israeli border police tossing gas grenade at Palestinians


Israeli troops were captured on film throwing a tear gas grenade at Palestinians in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh.

In the clip, shot last Friday by freelance photographer Mati Milstein in Nabi Saleh, a tear gas grenade is tossed out the window of a passing Border Police jeep, causing a group of Palestinians who were standing by the side of the road to flee.

Regular demonstrations are held in the village every week against Israel’s confiscation of villagers’ land, in which Palestinian youth and Israeli soldiers regularly clash.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Obama: Gadhafi death is warning to iron-fist rulers


[UPDATE] See video below.

President Barack Obama hailed Muammar Gadhafi’s death as a warning to authoritarian leaders across the Middle East that iron-fisted rule “inevitably comes to an end” and as vindication for his cautious U.S. strategy on Libya.

Obama joined U.S. politicians and ordinary Americans in welcoming the demise of Gadhafi, who was for decades regarded as a nemesis of American presidents, and he also sought to claim some of the credit for the Libyan strongman’s downfall.

“This marks the end of a long and painful chapter for the people of Libya who now have the opportunity to determine their own destiny in a new and democratic Libya,” Obama told reporters in the White House Rose Garden.

Obama made clear that he considered Gadhafi’s death a vindication of his “leading from behind” strategy that had drawn criticism at home for casting the United States in a support role in the NATO air assault in Libya.

Story continues after the jump.

“Without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we have achieved our objectives,” Obama said in a televised statement to Americans already weary of long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The U.S. reaction reflected a tortured history with Gadhafi, viewed in the United States as a villain for his government’s links to the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Scotland and a 1986 disco bombing in Berlin that targeted U.S. troops.

Obama also touted Gadhafi’s death as a warning to other authoritarian rulers in Middle East where revolts have already upended longtime leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.

Washington is pressing for further sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over his harsh crackdown on democracy protests.

“For the region, today’s events prove once more that the rule of an iron fist inevitably comes to an end,” Obama said.

Obama said the United States would be a partner to Libya’s interim government and urged a swift transition to democratic elections, but he made no specific promises of aid.

Relatives of American victims of the flight blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland by Libyan agents 23 years ago said justice was served with Gadhafi’s death as he fled his home town and final bastion. [ID:nL5E7LJ3ZE]

“I hope he’s in hell with Hitler,” said Kathy Tedeschi, whose first husband Bill Daniels was among the 270 people killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

Additional reporting by Caren Bohan, Tabassum Zakaria, John Whitesides, Michelle Nichols; Editing by Doina Chiacu

Man who threatened Cantor gets 2 years


A man who threatened to kill Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), speaking of his “final Yom Kippur,” was sentenced to two years in prison.

The Washington Post on Friday quoted prosecutors as saying Norman LeBoon, 33, of Philadelphia, must also complete three years of supervision after his sentence is complete, including no Internet access.

LeBoon had posted the video on YouTube in March 2010, at the height of the debate over health care when a number of Democrats had been threatened, although it is not clear why he threatened Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in Congress.

“Our judgment time, the final Yom Kippur has been given,” LeBoon said in the video. “You and your children are Lucifer’s abominations.”

LeBoon pleaded guilty in a federal court in November to threatening Cantor and his family.

Cantor, at the time the minority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, is now the majority leader

Netanyahu to answer questions on YouTube


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will answer questions from people around the world when he appears on YouTube’s World View.

Netanyahu will be the third world leader to appear on the citizen-powered interview program with his live-streamed interview on March 23.

YouTube is partnering with Israel’s Channel 2 News for the interview with Netanyahu; Channel 2 newsreader Dana Weiss will facilitate the broadcast. The 40-minute interview will be broadcast live, in Hebrew, on Israeli television and on YouTube simultaneously. YouTube also will stream the interview in English.

The questions can be uploaded to the website by video, text or Twitter (#AskNetanyahu). The deadline to submit questions is March 21 at 8 p.m.

President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have appeared on the program.

“I invite Arab viewers and Palestinian viewers to have this exchange with us because I think we have to clear the air,” Netanyahu said in a pre-recorded message. “I think people have to understand what an open, liberal, tolerant society Israel is and how much it desires peace.”

Yad Vashem launches Farsi YouTube chanel


Yad Vashem has launched a YouTube channel in Farsi and an expanded version of its Farsi website.

The Farsi YouTube channel launched Sunday contains survivor testimonies, archival footage and mini-lectures by Holocaust historians on topics such as contemporary anti-Semitism, and what makes the Holocaust a unique historical event.

The comprehensive new website includes a chronological and thematic narrative about the Holocaust with related video, photos, documents and artifacts; frequently asked questions about the Holocaust; a lexicon of terms; online exhibitions including a multimedia presentation of the Auschwitz Album in Farsi; and stories of Righteous Among the Nations. 

Addressing viewers on the YouTube channel, Israeli President Shimon Peres encourages visitors to the site.

“History is rich in events, but there is one event that is exceptional, which is a watershed. That is the Holocaust, when a cultured nation in an organized manner killed 6 million people because they were Jews, including a million-and-a-half babies and children,” Peres says. “What we suggest is that each of you will see the material, which is based on records and on photos, to understand what happened, and also to be able to tell your own children to beware, not to let history fall again to such a depth, to such shame,” he said.

“One of our primary goals is to make credible information about the Holocaust accessible to as wide an audience as possible,” said Avner Shalev, the chairman of Yad Vashem. “Today, when there is so much disinformation and distortion easily available online, we provide an alternative to anyone who is interested in the truth.”

Yad Vashem’s website and YouTube Channel are available in English, Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, Spanish and Farsi.