What Happened Today: July 13, 2022
Biden pushes Middle East plan in first visit to Israel; John Bolton boasts of coup d’etat expertise; Amazon passing surveillance footage to law enforcement
The Big Story
President Joe Biden landed in Israel today to meet with Israeli leadership and shore up diplomatic relations there before a visit to Saudi Arabia later this week. “We will discuss building a new security and economy architecture with the nations of the Middle East,” acting Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said at a press conference after greeting Biden in Tel Aviv. Lapid added that the two leaders will also address the “need to renew a strong global coalition that will stop the Iranian nuclear program.”
Meanwhile, the Biden administration continues to pursue the strategy begun during the Obama White House that revolves around securing a nuclear deal with Iran. Such a policy would elevate Iran’s role in the region and for that reason has encountered long-standing opposition from Israel, a country that Iranian leaders have repeatedly threatened to destroy. “This is a PR stunt designed for America to pacify the American opposition [to the deal] by showing that the Israelis and Americans are hugging and everything is hunky-dory,” Israeli historian and writer Gadi Taub told The Scroll. “Israel is playing a role in a drama that is detrimental to its own interests because what Israel really should do is sound the alarm about the Iran deal,” Taub said.
Speaking to reporters about the president’s visit, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that despite Israel’s ongoing disagreement with the White House about how to ensure Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon, “There is a deal on the table and the president believes Iran should take it.” Maintaining good public relations with allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia, despite such a fundamental disagreement about Iran, will be a running theme for President Biden’s visit as he continues the reconfiguration of U.S. security policy in the Middle East. Even as Israel adjusts to its downgraded status as a strategic partner subservient to the Biden administration’s larger aim to strengthen ties with Iran, the Jewish state will nonetheless “strive mightily to paper over areas of disagreement that cause friction” with the U.S. delegation, writes Tablet Levant analyst Tony Badran in today’s Back Pages. “The Biden administration is using its trip to the region not to draw closer to Israel, or to enhance the Israeli relationship with the Saudis, but to disrupt the budding alliance between Israel and the Gulf States,” Badran writes.
In the Back Pages: Biden’s Visit Bodes Ill for Israel
→ Amazon confirmed this month that it had given Ring doorbell camera footage to law enforcement without the camera owner’s consent at least 11 times this year. In a response to an inquiry into Amazon policy by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the tech giant justified sharing the footage in response to law enforcement agency requests because the company believed the delay involved in obtaining consent could result in “imminent danger of death or serious physical injury,” according to a letter Amazon sent to the senator this month. Amazon also said that Ring now hosted 2,161 law enforcement offices in a partnership program that allows police to directly request footage from camera owners, a fivefold increase in partners since November of 2019. “It has become increasingly difficult for the public to move, assemble, and converse in public without being tracked and recorded,” Sen. Markey wrote in a statement. “Biometric surveillance could become central to the growing web of surveillance systems that Amazon and other powerful tech companies are responsible for.”
→ In the wake of last May’s “Convoy for Palestine,” which saw a caravan of cars streaming through Jewish neighborhoods in north London, including some shouting “Fuck the Jews” at passersby, four men were arrested and charged for stirring up racial hatred. Two of those men had their charges dropped this week. During last spring’s conflict between Israel and Hamas, the four men organized the convoy, and video circulated on social media afterward showing the caravan of cars as they blasted obscenities through their speaker systems. After a similar convoy two weeks later, the Jewish Chronicle obtained a recording of the convoy’s organizers discussing how Jews control the world, including the U.N., the International Criminal Court, and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. “Because they are tied with each other,” one organizer explains, “they are friends with each other. They watch each other’s backs.” Another agrees. “Freemasons,” he says.
→ QUOTE OF THE DAY: “As somebody who has helped plan coups d’etat—not here, but other places—it takes a lot of work.”
John Bolton, President Trump’s former national security adviser, countering Jake Tapper’s suggestion that “one doesn’t have to be brilliant to attempt a coup.” The conversation between Bolton and Tapper took place in the wake of Tuesday’s hearing from the January 6 Committee, which sought to show that Trump had wanted to make the march to the Capitol appear spontaneous, but that it had in fact been planned in advance. The committee presented a draft of a tweet that had been approved by Trump and preserved by the National Archives that read: “I will be making a Big Speech at 10 a.m. on January 6th at the Ellipse (South of the White House),” read the draft. “Please arrive early, massive crowds expected. March to the Capitol after. Stop the steal!” Trump did not end up sending the tweet, but instead decided to make it look as if he was “going to just call for it ‘unexpectedly,’” as one witness said. Tuesday’s hearings ended with Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the panel’s vice chair, explaining that Trump had contacted a witness who had not yet appeared at the committee’s hearings, a potential effort to tamper with the witness’s testimony. The person didn’t speak with Trump but instead alerted their lawyer.
→ An analysis of Google search results found that those seeking information about student loans were being served advertisements offering questionable or outright scam services to borrowers. In a review of more than 240 advertisements, the Tech Transparency Project (TTP) found that roughly 12% of the advertisements offered dubious services with predatory monthly fees and in some cases mimicked government agencies while soliciting sensitive personal data.
A Google spokesperson said they are currently “reviewing the ads in question” after they were brought to the search engine’s attention by the researchers. But as Katie Paul, director of the TTP, noted, the advertisements were in clear breach of Google’s ad policy. “Like we often see with these big tech companies, the statement of that policy is not the enforcement of that policy,” Paul said.
Both the Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have made attempts to eliminate scam advertisements in searches for student loan information, but uncertainty about how the White House will handle the end of a loan payment suspension at the end of August has given scammers additional news angles to more easily circumvent Google enforcement.
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→ At his State of the Union address in March, President Biden celebrated Pfizer’s Paxlovid pill, which he said “reduces your chances of ending up in the hospital [because of COVID] by 90%,” before boasting that the U.S. had “ordered more pills than anyone in the world has.” New research, however, suggests that the pill might be less effective than its champion suggested. Clinical trials of the pill were focused on high risk, unvaccinated patients, leaving us with a dearth of data as to how the pill fares with vaccinated, low-risk patients. There have also been reports—as yet unstudied—that Paxlovid users are more prone to having their COVID symptoms “rebound”—that is, apparently disappearing before flaring up again some days later. But as one analyst from Jefferies noted, the concerns raised about the drug notwithstanding, Paxlovid remains “a win no matter what.”
→ The Walt Disney Co. has entered the education business in China. “When they were building their theme park in Shanghai,” journalist Erich Schwartzel explained to Vox, Disney “knew that a child won’t beg their parents to go to a theme park unless they love the characters that they’ll see there. Disney said, ‘Well, OK, we don’t have decades of movies to do this with.’ And they were not allowed [by the Chinese government] to get a Disney Channel onto Chinese airwaves. So what they decided to do was to launch a string of schools called Disney English, which would essentially teach young Chinese children English, but using Disney characters: Mickey wants an apple, or Luke Skywalker is 30 years old. I walked by one of these schools when I was there, and I remember that Toy Story 4 was coming out that week; all of the teachers were wearing Toy Story 4 T-shirts. So it doubled as a really effective marketing tool as well. Not only did these kids learn the English that their parents wanted them to speak, but they also left with an affection for these Disney characters that they had been introduced to.”
→ As severely understaffed airports struggle to handle the post-pandemic travel rush, London’s Heathrow Airport—the busiest in Britain—announced on Tuesday that it would be capping the number of daily passengers at 100,000. “Further action is needed now to ensure passengers have a safe and reliable journey,” John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s CEO, wrote in an open letter to passengers. “So we are asking our airline partners to stop selling summer tickets to limit the impact on passengers.” The policy is expected to lead to further chaos for air travelers, adding to what has already become a “cancellation crisis” in Europe. Between April and June of 2022, 7,870 flights were canceled in Europe, which is nearly three times as many flights as were canceled in the same period in 2019.
→ Next time you make fun of the growing VHS-collecting fad, consider this: In the latest reminder that, in a world of streamed “content” you never really own anything, Sony has announced that it will be removing Germans’ and Austrians’ access to hundreds of films produced by Studio Canal, even if those films were previously purchased by the customer. “As of August 31, 2022, due to our evolving licensing agreements with content providers, you will no longer be able to view your previously purchased Studio Canal content and it will be removed from your video library,” a notice from the company read; the note did not mention, however, whether customers would receive refunds for those purchases. Sony had previously promised customers that their purchases would be protected when, in March 2021, the company announced that it would be phasing out its purchasing and rental options. Users “can still access movie and TV content they have purchased through PlayStation Store for on-demand playback on their PS4, PS5 and mobile devices,” they assured customers then; now it turns out that they can’t.
Additional reporting and writing provided by The Scroll’s associate editor, David Sugarman
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Biden’s Visit Bodes Ill for Israel
Tony Badran, Tablet magazine’s Levant analyst, writes in Tablet today about how Israel’s caretaker government is unequal to the strategic challenges posed by Team Obama’s policy of punishing friends and rewarding enemies. Read an excerpt of the piece below.
In order to achieve the [Biden administration’s] priorities, it is necessary to set the Saudis and Israelis back on their heels and keep their budding alliance in check. And while the Saudis make a poor punching bag at the moment, given that the United States is playing the role of a supplicant in Jeddah in order to bring down prices at the pump, Israel is, politically speaking, the local weakling, ready to be punched.
The White House set the stage for Biden’s trip by sticking it to Israel over the death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh—despite the fact that an American-led forensic examination of the bullet that killed her could not determine who fired it. Nor was the bullet of a type that is used by snipers. In other words, there continues to be zero evidence that Abu Akleh’s death was anything other than the kind of accident of which the United States itself is regularly and depressingly guilty. To further fan the flames, Abu Akleh’s family was invited to Washington to meet personally with Secretary of State Antony Blinken—an honor not afforded to the families of the seven Afghan children murdered by a U.S. drone strike in August as the administration implemented its shambolic withdrawal.
It could be argued this is petty stuff—to be swallowed out of necessity with only limited heartburn. Other steps on Biden’s agenda while in Israel, however, are more serious. The U.S. president, according to an Axios report, “will announce $100 million in aid to Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem,” and refused to allow Israeli officials to accompany him on his trip to the hospitals, which are located within Israel’s capital.
The administration then “asked Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar to match the U.S. aid to the hospitals” (the Saudis are said not to have committed). Why? Two unnamed U.S. officials explained that the administration wants Saudi Arabia and the UAE to improve their relations with the Palestinian Authority, and “that the normalization process among Israel and Arab states will also benefit the Palestinians.” In other words, the United States is using the Palestinians as a device to disrupt warming relations between the Gulf States and Israel, not to advance that relationship. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, a former Hillary Clinton aide who became a key messenger between the Obama White House and Iran, then publicly stated the American desire to reopen a U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem, over the previously stated objections of his Israeli hosts. (White House spokesperson John Kirby later tried to walk back Sullivan’s remarks.)
In other words, the Biden administration is using its trip to the region not to draw closer to Israel, or to enhance the Israeli relationship with the Saudis, but to disrupt the budding alliance between Israel and the Gulf States, while causing their hosts as much heartburn as possible.