Duterte visit showcases Netanyahu’s roster of tough-guy pals
By ARON HELLER
Sunday, September 2
JERUSALEM (AP) — The first-ever visit of a leader of the Philippines is sure to be touted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as another success in his campaign to enhance Israel’s relations across the globe. But critics say this outreach has come at a cost, with Netanyahu cozying up to authoritarian leaders, some of whom are guilty of human rights abuses.
Netanyahu takes great pride that under his leadership Israel has found new friends in Europe, as well as in far-flung countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America that long sided with the Palestinians at the United Nations and other global bodies.
But while many of Netanyahu’s new allies have offered blanket support for Israel, or at least indifference to its conflict with the Palestinians, some have also voiced borderline anti-Semitic sentiments and adopted a revisionist approach to the most painful chapters of Jewish history.
The Philippines’ foul-mouthed president, Rodrigo Duterte, who has cursed out everyone from former U.S. President Barack Obama to God, arrived in Israel on Sunday for a four-day visit. It’s the first Philippine presidential visit since the countries established diplomatic relations in 1957. He is expected to lunch with Netanyahu, meet other top officials and visit the country’s Holocaust memorial. He is also expected to sign a major oil deal and view an arms display.
His forces are accused of killing thousands in anti-drug raids since he took office in 2016. Duterte drew outrage that year when he compared his anti-drug campaign to the Holocaust, and himself to Hitler, saying he would be “happy to slaughter” 3 million addicts. He later apologized. More recently, he forcibly kissed a woman on stage and said there would be many rape cases in a Philippine city “if there were many beautiful women.”
Israeli human rights activists plan to protest the visit and have encouraged President Reuven Rivlin not to meet Duterte. “Certainly there is no place for a mass murderer and a person who supports rape, shooting women in their sexual organs and bombing schools to meet with Israel’s president,” wrote the group, headed by human rights attorney Eitay Mack.
Netanyahu’s critics accuse him of giving a pass to authoritarian leaders out of political considerations. Here’s a look at some of Netanyahu’s other friends on the world stage:
Netanyahu welcomed the four-time Hungarian prime minister for a visit in July as a “true friend of Israel.”
Orban drew criticism last year for praising Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s World War II-era ruler, who introduced anti-Semitic laws and collaborated with the Nazis.
Critics have also accused Orban of employing anti-Semitic tropes against the Jewish Hungarian-American billionaire philanthropist George Soros during his re-election campaign. In denouncing Soros, Orban said Hungary’s enemies “do not believe in work, but speculate with money; they have no homeland, but feel that the whole world is theirs.”
Despite global Jewish condemnation of those remarks, Netanyahu praised Orban for combatting anti-Semitism and thanked him for Hungary’s pro-Israel stance.
Orban, who has exhibited increasing authoritarianism at home, has cast himself as the champion of a Christian Europe and adopted an aggressive stance to halt the flow of African and Muslim migrants through Hungary.
Netanyahu took a lot of heat for striking a deal with the Polish president over his country’s controversial Holocaust speech law, which would have criminalized blaming the Polish nation for crimes committed against Jews during World War II.
Critics said Netanyahu appeared to capitulate to the claim that Poles were only victims of the Nazis, while historians say anti-Semitism was deeply rooted in pre-war Poland and many Poles collaborated in the genocide.
Poland and Hungary have increasingly sided with Israel in the Mideast conflict, in contrast to Western European powers, which have sympathized with the Palestinians and pressed for renewed peace talks.
Duda’s Law and Justice party, meanwhile, has steadily chipped away at Polish democratic institutions while aggressively trying to minimize its citizens’ role in killing Jews during and after the Second World War.
Netanyahu is one of the few world leaders to enjoy warm ties with both the Russian and American presidents. Netanyahu has made frequent visits to Moscow in recent years to meet with Putin and coordinate Israeli operations in neighboring Syria with those of Russian forces.
Though Russia has traditionally backed Israel’s Arab neighbors, Netanyahu has indicated the Putin backchannel has helped keep Israel out of trouble in Syria’s civil war and would be beneficial in getting arch-enemy Iran’s forces out of there as well. He has been wary of ever criticizing Putin, who has been accused by the West of meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, poisoning former spies and cracking down on dissidents.
After a rocky eight-year relationship with Barack Obama, Netanyahu has relished Donald Trump’s warm embrace. In a break from his predecessors, Trump has refrained from criticizing Israeli settlement activity and delivered Netanyahu two major international gifts — recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. Trump has also won Israeli praise for drastically cutting funding for aid to the Palestinians.
Netanyahu has vouched for Trump when the president’s critics have accused him of failing to counter the anti-Semitic rhetoric of some of his supporters and of downplaying the rise of white nationalists, including those who marched in Charlottesville last year under the slogan “Jews will not replace us.”
At times, Netanyahu also has seemed to follow Trump’s lead. The Israeli leader has denounced the media, the legal system and other perceived opponents in the face of growing legal problems — often using social media platforms to unleash his attacks.
Follow Heller at www.twitter.com/aronhellerap .
Verdict due for South Sudan soldiers accused of murder, rape
By SAM MEDNICK
Wednesday, September 5
JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — The verdict and sentencing for 11 South Sudan soldiers accused of gang raping foreign aid workers and murdering a local journalist during the country’s five-year civil war will be announced Thursday and could include the death penalty.
An investigation by the Associated Press in 2016 revealed that dozens of soldiers broke into the Terrain Hotel in Juba where they killed a local journalist, raped international aid workers and assaulted others while U.N. peacekeepers nearby did not respond to pleas for help.
The verdict, which is expected to be attended by foreigners and diplomats, will take place in a military court eight months after the trial ended. If convicted of rape, soldiers could face up to 14 years in prison and if convicted of murder they could be sentenced to death.
All the defendants have pleaded not guilty. A twelfth soldier was charged but he died from sickness in detention earlier this year while standing trial. Both the prosecution and the defendants will have 15 days to appeal the verdict, said the army.
The trial, which began in May last year, is widely seen as a test of South Sudan’s ability to hold its soldiers to account. The army is hoping the trial will act as a deterrent to other soldiers while sending a message to the civilian population that anyone who commits a crime will be punished, army spokesman Col. Domic Chol Santo, told AP.
“This is important because the army has been accused of a great deal of rape, sexual harassment and all forms of violations and it’s not part of our doctrine,” said Santo.
Manager of the Terrain Hotel, Mike Woodward, has been closely involved with the case and says he’s happy with the due process and is looking forward to the verdict.
“Every single soldier on trial has been identified by at least one if not multiple victims or witnesses. As with any normal legal process we hope that we will be compensated for our losses, that the criminals be punished and that an example is set to discourage others from committing similar crimes in the future,” said Woodward.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for two years, where I’ve felt so alone during this time,” one of the rape survivors told AP, which does not use the names of victims of sexual assault. She was the only survivor who came back to South Sudan to testify in person during the trial.
“I really hope this fight will be for something positive,” she said. “And that this will set a precedent for other crimes and for other women who are abused and who don’t have a voice.”
New UN human rights chief has survived torture herself
By EVA VERGARA
Tuesday, September 4
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet was 23 years old when she was tortured and fled her country’s dictatorship into exile. Now, more than four decades later, she will face her past fighting such abuses worldwide as the new U.N. human rights chief.
Bachelet, 66, is often seen smiling, chatting easily or tossing unplanned comments or jokes into her speeches. But behind her good humor lie haunting memories of the brutal dictatorship that tore her family apart.
Her father, air force Gen. Alberto Bachelet, died in 1974 following months of torture in prison. Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s military had convicted him of being a traitor for opposing the 1973 military coup that ousted President Salvador Allende.
Bachelet herself was arrested along with her mother in 1975. She was a young member of the Socialist Party, and her time in a secret prison was an ordeal that she prefers not to talk about, saying only in her autobiography that she suffered “physical hardships.”
Using the family’s political connections, she went into exile in Australia and the former East Germany. There she reunited with her then-partner, Jaime Lopez.
At age 25, Lopez became one of the leaders of the Socialist Party that had seen many of its members tortured, killed or forcibly disappeared by Chile’s military dictatorship. He returned to Chile, but only briefly because he feared he would be captured by Pinochet’s agents.
Back in Europe, Bachelet reminded him of the importance of committing to the cause and her father’s sacrifice, according to “Bachelet. The Unofficial Story,” by Javier Ortega and Andrea Insunza.
“My dad died because he was consistent. I expect nothing less from you,” the book says Bachelet told her then-boyfriend.
When he followed her advice, Lopez was captured in Chile. Under torture, he gave Pinochet’s secret police information on other members of the Socialist Party, before he became one of the about 1,000 people who were forcibly disappeared during the dictatorship.
Her father’s death and her boyfriend’s disappearance marked Bachelet’s character. Despite this, she never held grudges – not even against the Chilean military, said Giorgio Agostini, a sociologist who has long-known Bachelet and has written about her life.
Bachelet returned to Chile in 1979 when she felt she could do so safely. She studied medicine, specializing in pediatrics, and began working at an organization that helped children with mental health problems whose parents had been victims of the 1973-90 dictatorship.
Bachelet rose through the ranks of the Socialist Party and became a key player in the center-left coalition that dominated Chile’s government for almost 20 years after Pinochet lost power.
Putting her traumatic past behind, she helped the discredited military regain its status in the wake of Pinochet’s dictatorship.
One of her emblematic moments came when she was named Latin America’s first woman defense minister during the government of President Ricardo Lagos. She continued to break boundaries when she became Chile’s first women president in 2006.
After her term, she was named the first head of U.N. Women, the world body’s new women’s agency. She left the post to return to Chile and won the presidency again, serving from 2014-18.
Bachelet is known as a caring single mother, a hard worker and an astute negotiator.
In her new post as the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, she replaces Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, a diplomat and member of Jordan’s royal family.
Diplomats from the U.N.’s 193-member states burst into applause in July when the General Assembly president gave official approval to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ selection of Bachelet.
But in Chile, some human rights groups criticize her record, saying that as president she failed to close a special prison for dictatorship-era criminals that provided them with comforts they wouldn’t enjoy in regular confinement.
Guterres has said that Bachelet is taking office “at a time of grave consequence for human rights.”
“Hatred and inequality are on the rise,” he said. “Respect for international humanitarian and human rights law is on the decline. Space for civil society is shrinking. Press freedoms are under pressure.”
On Monday, Bachelet’s third day in her new job, a Myanmar court sentenced two journalists from Reuters news agency to seven years in prison on charges of illegal possession of official documents.
The ruling was met with international condemnation that will add to outrage over the military’s human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims.
“On several issues related to different parts of the world,” Bachelet told reporters in Geneva on Monday, “I need to gather more information and make a deep analysis. But I have to mention how shocked I am after finding out about their seven-year prison sentences.”
She called on the Myanmar government to release the journalists and said that their trial breached international standards.
Bachelet will face many other challenges, chief among them, how to get dictators, autocrats, tyrants and demagogues to respect human rights.
She also comes to the job soon after President Donald Trump’s national security adviser told the Associated Press that the United States will cut funding for the U.N. human rights chief’s office.
Bachelet also faces a decision on how outspoken she will be on what she sees as human rights violations. Zeid told U.N. reporters last month that “silence does not earn you any respect — none.”
Zeid said he will give his successor the same advice his predecessor, Navi Pillay, gave him — “be fair and don’t discriminate against any country” and “just come out swinging.”
Globally, Bachelet will also have to tackle the persecution of religious minorities and homosexuals in Africa and the Middle East, and the use of banned weapons on civilian populations.
In Latin America, she will face an economic and governance crisis that has forced more than two million Venezuelans to flee their country, as we well as violence under an official crackdown in Nicaragua.
“Those who defend human rights and the victims look up to the High Commissioner and hope that we are there to defend and support them,” Bachelet said Monday. “And I’ll do everything on my side to make sure that we do so.”
Her deep resume will work in her favor, said Heraldo Munoz, who served as her foreign minister.
“She knows presidents and prime ministers who will pick up the phone (when she calls them),” Munoz said. “That can be a very important mechanism to try to resolve human rights problems through dialogue.”
Associated Press writers Edith Lederer in the United Nations, and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.
UN schools for Palestinians defy funding cuts, open on time
By FADI TAWIL
Monday, September 3
BEIRUT (AP) — United Nations schools for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon started the new school year on time on Monday, despite the U.S. decision to cancel funding to the international body’s Palestinian relief agency.
Students were giddy as they arrived at the Haifa Intermediate School in Beirut’s Bir Hassan neighborhood on Monday and sat through their first language, history, and math lessons of the year.
Claudio Cordone, director of UNRWA affairs in Lebanon, called it a “joyful day,” and called on donor nations to fill the deficit left behind by the U.S. decision announced Friday.
It was a day many thought would not come, at least not on time, as UNRWA faces some of its toughest pressures in its 68-year history. The Trump administration, encouraged by Israel, has expressed deep skepticism over the agency’s mission to provide education and social services to over 5 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East.
UNRWA was founded in 1949 to serve some 700,000 Palestinians who were uprooted from their homes in the war to create Israel.
Palestinians depend on the UNRWA to get by outside their homeland, in countries that treat them as second-class residents with only limited rights.
The agency relies on the U.S. for 30 percent of its budget. But the Trump administration on Friday called UNRWA an “irredeemably flawed operation” and halted $300 million in planned donations on the grounds that it is an obstacle to a settlement between Palestinians and Israel. The agency strongly rejects the characterization.
“Today we can express our deep regret over the announcement from the US that it will not fund the agency after decades of support. And we reject the criticism that the UNRWA schools and its health centers and its emergency assistance program is plagued by defects, and that they cannot be reformed,” said Cordone.
He said the agency was facing a $217 million deficit.
Rawan al-Hassan, a pupil, said students were acutely aware of the budgetary situation.
“We are happy, it’s the first day of school, we’re going to see our friends again. But we’re not very happy because they’re saying that the books are not good. They’re preparing us because there’s nothing good for us,” said al-Hassan.
Ukraine rebels say bodyguard died with leader in bombing
Saturday, September 1
MOSCOW (AP) — The health minister of Ukraine’s separatist Donetsk region says a cafe bombing that killed the separatists’ leader also killed a bodyguard and wounded 12 others.
Alexander Zakharchenko’s death on Friday is re-escalating tensions in the conflict between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine. Separatists claimed that Ukraine was preparing new offensives.
Zakharchenko was prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic. His death was reported soon after the cafe explosion, but the extent of the casualties was not revealed until DPT health minister Alexander Oprishchenko reported them on Saturday.
The fighting in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014, but mostly has waned in recent years.
PUCO approves the Winter Reconnect Order
Public Utilities Commission of Ohio
Reconnection order begins Oct. 15
COLUMBUS, OHIO (Sept. 5, 2018) – The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) today approved the Winter Reconnect Order. The Winter Reconnect Order helps consumers reconnect or maintain electric and natural gas service during the winter heating season, between Oct. 15, 2018 and April 15, 2019.
Any customer of a PUCO-regulated electric or natural gas utility may take advantage of the order. Last winter heating season, more than 217,000 Ohio utility customers utilized the PUCO’s Winter Reconnect Order.
Energy utility service is vital, especially in the winter. The Winter Reconnect Order is an opportunity for Ohioans to avoid disconnection or to reconnect their gas and/or electric service once during the winter heating season. Customers who utilize the Winter Reconnect Order are required to pay the utility no more than $175 plus any applicable reconnection charge not to exceed $36. If the company’s reconnection charge is greater than $36, the balance may be billed to the customer the following month.
The Winter Reconnect Order also applies to customers seeking to establish new electric and natural gas service. Rather than paying the full security deposit that may be required for new service, customers can pay up to $175 and be billed any remaining balance of the security deposit the following month.
There is no income eligibility requirement to utilize the Winter Reconnect Order; however, customers who are at or below 175 percent of the federal income guidelines may apply for assistance through the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) to pay the $175 amount.
Several other state and federal programs are also available to Ohioans who qualify, including the Percentage of Income Payment Plan Plus (PIPP Plus) and the Home Weatherization Assistance Program (HWAP). More information about these programs and additional ways to save on home heating bills this winter is available on Ohio’s Winter Heating Resource website at www.winterheat.ohio.gov.
If you would like to utilize the program, call your electric or natural gas utility between Oct.15, 2018 and April 15, 2019 to find out more information about your account and how to apply the Winter Reconnect Order to your utility bill. Utility representatives will explain the order, and if applicable, set you up on a payment plan for any default amount. PIPP Plus customers who would like to use the Winter Reconnect Order must pay the balance of any default they may have within one billing cycle in order to re-enroll in PIPP Plus.
Customers who have questions about the PUCO’s Winter Reconnect Order may contact the PUCO at (800) 686-PUCO (7826) or visit the PUCO’s website at www.PUCO.ohio.gov.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is the sole agency charged with regulating public utility service. The role of the PUCO is to assure all residential, business and industrial consumers have access to adequate, safe and reliable utility services at fair prices while facilitating an environment that provides competitive choices. Consumers with utility-related questions or concerns can call the PUCO Call Center at (800) 686-PUCO (7826) and speak with a representative.