יום חמישי, 30 בנובמבר 2017

Officials: Trump mulls calling Jerusalem Israel’s capital

FILE - In this March 17, 2003, file photo, an Israeli border policemen guards the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv as other Israelis line up for U.S. visas. U.S. officials say President Donald Trump is poised to again delay his campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But they say he’ll likely temper the blow to his supporters by declaring the holy city as Israel’s capital. (Eitan Hess-Ashkenazi, File/Associated Press)

President Donald Trump is considering recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a highly charged declaration that risks inflaming tensions across the Middle East, officials said Thursday. The announcement would be a way to offset a likely decision delaying his campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy to the holy city from Tel Aviv.

Trump’s announcement is expected next week and follows months of internal deliberations that grew particularly intense in recent days, according to officials familiar with the talks. They described the president as intent on fulfilling his pledge to move the embassy but also mindful that doing so could set back his aim of forging a long-elusive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, who claim part of Jerusalem as the capital of an eventual state.

The officials, who weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the outlines of Trump’s plan emerged from a meeting of his top national security advisers at the White House on Monday. Trump himself was expected to drop by the meeting for 15 or 20 minutes. He ended up staying for at least an hour and grew increasingly animated during the session, according to two officials briefed on what happened.

Trump is likely to issue a waiver on moving the embassy by Monday, officials said, though they cautioned that the president could always decide otherwise.

The White House also is considering a possible presidential speech or statement on Jerusalem by Wednesday, according to the officials and an outside administration adviser. Another possibility involves Vice President Mike Pence, who is set to travel to Israel in mid-December, making the Jerusalem announcement during his trip, one official said. Pence said Tuesday that Trump is “actively considering when and how” to move the embassy.

The Trump administration insisted the president hasn’t made any decisions on the embassy.

“No decision on this matter has been made yet,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday.

White House spokesman Sarah Sanders on Wednesday called an earlier report saying Trump would order an embassy move as “premature.”

Moving the embassy is a step that could spark widespread protest across the Middle East and undermine an Arab-Israeli peace push led by president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Trump’s campaign season promises won him the support of powerful pro-Israel voices in the Republican Party. But as president, he has faced equally forceful lobbying from close U.S. allies such as King Abdullah II of Jordan, who have impressed on him the dangers in abandoning America’s carefully balanced position on the holy city.

Under U.S. law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1995, the U.S. must relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem unless the president waives the requirement on national security grounds, something required every six months. If the waiver isn’t signed and the embassy doesn’t move, the State Department would lose half its funding for its facilities and their security around the world. Republicans have championed embassy security since a 2012 attack on American compounds in Benghazi, Libya.

All presidents since Clinton have issued the waiver, saying Jerusalem’s status is a matter for Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate. Trump signed the waiver at the last deadline in June, but the White House made clear he still intended to move the embassy.

Trump’s approach appears to thread a fine needle, much like he did with the Iran nuclear deal. After vowing to pull out, Trump in October decertified the agreement as no longer serving America’s national interests. But he didn’t announce new sanctions or take any other step to immediately revoke the accord.

Now, as then, he faced significant resistance from his top national security advisers.

At Monday’s White House meeting, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the case that moving the embassy in Israel would pose a grave danger to American diplomats and troops stationed in the Middle East and Muslim nations, the U.S. officials said.

King Abdullah II, who met Pence and Tillerson this week in Washington, made the same argument, telling the vice president and others that any change to the embassy in the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal would create unrest and instability throughout the region and drive up anti-American sentiment, according to the officials.

After a lengthy back and forth at the White House meeting, Trump and his inner circle appeared to accept those concerns but insisted that the president had to demonstrate his stated commitment to move the embassy, the officials said. The discussion then turned toward waiving the embassy move for another six months but combining it with recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital, which the Israelis have long sought.

Checkpoint newsletter

Military, defense and security at home and abroad.

Any change in U.S. position is delicate.

The State Department recently advised American diplomatic posts in predominantly Muslim nations that an announcement about the embassy and Jerusalem’s status is possible next week, and advised them to be vigilant about possible protests, officials said.

Inside the Trump administration, officials said debate now centers on how to make a Jerusalem announcement without affecting Israeli-Palestinian “final status” negotiations. One option under consideration is to include in any such statement a nod to Palestinian aspirations for their capital to be in east Jerusalem.

The U.S. also faces legal constraints. Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without a peace deal could run afoul of U.N. Security Council resolutions that don’t recognize Israeli sovereignty over the city. Washington has a veto on the council and could block any effort to declare the U.S. in violation, but any such vote risks being an embarrassment and driving a wedge between the United States and many of its closest allies.

יום שני, 27 בנובמבר 2017

In the battle against fake news, the bots may be winning

Bot or not ... senators show a social media post for a supposed 'Miners for Trump' rally.

Explore the latest strategic trends, research and analysis

Lawyers from top tech companies were recently asked about the role their firms played in the 2016 United States presidential election, during three Congress hearings.

Propaganda, disinformation and misinformation messages on Facebook and Instagram reached approximately 146 million American citizens – almost half the population – Facebook revealed in a prepared testimony.

Twitter accounts linked to Russia "generated approximately 1.4 million automated, election-related tweets, which collectively received approximately 288 million impressions" between September 1 to November 15 2016, according to company executives.

These revelations echo my own research during November 2016. The then Republican candidate Donald Trump’s Instagram account was amassing a good deal of followers, but significant tranches of them were bots and Russians – even if there was no clear evidence of direct involvement by the Russian government.

Hatred, confusion and disarray

These figures give rise to many urgent questions, such as whether these social media activities influenced the outcome of the election. In a wider context, consider how the use of social media tools has changed since their inception. The same media that gained traction by promoting freedom and democracy around the world – during the 2011 Arab Spring, for example – now seem ideal tools to manipulate opinions and spread hatred, confusion and disarray. Public perception of social media has shifted accordingly in recent months.

US law-makers, academics and tech experts are pressuring Facebook, Twitter and Google to prevent such digital propaganda and disinformation campaigns, and rightly so. But there are two significant issues. Firstly, from a technical standpoint, it is difficult to stop these “botnets” – the large number of fake accounts run by specific software which swamp user newsfeeds and timelines with fake news or deceptive posts.

Secondly, the value of social networks such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is based on the volume of their active users. Therefore, the primary and constant goal of these tech companies is to expand their user base. (This is why Facebook is so eager to enter the Chinese market.)

These networks want to give access to those living under repressive governments who censor the internet. So they enable techniques which circumvent national surveillance systems, such as proxy, VPN and others.

This makes life very easy for botnet creators, who are developing sophisticated software to imitate real users. For example, in order to bypass the phone verification typically required by social media platforms, botnet owners use virtual phone numbers and private IP proxies. Also, thanks to the work of some tech experts who reverse-engineer apps to find out how their deepest processes work, these ‘smart’ bots are quickly able to evade any security system. Such operations are cheap to run and available to any organisation or government.

How to spot a bot

Particularly on Facebook, these propaganda or disinformation campaigns run on pages either professing support for a social cause or simply offering generic entertainment news. How are users to decipher a genuine page from a fake one? Does this power lie only with Facebook engineers?

A potential answer may be the appearance of the post, such as its format and featured links. By applying data analysis and open-source intelligence, experts could have understood in advance what was actually happening. Facebook could simply have used common sense when accepting Russian rubles for sponsored, politically motivated posts.

On a technical level, the digital propaganda strategies in question mostly rely on botnets and exploiting online communities, using paid content and sharing to disseminate material. In response, social media companies are planning new measures to better manage paid content on their platforms.

An upcoming bipartisan bill is focused on tightening rules for political advertising. However, as respected tech journalists such as Anthony de Rosa have noted, the real problem is that people continue to share links, posts and spam on Facebook pages with a high number of followers.

Dangers of digital propaganda

This is a problem which independent research projects could help with, if the internet giants were only willing to share their internal data. In recent years, it is independent researchers who have shed light on previously unknown issues affecting social media users, such as software bugs, counterfeit item trafficking, phishing campaigns and malware dissemination.

More generally, we are also facing a cultural problem. Broadsheet newspapers, research papers, government inquiries, Congressional hearings, and tech companies have all underscored the dangers of digital propaganda in recent weeks. But some public sources still tend to minimise or dismiss this phenomenon.

Nobody could seriously “believe that a post on FB could ever swing an election”, suggested a well-known commentator at the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Twitter recently. Such glib comments miss the point. Digital propaganda strategies take aim at real issues, such as immigration, economic crisis, terrorism and social inequality, in order to push millions of people surreptitiously towards a particular political agenda or viewpoint.

The revelations from the US 2016 election pertain to other countries. Italy, for example, has its own general election coming up. It has 30 million Facebook users, and 35% of its adult population get their daily news from that platform (only 14% still rely on newspapers).

Some organised networks have already launched their social media election strategy to influence voters, using propaganda and fake news campaigns. Media pundits are on high alert for what promises to be another challenging situation worthy of global attention.

Rubén Weinsteiner

יום שבת, 25 בנובמבר 2017

How countries around the world view democracy, military rule and other political systems


Rubén Weinsteiner

A 38-nation Pew Research Center survey conducted this spring found reasons for optimism as well as concern about the future of democracy around the world. In every nation polled, more than half said representative democracy is a very or somewhat good way to run their country. But the survey also found openness, to varying degrees, to some nondemocratic forms of government.

Use our interactive feature below to compare views of political systems in each nation surveyed. It’s followed by six findings the Center found especially striking.

Explore global opinions on political systems by country

Select a country to see how its people responded.
United States

% in the United States saying each of the following systems of government would be a good or bad way to govern the country.

TOTAL Very bad Somewhat bad Somewhat good Very good TOTAL
Representative democracy 13%

Direct democracy 31%

Rule by experts 58%

Rule by a strong leader 76%

Rule by military 83%


In the United States:

trust the national government to do what is right for the United States.

are satisfied with the way democracy is working in the United States.

Representative democracy
A democratic system where representatives elected by citizens decide what becomes law.
Direct democracy
A democratic system where citizens, not elected officials, vote directly on major national issues to decide what becomes law.
Rule by experts
Experts, not elected officials, make decisions according to what they think is best for the country.
Rule by a strong leader
A system in which a strong leader can make decisions without interference from parliament or the courts.
Rule by military
The military rules the country.

Note: For more information about specific question wording and results, see the topline questionnaire.
Embed </>ReportData © Pew Research Center

Here are six key findings:

1About nine-in-ten Swedes (92%) say representative democracy is a good way of governing their country, the highest share of any country in the survey. A majority of Swedes (57%) also say direct democracy – in which citizens, not elected officials, vote directly on major issues – is a good way to govern. People in Sweden are among the most likely of any in the survey to say they are satisfied with the way democracy is working in their country: About eight-in-ten Swedes (79%) hold this view, the same share as in India and Tanzania.

2Germans are overwhelmingly opposed to rule by the military or by a strong leader. More than nine-in-ten are opposed to military rule (95%) or rule by a strong leader who can make decisions without interference from parliament or the courts (93%). Even among those on the ideological right and those with less education – two groups who tend to voice more support for military or autocratic rule in other countries – there is little backing for these two forms of government in Germany. Just 13% of Germans on the ideological right say a political system with an unchecked leader is a good way to govern, and just 4% of those with less education see military rule as a good form of government.

3People in Vietnam are the most likely to support military rule among the countries surveyed. Seven-in-ten Vietnamese say rule by the military would be a good way to govern. But a larger majority (87%) of Vietnamese people express support for representative democracy, while another big majority (73%) supports direct democracy and 67% back a system in which experts, not elected officials, make decisions according to what they think is best for the country. Of the five different forms of governance tested by the survey, only one – rule by a strong leader without judicial or parliamentary interference – draws more opposition (47%) than support (42%) in Vietnam.

4Support for a strong leader who is unchecked by the judiciary or parliament is highest in India. While 55% of people in India view rule by a strong leader as a good way to govern, this form of governance remains less popular than direct democracy (viewed favorably by 76% of respondents), representative democracy (75%) and rule by experts (65%).

5Just 6% of people in Mexico are satisfied with the way democracy is working in their country, the smallest share of any country surveyed. That compares with a median of 46% among all countries surveyed. Roughly nine-in-ten Mexicans (93%) say they are not satisfied with the way their democracy is working.

Despite their pessimism about democracy in practice, majorities of Mexicans still view direct democracy and representative democracy as good ways to govern (62% and 58%, respectively). About half (53%) say the same about rule by experts, while most Mexicans (67%) have a negative view of rule by a strong leader. When it comes to military rule, more Mexicans oppose than support the idea (52% versus 42%).

6Trust in the national government is highest in Tanzania. About nine-in-ten people in Tanzania (89%) trust their government to do what is right for their country, including 48% who say they have “a lot” of trust. Globally, a median of just 14% express “a lot” of trust in their national government to do what is right. And in 10 countries – Chile, Spain, Peru, France, Brazil, Lebanon, Mexico, South Korea, Greece and Italy – 5% or less of respondents express this level of confidence in their national government.

Rubén Weinsteiner

יום ראשון, 5 בנובמבר 2017

Twitter: “human error” behind temporary Trump deactivation

Twitter signage is draped on the facade of the New York Stock Exchange. Photo: Mark Lennihan / AP

Twitter released a statement Thursday evening saying an employee had "inadvertently deactivated" President Trump's personal twitter account. The removal of Trump's account caused an immediate reaction among Twitter users, until the account reappeared minutes later.

"Earlier today @realdonaldtrump's account was inadvertently deactivated due to human error by a Twitter employee. The account was down for 11 minutes, and has since been restored. We are continuing to investigate and are taking steps to prevent this from happening again."

Update: Twitter said its preliminary investigation shows Trump's account was deactivated by a customer support representative on their last day of work at Twitter.