News, June 17th

Arab Israeli diplomat says security guards choked him

An Arab Israeli diplomat once deployed abroad to push back against Israel’s critics says he was beaten by security guards at Jerusalem’s central bus station last week in what he believes was a case of ethnic profiling.

Ishmael Khaldi, 49, said he has filed a police complaint and is going public with his experience to bring attention to what he described as racist behavior in parts of Israeli society.

“This is wrong. This has to stop. This is nothing Israeli,” he said, adding that he remains patriotic and proudly serves his country.

The incident trained a spotlight on the ongoing struggles of Israel’s Arab citizens, a large minority that makes up about 20% of the population. Israel’s Arab citizens have the right to vote and some have enjoyed great success in Israel’s judiciary, civil service and business, medical and entertainment worlds. But they still frequently suffer from discrimination.

Khaldi is widely seen as a trailblazer and touted by the government as a success story. From living in a tent and working as a shepherd when he was a boy, he became the first member of Israel’s tiny Bedouin Arab community to serve as a diplomat and is among a small number of Arab Israelis to rise to the senior levels of the Foreign Ministry. He served in Israel’s Consulate in San Francisco, was an adviser to then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and defended Israel against the Palestinian-led boycott movement while posted in London.

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign advocates boycotts of Israeli institutions to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, including its own Arab citizenry. He also has done temporary assignments in Africa and Miami.

But even his advocacy work for Israel and a distinguished career that has put him alongside many Israeli leaders have not been enough to insulate him from the struggles faced by Arab Israelis.

He said his dark skin frequently attracts the attention of jittery security guards in public spaces and that “there is no doubt” this was why he was stopped by two guards and asked to pass through a metal detector when he entered the bus station last Thursday, on his way home from work.

“It happens to me. It happens to everyone” with Arab features, he said. But what happened after that, he said, was a “series of mistakes” by security guards unlike anything he had seen before.

After he was stopped, one of the guards stepped away. Khaldi, who said he frequently takes photos and video clips on his phone, said he asked the remaining security guard if he could turn on his phone to record. He promised not to take any pictures of the guard, and he said the guard consented.

When he walked through the metal detector, the machine beeped, and he was instructed to empty his pockets. He put down his wallet and keys but continued to record on his phone for several seconds. Then, as he was about to put the phone down, he said the second security guard returned to the scene and became irate.

“He came like crazy, screaming shouting: ‘Put the phone down! Do not take pictures!’” Khaldi said.

He said he tried to calm the security guard down, but he only became angrier. First, he threatened to push Khaldi against a wall. Then he threatened to push him onto the ground.

“He was saying, ‘Do you want to see?’ And I said, ‘Yes. I want to see.’” Khaldi said.

Within seconds, he said he was pinned down by three guards, with the angry leader placing his leg on Khaldi’s neck, shoulder, and ear. He said the pressure was so strong he feared his neck would break.

“I screamed ‘I cannot breathe. I cannot move,’’ he said. The guards eased up on him after bystanders started screaming, but then a supervisor rushed to the scene and joined the others in holding him down. Eventually, they allowed Khaldi, covered in dust, to get up while they held him until police arrived.

Khaldi rejected any comparisons to George Floyd, the black American man whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police has sparked protests around the world. He also said he understands that Israeli security guards have a job to do.

But he said there is an “extreme minority” of security guards who behave like “Rambo’s,” especially when dealing with Arabs. “There is a kind of superiority feeling here and it’s reflected in their behavior,” he said.

Yossi Mizrachi, the manager of the station, defended the actions of the guards, saying Khaldi refused to identify himself or undergo a routine security check.

“It appears that the visitor’s goal was to create an unnecessary provocation. The security guards acted as required in line with the law and procedures,” Mizrachi said, adding that one of the guards later filed a countercomplaint against Khaldi to police.

However, Khaldi disputed the account, saying he was never asked for his ID and has never provoked trouble during his countless trips through the station. He says security camera footage will vindicate him and has demanded it be made public. He also is threatening to sue for defamation.

A number of top officials have rallied behind Khaldi.

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said he spoke to Khaldi, calling him a “veteran and esteemed diplomat” and offering his support.

Isaac Herzog, chairman of the Jewish Agency, a nonprofit group that works with overseas Jewish communities, said Khaldi was a “star” advocate for Israel on the international stage. “No more racism,” Herzog tweeted.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said both Khaldi and a security guard have been questioned by police. He said the investigation is continuing.

“The incident began after the security guard requested from Khaldi to show his ID, according to security rules and regulations,” Rosenfeld said. “Apparently he refused.”

Khaldi said he still loves Israel and proudly serves his country but felt a responsibility to speak out about “internal issues” affecting his community.

“Our responsibility is to check where the problems are and fix them,” he said.

ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community meets online

The 15th coordination conference on the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) took place by videoconference in Hanoi on June 17.

ASEAN Deputy Secretary-General Kung Phoak said that even in these difficult times of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, the ASEAN Community still pushes ahead with efforts to implement its people-centered initiatives.

Ha Thi Minh Duc, head of the Vietnam Senior Officials’ Committee for the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Council (SOCA), said Vietnam, as the ASEAN Chair 2020, hopes that ASCC’s specialized agencies will continue to promote cooperation activities to meet all targets and realize all priorities this year.

Delegates discussed ASEAN’s collective efforts in the COVID-19 response. They recognized the endeavors of senior officials in health development, labor, and social welfare and development in preventing and mitigating the impact of COVID-19 as well as building post-pandemic recovery plans.

Founded in 1967, ASEAN now has 10 member countries, namely Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Aussie State records biggest COVID-19 case increase in over a month

The Australian State of Victoria recorded its biggest daily increase of COVID-19 infections in over a month, with 21 new cases officially recorded on Wednesday.

Victoria Health Minister Jenny Mikakos told reporters that fifteen of those new cases were overseas travelers returning to Australia, all of whom were in mandatory hotel quarantine.

One of the remaining cases was detected at an aged care facility, sparking serious concerns for the welfare of the elderly residents. The 53-bed facility was placed into lockdown and residents were restricted to their rooms.

Of the other five cases, two of them with known infectious sources while the other three were still under contact tracing by local health authorities to identify the source.

Mikakos warned that Australia will see a further rise in case numbers as travelers continue to arrive from overseas, a large portion of which are from the Indian subcontinent, currently one of the hotspots in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We will continue to see large numbers of returning travelers coming back to Australia, coming back to Melbourne,” Mikakos told reporters.

“Countries like India, Bangladesh and Pakistan are experiencing exponential growth in confirmed cases at the moment, and obviously that’s impacting on the increase on our numbers who are in hotel quarantine.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, there were 1,762 cases of COVID-19 in total, with 70 of them still active.

Covid-19:  Sweden’s virus death toll tops 5,000: health officials

Sweden, which has gained international attention for its softer approach to curbing the spread of the new coronavirus, said Wednesday its death toll had passed the 5,000 mark.

According to figures released by the country’s Public Health Agency, a total of 5,041 deaths linked to COVID-19 have been reported from 54,562 confirmed cases.

Sweden’s death toll has far surpassed the tolls in neighboring Nordic countries, which have all imposed more restrictive containment measures.

According to AFP’s database, Sweden’s virus death rate of 499 per million inhabitants is far higher than Norway’s 45 per million, Denmark’s 103, or Finland’s 59.

However, it is still lower than that of the UK at 618 per million, Italy at 569, and Spain at 580.

Critics have accused Swedish authorities of gambling with citizens’ lives by not imposing strict stay-at-home measures.

But the Public Health Agency has insisted its approach is sustainable in the long-term and has rejected drastic short-term measures as too ineffective to justify their impact on society.

The Scandinavian country has kept schools open for children under the age of 16, along with cafes, bars, restaurants, and businesses, while urging people to respect social distancing and hygiene guidelines.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell stressed that while cumulative figures were going up, the number of newly reported deaths seemed to go down and significantly fewer were being treated in intensive care, compared to the peak in early April.

Following its own path has led to the country’s reputation taking a hit.

As many European nations reopened their borders on Monday, at least seven countries barred Swedes from entering – including closest neighbors Denmark, Norway, and Finland – and five others required them to quarantine if they do enter.

People saw decrease in sexual behavior during COVID-19: Study

One in five adults in the US have experienced change — mostly a decrease — in their sexual behavior during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers said.

The study examined changes in solo and partnered sexual behaviors from about mid-March to mid-April in an effort to learn more about Americans’ sex lives and relationships during the first month of social distancing.

“Our data illustrate the very personal ways in which different pandemic-associated factors may create or inhibit opportunities for solo and partnered sex,” said study co-author Devon Hensel from the Indiana University in the US.

The study, published in the preprint repository medRxiv, used the US nationally representative probability survey of adults to look at changes in 10 solo and partnered sexual behavior categories.

Across all the 10 behaviors studied, 50% of participants reported no change or stability in their sexual behaviors over in the period under survey.

Another third of the participants reported that they had either increased or decreased in some behaviors. The most common behaviors to increase and decrease were the same.

Among the participants reporting an increase in sexual behavior, the most common increases were hugging, kissing, cuddling, or holding hands with a partner. Similarly, those reporting decreases mentioned the same sexual behaviors — hugging, kissing, cuddling, or holding hands.

The study found that participants with any children at home under the age of five were three times more likely to report increased hugging, kissing, cuddling or holding hands with a partner in the period under survey, while having elementary-aged children was often linked to decreased reports of these behaviors.

Those findings could be attributed, the study said, to parents of smaller children being able to better maintain pre-pandemic schedules and routines.

Likewise, parents of small children could have reported an increase in hugging, kissing, cuddling, or holding hands because it is part of group/family interactions such as family cuddles.

In terms of mental health factors, the study found that depressive symptoms and loneliness were associated with both reduced partnered bonding behaviors, such as hugging, cuddling, holding hands and kissing, as well as reduced partnered sexual behaviors.

The researchers said these mental health factors could be attributed to social distancing measures, which, while necessary, can exacerbate feelings of depression and loneliness for some people.

“This study is a reminder that pandemics impact every aspect of the human experience, including sexuality,” Hensel wrote.

Rapid City’s emergency COVID-19 shelter to close June 26

Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender said the emergency shelter set up at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center for COVID-19 patients will close June 26.

Allender made the announcement during a news conference Wednesday, the same day as the state Department of Health reported Pennington County’s second highest COVID-19 positive test count.

The mayor said the 100-bed temporary shelter set up inside Rushmore Hall is averaging a much lower number of patients than what emergency officials prepared for.

“Today (Wednesday), there are nine patients in that center. That has been an average or high average of the daily census of that facility during this whole time,” Allender said. “We planned big. We anticipated that the chronic homeless individuals in town would take this pandemic exceptionally hard, and we planned for it to keep the entire community safe, as well as those individuals.”

Allender said there has not been a huge spike in coronavirus cases among the homeless individuals, something he is grateful for.

“The ones who are sick are not that sick. The ones in need of a shelter have been much less than we anticipated,” Allender said.

Planning for the emergency shelter began in early April and is a collaborative effort between several community organizations. It became operational on May 8.

Emergency Management Director Dustin Willett said the organizations spent $28,000 to convert the 40,000-square-foot Rushmore Hall into a three-tier shelter for those who are homeless and showing symptoms of COVID-19. The cost to run the shelter through June 26 was expected to be near $150,000, paid for through some tax dollars and donations, with the hope for financial assistance from state and federal sources.

Allender said Wednesday the organizations providing care at the shelter will be working with the patients to find other alternatives for convalescent care.

After the shelter is closed, crews will begin dismantling the facility and deep cleaning the Civic Center. Allender said smaller events are scheduled at the Civic Center for July and August, but the return of large concerts and events will not occur until at least September.

US$25 million to help Yemen Fight Locusts, Preserve Food Security, and Protect Livelihoods

The World Bank announced today US$25 million in new funding from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s arm for the poorest countries, to help Yemen control the ongoing locust outbreak affecting the country and strengthen its preparedness systems against threats of future outbreaks.

The proposed project is part of the Bank’s overall response to the desert locust crisis in Africa and MENA. The operation aims to improve surveillance and control, mitigating the impact of locust swarms on human health and the environment, and protect and restore the livelihoods of affected communities. The project will also build the country’s capacity to effectively respond to future outbreaks by strengthening Yemen’s institutional capacity, regional coordination, and the ability of communities to facilitate early warning systems and rapid response. This project is implemented through the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Yemen’s food security crisis is one of the world’s largest man-made crises, driven by constraints on food production, limited supply and distribution, and people’s diminishing purchasing power. Currently, over 20 million people are food insecure in Yemen, with a staggering 10 million at risk of famine. Hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition are the most pressing and overwhelming challenges currently facing the country. Agriculture, the backbone of Yemeni livelihoods, has suffered disproportionately from the ongoing civil war, yet it is increasingly the main source of income for Yemenis and the most important non-oil sector of the economy.

The Yemen Desert Locust Response Project, approved today, will provide immediate assistance to help poor and vulnerable farmers, herders, and rural households overcome the loss of crops and income in one of the worst upsurges of locust swarms in decades.

The project will immediately support affected households through targeted social safety nets like cash transfers, while investing in the medium-term recovery of agriculture and livestock production systems and other aspects of rural livelihoods in areas affected by this crisis. In addition, Yemen will contribute to the consistent management of regional risks (such as propagation of locust swarms between countries) for dealing with the emergency by providing reports on locust swarm data, movement, control efforts, and other pertinent information.

 “Agriculture is the main source of employment for rural Yemenis, especially women, and the upsurge in desert locusts poses a significant additional threat to their food security and livelihoods” said Marina Wes, World Bank Country Director for Yemen, Egypt, and Djibouti. The people of Yemen have shown extraordinary resilience in the face of many catastrophes over the past few years, our absolute priority is to prevent the locust swarms from damaging crops and pastures.”

Key activities include controlling the current desert locust outbreak, supporting livelihoods in locust-affected areas, and strengthening Yemen’s preparedness for future locust infestations by establishing an early response system of Desert Locust Control Centers. The project will help connect Yemeni systems with regional networks to exchange information and data and improve the coordination of locust response.

The newly approved funds bring the total IDA grants in Yemen to US$1.752 billion since 2016. The World Bank continues to work closely with the World Health Organization, United Nations Development Program, United Nations Children’s Fund, and United Nations Office for Project Services, all of which have the capacity for project implementation on the ground in Yemen.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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