The General’s Death Upsets Iran’s Plan

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Qassem Soleimani, who was Iran’s most hyped general, loved publishing “selfies” showing himself close to battlegrounds in the Middle East. He was never present anywhere near a battle but was always to come after the dust had settled, to take “selfies” and claim the credit. (Photo by Mehdi Ghasemi/ISNA/AFP via Getty Images)

While analysts and policymakers are busy speculating on ways that Tehran’s ruling mullahs might avenge the killing of their most hyped general, the real question that needs considering may be elsewhere.

The question is: what effect Soleimani’s death might have on the power struggle that, though currently put on hold, is certain to resume with greater vigor in Tehran.

Tehran’s propaganda tries to sell Soleimani as a kind of superman who, almost single-handedly, brought Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and parts of Afghanistan and Yemen under Iranian control while driving Americans out of the Middle East and crushing ISIS’s so-called Caliphate which tried to rival the Islamic Republic in Tehran. Soleimani himself did a lot to promote that image and, doing that, received much help from Western, especially American, and Israeli media that bought the bundle of goods from Tehran.

Facts, however, offer a different portrait of the late general. Soleimani joined the Islamic revolution in 1980, aged 27, at a time that the mullahs were busy putting together a praetorian guard to protect their new regime. A few months later, the ragtag army that Soleimani had joined was sent to help the remnants of a heavily purged national army fight an invading Iraqi force. With over 8,000 officers and NCOs of the national army purged by Khomeini, the new regime offered a fast track to people like Soleimani who had joined the military with no proper training and often little or no formal education. Thus, just three years after he had joined the military, young Soleimani found himself in command of a division of raw recruits. Under his command, Iranian forces suffered three of their biggest defeats in operations Al-Fajr 8, and Karbala I and Karbala II. Mohsen Reza’i, then chief of the Revolutionary Guard, describes the three battles as “a string of catastrophes” for Iranian forces.

However, Soleimani, who was to demonstrate his genius for networking and self-promotion, scored one lasting victory when he attached himself to Ali Khamenei, the mullah who was to become the Islamic Republic’s “Supreme Guide”.

Khamenei started as Deputy Defense Minister and rose to become President of the Islamic Republic. Soleimani, mocked as “the mullah’s bag-carrier”, was always at his side. In the 1990s, as Khamenei slowly built himself as the sole arbiter of Iran’s fate, Soleimani seized the opportunity to secure a fiefdom for himself.

That came in the shape of the project to “export” the Iranian Revolution to other Muslim countries. Initially, exporting the revolution, mentioned in the regime’s constitution as a sacred duty, had been regarded as a matter of propaganda and organizing sympathizers in Arab countries through outfits named Hezbollah. The task was handled by a special office in the Foreign Ministry headed by Ayatollah Hadi Khosroshahian. Partly thanks to lobbying by Soleimani, the task was taken away from the Foreign Ministry and handed over to the Revolutionary Guard. But even then Soleimani didn’t get the top job, which went to then Col. Ismail Qaani, the man who has now succeeded Soleimani as Commander of the Quds Force. Soleimani’s next move was to dislodge Qaani and get the top job himself. (Qaani was named as deputy). Even that configuration would not satisfy Soleimani, who had bigger ambitions. As long as he was part of the IRGC’s chain of command, he had to obey rules set by superiors whom he despised.

Thanks to Khamenei’s support, he succeeded in securing his independent fiefdom in the shape of the Quds Force which, though formally part of the IRGC, has its own separate budget and chain of command and is answerable to no one but Khamenei.

Next, Soleimani seized control of Tehran’s foreign policy in Arab countries, Afghanistan, North Korea, and South America and, in some sensitive areas, even Russia. The Islamic Republic’s presidents and foreign ministers have never had tête-à-tête talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Soleimani had.

It became a matter of routine for Soleimani to appoint Iran’s ambassadors to Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Doha and several other Arab capitals.

A dramatic illustration of Soleimani’s “independence” came when he shipped Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad to Tehran in a special airplane without even telling the Iranian president, let alone the foreign minister, who were also excluded from the Syrian’s audience with Khamenei.

A control freak, Soleimani insisted on deciding even the smallest details himself. In his one, and now final, interview, last November, the general talks of how Lebanese Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah had to clear every move with him.

Inside Iran, Soleimani built a state within the state. According to the Islamic Customs Office, the Quds Force operates 25 jetties in five of Iran’s biggest ports for its “imports and exports” with no intervention by the relevant authorities. A levy on imports of foreign cars is reserved for a special fund, controlled by the Quds Force, to cover expenditures in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and help pro-Iran Palestinian groups.

Soleimani had his own network of lobbyists in many Arab countries and some Western democracies. Hundreds of Iranian and Arab militants have enrolled in Western universities with scholarships from the Quds Force.

The Quds Force has registered vast tracts of public land in its name, claiming the need for future housing for its personnel. It also runs two dozen companies and banks, several shipping lines and an airline.

Soleimani, who loved making and publishing “selfies” showing himself close to battlegrounds in the Middle East, was never present anywhere near a battle but was always to come after the dust had settled, to take “selfies” and claim the credit.

A master of self-promotion, Soleimani received the rank of major-general without having risen through the hierarchy of the top brass like the other 12 men on the list. (After death, he has been promoted to Lt. General).

Some analysts in Tehran believe that Khamenei was planning to promote Soleimani further by making him President of the Islamic Republic in 2021. An image-building campaign started last year, as Soleimani was marketed as “the Sufi commander”, a label given to Safavid kings in the 16th century.

A committee of exiled Iranians in Florida also started campaigning to draft Soleimani as president.

If that was Khamenei’s game plan, there is no doubt that Soleimani’s demise will lead to more uncertainty regarding the future course of Iranian politics.

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.

This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.

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Ukraine passenger jet crashes in Iran, killing at least 170

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TEHRAN: A Ukrainian airliner carrying at least 170 people crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday, killing all on board, Iran state media reported.

The Boeing 737 had left Tehran’s international airport bound for Kiev, semi-official news agency ISNA said.

“Obviously it is impossible that passengers” on flight PS-752 are alive, Red Crescent head Morteza Salimi told semi-official news agency ISNA, adding that 170 passengers and crew had boarded the plane.

State news agency IRNA said 167 passengers and nine crew members had boarded the aircraft, which was operated by Ukraine International Airlines.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed all those on board the plane were killed.

AFP
People and rescue teams are pictured amid bodies and debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran. -AFP

“According to preliminary data, all passengers and crew members are dead,” he wrote on Facebook of the Ukraine International Airlines plane, which was bound for Kiev.

The Red Crescent said teams were assisted by soldiers and firefighters in the effort to recover bodies.

“After six o’clock (0230 GMT) this morning we were informed that a passenger plane crashed in the vicinity of Shahriar,” said Shahin Fathi, the head of its search and rescue unit.

“All operational teams were dispatched to the area,” he told state television. “Unfortunately… we haven’t found anyone alive.”

“Everyone is helping so that we can gather all the bodies that have been scattered in a wide area,” said Fathi.

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People walk near the wreckage after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran. -AFP

Press TV, state television’s English-language news broadcaster, said the plane went down in the vicinity of Parand, a city in Tehran province.

The crash was likely to have been caused by “technical difficulties”, it reported, citing Ali Khashani, spokesman for Imam Khomeini International Airport.

“The plane caught fire after crashing,” said Press TV.

A video aired by the state media broadcaster appeared to show the plane already on fire, falling from the sky.

American airline manufacturer Boeing tweeted: “We are aware of the media reports out of Iran and we are gathering more information.”

The crash came shortly after Iran said it fired missiles at Iraqi bases in revenge for the killing of one of the Islamic republic’s top military commanders in a US drone strike on Friday.

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One of the engines of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, a Boeing 737-800 plane that crashed after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport on January 8, 2020, is seen in this still image taken from Iran Press footage. – Iran Press/Handout via Reuters

Following the missile strikes, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it was banning US-registered carriers from flying over Iraq, Iran and the Gulf after rocket attacks on US forces in Iraq.

“The (FAA) issues Notices to Airmen tonight outlining flight restrictions that prohibit US civil aviation operators from operating in the airspace over Iraq, Iran and the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman,” it said in a statement.

“The FAA will continue closely monitoring events in the Middle East.”

Iran launched the missiles after a US drone strike killed Qasem Soleimani, a hugely popular figure who headed the foreign operations arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

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Emergency workers work near the wreckage of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, a Boeing 737-800 plane that crashed after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport on January 8, 2020, in this still image taken from Iran Press footage. – Iran Press/Handout via Reuters

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed “severe revenge” for the assassination and declared three days of mourning following the assassination which shocked the Islamic republic.

The assassination of Soleimani set off an escalating war of words between Iran and the US.

In Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani on Monday warned Trump to “never threaten” Iran, after the US leader issued a US strike list of 52 targets in the Islamic republic. -AFP

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A Ukraine International Airlines plane crashed soon after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport.

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Omo Sexy remakes Nollywood, music industry into money machine | P.M. News

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Omotola Jalade Ekeinde

Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde is trying to reorganise Nollywood and Nigeria’s music industry to become a money making machine for all the stakeholders as she staged an entertainment fair TEFFEST. Will she succeed?

International Business Times zeroes in on her effort in this feature by AFP:

Fake eyelashes fluttered, bespoke suits were on display and slick music videos played at the inaugural edition of The Entertainment Fair and Festival in Nigeria’s economic hub Lagos in late November.

But behind the glitter, the reality of the film and music sectors in Africa’s most populous nation can often be far less glamorous: wages are low, there are no social protections and copyright law is rarely enforced.

That comes despite the country boasting the second most productive film industry in the world and some of Africa’s biggest pop stars.

Hits by singers like Burna Boy, Wizkid and Davido play non-stop on stations across the continent and Nollywood churns out some 2,500 movies each year.

Despite the successes, revenues from Nigeria’s entertainment and media sector in 2018 lagged well behind that of the continent’s other leading economic powerhouse South Africa at $4.5 billion compared to $9.1 billion, PwC said.

That difference is not down to output or demand as Nigeria produces more, exports more and has a domestic market of some 200 million people, four times bigger than South Africa.

Instead industry insiders insist it is a problem of organisation.

South Africa has better systems for ensuring royalty payments for artists, stronger legal protections and more modern facilities such as film studios, concert venues and cinemas.

In a bid to help remedy the issues facing the industry, veteran Nollywood star Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde came up with the first entertainment business fair, known as TEFFEST.

It is aimed at bringing together actors, singers, producers, insurers, lawyers and managers to better organise the sector.

“The entertainment industry has grown without structures, without a roof,” Jalade-Ekeinde, nicknamed “Omo Sexy”, told AFP.

“For decades, we were not taken seriously and the big corporation companies didn’t consider us.”

The situation has changed as the industry has grown and now companies like Netflix are looking to step up their involvement in Nollywood and international labels attempting to tap Afropop stars.

“We produced, we grew, we became something suddenly and now the corporate world is trying to understand how we work and how they can deal with us,” Jalade-Ekeinde, AKA “the Queen of Nollywood”, said.

But the problems riddling the industry means it is often difficult to invest.

“There is nothing to celebrate here,” said Efe Omoregbe, manager of singer 2Face and former board member of the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), which was dissolved by the government due to an internal conflict.

“We should be fixing and addressing major structural issues (…) We live in a culture of abuse when it comes to copyrights.”

PwC estimates that 80 percent of the pirate CDs globally can be found in Nigeria and singer Brymo says that in almost 20 years performing he has never received any money from his songs playing on local radio stations.

“Internationally, we make money through digital distribution platforms that have taken over rapidly, but locally it’s mostly with gigs or endorsement deals,” he said.

Lawyer Simeon Okoduwa said he tries to insist on artists signing a contract with producers before working with them.

“Too many film shoots or recordings are still done based on promises and handshakes,” he said.

This is an issue that leading actor Michelle Dede knows only too well.

The star always demands a written contract before starting her next film — and says the largest production companies now do offer written contracts as standard.

“Before producers thought I was being pretentious,” she said.

Despite the improvements she still decries the lack of protections for performers or a minimum wage for actors and others involved in the industry such as make-up artists, cameramen and technicians.

Nollywood is a vast employer in Nigeria — with some estimates saying it offers jobs to one million people — but much of that is very precarious.

“We make more money on building a brand than acting,” said Dede.

“But I shouldn’t be focusing on how many likes I get on Instagram, I should be working on my roles.”

Despite the drawbacks, the entertainment industry is still a major draw in a country where almost half the population live in extreme poverty.

But Dede said she still has no regret of leaving her job in marketing in London to launch herself in Nollywood.

“Nothing makes me happier than acting,” she said.

“Even though the pay is not good, there is no way I would give up on that.”

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Week in Review: Apple’s rebirth as a content company has a forgettable debut – TechCrunch

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Hey everyone. Thank you for welcoming me into you inboxes yet again.

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. After dodging your inboxes for a couple weeks as I ventured off to China for a TechCrunch event in Shenzhen, I am rested up and ready to go.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox here, and follow my tweets here.

The big story

When Apple announced details on their three new subscription products (Apple TV+, Apple Arcade and Apple News+ — all of which are now live) back in March, the headlines that followed all described accurately how Apple’s business was increasingly shifting away from hardware towards services and how the future of the company may lie in these subscription businesses.

I largely accepted those headlines as fact, but one thing I have been thinking an awful lot about this week is how much I have loved Disney+ since signing up for an account and just how little I have thought about Apple TV+ despite signing up for both at their launches.

It’s admittedly not the fairest of comparisons, Disney has decades of classic content behind them while Apple is pushing out weekly updates to a few mostly meh TV shows. But no one was begging Apple to get into television. The company’s desires to diversify and own subscriptions that consumers have on their Apple devices certainly make sense for them, but their strategy of making that play without the help of any beloved series before them seems to have been a big miscalculation.

At TechCrunch, we write an awful lot about acquisitions worth hundreds of million, if not billions, of dollars. Some of the acquisitions that have intrigued me the most have been in the content space. Streaming networks are plunking down historic sums on series like Seinfeld, Friends and The Big Bang Theory. The buyers have differed throughout these deals, but they have never been Apple.

That’s because Apple isn’t bidding on history, they’re trying to nab directors and actors creating the series that will be the next hits. And while that sounds very Apple, it also sounds like a product that’s an awfully big gamble to the average consumer looking to try out a new streaming service. Why pick the service that’s starting from a standstill? Apple has ordered plenty of series and I have few doubts that at least one of the shows they plan to introduce is going to be a hit, but there isn’t much in the way of an early favorite yet and for subscribers that haven’t found “the one” yet, there’s very little reason to stick around.

Other networks with a half-dozen major series can afford a few flops because there’s a library of classics that’s filling up the dead space. Apple’s strategy is bold but is going to lead to awfully high churn among consumers that won’t be as forgiving of bad bets. This is an issue that’s sure to become less pronounced over time, but I would bet there will be quite a few consumers unsubscribing in the mean time leaving those on freebie subscriptions responsible for gauging which new shows are top notch.

Apple has also made the weird move of not housing their content inside an app so much as the Apple TV’s alternative UI inside the TV app. One one hand, this makes the lack of content less visible, but it also pushes all of the original series to the back of your mind. If you’re a Netflix user who has been subconsciously trained never to use the TV app on your Apple TV because none of their content is housed there, you’re really left forgetting about TV+ shows entirely when using the traditional app layout.

We haven’t received any super early numbers on Apple News+, Apple Arcade or Apple TV+, but none of the three appears to have made the sizable cultural splashes in their debuts that were hoped for at launch. Apple’s biggest bet of the three was undoubtedly TV+ and while their first series haven’t seemed to drop any jaws, what’s more concerning is whether the fundamentals of the service have been arranged so that unsatisfied subscribers feel any need to stick around.

Send me feedback
on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
lucas@techcrunch.com

On to the rest of the week’s news.

Image via AMY OSBORNE/AFP/Getty Images

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

Disrupt Berlin

It’s hard to believe it’s already that time of the year again, but we just announced the agenda for Disrupt Berlin and we’ve got some all-stars making their way to the stage. I’ll be there this year, get some tickets and come say hey!

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Pressure mounts on Roman Polanski over new sexual assault allegation | Film | The Guardian

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Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski has threatened legal action over claims by a former actor that he raped her in the 1970s.

The 86-year-old film-maker denied the allegation, but pressure is mounting on Polanski, who fled to France in 1978 after admitting to the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles.

Jean Dujardin, the star of Polanski’s latest film, which comes out in France on Wednesday, abruptly cancelled a prime-time interview on the TF1 television station, which was set for Sunday.

And the French artists’ guild ARP could meet soon to discuss his exclusion, its vice president told the Parisien newspaper.

An ARP spokesman later told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that although no board meeting had yet been organised, “if we are going to decide on Roman Polanski’s membership, we will do so with the approval of film-makers”.

Valentine Monnier, a photographer and former actress, has accused Polanski, who is French-Polish, of an “extremely violent” assault and rape at his chalet in the Swiss ski resort of Gstaad in 1975, when she was 18.

Monnier claimed he tried to make her swallow a pill during the attack, and later made a tearful apology while demanding a promise that she never tell anyone.

“I thought I was going to die,” she said in an open letter published by Le Parisien, which also interviewed her.

“Mr Polanski disputes in the strongest terms this rape accusation,” his lawyer Hervé Temime told AFP in a statement.

“We are working on the legal action to bring against this publication,” he added.

Polanski and his new film, An Officer and a Spy, had already courted controversy in September when it was included in the Venice film festival, where it won the grand jury prize.

Monnier, who acted in films in the 1980s, said the release of the film, about one of the most notorious errors of justice in French history, the Dreyfus affair, had prompted her to speak out.

“How could he benefit from public funds to instrumentalise history, and in doing so rewrite his own to cover up his criminal past?” she wrote, referring to French subsidies for film productions.

“He pummelled me until I gave in and then raped me, making me do all sorts of things,” she added.

She had previously written to France’s first lady Brigitte Macron, who forwarded two letters to France’s equality minister Marlène Schiappa, who has pushed for new measures to combat sexual abuse.

Schiappa wrote to Monnier in March last year and hailed her courage “in daring to break the silence”, but stressed that the allegations had to be dealt with by the judicial system.

But her account may prove a turning point for French cinema, where the #MeToo movement that roiled Hollywood has not prompted as deep a reckoning of alleged abuses in the industry.

Monnier is the first Frenchwoman to accuse Polanski of rape. Since he was arrested in California in 1977 on charges of drugging and raping Samantha Gailey, now known as Samantha Geimer, five other women including Monnier have come forward to allege that he either raped or sexually assaulted them.

Polanski has denied all of the claims, but in 2017 he left his post as president of the Cèsars, the French equivalent of the Oscars, and the following year he was expelled from the US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Alain Terzian, president of France’s APC film promotion association, which oversees the Cèsars, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Both France and Poland have refused to extradite Polanski to the US, where California prosecutors are pressing their case even after Polanski paid Geimer $225,000 in an out-of-court settlement in 1994.

On Twitter, Geimer criticised Monnier for not speaking sooner, writing on Saturday:

“Taking heat for not being more supportive of accusers who use film release dates to schedule their revelations with the press & sat silently while I was called a liar & a gold digging whore in 1977 knowing they may have prevented it, if they had the truth & my mom’s courage.”

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IDF maps home of Dolev terrorist bombmaker ahead of demolition | The Times of Israel

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Israeli security forces on Thursday made preparations for the demolition of the home of a Palestinian man suspected of helping carry out a deadly terror bombing this summer that killed a teenage Israeli girl and injured her father and brother, the military said.

Qassem a-Karim Rajah Shibli was part of a terror cell that is believed to have planted and detonated a bomb at a natural spring outside the Dolev settlement in the central West Bank on August 23. The blast killed Rina Shnerb, 17, and seriously injured her father, Rabbi Eitan Shnerb, and her brother, Dvir.

In the following weeks, the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service arrested four members of the cell, including its alleged ringleader, Samer Mina Salim Arbid, 44.

Shibli, 25, is suspected of helping make the bomb, according to the Shin Bet.

Rina Shnerb, 17, who was killed in a terror attack in the West Bank on August 23, 2019 (courtesy)

In the predawn hours of Thursday morning, Israeli troops measured Shibli’s home — the first step before its eventual demolition — in the Palestinian village of Kobar, northwest of Ramallah.

“The IDF will continue to act to prevent terror in Judea and Samaria,” the military said in a statement, using the biblical term for the West Bank.

Israel says the practice of demolishing terrorists’ homes is an effective means of discouraging future attacks, though it has been criticized by human rights groups as a form of collective punishment and by some analysts as an ineffective deterrent measure.

A short time after the arrests of the cell members were announced in September, it was reported that Arbid had been taken to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus in critical condition following his interrogation by the Shin Bet.

Samer Arbid, the suspected ringleader of a terror cell believed to be behind a deadly bombing attack that killed Israeli teenager Rina Shnerb in August 2019, in an undated photograph. (Twitter)

He was due to be released from the hospital shortly, approximately a month and a half after he was admitted, the Walla news site reported Thursday.

The IDF said troops conducted arrest raids throughout the West Bank overnight, detaining 11 Palestinian suspects, who are believed to have taken part in terrorist activities, rock throwing or rioting.

The military said it also seized “thousands of shekels of terror funds” from Shibli’s hometown of Kobar and the Palestinian city of Tulkarem in the northern West Bank.

“This action was done as part of the campaign against terror funding,” the IDF said.

Last month, security forces also prepared to demolish the home of another member of the terror cell behind the Dolev bombing, 25-year-old Yasan Hasin Hasni Majamas in the town of Bir Zeit, outside Ramallah.

The Shin Bet security service said Arbid, Shibli, Majamas and Nizam Sami Yousef Ulad Mahmoud, 21, were members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terror group and were planning additional attacks when they were arrested.

Mourners carry the body of 17-year-old Israeli Rina Shnerb, who was killed by a bomb in a terror attack while visiting a spring near Dolev in the West Bank, during her funeral in the city of Lod on August 23, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Arbid was brought to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus in late September in critical condition, with severe internal injures, including broken ribs and kidney failure. He regained consciousness on October 15, but remained hospitalized due to this injuries.

Arbid’s attorney, Mahmoud Hassan, petitioned the court for his release last month, arguing that his client had “undergone severe torture” while in Israeli custody. The court denied the request, and ruled that due to the improvement in Arbid’s condition, the Shin Bet could resume interrogating him.

According to security sources, the Shin Bet was given permission to employ “extraordinary measures” during the interrogation that led to his hospitalization. Such measures can include beatings, forcing prisoners into uncomfortable positions, sleep deprivation, shackling and subjecting prisoners to extreme temperatures.

This is typically allowed in “ticking time bomb” cases where there is concern the suspect could provide security forces with information that could prevent an imminent attack.

The Justice Ministry launched an investigation into Arbid’s injuries, specifically probing the degree of force along with the tactics used by the Shin Bet interrogators.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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Emmys 2019: Fleabag and Game of Thrones win big on Brit-dominated night

Phoebe Waller-Bridges comedy was the surprise victor while the final season of HBOs fantasy drama picked up the most Emmy awards

Awards and prizes

It was a British invasion at the 71st Emmy awards, with Game of Thrones taking home the prize for best drama and Phoebe Waller-Bridges Fleabag sweeping most of the comedy awards in a night that saw numerous nods to stars from across the pond.

The biggest question heading into the night was whether Emmy voters would reward perennial juggernaut Game of Thrones for its divisive final season. The show was nominated for 32 awards the most for any single season of television ever and had already won 10 Creative Arts Emmys last week. Game of Thrones took home the nights final prize for outstanding drama series and a best supporting actor nod for American star Peter Dinklage bringing its total to 12 awards and breaking its own 2015 record for the most awards given to a series but was otherwise shut out of the telecast.

Instead, Fleabag emerged as the nights big winner, upstaging Veep, HBOs other Emmys mainstay in its final season, and last years darling The Marvelous Mrs Maisel. Fleabag, which originated as Waller-Bridges one-woman show at the Edinburgh festival fringe, took home the awards for outstanding writing, best comedy series and best directing. Waller-Bridge also claimed lead actress in a comedy series a surprise win over Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who would have become the most decorated Emmys performer of all time had she won a ninth award for her role as Selina Meyer on Veep.

Jodie
Jodie Comer. Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters

Waller-Bridge, who began her third acceptance speech by saying This is just getting ridiculous, was the crest of what amounted to a British wave at the Emmys, with wins for several stars: Ben Whishaw (A Very English Scandal) won for outstanding supporting actor in a limited series, while Jodie Comer (Killing Eve) apologized to her Liverpudlian parents for not inviting them because she didnt think it was my time in her speech for lead actress in a drama series. Chernobyl, HBO and Sky Televisions brutal, critically acclaimed limited series on the 1986 nuclear disaster, won for best outstanding writing, best directing and limited series. John Oliver won his fourth consecutive Emmy for best variety series for Last Week Tonight, and Jesse Armstrong took home best drama writing for HBOs upstart Succession. Black Mirrors choose-your-own-adventure flick Bandersnatch also won for best television movie.

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Emotional speeches take center stage at 2019 Emmys video highlights

In a hostless awards show packed with more awards than anything else, perhaps the most stirring moment of the night was Michelle Williams speech for outstanding lead actress in a limited series (Fosse/Verdon), in which she heralded gender pay equity. My bosses never presumed to know better than I did about what I needed in order to do my job and honor Gwen Verdon, said Williams, now an outspoken activist for gender pay equity following the revelation to herself and the public that she was paid significantly less than costar Mark Wahlberg in the movie All the Money in the World. The next time a woman, and especially a woman of color because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white male counterpart tells you what she needs in order to do her job, listen to her, Williams said to some tears from the audience.

Believe her, because one day she might stand in front of you and say thank you for allowing [her] to succeed because of her workplace environment and not in spite of it.

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Jharrel Jerome wins lead actor in a drama series. Photograph: Frederic J Brown/AFP/Getty Images

The nights other highlight was an inspiring win for Jharrel Jerome as lead actor in a limited series for When They See Us, Ava DuVernays Netflix series on the wrongly convicted Central Park Five that was otherwise shut out of awards by Chernobyl. This is for the men we know as the exonerated five, Jerome said as the real Central Park Five, now exonerated, raised their fists in solidarity.

Representation and tolerance were also the themes of speeches by Billy Porter (Pose), who took home the prize for lead actor in a drama series The category is love, yall, love! he shouted and Patricia Arquette (The Act), who won outstanding supporting actress in a limited series. Arquette dedicated the award to her sister Alexis, a trans woman who died in 2016, and urged an end to discrimination of trans people. Give them jobs. Lets get rid of this bias that we have everywhere, she said.

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Michelle Williams gives powerful Emmys acceptance speech on pay inequality video

Outside of the British winners, other highlights of the evening included two nods to The Marvelous Mrs Maisel Tony Shalhoub and Alex Borstein for supporting actor and actress in a comedy series, respectively and an underdog win for Ozarks Julia Garner as outstanding supporting actress, besting Daenerys Targaryen herself, Emilia Clarke.

Game of Thrones still got its recognition, however, as a portion of its massive cast and crew took the stage for the nights biggest honor. Given all the fire and ice, dragons and long shoots, it is amazing that all of you are still alive, said co-showrunner DB Weiss. I cant believe we finished it.

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Bernie Sanders Hails Volunteer Army As Advantage Over Rivals

Volunteers for the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have organized and hosted over 11,000 events, including more than 2,000 in California, the campaign announced Tuesday evening.

The achievement, which top Sanders campaign organizers revealed in a conference call with over 7,000 supporters, reflects what the Sanders campaign sees as a secret weapon as it seeks to stand out in a crowded field of candidates: a “distributed” ― or volunteer-run ― organizing system that it innovated in the 2016 race and has fine-tuned.

Joining the call with volunteers after several of his advisers spoke, Sanders affirmed that, although the campaign would engage in conventional tactics like television and radio advertisements, its strength was the devotion of its supporters, many of whom have become volunteers.

“We are going to win this campaign because we … are going to have the strongest grassroots movement of any campaign,” he said. “That is how we win this thing. We win this going to our base, our strength of support.”

The conceit of distributed organizing, which has its fair share of skeptics, is that campaigns can amplify by orders of magnitude the effect of the staff they employ directly by empowering exceptionally motivated volunteers to run their own house parties, lead their own canvasses and develop, and monitor their own voter contacts by phone and text message. It differs from traditional campaign volunteering in terms of the resources and technology the Sanders campaign, and others inspired by it, have expended on creating an infrastructure to facilitate the work of its most dedicated supporters.

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Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at the Democratic National Committee’s summer meeting in San Francisco on Aug. 23.

It will be difficult to fully measure the organizing technique’s effectiveness prior to Feb. 3, when Sanders competes in Iowa’s Democratic caucus.

On Tuesday evening’s call, the campaign said its volunteers had made 2 million calls and sent 30 million text messages to voters in early states. It also recently concluded a two-week campus organizing boot camp, or “summer school,” that it says graduated more than 1,500 college and graduate school students who plan to serve as campaign ambassadors and organizers at their universities.

A viral initiative earlier this month asking Sanders supporters to share on social media the life experience that brought them to the campaign ― dubbed “#MyBernieStory” ― doubled as a volunteer recruitment technique. The campaign directed Sanders supporters who used the campaign’s organizing app, Bern, to post “#MyBernieStory” on Twitter or Facebook to use a digital tool to contact several other voters by text message and encourage them to get involved in the campaign. The campaign estimates that it reached the equivalent number of voters through those digitally facilitated connections as it would normally reach from knocking on 63,000 doors.

Critics of distributed organizing argue that it is no substitute for the professionally run field organizing teams that have powered successful presidential campaigns. And on that front, Sanders got a later start than some of his rivals, beginning hiring field organizers in the early states only in May. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, by contrast, already had 50 staff members in Iowa by that time.

The Sanders campaign insists, though, that distributed organizing aims not to supplant traditional field organizing but to magnify its impact. It now has dozens of paid, full-time field organizers in each of the four early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, as well as in California, a Super Tuesday state with a primary open to all registered voters.

The conference call noted the campaign’s distributed organizing strategy has gone from identifying and recruiting volunteers to now putting that volunteer army to work more aggressively. Campaign organizing leaders invited call participants to volunteer in real time to host a “Plan to Win” house party in September, where volunteers will bond with their peers and receive marching orders for the next phase of the campaign. The campaign said it received 1,700 commitments from volunteers on the call to host such house parties.

The Sanders campaign is hoping to capitalize on the momentum it has developed in recent weeks after a series of high-profile policy rollouts and endorsements, including his first official declaration of support from a national labor union

The Sanders campaign, which has tangled bitterly with media outlets and pollsters for what it believes is bias against the Vermont senator, touted a national poll released Monday that showed Sanders in a statistical three-way tie for first place with Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden.

But Sanders still trails Biden in the averages of polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, states that are essential to his success.

His campaign has argued that polls, which generally survey a universe of likely voters, do not account for the ways in which his campaign is seeking to turn out infrequent and new voters often left out of polling. At least one leading pollster has disputed the Sanders campaign’s analysis of the polls’ shortcomings.

Still, the Sanders campaign believes its success hinges on reaching those non-traditional voters ― and sees distributed organizing as a key tool to do it.

“We will win this election ― we will win the Democratic nomination, we will defeat Trump ― because we are going to bring out people who, in many cases, have not participated in politics before,” Sanders said Tuesday evening. “And I’m talking about a generation of young people who in my view are the most progressive generation in the history of our country ― anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobia, anti-religious bigotry.”

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