Alexa can control your home security system

It's now decidedly easier to control your home security system if you have an Echo speaker or another Alexa-powered gadget. Amazon has enabled a Security Panel Controller framework that lets you control security systems with your voice. You can arm…

Alexa can control your home security system

It's now decidedly easier to control your home security system if you have an Echo speaker or another Alexa-powered gadget. Amazon has enabled a Security Panel Controller framework that lets you control security systems with your voice. You can arm…

Alexa can control your home security system

It's now decidedly easier to control your home security system if you have an Echo speaker or another Alexa-powered gadget. Amazon has enabled a Security Panel Controller framework that lets you control security systems with your voice. You can arm…

Alexa can control your home security system

It's now decidedly easier to control your home security system if you have an Echo speaker or another Alexa-powered gadget. Amazon has enabled a Security Panel Controller framework that lets you control security systems with your voice. You can arm…

Alexa can control your home security system

It's now decidedly easier to control your home security system if you have an Echo speaker or another Alexa-powered gadget. Amazon has enabled a Security Panel Controller framework that lets you control security systems with your voice. You can arm…

Messianic Jewish Lobbying Group Builds Support for U.S.-Funded Ethnic Cleansing Plan in Palestine

A pro-Israel activist group is quietly pushing lawmakers on Capitol Hill and key officials in the White House to embrace a plan that would entail paying Palestinian residents in the West Bank to move abroad. The plan is a bid to reshape the ethnic and religious population of territories controlled by Israel, according to the head of the group, called the Alliance for Israel Advocacy.

If all goes according to the group’s plan, legislation will be released in January, when the new Congress convenes, that will redirect U.S. funds once dedicated to the United Nations for Palestinian humanitarian assistance into a voucher program administered by the Israeli government. A draft summary of the proposal states that the money will help finance the permanent relocation of Palestinians from the West Bank to countries such as Turkey, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates, or the United States.

The effort is being championed by the Alliance for Israel Advocacy, a lobbying group formed by the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, a nonprofit that represents Jews who have converted to Christianity but who still practice some Jewish customs. The so-called Messianic Jews broadly share many spiritual beliefs of modern born-again evangelicals.

The Intercept was unable to confirm the Alliance for Israel Advocacy’s accounts of its meetings with Congress and the White House, and the lawmakers whom the group said were considering sponsorship of its legislative effort declined to comment on this story. But Paul Liberman, the executive director of the Alliance for Israel Advocacy, explained the policy plan — and his account of the lobbying push — in an extensive interview with The Intercept.

“If there are any Palestinian residents who wish to leave, we will provide funds for you to leave, with the hopes that over 10 years to change the demography of the West Bank towards an eventual annexation.”

“Our organization advocates, and it’s in our proposed legislation, we say, let’s offer sponsorship if there are any Palestinian residents who wish to leave and go to other countries, we will provide funds for you to leave,” said Liberman. “The only rights the Palestinians have are squatter’s rights,” Liberman continued. “If there are any Palestinian residents who wish to leave, we will provide funds for you to leave, with the hopes that over 10 years to change the demography of the West Bank towards an eventual annexation.”

Liberman said he was inspired by the Bible to build a single Jewish state in what is often called Greater Israel. His organization believes that most Palestinians must leave the country and that those who remain should “live under the doctrine of the sojourner,” according to Liberman, meaning they would not have the ability to vote and could “not participate in the sovereignty of the land.”

The Alliance for Israel Advocacy has avoided the spotlight while quietly soliciting backing from high-level officials, including conservative Republicans, evangelical leaders, and Israeli officials. When Liberman spoke to The Intercept, he was pitching the plan at the Council for National Policy, a gathering of high-powered donors and activists of the religious right. The closely guarded private event featured Nikki Haley, then the United Nations ambassador.

In the 2018 book “Trump Aftershock: The President’s Seismic Impact on Culture and Faith in America,” the Christian right author Stephen Strang, who chronicled the relationship between Trump and evangelicals, said Liberman has presented the Alliance for Israel Advocacy proposal at the White House. Strang wrote, “Liberman has been invited to three meetings at the White House to discuss their bold and viable plan.”

A summary of the legislation proposed by Liberman has been floated to several congressional offices, according to his account. The bill will propose that the money the U.S. typically budgets for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency fund — the agency that distributes aid to Palestinian refugees, the Palestinian Authority, relief nonprofits, and families living in the West Bank — would instead go into a fund designated to resettle Palestinians in countries all over the world. In 2017, the U.S. provided $364 million to UNWRA, though the funding ended in August of this year when President Donald Trump abruptly stopped the payments.

Human rights organizations were surprised to hear of the Alliance for Israel Advocacy’s proposal and quickly condemned the effort.

“Any reallocation of US funding from aid given to the UN for humanitarian work towards a voucher system set up to encourage Palestinians to leave their homes would represent support by the U.S. for ethnic cleansing,” Mike Merryman-Lotze, the Middle East Program Director for the American Friends Service Committee, wrote in an email in response to a summary of the Alliance for Israel Advocacy proposal.

“Any reallocation of US funding from aid given to the UN for humanitarian work towards a voucher system set up to encourage Palestinians to leave their homes would represent support by the U.S. for ethnic cleansing.”

Debra Shushan, the director of policy at the group Americans for Peace Now, said that under normal circumstances, any such proposal would never gain traction and would be viewed as comically extreme. But in the Trump era, once unthinkable demands have quickly become policy on Israel and Palestine, leaving Shushan concerned that the Alliance for Israel Advocacy proposal might be more than just a fringe idea.

“A plan to redirect U.S. foreign aid from supporting Palestinian refugees through UNRWA to paying Palestinians to leave the West Bank so that Israel’s own radical religious right can annex the occupied territory is morally outrageous and destined to fail,” said Shusan, adding that her organization would oppose the effort.

The Alliance for Israel Advocacy may appear obscure, but the group boasts high-level contacts throughout the Trump administration. Liberman said he has met with key administration figures, including Tom Rose, a close adviser to Vice President Mike Pence; Jason Greenblatt, the president’s chief adviser on issues pertaining to Israel; and Victoria Coates, an official with the National Security Council, among others. (The White House did not respond to requests for comment on whether any administration officials met with Liberman or his group.)

Behind the scenes, Lieberman told The Intercept, the Alliance for Israel Advocacy has nudged the administration in the direction of the overall plan for reshaping U.S. aid to Palestinians. Liberman said his group was instrumental in passing the Taylor Force Act, signed in March of this year. Critics say the law, which conditions American aid to the Palestinian Authority on ending the practice of providing financial assistance to the families of individuals who commit acts of terrorism, could be used to punish any dissent to the occupation. The Alliance for Israel Advocacy also lobbied on Trump’s recent decision to end UNWRA funding.

Public records show that the Alliance for Israel Advocacy retained the services of Fidelis Government Relations, a lobbying firm that employs Bill Smith, one of Pence’s closest former aides and his former chief of staff. The disclosures state that the firm was hired by the Alliance for Israel Advocacy in order to build relationships with the White House, including with the vice president’s office.

Originally, according to Liberman, the Alliance for Israel Advocacy had worked closely with former Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., a committed Christian conservative and founding member of the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus, to sponsor the voucher legislation. But Franks resigned late last year, immediately following the revelation that he had urged one of his congressional staffers to serve as a surrogate mother to bear children for him. The next potential sponsor, according to Liberman’s account, was Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla., who lost in November to Democrat Kendra Horn in one of the biggest surprise upsets of the midterm elections.

Liberman recently visited Capitol Hill in search of a new sponsor for his bill. In an update for Alliance for Israel Advocacy members, Liberman noted that he met repeatedly with Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, who is open to sponsoring the legislation, though he will first “confer with his counterpart in the Knesset called the ‘Israel Victory Caucus.’” Other potential sponsors include Reps. Ted Budd, R-N.C.; John Moolenaar, R-Mich.; Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y.; John Curtis, R-Utah; Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo.; and Daniel Webster, R-Fla.

The Trump administration has maintained unusually strong ties to figures in the Messianic Jewish movement. Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal attorney, converted from Reform Judaism to Christianity while attending Atlanta Baptist College, and later built a career as a fiery defender of Jews for Jesus and other likeminded Christian organizations. In October, Loren Jacobs, the leader of a Messianic Jewish congregation, gave the opening prayer at a rally in Michigan headlined by Pence. During his remarks, Jacobs prayed for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, sparking a minor controversy given the contentious relationship between the American Jewish community and the Messianic Jewish movement.

Adherents of Messianic Judaism are often viewed skeptically across the spectrum of more established strains of Judaism — and by the Israeli government, which views Messianic Jews as Christians, not Jews, for the purposes of Jewish immigration rights in Israel. The Alliance for Israel Advocacy’s religious status, however, has not prevented the group from making some inroads with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Liberman said he has met with several leaders in the Knesset, or Israeli parliament, including Tzachi Hanegbi, a senior figure in the Likud Party. (Strang also reported the meeting between Hanegbi and Liberman.) Hanegbi directed Lieberman to meet with Naftali Bennett, the chair of the hard-right party Israel Home, a partner in Likud’s coalition. Bennett, said Liberman, encouraged him to meet with Israel Home Knesset Member Moti Yogev, the chair of the Subcommittee for Judea and Samaria, which oversees the occupied West Bank. Liberman said he secured explicit support from Yogev for the Alliance for Israel Advocacy’s voucher plan.

Yogev made headlines in recent months for demanding that Palestinian Israeli lawmakers leave Israel. “Even Ramallah will be part of Israel. Go to Paris, go to Britain, go to your anti-Semitic friends, go to whomever you want. Your place is in the departure lounge,” Yogev thundered during a confrontation that occurred at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport in September. The Knesset member has previously sponsored bills to annex Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including the city of Ariel, Gush Etzion, and others. (Yogev did not respond to a request for comment about his work with the Alliance for Israel Advocacy.)

During the interview with The Intercept, Liberman recounted his own religious awakening. Once a committed Orthodox Jew working in the Nixon administration as an agency liaison to Capitol Hill, Liberman said he had an encounter with an individual on a bus who urged him to explore Christian spirituality. That experience led him to re-examine the Torah and eventually view Jesus Christ as a messiah figure consistent with prophecies in his own faith.

Liberman founded a Messianic Jewish congregation in the Washington, D.C., area and today leads a congregation located in Palm Springs, California. He has long agitated for the Messianic Jewish cause, building relationships with major Jewish organizations and evangelicals.

With the unorthodox dynamics influencing Trump, Liberman believes a more low-key approach can get results on his plan.

That lobbying experience has helped him craft the voucher proposal. “The usual approach is to create a public relations campaign and influence the public,” said Liberman. But with this idea and the unorthodox dynamics influencing Trump, he believes a more low-key approach can get better results. Once there is public support from either the administration or the Israeli government for the voucher plan, Lieberman said, major Jewish advocacy groups will support the effort.

One Alliance for Israel Advocacy memo on its lobbying effort states that the group’s “Biblical orientation has always received a warmer reception among Republican Members.” The Alliance for Israel, however, has floated the idea that Democrats may be amenable to their approach. In the memo to supporters, the group noted that Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., proposed the UNRWA Accountability Act, a bill designed to give the administration more authority to shape how UNRWA funds are spent. Though bill was a far cry from Liberman’s proposal, he appeared to take solace in Democratic action on UNWRA spending. “Democrats love Israel, too,” Liberman told The Intercept.

Liberman dismissed the traditional funding of UNRWA as support for terrorism and said that his proposal will be popular among Palestinians. To that end, he cited support from a poll his organization conducted.

The Alliance for Israel Advocacy commissioned the poll last year among 650 Palestinians in the West Bank to gauge support for the relocation proposal. The poll found nearly one third of youth living without full employment, and about half have already discussed moving abroad in search of economic opportunity. The survey suggests respondents would be open to resettlement abroad in exchange for $1,000 to $100,000, with the median amount at approximately $5,040.

“Over time, there could be many families interested in a fresh start with $50,000 capital for a new life,” a memo published by the Alliance for Israel Advocacy declares.

Te fact that Israel is already divided into separate territories, with Gaza and the West Bank under nominal Palestinian rule, is “inconsistent with the Bible,” said Liberman, citing scripture.

The Bible’s always been true, and anything it predicts has come true or will come true,” he said confidently. God, continued Liberman, intended for Israel to have “the borders from the River Jordan to the Great Sea, the Mediterranean Sea.”

The post Messianic Jewish Lobbying Group Builds Support for U.S.-Funded Ethnic Cleansing Plan in Palestine appeared first on The Intercept.

Former fossil fuels lobbyist to head interior department as Zinke exits

David Bernhardt’s new job means top two US environmental agencies will be helmed by people once paid by industry

Ryan Zinke’s exit as interior secretary elevates a former lobbyist to the job, meaning the top two US environmental agencies will now be run by people previously paid by industry.

The deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, will take over at least temporarily when Zinke steps down at the end of the year. He also could be in the running to head the department permanently. And at the Environmental Protection Agency, the acting administrator, Andrew Wheeler, who was a coal lobbyist, will be nominated to keep the post.

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