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Harvey Weinstein guilty of sexual assault, rape

Harvey Weinstein arrives at a Manhattan courthouse for his rape trial in New York [Seth Wenig/AP Photo]

Former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was convicted of sexual assault by a New York jury on Monday but acquitted on the most serious charges that could have sent him to prison for the rest of his life.

Once one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers, Weinstein, 67, was convicted of sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006 and raping another woman in 2013.

He faces up to 25 years in prison on the sexual assault conviction.

The jury acquitted Weinstein on two counts of predatory sexual assault, which carried a potential life sentence, and first degree rape.

The case was a milestone for the #MeToo movement that inspired women to go public with misconduct allegations against powerful men.

During his trial, Weinstein often appeared feeble, entering the courthouse using a walker. He sometimes leaned on his lead lawyer, Donna Rotunno, for support.

“He’s taken some good acting tips,” actress Rose McGowan said at the start of the trial on January 6 while staging a protest near the courthouse along with actress Rosanna Arquette and other Weinstein accusers.

More than 80 women, including famous actresses, had accused him of sexual misconduct stretching back decades. He had denied the allegations and said any sexual encounters were consensual.

Paul Callan, a former New York prosecutor who is not involved in the case, said Weinstein had strong grounds to argue the verdict should be overturned on appeal because of bias, noting that one of the jurors was the author of a forthcoming book on teenage girls and “predatory” older men.

During the trial, prosecutors portrayed Weinstein as a serial predator who had manipulated women with promises to open doors in Hollywood, coaxing them to hotel rooms or private apartments and then overpowering and violently attacking them.

“The man seated right there was not just a titan in Hollywood, he was a rapist,” Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast said during opening arguments.

Seated at the defence table, Weinstein often appeared impassive, though at times he looked intently at his lawyers when they cross-examined his accusers.

‘Jekyll and Hyde’

During the many weeks of trial, the prosecution methodically elicited graphic testimony from several accusers, including Haleyi, who said Weinstein invited her to his SoHo home after she had worked on one of his television productions.

After she arrived, Weinstein backed her into a bedroom, held her down on the bed and forced himself on her orally, yanking out her tampon, Haleyi told jurors.

The woman he raped in 2013 said that soon after meeting Weinstein she entered into an “extremely degrading” relationship with him that never included intercourse until, she alleged, he raped her.

She described Weinstein as a “Jekyll and Hyde” character: He was charming in public but often showed terrifying anger when they were alone, she said.

At one point, she started sobbing uncontrollably on the stand, prompting the judge to end testimony early for the day.

‘Prior bad acts’

Weinstein was charged with assaulting Haleyi and the other woman, but prosecutors bolstered their case by calling several other accusers as witnesses.

One of these women, “Sopranos” actress Annabella Sciorra, told jurors Weinstein came into her apartment one winter night in 1993 or 1994 and raped her.

Though the accusation was too old to be charged as a separate crime, prosecutors offered it to show Weinstein was a repeat sexual offender.

Three other women – costume designer Dawn Dunning, model Tarale Wulff and actress Lauren Young – testified that they were enticed into meeting Weinstein for professional reasons and then groped or raped.

Testimony of “prior bad acts” is generally not allowed in criminal trials, but an exception to the law allowed prosecutors to call these women to show Weinstein had a particular intention or a signature pattern of behaviour.

Legal experts said the women provided powerful evidence that was difficult for the defence to overcome.

Dunning testified that the producer groped her in 2004 and offered her movie roles in exchange for three-way sex with him and his assistant, which she refused.

Young, a model and actress, testified that the producer trapped her in a hotel bathroom in 2013, masturbated in front of her while groping her breasts, and told her: “This is what all the actresses do to make it.”

‘Last line of defence’

Throughout the case, the defence said regret drove the accusers to take consensual incidents and reframe them as crimes.

Weinstein’s lawyers zeroed in on friendly messages and ongoing contact between the women and Weinstein.

During cross-examination of Haleyi, for example, the defence showed her a message she sent Weinstein signed “lots of love” after her alleged attack.

Defence lawyers repeatedly suggested that the aspiring actress who accused him of raping her in 2013 willingly had sex with Weinstein to advance her career.

Weinstein never testified in his defence, although he told reporters he had wanted to. One of his lawyers said the case was too weak to warrant putting him on the stand.

Weinstein’s lawyer Rotunno told jurors during closing arguments that they were “the last line of defence” against an “overzealous” prosecution and that women were “responsible” for the “choices they make to further their own careers”.

Prosecutors pushed back against claims that his accusers were not credible and the notion that they were responsible for the alleged attacks.

Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi said it was irrelevant whether they had ongoing contact with Weinstein after the alleged attacks.

Illuzzi rejected a defence claim that the aspiring actress had a loving relationship with Weinstein, but said it would not matter if she had been “head over heels in love with him”.

“He still wouldn’t be allowed to rape her on March 18 of 2013,” she said.

Source: Aljazeera

Sanders accuses pro-Israel group of giving platform to 'bigotry'

Sanders became the second presidential candidate this year to refuse an invite to the conference after Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren [File: Mike Segar/Reuters]

Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said on Sunday he would skip The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual policy conference, citing his concern that the pro-Israel lobby group provides a platform for leaders expressing “bigotry” and opposition to “basic Palestinian rights”.

Making the announcement via Twitter, Sanders pledged that as president he would support the rights of both Palestinians and Israelis, while doing “everything possible to bring peace and security to the region”.

The AIPAC conference, which will take place from March 1 to March 4, is an annual gathering of pro-Israel leaders and personalities in Washington, DC, to highlight ways to strengthen US-Israeli ties and show support for the state of Israel. Sanders’ comments led AIPAC to publish a strong rebuke to the senator’s refusal.

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“It’s pretty major when the Democratic frontrunner announces he’s skipping AIPAC,” Peter Feld, a progressive campaign strategist and pollster at the digital media company, The Insurrection, told Al Jazeera.

“AIPAC made it impossible for Sanders to go, by running ads against him, but it’s significant that he cited anti-Palestinian bigotry as the reason to skip AIPAC,” he added.

Feld said that most importantly, for Sanders to make such comments at such a critical moment for his campaign, it shows that Sanders doesn’t believe a “fight with AIPAC will hurt him politically, or maybe even helps”.

Sanders’ comments come only days after his win in the Nevada Caucus on Saturday, solidifying his frontrunner status in the Democratic primary. 

In the past, speakers have included Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former US President Barack Obama. All three have attended the conference multiple times.

Earlier this month, US Senator Elizabeth Warren, another Democrat presidential hopeful, indicated that she too was unlikely to attend the annual conference.

‘Truly shameful’

Shortly after his two-part tweet, AIPAC put up a statement calling Sanders’s comments “truly shameful”.

“Senator Sanders has never attended our conference and that is evident from his outrageous comment,” the statement said.

AIPAC said a diverse group of people – “Democrats, Republicans, Jews, Christians, African Americans … participate in the conference to proclaim their support for the US-Israel relationship.”

The statement said by his comments, Sanders was “insulting his own colleagues and the millions of Americans who stand with Israel”.

Speakers included in this year’s conference include Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jefferies, and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy.

Established in 1951, AIPAC is the most influential pro-Israel group in the US, raising annually over $100m a year from donors. 

‘Hate group’

Sanders’ rejection and rebuke of AIPAC came on the heels of the organisation’s spat with Democratic Congresswoman Betty McCollum. The group sponsored Facebook ads implying that she, along, with US representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the first two Muslim women in the US Congress, were anti-Semites.

McCollum responded by calling AIPAC a “hate group” and said it was “weaponizing anti-Semitism and hate to silence dissent” while simultaneously “taunting Democrats and mocking our core values”.

The lobby swiftly retracted the ads and issued an apology to Democrats, but not to McCollum herself.

“We offer our unequivocal apology to the overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress who are rightfully offended by the inaccurate assertion that the poorly worded, inflammatory advertisement implied,” the statement read.

Omar Baddar of the Arab American Institute, based in Washington, DC, told Al Jazeera that Sanders’ tweets reflected “the shift in public opinion among young and progressive voters who are beginning to see through AIPAC’s hypocrisy”.

“For far too long, AIPAC has gotten away with a fundamental contradiction: they preached bipartisanship while consistently supporting the most aggressive, anti-Palestinian right-wing policies,” Baddar added.

“Now that the Democratic Party base has become much more aware of Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights, and much more hesitant to afford a carte blanche for Israel to behave as it wants and evade accountability, the inevitable clash between AIPAC and real progressives who value justice and human rights is finally under way, and is likely to escalate moving forward,” Baddar noted.

Some of AIPAC’s policy positions include supporting $3.8bn a year in US military aid to Israel, opposing the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement, and supporting moving the US embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a step widely opposed by the international community.

AIPAC has also come out in full support of Trump’s Middle East plan – unveiled last month – calling it a “solid basis for negotiations”.

Source: Aljazeera

Israel slammed for 'necroviolence' on bodies of Palestinians

Palestinians carry an injured protester after a Palestinian was killed by Israeli gunfire near east of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip [Anadolu Agency]

Israel’s use of “necroviolence” on bodies of Palestinians has been condemned as part of its policy to exert further control over the people living in the occupied territories.

On Sunday, a video that went viral on social media showed an Israeli bulldozer violently scooping up the body of a Palestinian who had been shot by Israeli forces east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

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Israeli authorities alleged that the man, identified as 27-year-old Mohammed Ali al-Naim – a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) movement, was attempting to plant an explosive device near the Israeli fence.

The video showed a group of Palestinians running forward with a wheelbarrow to try and carry al-Naim’s body, as well as another man who was wounded, back from the fence but were also targeted by Israeli soldiers.

At least two men were shot in the legs, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Muthana al-Najjar, the journalist who shot the video, said the Israeli bulldozer, which was accompanied by a Merkava tank, ran over al-Naim’s body and tried several times to pick it up with its blade before taking it back to the Israeli side as the body dangled from the edge of the blade.

“Desecrating the dead body of a young unarmed man on the borders of the Gaza Strip in front of the cameras of the whole world is a heinous crime that adds to the occupation’s list of crimes against our Palestinian people,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for the Hamas movement that governs the Gaza Strip, in a press statement. 

According to Budour Hassan, a legal researcher with the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC), this necroviolence – the act of humiliating human bodies – is a means of exerting control over bodies of the Palestinians.

“We see it as an extension of an entire policy designed by Israel to control bodies of Palestinians,” Hassan told Al Jazeera. 

The word necroviolence, Hassan added, is borrowed from anthropologist Jason De Leon’s book The Land of Open Graves in which he coined the term to describe the mistreatment of bodies of migrants who crossed the US border from Mexico.

Hassan added that while desecrating Palestinian bodies was not exceptional to the Israeli forces, the video of the incident was a rare instance where it was carried out publicly.

“Israel carries out similar forms of humiliation on bodies silently in morgues or in the cemeteries of numbers,” she explained, referring to mass graves marked with numbers etched on metal plates rather than names.

The cemeteries are situated in secret locations that Israel has deemed closed military zones. Some of the bodies have been there since the 1967 war.

Furthermore, the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute in Tel Aviv, which holds bodies of Palestinians killed in alleged attacks on Israelis, is notoriously known as the place where Palestinian organs and body parts have been harvested.

Collective violence

According to JLAC and Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, an NGO, Israel is the only country in the world that has a policy of confiscation of human remains, where it relies on regulations dating back to 1945 (during the British Mandate) as grounds for its policy.

In September 2019, the Israeli High Court approved the practice after several legal cases were brought against the state. According to Adalah, the ruling stated that emergency regulations allowed the Israeli military to order temporary burial of Palestinians classified as enemies “based on considerations that take into account state security, civil order, and the need to negotiate for the return of the bodies of Israeli soldiers”.

However, international law considers the practice a violation of human rights. According to the Geneva Conventions, the parties of an armed conflict must bury the deceased in an honourable way, “if possible according to the rites of the religion to which they belonged and that their graves are respected, properly maintained, and marked in such a way that they can always be recognised”.

Ramy Abdu, the founder of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, said Israel withholding bodies of Palestinians is an act of collective violence that is considered a war crime.

“The Israeli authorities have repeatedly adopted a policy of withholding Palestinian bodies, which blatantly contradicts several international conventions,” Abdu told Al Jazeera. “Articles in the Geneva Conventions assure the necessity of burying the bodies of deceased detainees or those who were killed with respect according to procedures that are appropriate with their religious culture,” he added.

‘Dehumanising Palestinian bodies’

According to the JLAC, 52 bodies of Palestinians have been detained by the Israeli government as part of a cabinet decision in 2016.

A further 18 bodies were also detained by Israel from the 2014 Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip, whereas the cemeteries of numbers hold at least 253 bodies.

“There are two branches to this policy,” Hassan said. “One is the legalised violence that is approved by the Israeli High Court, and the other is the violence practised by the Israeli army. Both follow the same pattern of dehumanising Palestinian bodies.”

It is widely known that Israel employs the practice as a tactic for leverage in negotiations. In 2012, Israel released bodies of 90 Palestinians in a gesture for reviving peace talks. Between 2013 and 2014, some 27 bodies were returned.

Speaking about Sunday’s incident, Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett confirmed the bulldozer was used to “collect” al-Naim’s body. He said he intended to keep the bodies from Gaza to use as bargaining chips with “Palestinian militants” in body-swap deals, and slammed the uproar over withholding al-Naim’s body as the “hypocritical criticism of the left”. 

“I back the IDF that killed the terrorist and collected the body,” he said in a post on Twitter. “This is how it should be done, and this is how it will be done.”

Hassan said while Bennett’s comments are not surprising, they are interesting in the way “it justifies the extent to which Palestinians have been dehumanised in Israeli media and by Israeli officials which is a culmination of the whole system of necroviolence that is being exerted on Palestinians”.

In a letter sent to the Israeli chief military advocate general, Adalah called for a criminal investigation of the incident, and termed the manhandling of the body a “blatant” violation of international criminal law, human rights and humanitarian law.

“The Israeli Supreme Court has likewise recognised in past rulings that harm to the dignity of the deceased is a violation of Israel’s basic law: human dignity and liberty,” the centre said.

Aida Touma-Sliman, a Palestinian Israeli member of Knesset representing the Hadash party – a part of the Joint List alliance, called Bennett “the minister of death and brutality”.

“They steal a body, abuse it with a bulldozer and still argue that the army is the most moral in the world,” she said. “Since Bennett took office as defence minister, hoarding bodies to bargain with is Israel’s declared policy.”

Ofer Cassif, another Joint List parliamentarian, called the abduction of a body as “the nauseating, blood-thirsty act of vampirism”.

Source: Aljazeera

Family of slain Palestinian demands Israel return body for burial

Mohammed’s mother Mirvat says the Israeli military committed a ‘great crime’ [Walid Mahmoud/Al Jazeera]

Khan Younis, Gaza – At the al-Naem family home in western Khan Younis, the relatives of 27-year-old Mohammed gathered in shock to grieve over the loss of a father, husband and son.

“My son has no match, he was everything to me,” said Mohammed’s mother, Mirvat, 56. “He was kind-hearted, religious and very moral. I can’t imagine him gone.”

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Mohammed was shot dead on Sunday by the Israeli military, which accused him of planting an explosive device near the Israeli separation fence east of Khan Younis in the besieged Gaza Strip.

A local journalist captured the scenes that followed in a video, widely shared on social media, which showed a group of Palestinian onlookers attempting to retrieve Mohammed’s body when an Israeli military bulldozer approaches.

Gunfire can be heard as the men rush away from the body, which the bulldozer then scoops up after several apparently failed attempts. The body appears to hang from the teeth of the scoop by a piece of clothing as the bulldozer turns and heads towards the fence.

‘A great crime’

The images of Mohammed’s lifeless body being carried away by the bulldozer have caused widespread outrage among Palestinians and the family has demanded its swift return for burial.

“Isn’t it horrendous enough that they killed my young man? What they did is a great crime against humanity,” said Mirvat.

“All I want is for them to bring my son back … It’s my right to see him for the last time and bid farewell to him and bury him near me to be able to visit him.”

Mohammed’s wife Hiba, 25, who struggled to speak through tears, described her husband as a kind-hearted, hard-working family man. 

“Mohammed was a very kind and very remarkable man. I can’t imagine this happening to him,” she told Al Jazeera. “We’ve been married for a year-and-a-half and he’s been very tender-hearted and sweet to me. Our baby is less than a year old, what did he do to deserve growing up without his father?”

Hiba said Mohammed was an engineer who worked with different companies as he sought to make a living to support his family. She said she would not watch the video. 

‘Horrifying’

Palestinian journalist Muthana al-Najjar, 36, said he learned that there had been an incident close to the fence near Khan Younis approximately at 6am local time (04:00 GMT) on Sunday and rushed to the scene with his camera equipment.

“The scene of the incident was horrifying,” he said. “There was an intensive deployment of Israeli soldiers on sand mounds. There was also an Israeli Merkava battle tank standing on a sand mound, live rounds were being shot from the Israeli side,” he said, adding that one person lay prone close to a motorcycle.

A group of onlookers had gathered and made several attempts to recover the body, but faced live fire from the Israeli soldiers, he told Al Jazeera.

“The first rescue attempt was made by four civilian farmers who took a wheelbarrow and tried to approach Mohammed’s body, but the army shot live fire towards them and their attempt to retrieve the body failed,” al-Najjar said.

“More residents of the area came to the incident’s location, and there were loudspeakers calling on people to hasten and attempt to retrieve the bodies before the army comes and steals them as has been the case several times before.”

As more people gathered nearby, al-Najjar said Israeli vehicles, including a military bulldozer, approached the area.

“The bulldozer wasn’t there yet, so four young people managed to reach the body and put the martyr on the wheelbarrow, but he fell off on their way back because of the Israeli fire and their fear of getting shot. They tried to carry him again, but the Israeli soldiers shot one of them, and he was injured so their balance was disturbed, and the martyr fell off again.”

“During the third rescue attempt, the bulldozer entered Gaza with the tank. And for the first time in years, we saw an Israeli bulldozer entering around 70 metres into Gaza,” al-Najjar pointed out.

“As one person managed to get a hold of Mohammed’s body, the bulldozer rushed towards them and used its scoop to hold back the body, while soldiers shot the rescuer in his leg. The shooting continued so people couldn’t approach the body.”

Military flare-up

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) armed group said that Mohammed was a member of its armed wing. Late on Sunday, it launched more than 20 rockets towards Israel from Gaza in response to his killing.

Overnight, Israel carried out a number of air raids on what it called “terror sites” near Damascus, Syria and Gaza.

The group said that two of its members were killed in Syria.

Source: Aljazeera

Newest Thai political party shut down by courts

Future Forward was Thailand‘s newest political party. Its candidates and young supporters looked to challenge and change the government run by Prayuth Chan-ocha – the army general who gained power in a 2014 coup.

But that all changed last week when it was shut down by the courts.

Source: Aljazeera

German conservatives brood over Merkel’s successor

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been one of Europe’s most prominent leaders for more than a decade [Yves Herman/Reuters]

Germany’s conservatives are expected to unveil their new leadership on Monday, as Angela Merkel’s party puzzles over how to prepare for the veteran chancellor’s departure next year.

Ratcheting up the challenge for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is an internal crisis over how it should position itself against the extremes of right and left that have reshaped the nation’s political landscape.

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After announcing her resignation earlier this month, CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer – widely known as “AKK” – is to reveal her plans around midday.

She will go public a day after the party suffered its second-worst result ever in a regional election, placing third in city-state Hamburg with just 11.5 percent of votes.

German media reported that leaders would likely put off the key question of who should lead the party as chancellor candidate in upcoming parliamentary elections, planned at the latest for autumn 2021.

Meanwhile, an extraordinary party congress in May or June should anoint a new party chairman – unless the CDU opts for a stop-gap solution that shares power among the contenders to avoid a damaging internal dust-up.

Far-right crisis 

AKK launched the race to succeed Merkel after barely a year as head of the party, by announcing her resignation on February 10.

Regional lawmakers in the eastern state of Thuringia had defied an edict from Berlin not to ally with the extremes, by voting with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

It was the latest sign that the defence minister had failed to stamp her authority on the CDU and become a credible candidate to succeed Merkel.

AKK initially planned a quick departure, hoping to elevate a successor who would also lead the party into the 2021 election.

But her own example shows how difficult it is for a party chief to make their mark while the phenomenally popular Merkel remains in office.

“How can Angela Merkel be got rid of” to clear the way, top-selling daily Bild asked.

In the starting blocks are two politicians who promise to break with her centrist course and lead the CDU rightwards, to win back voters from AfD.

One, Friedrich Merz, is a former Merkel rival who recently described her fourth government as “abysmal”, while young Health Minister Jens Spahn is a rising party star.

Facing them are two more moderate candidates: North Rhine-Westphalia state premier Armin Laschet and Norbert Roettgen, a former environment minister who Merkel had dismissed.

‘Self-destruction’

The choice of leader will set the tone for the future of a party that has dominated German politics since the post-Second World War federal republic was founded in 1949.

Polls highlight the urgent need for action, as only 27 percent still say they would back the CDU, ahead of 23 percent for the Greens and 14 percent for the far right.

Beyond the high-profile personalities, the conservatives also need to clarify what they stand for in an increasingly splintered political landscape that hinders stable majorities, be it in Berlin or the 16 state parliaments.

Top of the list is whether the CDU will stick to its rigid policy of refusing to cooperate with either the far-right or the far-left, borders growing increasingly difficult to maintain as their share of the vote increases.

Thuringia is a textbook case, as last year’s regional elections produced no clear governing majority following a surge by the AfD.

CDU state lawmakers voted with the far right, breaching a historic political taboo, to install a liberal state premier.

But after a nationwide outcry, the regional CDU retreated – only to be publicly rebuked by Berlin chiefs for its plan to “tolerate” a minority government led by radical-left successors of the one-party state in communist East Germany.

Weekly Der Spiegel labelled the CDU’s zig-zagging “self-destruction” by “a party without direction or a strategic centre.”

Source: Aljazeera