Why Apple was wrong to pull iPhone app at Israel's behest

The US computer giant removed the "ThirdIntifada" app under Israeli pressure.

The Arabic word intifada -- literally meaning "to shake off" but usually translated as "uprising" or "resistance" -- has strong political and historical connotations in the Arab world. The First and Second Intifadas were two popular Palestinian uprisings over the past three decades against the Israeli occupation.

That Apple attempted to capitalise on the social turmoil of these events by launching an iPhone application under the name "ThirdIntifada" is thus not the smartest move the company has ever made. The Arabic-language app was released a few days ago, and provided consumers with news reports and editorials, as well as details of upcoming protests and nationalistic Palestinian material.

Unsurprisingly, the Israeli government has been quick to take the offensive, and Apple has since removed the app at the request of the Iraeli state.

But this small and seemingly benign episode raises questions about Apple's political entanglements, and the extent of Israeli influence.

Israel recently appealed personally to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to take down a Palestinian Third Intifada page that had attracted more than 350,000 fans. After initially refusing, Facebook, too, complied.

Arguably, Apple should not have agreed to publish the app in the first place -- or at least changed its name to something less politically volatile. The company enforces stringent guidelines for the applications it approves, and has previously rejected or blocked apps that it considers offensive or inflammatory. Earlier this year, Apple pulled an app offering to "cure homosexuality" after more than 100,000 people signed a petition calling for its removal.

While the Intifada app may indeed be deemed offensive by some Zionist groups, it seems unlikely that such a fuss would have been made for a similar app detailing the Egyptian or Tunisian protest movements -- or, for that matter, the recent protests in Britain against government spending cuts.

The question here is not just about Apple's murky politics, Palestinian antagonism or Israel's far-reaching influence, but about the role of a state -- any state -- in pressurising an international organisation to withdraw one of their products. Two wrongs, as the saying goes, don't make a right.

Whichever way you look at it, this example sets a worrying -- if not wholly unexpected -- precedent for future dealings between Palestinians and the Israeli state.

Emanuelle Degli Esposti is a freelance journalist currently living and working in London. She has written for the Sunday Express, the Daily Telegraph and the Economist online.

Emanuelle Degli Esposti is the editor and founder of The Arab Review, an online journal covering arts and culture in the Arab world. She also works as a freelance journalist specialising in the politics of the Middle East.

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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.