President Trump declared Thursday the U.S. is ready to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, which it seized from Syria in 1967. Trump announced the move via Twitter, writing, “After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!” After a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Trump’s announcement.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “President Trump has just made history. I called him. I thanked him on behalf of the people of Israel. He did it again.”
Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, though the international community does not recognize its sovereignty. The Syrian state news agency responded to Trump’s vow to overturn decades of U.S. policy by saying it showed the “blind bias” of the U.S. toward Israel and that his comments had shown “contempt” for international law.
Trump’s announcement came just days before he is set to host Netanyahu at the White House during the annual conference of AIPAC—the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The AIPAC event will include speeches from Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, among others. But a growing number of Democrats—including at least eight presidential candidates—have said they will be skipping the summit. In a statement, the campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wrote, “[Sen. Sanders] is concerned about the platform AIPAC is providing for leaders who have expressed bigotry and oppose a two-state solution.” We’ll have more on AIPAC and President Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights after headlines.
The chair of the House Oversight committee has revealed that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner illegally used private email accounts and messaging apps to carry out official White House business. In a letter to the White House Thursday, Maryland Congressmember Elijah Cummings said Kushner—President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser—used WhatsApp to communicate with foreign contacts, including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, while both Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, used private email accounts in a way that appeared to violate federal records laws. Cummings also revealed that White House officials, including Steve Bannon, used personal emails to discuss transferring sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly led chants of “Lock her up!” as he blasted Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server as secretary of state.
Meanwhile, The New York Times is reporting Jared Kushner’s brother, Josh Kushner, traveled to Saudi Arabia in October 2017 seeking investors for his venture capital firm—just days before Jared Kushner also traveled to the kingdom to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on White House business. Government ethics lawyers say Josh Kushner’s visit posed a potential conflict of interest. It came just one week before the crown prince ordered Saudi police to arrest about 200 prominent businessmen and former officials—holding them captive in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel, where many later said they were tortured.
New Zealand broadcast the Islamic call to prayer nationwide Friday and observed two minutes of silence as the nation marked one week since a white supremacist terrorist attacked two mosques in Christchurch, killing 50 people. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, dressed in black and wearing a hijab, addressed mourners at a public park adjacent to the Al Noor Mosque where most of the victims of last week’s massacre were attacked during Friday prayers on March 15.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern: “The Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alaihi wasallam, said the believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body. When any part of the body suffers, the whole body feels pain. New Zealand mourns with you. We are one.”
The New Zealand memorial was held as unknown assailants used sledgehammers to vandalize five mosques in the British city of Birmingham. Muslim groups say far-right extremists likely carried out the attacks.
Florida resident Cesar Sayoc pleaded guilty Thursday to 65 felony counts for sending pipe bombs last year to prominent Democrats, CNN and other critics of President Trump. When Sayoc was arrested last October, he was living in a van covered in pro-Trump and Pence stickers, as well as images of prominent Democrats with crosshairs over them.
The New York Times reports Boeing airplanes that recently crashed in Indonesia and Ethiopia both lacked optional safety features that could have saved the lives of 346 people. Both Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 lacked an “angle of attack indicator” and an “angle of attack disagree light”—indicators that Boeing offers only at an additional cost. This comes as families of victims of last October’s Lion Air crash say they were pressured by the airline to sign a pledge not to pursue legal action against the company, in exchange for about $90,000 in compensation. The amount was the minimum the families were entitled to under Indonesian law.
In Mosul, Iraq, at least 92 people were killed Thursday after a ferry capsized and sank in the Tigris River. Many of the dead were children. The ferry was overloaded with people celebrating the Kurdish new year marking the start of spring.
In eastern China, an explosion at a pesticide plant in the city of Yancheng Thursday killed at least 47 people and left scores more seriously injured. A government inspection of the plant last year showed more than a dozen violations, including a lack of safety training for managers. It’s the worst industrial disaster in China since a 2015 explosion in Tianjin killed more than 170 people.
Back in the United States, residents of the city of Deer Park, outside Houston, Texas, were ordered to shelter in place Thursday due to dangerous levels of toxic benzene kicked up by a massive fire at a petrochemical plant. The fire began on Sunday and has since continued to spew acrid smoke across the region. A recently filed federal lawsuit charges the company behind the explosion—Intercontinental Terminals Company—illegally dumped more than a million gallons of hazardous waste into floodwaters during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 in an effort to save money.
A new analysis by the Environmental Working Group finds 70 percent of fresh produce sold across the United States is contaminated with pesticide. Topping the list of contaminated produce are strawberries and spinach, while more than nine out of 10 samples of kale were found to contain residues of pesticides, with some leaves containing up to 18 different chemical compounds.
Facebook admitted Thursday that hundreds of millions of users’ passwords were stored in a database that was accessible by more than 20,000 employees at the social media giant. The latest privacy breach at Facebook comes as Massachusetts senator and 2020 presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren has unveiled a plan to break up tech giants, including Facebook, Google and Amazon.
European Union officials have offered the United Kingdom a short extension for its plans to leave the EU. European Council President Donald Tusk said Thursday he’ll roll back the deadline for Brexit from March 29 to April 12—but only if British lawmakers approve a Brexit plan they’ve already rejected twice.
Donald Tusk: “The U.K. government will still have a choice of a deal, no deal, a long extension or revoking Article 50. The 12th of April is a key date in terms of the U.K. deciding whether to hold European Parliament elections. If it has not decided to do so by then, the option of a long extension will automatically become impossible.”
In Wisconsin, a state judge has blocked legislation passed by lame-duck Republicans seeking to strip the incoming Democratic administration of power while protecting policies enacted by former Governor Scott Walker. A Dane County circuit court judge sided with civil rights groups who challenged the power grab as a legislative coup that violated Wisconsin’s Constitution. Republicans in Michigan and North Carolina passed similar bills after losses in recent elections.
Advisers to former Vice President Joe Biden are reportedly considering Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams as an out-of-the-gate vice-presidential running mate when Biden announces his candidacy for the 2020 presidency next month. Abrams narrowly lost Georgia’s gubernatorial race last year to Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who was widely accused of suppressing the vote.
In New York, six women have accused billionaire donor Michael Steinhardt of carrying out sexual harassment over the course of decades. In interviews with ProPublica and The New York Times, the women say Steinhardt regularly propositions sex and threesomes, while making unwelcome comments about women’s bodies. Steinhardt has denied many of the allegations. Steinhardt co-founded Birthright Israel and has donated about $25 million to the nonprofit. The group provides free trips to Israel to young Jewish Americans, promoting Israeli government policies while avoiding discussion of Israel’s West Bank settlements and its occupation of Palestinian lands.
And in Alabama, officials at Holman prison have cut off water to the cells of eight prisoners on hunger strike as they protest conditions in solitary confinement. Officials say prisoners will instead be offered bottled water every half-hour so they can monitor the prisoners’ liquid intake. The prisoners were placed in solitary housing units on February 28 without warning. They say they committed no infraction or violation of prison rules; instead, they were told in a letter from prison officials, “You will remain in Restrictive Housing in Preventative status for peace and tranquility of the institution.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has sued Holman prison, saying its heavy reliance on solitary confinement violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.