U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement on Saturday that he took “full responsibility” for secrecy surrounding an ongoing, week-long hospitalization for a still unspecified medical condition.
Austin, who is 70, was admitted on New Year’s Day to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for what the Pentagon has said were “complications following a recent elective medical procedure,” a fact the Defense Department kept under wraps for five days.
The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Roger Wicker, accused the Pentagon of failing to inform Congress immediately about such matters, as required by law.
But it is unclear how widely the information was shared even within President Joe Biden’s administration. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Biden was only informed on Thursday evening. Still, Biden maintained confidence in Austin and the two spoke on Saturday evening, a second U.S. official said.
Austin sits just below Biden at the top of the chain of command of the U.S. military and his duties require his being available at a moment’s notice to respond to any manner of national security crisis.
It remains unclear the extent to which his duties were delegated to his deputy, Kathleen Hicks, or whether Austin was involved in any key decisions during his absence.
The Pentagon has yet to detail why Austin is being treated, whether he lost consciousness over the past week or offer details on when he might be discharged from the hospital.
“I recognize I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed. I commit to doing better,” Austin said in a written statement.
“But this is important to say: this was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure.”
Wicker said the episode further eroded the public’s trust in the Biden administration, citing past failures to quickly disclose information about national security incidents, including the appearance of a Chinese spy balloon over the United States last year.
“When one of the country’s two National Command Authorities is unable to perform their duties, military families, Members of Congress, and the American public deserve to know the full extent of the circumstances,” Wicker said in a statement.
A spokesperson said on Saturday that Austin resumed his full duties on Friday evening but remained in the hospital.
The Pentagon Press Association, in a letter to Pentagon officials on Friday evening, criticized the Defense Department’s secrecy, saying Austin was a public figure who had no claim to medical privacy in such a situation.
It also noted that even U.S. presidents disclose when they must delegate duties due to medical procedures.
“At a time when there are growing threats to U.S. military service members in the Middle East and the U.S. is playing key national security roles in the wars in Israel and Ukraine, it is particularly critical for the American public to be informed about the health status and decision-making ability of its top defense leader,” it wrote.
Reuters correspondent Phil Stewart is a member of the association’s board of directors.
Military Reporters and Editors (MRE), a non-profit organization for journalists covering the U.S. military, said the decision to only release the information on a Friday evening, when online readership is typically lower, “is keeping in the worst traditions of obfuscation and opacity.”
“This is a violation of the intent and spirit of the Pentagon’s own Principles of Information, and it fails to meet the standards of public disclosure for senior government officials unable to exercise their duties,” MRE wrote in a statement.
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British Columbia’s Jewish community is outraged after MLA Selina Robinson is removed from cabinet over remarks about Israel
Leaders of the British Columbia Jewish community have reacted with dismay to the decision by David Eby, the province’s premier, to remove Selina Robinson from her position as minister of post-secondary education and future skills on Feb. 5 due to remarks she made the previous week during an online discussion. While speaking on a panel […]
Gaza Border Residents Demand A Return Home, Four Months Into War
Israelis from the Gaza Envelope are calling on the government to approve their return home, roughly four months since the war’s outbreak on October 7.
The head of the Scot Negev Regional Council, Tamir Idan, said outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, “We demand a clear statement from the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister that it is safe to return to the area. Until then we are not moving from here.”
The heads of the other regional councils in the Gaza area joined Idan outside the Prime Minister’s office, where they slept last night in protest.
The regional leaders say that members of the Gaza border towns should be allowed to return to the areas if they wish, rather than being forced to live in hotels. An internal plan is set to be presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in the near future.
The heads claim it is safe to return home, and are demanding that the government sign off on such a statement so residents can do so. Their protest comes as the government extended the funds allocated for their stay at hotels until July.
Following the October 7 massacre by Hamas terrorists, when they stormed southern Israel, murdering over 1,200 and taking hostage more than 240, tens of thousands of Israelis from the area were uprooted from their homes and placed in hotels in the Jerusalem area, Eilat, the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea region. Since then, they have been living there full time, with makeshift schools set up for children and activities to keep everyone occupied. The move has also led local businesses to be completely shuttered.
Some Israelis have already moved back to their towns, which is technically allowed but under their own risk — rockets still fly near daily from Gaza and the IDF is operating within the Gaza Strip, which is minutes away from certain border towns.
The plan presented by the regional heads, they say, would mean that the towns are technically safe to return to, and therefore the risk falls under the government and the military.
This is as tens of thousands of Israelis from northern towns also remain out of their homes, with no current timeline for return due to the constant threat of Hezbollah missiles and the potential the war extends to the north.
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Australian Politician Says ‘Jewish Lobby’ Uses ‘Tentacles’ to ‘Influence Power’
Video of a left-wing Australian politician discussing how “the Jewish lobby and the Zionist lobby” are using their “tentacles” to “influence power” went viral on Tuesday, sparking backlash from the Australian Jewish community.
Jenny Leong, an Australia Greens member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, spoke on a panel for the Palestine Justice Movement in December to promote boycotting Israel.
“The Jewish lobby and the Zionist lobby are infiltrating into every single aspect of what is ethnic community groups,” Leong said during the panel. “They rock up and they’re part of the campaign,” and “they offer solidarity.”
She continued: “They [the Jewish and Zionist lobby] rock up to every community meeting and event to offer that connection because their tentacles reach into the areas that try and influence power and I think that we need to call that out and expose that.”
Leong has plumbed new and dangerous depths by using one of the oldest and darkest antisemitic tropes… pic.twitter.com/P9LokLFQwU
— NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (@NSWJBD) February 6, 2024
The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, which is the representative of Jews who live in New South Wales, called the remarks “despicable,” adding that “Leong has plumbed new and dangerous depths by using one of the oldest and darkest antisemitic tropes to accuse Jews of covertly manipulating civic life. She has outrageously suggested that there is a sinister or evil purpose associated with Jews undertaking the most normal of activities – interacting with other Australians.”
Josh Burns, a Labor member of the Australian House of Representatives, said her comments were “a direct attack on Jewish people in Australia” and that “she should unreservedly apologize.” He also called on the Australian Greens to “take responsibility and demonstrate that Jewish people in Australia are safe and respected by their Party.”
The right-leaning Australian Jewish Association wrote on X that “Every credible political party must put the Greens last. Every non-racist fair minded person must put the Greens last.”
In response to the criticism, Leong apologized for specifically using the word “tentacles,” but not for her message. She said: “Speaking on a panel during a two-hour-long event last year, I acknowledge that I used a word at one point that was an inappropriate descriptor for the influence of groups backing Netanyahu’s genocidal attacks in Gaza and the ongoing occupation – I apologise that this has caused offence.”
She continued: “It is incredibly telling that after a conversation where myself and other speakers made countless mentions of the genocidal attacks and occupation occurring in Gaza right now, that two months later more focus isn’t being put on the deaths of over 26,000 people, many of them children.”
Her comments and apology come amid increasing concern over antisemitism on the far-left, which has celebrated violent resistance against Israel since October 7, when Hamas invaded the country, killed 1,200 people, and kidnapped more than 240 more.
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