Monthly Archives: March 2011

Greens think anti-Israel campaigning lost them the election

In the country with the world’s largest per capita carbon footprint, it might seem lucrative for Greens to campaign on a diversionary anti-Israel ticket. But it wasn’t. From the Australian periodical National Affairs a story of a candidate – inexpert on the Israel-Palestine conflict as she acknowledges herself to be – who nevertheless found herself drawn to a boycott of Israel.

“The Greens’ post-mortem of their NSW election result will consider whether the party failed to win the seat of Marrickville because of candidate Fiona Byrne’s support for a boycott of Israel.

The Greens had hoped to win the inner-Sydney seats of Marrickville and Balmain on Saturday, based partly on an expectation that Labor voters angry with the party would not be able to bring themselves to support the Liberals.

Federal Greens leader Bob Brown admitted yesterday that voters were upset by Ms Byrne’s repeated misleading statements over her decision in December, as Marrickville Mayor, to support a motion boycotting goods and cultural exchanges from Israel. Ms Byrne said early in the campaign that if elected to parliament she would push for a statewide ban.

However, she subsequently labelled her comments a “falsehood” when they were reported by The Australian. Ms Byrne later denied she had “pushed” for the motion, but was revealed to have been planning to speak at an anti-Israeli-apartheid rally this week.

Asked yesterday whether Ms Byrne’s actions, which plagued the latter days of her campaign, had contributed to her failure, Senator Brown said: “I think it had an effect on it — that’s my feedback from the electorate and it’s no doubt something that the NSW Greens will be looking at.””

Meanwhile Australians For Palestine had posted a letter begging the electorate not to judge Fiona Byrne according to her politics on Israel, saying:

“I would much prefer that your newspaper concern itself with those policies of Ms. Byrne that impact on us voters here in Australia.”

I doubt the author meant to say that Palestine solidarity is irrelevant to voters in Australia, but that’s indeed what he’s saying and I think most people would agree with that to some extent.

The general approach of boycott advocates was to say that those who found the boycott of Israel antisemitic, extremist and worrying enough to raise an alarm were guilty of hijacking an election campaign, and that they were the disloyal ones prepared to sideline all other concerns.

The trouble is (based on my too-cursory look which doubtless has glossed over some of the subtleties) the positions politicians have taken about this Sydney election don’t seem to depend on whether they consider antisemitism is a trivial detail of little consequence, or whether they believe it should be taken seriously as symptomatic of a more ominous political malaise (or even – if this isn’t too far-fetched – as a harm and ongoing danger to Jews). Rather the split is becoming a matter of political expediency. After all, Marrickville Council’s boycott resolution gained cross-party support – the boycott is not only a Green initiative.

I don’t get the impression there is much of a will against antisemitism among Sydney politicians – more a nose for expediency. This is a problem, because no matter what its intention the boycott of Israel is an antisemitic endeavour and as such invariably attracts the kind of campaigning Major Karnage draws attention to below.

The left is relinquishing concern about antisemitism because Jews in the UK or the US or Australia don’t fit into the traditional oppressed/worth-fighting-for segment of the venn diagram (to quote David Baddiel). Hopefully antisemitism will continue to be a liability to Australian election prospects – but not in a way that is such ready fodder for the political right (some of whom are inadvertantly but no less busily creating associations between anti-antisemitism and misogyny against Fiona Byrne as I type this).

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Notes – Friends of the Earth Middle East in London

This post is for Richard at Mabinogogiblog and his enduring vision of a Middle East peace which floats.

On 24 March 2011, the New Israel Fund UK hosted three venerable speakers from Friends of the Earth Middle East – Palestinian Director Nader Al-Khateeb, Israeli Director Gidon Bromberg, and Jordanian Director and Chair, Munqeth Mehyar, mainly talking about the region’s shared water crisis.

Notes follow.

Munqeth Mehyar gave a summary of FoEME’s work to date. Together, the three offices have been taking a dual approach in their response – top-down research and lobbying and bottom-up work within 29 communities. This includes initiatives like Good Water Neighbours which began in 2000 and survived as one of the few cooperation projects which withstood the Second Intifada. Good Water Neighbours is such a recognisably beneficial social enterprise that communities exist even between Israeli settlements and neighbouring Palestinian villages in East Jerusalem and Abu Dis.

Work like this has brought FoEME international recognition, including TIME magazine’s Environmental Heroes award in 2008, the Aristotle Onassis Award for the Protection of the Environment and a EuroMed award for dialogue work.

Munqeth Mehyar talked about the eco parks at Ein Gedi in Israel, Auja in Palestine and Sharhabil bin Hassan in Jordan’s Ziglab basin where a dam gives a vantage point from which it is possible to fully grasp the water source and the vast tracts of land it is required to irrigate.

Nader Al-Khateeb began with some statistics on Israeli and Palestinian water use. Israeli use averages 250 litres per person per day, excluding agriculture and as a population, 2 billion cubic metres per year in total. Palestinians use 50-70 litres per person to day, less that the 120 litres the World Health Organisation holds to be the minimum amount for adequate hygiene. The total Palestinian consumption including agriculture and industry is around 170 million cubic metres per year.

Israel controls the water in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Nader Al-Khateeb emphasised the constraints this has imposed – no legislature, no jurisdiction over the water courses, and limited funding – that is, no real control on the part of Palestinians. FoEME’s Model Water Accord, to which we have drawn attention in a previous post, records the demise of the previous approach to cooperation established in Article 40 of the 1995 Oslo II accords. Cooperation didn’t flourish, as evidenced by the great discrepancy in availability, the under-provision to Palestinians and the contamination of ground water. There is no access for Palestinian to the waters of the Jordan and so it is drawn from the other main source, the mountain aquifer. Because extraction is slow, much of the Palestinian water supply is intermittent and stored in rooftop tanks where any breaches leave it vulnerable to contamination.

Nader Al-Khateeb showed a freshwater map of the region which made a very strong point without any commentary being required that the problem of water is a shared problem which cannot be solved without cooperation. Water doesn’t recognise borders. A final picture showed a large and happy group of mayors from cities and towns in the three countries wallowing in, I think, the Jordan. You couldn’t tell who was from where and – again – where water is concerned it doesn’t make any difference at all.

Gidon Blomberg spoke next about the circumstances required for cooperation. He pointed out that Israelis could not unequivocally welcome the unfolding revolution in Egypt because the decades-old peace treaty was very little to do with ordinary Egyptian people – there had been very little action either between Israelis and Egyptians or between Israelis and Jordanians, with whom there is also a peace treaty. The peace is a peace of strong leaders and cannot be taken for granted as a peace of peoples. On all sides of the conflict there are spoilers who exert pressure to end cooperation between Israelis and their neighbours.

Gidon Bromberg believes that water can contribute to peace because it is so tangible and undeniably shared. Water shows its shared nature when it flows from place to place irrespective of borders. However, FoEME have observed that the politicisation of water by which it is treated as a bargaining chip in the final status settlement, badly undermines cooperation. Consequently FoEME are lobbying to have it removed from the list of issues to be resolved. In a region in its 7th year of drought, Cooperating over water can then be treated as what it is – not an issue of privilege or charity, but of self-interest.

Self-interest is very important. Gidon Blomberg observes that water creates unlikely peacemakers, and holds up self-interest as means for Israelis and Palestinians who, in cooperating over water, are forced to defend themselves against their respective spoilers – those who perceive any cooperation as an unwarranted concession. When Israeli and Palestinian school-age students meet together to discuss water, their parents must sign a release form indicating their consent for the exchange. When school teachers are attacked for fraternising with the enemy, as they frequently are, they are able to make a convincing argument of self-interest in response. So instead of focussing on the sometimes-other-worldly vision of a peace deal, Israelis and Palestinians can focus instead on improving their freshwater reality, with tangible results which are sometimes beyond the immediate remit of the projects. For example, the cooperation between the Israeli village Tsur Haddassah and its lower-lying Palestinian neighbour Wadi Fukin has not only improved water quality, but is also one of the few examples of successful opposition to Israel’s security barrier.

Questions followed.

Somebody asked about veganism, and sadly everybody changed the subject to tropical fruit cultivation; in effect these countries are exporting their water in the form of bananas and citrus, whereas dates are far more appropriate, forgiving of a dry climate as they are. Munqeth Mehyar talked about sheep, the main animal eaten in the Middle East, pointing out that over-grazing and water consumption was not currently calculated in the cost of this meat.

I was going to ask whether the prospect of desalination was perceived by some as a silver bullet which removed the necessity be careful with water. Gidon Blomberg brought this up in a response to another question. Currently Israel is content to expend fossil fuel desalinating water, and membrane industry breakthroughs have enabled desalination at costs which compete increasingly favourably with extraction methods. The hope is that the crisis will stimulate further innovation in solar technology.

Somebody asked how the water situation had changed since the occupation. Gidon Blomberg responded that it was better to compare Palestine now to Jordan now rather than Palestine now to Palestine then, since infrastructure has undeniably improved since the occupation. However, whereas before the occupation, both Jordanians and Palestinians outside the main cities tended to rely on springs for water, the water realities in Jordan today are far better than in the OPTs. At the same time there is mismanagement across the Middle East, and even in Damascus where water is relatively plentiful there are times of intermittent supply. And while Israel may be very efficient, it is a mistake to confuse efficient use with sustainable use. Nader Al-Khateeb pointed out that whereas Israeli quality of life is on a par with that in Europe, Palestinians fare much worse, and Israel should expect to invest significantly in Palestinian water conservation and quality, again for reasons of self-interest.

Somebody asked why there was such low uptake of solar power given good elevation, around 3000 sun hours, and recent innovations in efficient CPV sun-tracking solar panels yielding shorter investment times. The reason is the Saudi oil lobby, and the Israeli and Egyptian natural gas lobbies. Munqeth Mehyar spoke eloquently about the ‘cash now’ mentality the Saudi rulers have adopted with respect to their oil. When we emerged from the stone age, he said, stones didn’t stop being useful to us. FoEME are lobbying for oil to be regarded as something precious to future generations which our children should have the chance to benefit from.

Postscript – for a party which appears, on the face of things at least, to take such a very keen interest in the Middle East and particularly Israel, I found it sad that the audience didn’t contain any members of the Green Party International Committee, nor any other Greens who have indicated their interest in various fora. My hunch, backed up by some references to “spoilers” from the panel, is that this kind of cooperation is absolutely incompatible with their hopes that Israel will fail and disappear. Fortunately for the residents of the region, the cooperation is strengthening because it is in everyone’s best interest that it does.

And because contaminated water does not recognise security walls, there may yet be an eco peace in the Middle East. Seven years of drought and 20 million mouths to feed along the banks of the Jordan says there must.

Antisemitism is a smokescreen

Former Green Male Principal Speaker Derek Wall campaigns against Israel on his blog. He hasn’t managed to avoid antisemitism and doesn’t appear to try. He very much admires Joel Kovel, somebody who admits, in the prologue to his book Overcoming Zionism, to being stricken with an anti-Jewish worldview (contracted at his aunt’s funeral!):

“…my quarrel with Judaism took shape about the themes of chauvinism and entitlement, and in this way extended to the critique of Zionism. The antipathy began viscerally in the Synagogue and at my aunt’s funeral, and over the years, grew into a worldview” (p.6)

Since then he has busied himself “negating the various threads of [his] Jewish identity” (p7). You’ll come across similar books by ex-Muslims writing against existing Muslims, denying their diversity, saying “Trust me, I know these people – they’re all authoritarian chauvinists”. It is obviously wrong to make an association between what goes on in your family and what a group of people joined by religion or ethnicity do throughout the world. Joel Kovel is quite openly an antisemitic kook, and anybody who doesn’t realise that has their own prejudices to deal with.

Unfortunately Derek Wall feels so secure within the current anti-Zionist-anti-Jewish climate that to a recent commenter who raised concerns about antisemitism, the green activist, writer and economist responded simply and confidently:

fuck off Zionist twat.

That is unrecognisable as politics. It is simply hateful.

Post-script – a couple of days later Sarah drew attention to this article by Mudar Zahran, and you can see that in parallel with anti-Israel activists along Derek Wall’s lines, but never intersecting, Zahran is also protesting antisemitism’s use as a smokescreen. He begins:

“The concept of the “evil Jew” has made a well-disguised comeback: Criticizing Israel and Zionists, is now deemed a legitimate option to cursing Jews and Judaism. Not only is it open, socially acceptable and legal, but it can actually bring prosperity and popularity. This new form of anti-Semitism 2.0 is well-covered-up, harder to trace and poses a much deeper danger to the modern way of life of the civilized world than the earlier crude form of it, as it slowly and gradually works on delegitimizing Jews to the point where it eventually becomes acceptable to target Jews, first verbally, then physically — all done in a cosmopolitan style where the anti-Semites are well-groomed speakers and headline writers in jackets and ties; and not just Arab, but American and European, from “sanitized” news coverage of the most bloodthirsty radicals, to charges against Israel in which facts are distorted, selectively omitted or simply untrue, as in former President Jimmy Carter’s book on Israel.

Why would a Palestinian be writing this? The answer is simple: The Palestinians have been used as fuel for the new form of anti-Semitism; this has hurt the Palestinians and exposed them to unprecedented and purposely media-ignored abuse by Arab governments, including some of those who claim love for the Palestinians, yet in fact only bear hatred to Jews. This has resulted in Palestinian cries for justice, equality, freedom and even basic human rights being ignored while the world getting consumed with delegitimizing Israel from either ignorance or malice.”

Read on.

Update 1: see Shami Chakrabati’s recent observations about the apolitical, pejorative, and antisemitic use of the word ‘Zionist’.

Update 2: Modernity has more on some dodgy far right and antisemitic Green associations. Come the day we turn our backs on this stuff.


Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti on antisemitism

Interviewed by Martin Bright for the JC, Shami Chakrabarti says:

“”I have witnessed the prevalence of a casual antisemitism that troubles me and it is probably greater today than it even was at times in my youth,” she said.

Ms Chakrabarti, who grew up in north-west London as the daughter of immigrants from Calcutta, said her parents’ Jewish friends had been a key influence on her during her youth.

But she had witnessed a worrying trend in recent years, especially on Israel. “I do think that sometimes it is because people are eliding, or think it is acceptable to elide, the criticism of Israeli government policy with peoples’ race. And I have heard it done, and it turns my stomach.

“It’s when, for example, the word Zionist is used in some parts of political debate, but not used in a political sense. It is not used to mean someone who believes in the State of Israel for example, but you feel it’s used euphemistically and pejoratively. Or it’s when people make assumptions about somebody’s politics because they are Jewish. Or they make assumptions about how somebody will feel about some of the issues I work on, like anti-terror policy, because of their race. I have seen it, I have heard it, I have watched it – and it makes me incredibly uncomfortable.”

Her comments mirror those made by the Conservative Baroness Warsi, who had witnessed a growing dinner-party Islamophobia.

“When, for example, centre-left liberal British Jews are feeling uncomfortable amongst their friends because assumptions are being made about their politics or their views on the Middle East, that’s not a good thing. It’s not my job to comment on what the government of Israel does. But what is definitely wrong is to make an automatic association between what any government does and what a group of people do all over the world.”

Hat tip Mod.

A Palestinian Tahrir

Unrest across the Arab world hasn’t passed Palestinians by. Palestinians will march for unity and against the occupation on March 15th.

Pam Bailey on IPS Newsnet:

“Gazan youth groups are near unanimous in their support of the Palestinian Authority’s call for elections, although – as Abu Yazan points out – that will be impossible until the two parties reach some kind of unity agreement. Hamas has come out firmly against Fatah’s plan for September elections, and without its participation, they would be a farce.

Ali Abdul Bari, a 24-year-old leader of Esha (Wake Up), a liberal, secular group devoted to promoting human rights, tells a story to illustrate just how deep the divide is. His group posted a sign demanding elections near the destroyed Palestinian Parliament building in downtown Gaza City. It was removed by Hamas 90 minutes later, despite the permit they had obtained. Later, many group members were interrogated or had their backgrounds checked.”

There is little prospect of Egypt lifting the blockade of Gaza:

“Meanwhile, there is broad agreement that the blockade against Gaza is the primary cause of their suffering. Many youth leaders interviewed are not optimistic that the regime change in Egypt will reverse its longstanding collaboration with Israel’s blockade of Gaza. “The military (in Egypt) have already said they will honour all prior international agreements,” observes Mohammed Ashekh Yousef, 22, a leader with the youth group Fikra (idea).”

Nevertheless, Sandy Tolan in Al Jazeera:

“In the revolutionary spirit spreading across the Middle East, Palestinian youth groups have become a small but important catalyst in a building wave of discontent with PA repression and complicity in a failed “peace process” backed by the US. The groups’ actions are sparked not only by events in the region, but by the US veto of the UN Security Council’s condemnation of Israeli settlements. A widening circle of Palestinian groups are calling for an end to negotiations with Israel, an end to the political division between the West Bank and Gaza and wholesale reform of the PA and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Some advocate dissolving the PA completely.

Fatah and Hamas have failed Palestinian society,” says Nader Said, a Palestinian pollster and political analyst. Youth, he says, “represent the pulse and conscience of Palestine”. In Gaza, Said says, young people “are the ones who have demonstrated in the middle of the shooting, covering their faces with paper bags,” so that security forces would refrain from possibly shooting a brother or cousin. “They are the soul of the Palestinians,” but by themselves, “they’re not strong enough to carry the emancipation agenda.”

Yet the message is resonating well beyond the youth groups. As Palestinians under a 43-year occupation watch their Arab neighbours fight for democracy, pressure increases on the PA to reform itself – or at least, to appear to do so. Faced with the threat of the US veto, the PA sought to burnish its resistance credentials by refusing to yield to American pressure to call off the Security Council vote. And Salam Fayyad, the prime minister, recently sent a message to Palestinian youth via Facebook, asking for input as he forms a new Palestinian cabinet. Within hours, he received hundreds of replies – some supportive, some sceptical.”

It is dangerous for Palestinians to demonstrate against their authorities. Omar Karem has an account of police beatings at Gaza City’s equivalent of Cair’s Tahrir Square, the Square of the Unknown Soldier. Modernity has more. Gaza Youth Breaks Out, whose manifesto we reproduced, have been attacked for criticising Hamas. Perhaps including a few slogans about Zionists controlling the international community will persuade the Hamas supporters that GYBO is down?

“Many activists reject our movement and consider us as some Zionist machinery because in the manifesto, we’ve been denouncing Hamas – among others. It’s always amazing to see the shortcuts people’s minds can take and how good they are at condemning without even trying to understand. We’d like to remind all our goal: yes we are frustrated and tired of being oppressed, killed, humiliated and kept from even leaving to study in other countries, yes we denounce political parties governing us because they didn’t help in anything, but we denounce ALL of them, not ONLY Hamas. We are TIRED of the status quo, from all sides. Political parties have all had the time and chances to BRING THE CHANGE, but we haven’t seen anything yet.

We’re NOT calling for a political coup, let’s be clear on this. We’re young people who want to work for the PEOPLE, we denounce the misery we live in, we denounce their division, and reject their fight, because they are not helping us. But more than Fatah and Hamas, who remains Palestinians just like us, ABOVE ALL we denounce the Occupier & its puppet the International Community who fails, day after day, in its duty to impose sanctions on “Israel”.

Our followers, readers, and those who are not supporting us yet must keep in mind THIS message: we have ONE enemy which is the Zionist Occupier. Hopefully this call will shake our political leaders, wake them up and remind them that they are responsible of us! Hopefully they will realize that what we want is UNITY, and NO MORE DIVISION, because it makes Israeli terrorism’s impact on our lives even worse.”

On Harry’s Place, Shlomo Yosef notes that the international solidarity movements for Palestinians have their own agendas, and cautions:

“I urge everyone to look at the careful messaging on the Arabic page, look at the demands and look at the slogans that people will carry on March 15th itself. The Palestinian protest is different from the others across the Arab world due to their liminal situation – listening to what the youth are actually calling for is vital in considering how to respond.”

It can’t be easy. Palestinians can seek a unity along nationalist lines, with hatred of Israel as the glue. Alternatively, Palestinians can pursue a positive agenda of strong democratic civil society against the occupation, and claim the support of the Israeli people.

To end, Gaza free running:

Friends of the Earth Middle East in London, 24 March 2011

Eco Peace in the Middle East – an event
Thursday 24 March 2011
7pm- Reception; 7:30pm- Lecture and Discussion
The Royal Society of Medicine, 1 Wimpole Street, London, W1G 0AE
Fee: £7 in advance (book here)/ £10 on the door

Environment has no borders. The rain falls on Jerusalem, Amman and Ramalla; the desert expands northwards in Israel, Palestine and Jordan and the impacts of climate change will be felt by all people in the region.

The responsibility for cultivating the already fragile ecosystem in the Middle East lies with all the people who inhabit the region. The Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian co-Directors of Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) will share with us their unique partnership and set out the environmental challenges the region faces.

EcoPeace / FoEME is a unique organisation that brings together Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli environmentalists since 1994. Its primary objective is the promotion of cooperative efforts to protect the shared environmental heritage across the region of the Middle East. In so doing, it seeks to advance both sustainable regional development and bring about the creation of necessary conditions for a lasting peace in the region.

New Israel Fund has helped support FoEME’s efforts to rehabilitate the lower Jordan River system, which has had its annual flow reduced by about 90% and lost its rich and diverse ecosystems. With New Israel Fund help, FoEME launched a campaign to raise awareness of the situation, and has prepared a Strategic Action Plan targeting Israeli decision makers who can implement the necessary changes.

See you there.

HT: Yishay.

Light sleeper

Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian reviews the waxing of antisemitism in recent years, including these comments:

“Some new cliches have arisen that act as barriers to sympathy for Jews. One is the claim that Jews brand any and all criticism of Israel as antisemitic; another is the claim that Jews “cry antisemitism” in order to silence opposition to Israel. These cliches – which are belied by the sheer volume of criticism of Israel by Israelis and Jews themselves, let alone by everyone else – have now become so durable that it is now difficult for Jews to get a hearing on antisemitism connected with the Middle East debate. And yet it is this that raises more unease than the alcohol-fuelled ravings of a washed-up Hollywood star or clothes designer.

What most Jews object to is not, in fact, criticism of Israel itself, but when that criticism comes wrapped in the language or imagery of Jew-hatred.”

and

“By offering a conspiracy theory of power, rather than just the crude anti-immigrant stereotypes of other racisms, it provides, he says, “a compelling short cut to certainty. It allows the antisemite to claim they are in the know; it offers access to an occult world where everything makes sense, when the real world is, in fact, complex and difficult. ‘The Jews are responsible’ is a very appealing, very seductive explanation. It requires great self-discipline to resist its blandishments.”

Read the whole thing.