Monthly Archives: April 2011

Some more news and commentary on Israel and Palestine

Natalie Rothschild is worth reading on the Nakba law: Israel’s catastrophic bill, a very UN-helpful report on the Gaza war, Palestine – occupied by Western intellectuals and a piece on Palestinian architect Suad Amiry’s most recent book on Palestinian men seeking work in Israel.

Construction on Israel’s first solar field, the gas lowdown from Green Prophet, and Israel Green Movement has a new co-chair, Racheli Tidhar Caner.

In The Guardian, comedian Mark Thomas walks the security barrier, and Gary Yonge writes on the intimidation, humiliation and harassment which are central to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Many prominent Israelis sign their support for a Palestinian state. Benny Morris, one of the earliest of Israel’s revisionist historians, responds with a theory about the imminent Palestinian declaration of independence, that in gaining a state without recognising, let alone making any pledges to, Israel, that state will become a launch pad for further assault on Israel. He ends,

“And Israel, let me sadly add, will have done a great deal to have helped us reach this unhappy pass—an Israel, under Netanyahu, that has offered the Palestinians nothing that any Arab or the international community, including the US, could accept as a reasonable minimum the Palestinians should agree to.”

Whether Benny Morris’ predictions become actuality also depends, I think, on whether or not the region’s secularists prevail, and whether Israel becomes cast as the enemy in any renewed attempt to rally Arab nationalism.

Finally, the Israel Democracy Institute hosted an illuminating-sounding Symposium on the Arab Minority in the Jewish Nation State. If there are any Hebrew speakers willing and able to translate and digest from the video recordings, that would be something. Also from the IDI, Professor Yuval Shany cautions the Israeli government not to consider Richard Goldstone’s reassessment of Israel’s intentions in Operation Cast Lead as an exemption from pushing on with its own investigations. See also Shany’s Terror and Democracy Newsletter, a window into Israeli preoccupations and responsibilities.

And returning to where we began, the IDI makes a last blistering (but ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to prevent the passage of the modified Nakba Bill. Meanwhile Mohammad Darawshe and Amnon Be’eri Sulitzeanu of Israel’s The Abraham Fund respond positively to Israel’s Education Ministry’s decision to add a compulsory Holocaust question to Arab matriculation exams, but “stressed that the education system should also teach about the Palestinian Nakba (the ”cataclysm” of 1948 for Palestinian Arabs) as well as the Land Day events of 1976, and on the significance of these events to the Arab citizens of Israel.”

Update: just been alerted to Amnon Be’eri Sulitzeanu’s analysis in Ha’aretz to apparent Holocaust denial on the part of Israel’s Arab citizens:

“In a correct reading of the situation of Arab citizens, the “denial” of the Holocaust should not be understood as a lack of knowledge of the subject or as a failure to recognize its importance for the Jewish people, but as simple defiance: “If you don’t recognize us and our pain, we will retaliate by not recognizing your pain.” Paradoxically, the painful use of “denial” by the Arabs polled in the survey actually implies recognition of the Holocaust and of the depth of the pain it represents for the Jews.

This complexity assumes an additional current and tragic dimension, because the decision of the Education Ministry regarding the matriculation exam is being made parallel to a series of steps by the government, including legislation, whose objective is to forbid Arab citizens and groups from teaching or commemorating − even in a low-key manner − the historical story of the Palestinian tragedy that took place with the establishment of the State of Israel, the Nakba, and to persecute and punish those who do so. In that sense, we can assume that if the above-mentioned survey were to be conducted now, the percentage of Arab “Holocaust deniers” would skyrocket.”

Recommended reading. Nevertheless, if people are going to play this game of holding acknowledgment of historical catastrophes to ransom, they should realise that their children may well grow up confused about the truth, or believing a falsehood.

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Stop the War Coalition and Stormfront promote the same campus event

A glance at the panel for the mysterious event below explains why it has been picked up and promoted on the neo-Nazi site Stormfront (link to cached page). We are alarmed that it is advertised as taking place on a university campus – though it’s not featured on either the University of Westminster nor the Student Union events calendar. We’ve also received news from concerned correspondent Adrian Windisch that Berkshire Stop The War Coalition is promoting the same event (see Digest 1352).

Event: Zionism, Jewishness and Israel (Tuesday, May 3rd, central London)

A panel discussion examining Israeli Criminality in the wake of the Goldstone Retract.

Tuesday, May 3rd · 6:30pm – 8:00pm
Location:  University Of Westminster – Cavendish Campus
115 New Cavendish Street
London
W1W 6UW
Map: http://streetmap.co.uk

Speakers include:

Ghada Karmi –  http://socialsciences.exeter.ac.uk/iais/staff/gkarmi/biography/

John Rose – The Myths of Zionism (2004)

Gilad Atzmon – http://www.gilad.co.uk/

Alan Hart – http://www.alanhart.net/

Enquiries Contact:  [redacted – I tried to call the number to find out who was organising the event – straight to voicemail.]

What is wrong with this event? Despite its mysterious provenance and relative obscurity, it’s worth explaining in detail since it’s only the most recent in a long list of events of similar character on campuses around the country.

  • The panel doesn’t include any speaker qualified or inclined to represent mainstream views about Jewishness, Zionism and Israel. The panelists share an implacably eliminationist view of Israel, and work assiduously to end Israel’s existence. John Rose has by his own admission inadvertantly given succour to antisemitism through his political writing.* Working within the University and College Union, John Rose pushed boycott of Israel, a boycott which according to Unison has limited support amongst Palestinians and in its academic form was consequently found to be unlawful in three separate legal opinions including the union’s own. Ghada Karmi, who holds the opinion that “There is actually nothing – repeat, nothing – positive about the existence of Israel” has self-evidently unanalytical approach to the matter in question, and campaigns against Israel’s existence. These two have for some years been staples of the anti-Israel circuit, and tend to be invited by partisans of the Palestinian factions who have vested interests in entrenching dichotomy and conflict. Sadly this is the most conspicuous kind of pro-Palestinian campaigning in Britain today.
  • Holocaust denier and 9/11 conspiracy believer on the panel. We have to hope that John Rose and Ghada Karmi are unaware of the presence of the other two invited speakers. Gilad Atzmon is openly antisemitic, to the extent that he campaigned to marginalise even the most virulently anti-Israel Jews in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Atzmon also referred to the Holocaust as “a complete forgery“. He has even been dropped by the Socialist Workers Party, who used to invite him to play jazz sax at Marxism events. It’s astonishing that this open campaigner for ‘de-judaification’ should be given a platform to pronounce on Jewishness. The fourth speaker, Alan Hart self-published a book called Zionism: the Real Enemy of the Jews. He has a track record of fabricating accounts of current affairs in which he makes Israel the culprit. He has a slot on the now disgraced Iranian ayatollah’s English language TV channel, PressTV. Last May he gave an interview for TruthJihad internet talk radio in which he circulated the far-fetched and accordingly unevidenced defamation that Israel was responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks and is planning a nuclear attack on the U.S. No wonder he is picked up and circulated by far right activists I’m not going to link to, such as Israel Shamir and rense.com. The Community Security Trust devotes a section to examining his professed pro-Jewish views in its 2008 Antisemitic Discourse Report.
  • Who has organised this event? There is no mention of this event on Stop The War Coalition’s main site. However, at least one Berkshire Stop The War Coalition member is circulating details, and it is entirely continuous with StWC’s well-documented record of anti-Israel activism shading – or willingly leaping – into anti-Jewish activism, including the “We are all Hizbullah” and “from the river to the sea” sloganeering, the jihadi leaders. It frequently seems that StWC is attempting to start a war, rather than stop one.
  • This event is not conducive to learning about Zionism, Jewishness or Israel and is not in accordance with academic or campus principles. If it indeed is taking place at the University of Westminster’s campus it is the University of Westminster’s responsibility. If you view education as an attempt to illuminate a subject and inculcate critical, humane analysis, this isn’t intended to be an educational event; if it were, it would have a representative panel, not a slanted one. It would not include Holocaust deniers and conspiracy theorists. If it saw fit to include polemicists, it would balance them.
  • A spurious pretext. Goldstone, author of a non-judiciary UN-commissioned report into Israel’s attacks on military targets in Gaza in 2009, did not ‘retract’. He wrote an opinion piece noting that new information uncovered by Israel’s own investigations indicated that Israel had not, after all, deliberately targeted civilians, and that this would have been clear earlier if Israel had cooperated with the UN investigation. Those who rejoiced in his original damning report should ask themselves, if he was trustworthy at that time, isn’t it prejudiced to suddenly conclude that he is untrustworthy now?

Here’s what needs to happen.

  • If Rose and Karmi are unaware that they are to share a platform with Atzmon, they need to take action to distance themselves from this openly antisemitic, Holocaust denying campaigner. Hart too.
  • Stop the War Coalition members need to stop promoting events like these – they have no place on a genuinely pro-peace group’s calendar. The Green Party, which is affiliated to StWC, needs to take some responsibility here.
  • The University of Westminster needs to recognise that if the evening proceeds as advertised, it will find itself hosting an antisemitic event. If in doubt about what to do next, the Equality and Diversity and Anti-Harassment policies will point the way, as well as the report and relevant case studies produced as part of the HEFCE-funded Religious Literacy Leadership in Higher Education project, at http://religiousliteracyhe.org/.

*My error – it was Nathan Weinstock, whose work Rose acknowledged, who admitted this.

Update: Sarah has picked this up, and provides more information.

Update 2: 27th April – Tony Greenstein reports that ‘Atzmon is abandoned by fellow ‘panellists‘ Ghada Karmi and John Rose.

Update 3: there’s a discussion about the role of Stop the War Coalition in the comments to a post on Shiraz Socialist.


Update 4: the University of Westminster has cancelled the event (reasons unclear – necessary procedures were not in place).

Update 5: David Hirsh summarises the panel

Update 6: Sarah is following developments

Update 7: as of 29th April Atzmon is insisting (link to cached page) the event will go ahead, including Alan Hart “and others”, at the University of Westminster. This has come as a surprise to the University of Westminster.

Update 8: the event has not been cancelled. The Facebook page (adoring messages for Atzmon mingled with etymological points about antisemitism and paranoid points about Jews) says that participants will meet outside the original venue. The University of Westminster will not be providing the venue and it looks as if Atzmon and fellow panellists have been forced by the general outcry to hide the new destination until the event is due to begin. He’s probably inclined to attribute this to the power of some notional sinister Jewish force. What actually happened is that people who recognise this kind of antisemitism managed to get their point across that a university campus is no place for an event of this nature.

Update 9: Adrian Windisch (who originally alerted us) has posted to Berks Stop the War Coalition’s Yahoo Group, concluding “Do we really want events like this advertised on this site? If so I wish to leave.” Hopefully he’ll get a responsible reply.

Update 10: the Facebook group doesn’t bother to introduce the panellists, so: part of the original line-up discussed above Alan Hart has finally come out and thrown in his lot with antisemitism. Alan Hart incidentally is an illustrative case of the oblivious self-contradiction which for now characterises much antisemitism – for example, he calls Zionists Nazis, writes preposterously of endgame to a Zionist holocaust, while also claiming he doesn’t seek to draw a parallel between Israel and Nazis. Both can’t be true. There’s Sameh A. Habeeb of the Palestine Telegraph (scroll down). Even Jenny Tonge, with her notions of Jewish conspiracy, could no longer find a way to give patronage to The Palestine Telegraph while plausibly brushing off charges that she is antisemitic. On Holocaust Memorial Day Habeeb gave column inches to Holocaust denier Atzmon to call Israelis today’s Nazis. And yet Habeeb insists that antisemitism in the pro-Palestine movement is a fabrication. Karl Sabbagh’s book Palestine: a Personal History sounds worth reading. Hopefully he will realise that to justify participating on that panel he is going to have to spend most of the evening defending Jews from calumnies.

Update 11: on May 2nd Adrian Windisch (see Update 9) is informed by a different fellow Berks Stop the War Yahoo Group member that he is incorrect, and that “advertising this event is quite appropriate”.

Update 12: Gilad Atzmon is arguing as hard as he can that the Jewish anti-Israel activists who sought to deny him a platform did so because they are Jewish, rather than because he is antisemitic. That doesn’t explain Greens Engage’s involvement, nor the University of Westminster’s recognition that he shouldn’t be offered any room of theirs. Have we all been hoodwinked by the Jews? (Some Greens recently argued on internal forums that we have.)

Update 13: Atzmon reports that the meeting was a great success and the room (wherever it was) was full. “Both Zionists and their anti Zionists collaborators who were desperate to destroy the panel didn’t dare showing their face”. No doubt a room full of like-minded people, and all the worse for it.

Green Party fights antisemitism

This time it is not an April fool post. But it is not in the UK either.

“Inge Höger’s wild conspiracy theory is pure speculation, without any concrete factual basis,” Volker Beck, a leading German Green Party MP and spokesman for the party on human rights, said last week.

“She employs the centuries-old image of the perfidiously murderous Jews. After the terrible murder of Vittorio Arrigoni in the Gaza Strip, only one thing is apparently clear to the Left Party: Israel is guilty. And should the opposite be proven, a lingering doubt will remain,” he said.

Read the rest of the Jerusalem Post piece here.

Palestinian Federation of Trade Unions opposes boycotting Israeli counterpart

This piece by Eric Lee is from the TULIP website (Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine)

Britain’s giant public sector union UNISON has just issued its long-awaited report on its delegation’s visit to Israel and Palestine.

The visit had been scheduled to take place a year ago, finally happened at the end of 2010, and the report has become available only now.

It is a long and detailed report reflecting the organization’s views of the conflict, but the really interesting bit — the surprising bit — was what happened when the UNISON team asked Palestinian trade unionists and Israeli leftists whether the union should sever its ties with the Histadrut.

The union had been instructed by its governing bodies to look into this very question.

It was, in some ways, the central question, the one that really mattered above all.

And the advice the union got from everyone it talked to was: don’t sever your ties with the Histadrut.

What the report says is so extraordinary that it needs to be quoted at length — and this passage should be shown to any union anywhere in the world that is thinking about cutting off ties with Israel’s trade unions.

Here is what they say:

All the organisations we met during the delegation including the PGFTU, the new Israeli trade unions and Israeli NGOs are or have been critical of the Histadrut in the past for various reasons.

However, they all stressed that the Histadrut was a legitimate trade union and with over 700,000 members was clearly the dominant trade union in terms of members and collective bargaining coverage. Even the new Israeli unions accepted that the Histadrut had been responsible for Israel’s strong labour and employment protection legislation. They also recognised that the Histadrut remained influential, although less so than in the past, with the Israeli government.

Neither did any of them call on UNISON to sever its relations with the Histadrut, in fact the opposite. The PGFTU in particular said that UNISON should maintain links with the Histadrut so that we could specifically put pressure on them to take a more vocal public stance against the occupation and the settlements.

Kav laOved, Koach laOvdim and WAC/Ma’an all felt that international trade union influence on the Histadrut was essential in moving it towards more progressive policies in relation to migrant workers and discrimination against Palestinian Israeli workers.

There is much in the report that we wouldn’t agree with – including criticism of things we and others have written and said – but the bottom line is that when Palestinian trade unionists are asked, they turn out to be supporters of engagement with the Histadrut and urge unions everywhere to keep up their ties with the Israeli union federation.

This piece by Eric Lee is from the TULIP website (Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine)

Marrickville – Greens’ boycott battlefield

A Sydney Morning Herald editorial:

Battlefield Marrickville

The short-lived boycott of Israel by Marrickville Council has been an interesting study of how distant foreign policy issues can sometimes intersect with local politics. The council and its mayor, Fiona Byrne, would never have envisaged the attention they ended up getting from what they would have regarded as a worthy but probably futile gesture.

After all, many other councils – especially in the gentrified inner areas of Sydney and Melbourne – have similarly ”warned the Tsar” by adopting causes in conflict with Canberra’s official policy. They have flown the Tibetan or West Papuan flag, hosted East Timorese resistance leaders, damned the Burmese junta. Why not support Palestinians?

The difference is that Israel is a democracy, at least within its pre-1967 borders, and is open to argument; indeed in its domestic politics it’s riven by argument. By jailing a former president for rape and putting a recent prime minister on trial for corruption, it has shown a strong ethos of impartial justice. This suggests engagement, not boycotts, is the way to apply pressure about the continued occupation of the West Bank and control of access to Gaza, and the Jewish settlements. We have argued that Israel, propelled by a rightwards drift in its politics and the rise of ultra-orthodox religious groups, is making the goal of a two-state peace settlement ever more elusive. Formal exclusion could entrench this kind of thinking.

Given the interconnections of the global IT industry, it also emerged that a boycott of every commercial interest linked to Israel could be quite costly to the council budget. Councils have a right to pursue ethical purchasing; they should work out the potential costs first.

But this was not just about Israelis and Palestinians. It was about clobbering the rising electoral power of the Greens on the head. Byrne came very close to unseating the former deputy premier Carmel Tebbutt, the most acceptable face of NSW Labor in what was previously an extremely safe Labor seat. The issue was a convenient one to portray the Greens as wacky zealots likely to steer Australia into causes that offend old friends and wider national interests.

Whatever the merits of this particular exercise, it is equally unrealistic to expect local governments to stick to garbage and potholes, as if this is all residents care about. If war is too important to be left to the generals, foreign policy involves more than foreign ministers and diplomats. If Marrickville wants to take a stand, it must be ready for the flak.

No such thing as a victimless boycott – David Hirsh

This piece by David Hirsh is published in South Africa’s Mail and Guardian.

The campaign to boycott Israel has won a victory by persuading the University of Johannesburg to end its scientific collaboration with Ben Gurion University (BGU). In Britain, the campaign has made headway among some trade union activists but no university anywhere has considered actually refusing to work with people based at Israeli institutions. Such a policy would break anti-racist law in Britain and violate the norm that the work of scholars is what counts, not their national origin.

South African support is priceless for the boycotters because they make their case worldwide by saying that a boycott of Israel would be similar to the ANC’s boycott of apartheid. Heroes of the anti-apartheid movement back the campaign and anti-Zionist Jews try to indemnify it against the whiff of anti-Semitism that lingers around it. People assume that if South Africans say Israel is apartheid and if some Jews say that the boycott is legitimate, then they are probably right.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel, says that UJ’s decision “is a commendable step in the direction of ending relations with Israeli institutions” and it adds, breathlessly. “This decision is guaranteed to resound around the globe!” So it is surprising that Ihron Rensburg, the principal of UJ, says that UJ does not “subscribe to an academic boycott of Israel”. David Newman, a dean at BGU, sees it differently: “ostensibly, UJ objects to the policies practiced by BGU … but in reality, it’s the first institutional boycott of an Israeli university.”

Rensburg’s attempt to spin the decision is disappointing. It relies on a spurious distinction between “institutional links” and “individual engagements”. But universities are self-managed collectives of academics who research and teach. Scholars are supported, and their academic freedom is underwritten, by their institutions. You cannot have a victimless boycott against universities without boycotting individuals. BGU, in the desert, is renowned for its work on water systems in arid conditions. Some of its scientists were helping to develop, with UJ colleagues, ways of bringing fresh, clean water to more South Africans. UJ has decided, for political reasons, to end this collaboration.

UJ scholars should be able to recognise an apartheid institution. The Rand Afrikaans University, from which it is descended, was set up as an apartheid project. Even its buildings were symbolically laid out in the shape that the wagons formed when under attack during the Great Trek.

Israeli universities are not part of a racist project; they are autonomous academic institutions like others across the democratic world. BGU does not support the occupation of the Palestinian territories. It has stood up against those on the Israeli right who seek to interfere with its academic norms and antiracist practices. It defends its own critical scholars, even those who go round the world calling on people to boycott their colleagues. Twenty percent of BGU students are Arabs and scholars at the university are involved in many joint projects with Palestinian colleagues.

Israel is not an apartheid state. Jews were forced out of European and Middle Eastern countries by racist boycotts and violence, including exclusions from universities. They went to Israel as refugees not imperialists. The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians was never inevitable and neither nation is free from responsibility for the oppression and the bloodshed. If the conflict is to be ended, it will be through the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Israel and Palestine are not, like South Africa, a single but divided nation. Compare the ANC charter, which guaranteed in advance rights for minorities in a democratic state, to the Hamas charter, which calls for the killing of Israelis and the creation of an Islamist state.

Umberto Eco, the Italian intellectual, considers it “fundamentally racist to identify a scholar, a private citizen, with the politics of his government”. No wonder then, that UJ pretends this is not what it is doing.

The boycott campaign is not motivated by anti-Semitism, but wherever it goes, anti-Semitism follows. One of its leaders, Bongani Masuku, a Cosatu official, has been found guilty by the South African Human Rights Commission of hate speech. Jews around the world are routinely treated as supporters of apartheid if they dare to oppose the boycott campaign.

When you educate people to boycott only Israel, when you tell them that all Israelis are responsible for human-rights abuses, when you mobilise a global campaign to say that Israel is uniquely racist, and when this campaign becomes central to progressive politics globally, you are, whether you know it or not, incubating anti-Semitic ways of thinking. When ears are closed to concern about anti-Semitism on the basis that such concern is a marker of secret support for Israeli human rights abuses, then you know there is a problem.

UJ has chosen to boost the international campaign to exclude Israelis, and nobody else, from the global academic community. It is legitimising an anti-Semitic boycott, it is distorting the memory of the anti-apartheid struggle and it is depriving South Africans of clean-water technology.

Dr David Hirsh is lecturer in sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. Hirsh is also the founding editor of http://www.engageonline.org.uk

Marrickville slings out boycott

Further to this earlier post, the Australian Council whose mayor Fiona Byrne attempted to bring in an unpopular and possibly election-losing boycott of Israel is now about to vote it out. The reason Byrne gives is that it costs too much.

“Cr Byrne’s new motion, which calls for in-principle support to be maintained but no practical boycotts implemented, will be put alongside another motion from the independent councillor Victor Macri, who has opposed the boycott from the beginning.

His motion calls for it to be overturned and for the council to ”acknowledge that Australian foreign policy is the responsibility of the Commonwealth government and not local government”.

Cr Macri also asked the council’s general manager, Ken Gainger, how much money had so far been spent on the policy. Mr Gainger said any figure would be speculative.

”I am advised that council has not incurred any direct expenditure in administering this decision to date as no boycott is currently in place,” he says in meeting business papers.

But Mr Gainger also noted the controversy surrounding the boycott has become a ”distraction” for staff from other work.”

That’s a polite way of saying that it worried some people enough to take an energetic stand against this hostile, futile and inappropriate piece of foreign policy and kick it out.

Update: the boycott is gone, ongoing concern for the Palestinians is registered, some people got spat on and called pigs, others got called effing cowards, 18 councillors and a 3-hour meeting. Important to keep in mind that notoriety does not have to be a function of pro-Palestinian activisim. The trouble is, good news is no news – sadly the Palestinian activists we hear about tend to be the ones who are doing it wrong – driving their wedges, acting out their prejudices. So it has been in Marrickville.