Category Archives: politics

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).

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:

Toby Green resigns

BobFromBrockley has the news.

Toby has been a member of the Green Party for 10 years and he was the Chair of a working group on antisemitism established after a number of incidents:

[…] of course, members of the Green Party can´t be prejudiced. If they accuse members called “Levy” of being Israeli academics in disguise defending Israel, they can´t be rehashing old Jewish conspiracy theories. If they circulate emails from David Duke, a key figure in the Klu Klux Klan, on how “Jewish Zionists” are shaping American policy in Israel in alliance with Obama (thereby rehashing not only anti-semitic myths but also an alliance of this with anti-Black racism), they can still work in Caroline Lucas´s office and be on the list for the European elections. If they circulate emails accusing Jewish members of parliament of double loyalty (to Israel and the UK), there´s no need to suppose that they are re-hashing the anti-Catholic discourse which surrounded JF Kennedy´s run for office in 1960. If they talk of the “squealing zionists”, there´s no reason for them not to be respected party figures.

To be fair, after all of this, the party did recognise that there was an issue. A report commissioned by the Green Party Regional Council (GPRC – a powerful decision-making body in the decentralisd power structure of the party), and written by two non-Jewish members, said that these were examples of a toleration of low-level anti-semitism, and that therefore a working party on anti-semitism was recommended to be established. Although kicked into the long grass at first, it started work when a senior figure recommended an article by a known holocaust denier on his blog. But the working party was quickly an impossibility. I should know: I was the chair, a position I only adopted when no one else was prepared to.

Read what happened next here.

Update 1: Some interesting discussions are taking place on Bob’s blog, including a visit by Cllr Darren Johnson.

Update 2 (from Mira): And including this comment by a Tim Dowling, worth reproducing in full:

“One of the things about prejudice is that while it is universal in its characteristic manifestation as unreasoning opposition to a stigmatised other (the main function of prejudice being to stigmatise analeptically or recursively without leaving room for a critical weighing of the stigma as a premise – re Ms. Fink’s contribution) every type of prejudice is also uniquely molded and faceted by the ocular characteristics of the other it seeks to eradicate, and has therefore unique (and negatively creative) vileness. And yes, all prejudice is pragmatic symbolic erradication. 

In the case of antisemitism, it is really impossible to discuss it at all without the due pragmatic (and historically grounded) weighing up. Antisemitism has murdered, exiled and unspeakably disfigured an incommensurable number of human existences. It has helped to destroy every society in which it has ever taken root. It is arguably the back cause of Israel’s foreign policy (the “twin” as Toby calls it – with possibly more than conscious accuracy).

Antisemitism is always, always the sign that the body politic or corporate organisation in which it flourishes is sick unto death. This is a historically proven verdict, the degree of denial of which is one measure of ignorance. Its appearance anywhere is therefore a cause for the gravest concern, as well as a reason to desert from the ship it is on, if one does not wish to go down with the ship.

Other types of prejudice exist that are equally vile, just as a range of illnesses exist that can painfully kill a body. Antisemitism, in this sense, is distinguished not by its vileness, but by its exceptionally insidious nature, which makes it possible for the antisemite to propagate his or her views under the guise of defending other groups of people whom it can usually be shown to have damaged substantially. Or under the guise of redressing some kind of balance which turns out to be an a priori feature of the antisemitic discourse.

Or possibly under the political relegation of a complex idea such as Zionism, whose place in intellectual history is multifoliate. Or the speculative and slanderous marginalization of an individual, as if the individual’s projected vulnerability were not also tactically collective.”

Netanyahu, freeze the settlements

By email:

OneVoice counters Yesha Council by calling on Netanyahu to extend settlement freeze

The window for a two-state solution is rapidly closing. Renewed settlement building will devastate the trust being built during the proximity talks and any chances of returning to high level negotiations. The stakes have never been higher.

This is why OneVoice Israel (OVI) published on Monday an advertisement in the Hebrew language daily Maariv asking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stick to the principles of the Bar Ilan speech and maintain the settlement freeze.

“If they want to build they can’t speak of two states,” said OVI Executive Director Tal Harris. “We wanted to highlight their contradictions.”

OVI strategically highlighted the negative implications of settlement building, such as an increased isolation of Israel, a confused education system, and the unfortunate realities of a shared one-state nation.

The advertisement was a counter response to one from the Yesha Council, a group of municipal councils of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (the biblical names for the West Bank), which called for Netanyahu and other Israeli government ministers to continue building settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories after the moratorium is lifted in September.

Translated Text of Advertisement

Leader Needs to Lead

The freezing must continue!

On the eve of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama, the OneVoice Movement and the moderate majority in Israel remind the ministers of the government: a word is a word, stick to the principles of the “Bar Ilan Speech” of Netanyahu.
An end to the freeze is the end to the two-state solution!
For this you were put in office by the moderate majority (not just by the Judea Samaria Council), because you promised to lead to peace and security.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: I said in Washington to President Obama, loud and clear: We will be ready, in a future peace settlement, to reach a solution with a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state.

Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon: Is it not strategic enough for you to separate with an agreement from the four million Palestinians who live among us?

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman: Is it not better for you to be accepted amongst the nations of the world as the one who ended the historical conflict, rather than being denied entrance as a persona non-grata?

Internal Affairs Minister Eli Yishai: Already today 35% of Jerusalem’s residents are Palestinians. Is it not better for you to draw clear borders between us and the Palestinians rather than banishing children from the state?

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz: Is it not better to invest in roads which we know for certain will be a part of the state of Israel, rather than investing in more bypass roads all over the West Bank?

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar: The people want to return to the values of Zionism on which the state was founded: with a separation between Israel and the Palestinian nation. If the construction is renewed, could you also educate millions of Palestinian children into loving Zion?

Communications Minister Moshe Kachlon: Is your next battle against the fees that cellular companies charge going to be against the companies that are behind Palestinian cellular companies in a state without clear borders?

Minister Benny Begin: Are you ready to accept the case of a bi-national state?

Citizens of Israel the choice is in your hands! Imagine Israel in 2018.

OneVoice is an international grassroots movement that aims to amplify the voice of Israeli and Palestinian moderates, empowering them to seize back the agenda for conflict resolution and demand that their leaders achieve a two-state solution.

This is a true test for the two-state solution. You can ensure this opportunity is not missed by adding your voice: forward this e-mail to a friend, join OneVoice on Facebook, or make a donation.

Your actions today can change the events of tomorrow. Imagine 2018.

(By the way, in case it wasn’t obvious to our Green pro-boycott readers, OneVoice is hurt by boycott campaigns like the Green Party’s.)

Three books about Hamas

Reviewed in the New York Review of Books.

It’s particularly interesting to read about the struggle between the pragmatists who want what’s best for Gaza, and the ideologues who seek God’s Kingdom on earth.

“Cracks emerged when Hamas drifted from social activism and armed struggle into politics. After Hamas decided to contest the 2006 elections, one of its preachers in Rafah left the movement with scores of followers. God’s will above man’s, he said, and besides Hamas had no business participating in an authority established by agreement with Israel. During the contentious interregnum of national unity government before Hamas’s takeover of Gaza in June 2007, both Fatah and Hamas solicited Salafist support. Unruly clans seeking an Islamist cover to press their claims bolstered their ranks. Amid the chaos, the Salafists sought to enforce their authority by waging a nasty morality campaign against Internet cafés, hairdressers, the American school, and other such places of ill-repute.

Armed confrontation with the Salafists followed fast on the heels of Hamas’s takeover. In July 2007 the Qassam Brigades laid siege to the stronghold of one jihadist group, the Army of Islam, forcing the release of the BBC’s kidnapped correspondent Alan Johnston.”

Analysis of Israel’s role in Hamas’ fortunes comes towards the end:

“Indeed, Israel’s mishandling of Hamas began even before the group’s creation. The Israelis turned a blind eye to recruitment by the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1970s and 1980s, largely because they saw the Islamists as a foil to nationalist groups. Belatedly alerted to the arming of Hamas cells during the first intifada, Israel increased its appeal by televising the trial of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the wheelchair-bound Gaza preacher who was Hamas’s spiritual head, and then by exiling hundreds of Hamas activists to Lebanon, where they had a useful chance to make contact with fellow Islamists such as Hezbollah.

Hamas’s subsequent resort to hideous “martyrdom operations,” as suicide bombings were called, owed much to Hezbollah’s inspiration and perhaps also to its technical expertise. Israel’s response of targeted assassinations hugely bolstered Palestinian sympathy for Hamas, even as it served to radicalize its followers. As Paul McGeough’s book makes abundantly clear, for instance, Khaled Meshaal, a relative hard-liner, rode to dominance within Hamas on the wave of outrage that followed Israel’s botched attempt to poison him in Amman in 1997. By contrast, when in 2003 Israel succeeded in murdering Ismail Abu Shanab, a respected Gazan intellectual with an engineering degree from Colorado State University, it eliminated a Hamas official who had argued passionately against suicide bombings and in favor of a long-term truce.

Israel’s dramatic acceleration of Jewish settlement in the occupied territories during the 1990s, and its systematic undermining of the Palestinian economy by means of roadblocks and closures, convinced many Palestinians that Hamas was perhaps correct in judging the peace process a sham. Even as Yasser Arafat’s credit waned among his own people, both Israel and the Clinton administration pushed him to crack down on Hamas. This he did, with some brutality and considerable success, in a campaign that put hundreds of Hamas activists into Palestinian prisons. Yet rather than being rewarded for risking the anger of his own people, Arafat was simply pressured to do more, and told that he would be held to account for any atrocity carried out by Hamas.

In effect if not in intention, Israel handed the Islamists veto power over the peace process. It also so weakened Arafat that when Israel floated the possibility of an offer at Camp David in 2000, the Palestinian leader shied from pursuing it, largely because he feared he could not swing his people to support it. When, in the autumn of 2000, the second intifada broke out in the wake of this failure, Arafat felt obliged to ride the violence rather than attempt to contain it, and soon lost control of his movement as local Fatah activists strove to outdo Hamas in fury.”

It’s good to read everybody’s favourite type of criticism – criticism of Israel – from people who a) haven’t got it in for Israel and b) know what they’re talking about. (The Green Party’s International Committee should try it sometime.)

Read it all and, for all the blandness of the account, be grateful you don’t live in a country Hamas runs, having your marriage licence checked by morality police, dissenting in fear of your life, and waiting for your government to give you a chance to vote them out. And be grateful you don’t have Hamas in the country next door.