Silencing critics will only reinforce image of Israel as a bully

First published by the Arab Weekly on 7/5/2017

In recent years Israel has been developing approaches to combat the criticism it receives, both for the lack of progress towards peace with the Palestinians and increasingly for policies it develops and implements.

This can be traced to a signifi­cant 2010 report, produced by the Reut Institute, that claimed: “Is­rael has been subjected to increas­ingly harsh criticism around the world, resulting in an erosion of its international image and exact­ing a tangible strategic price.”

It identified what it calls “the Delegitimisation Network” and claimed that it “tarnishes Israel’s reputation, constrains its military capabilities and advances the One- State Solution.”

The Reut report diagnosed Israel’s predicament as facing “a systemic, systematic and in­creasingly effective assault on its political and economic model.” It suggested that “faced with a po­tentially existential threat, Israel must treat it as such by focusing its intelligence agencies on this challenge; allocating appropriate resources; developing new knowl­edge, designing a strategy, execut­ing it; and debriefing itself.”

The report suggested that, to combat the “delegitimisers,” Israel should adopt “relationship-based diplomacy with elites;” “engage the critics;” “isolate the delegiti­misers;” “NGOs to engage with NGOs;” “mobilise Jewish and Is­raeli diaspora communities;” “let the local pro-Israel community lead the effort and reorganisation of the foreign affairs establish­ment.”

Since the publication of the report, it would appear Israel has taken its recommendations on board. It has certainly strength­ened its relationship-based diplomacy with elite figures and institutions, most significantly perhaps in the United States and Britain.

All major US presidential candi­dates in 2016 except Bernie Sand­ers addressed the conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — the main Is­rael lobby group — affirming their unequivocal support for Israel. In Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May addressed the Conservative Friends of Israel expressing her unshakeable commitment to the country.

Israel has attempted to draw a distinction between “legitimate criticism”’ and ”demonisation and delegitimisation” by trying to establish a line of criticism that, if crossed, moves into demonisation and criticism.

Here, too, Britain and the United States have moved to support this and indeed to accuse the United Nations and some of its agen­cies, including the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and UNESCO, as having crossed it. Britain put the UNHRC “on notice” for its focus on Israel and the United States re­cently moved to shift the focus of the UN Security Council’s security concerns in the region to Iran.

A special focus of Israel’s efforts to distinguish between “critics” and “deligitimisers” has been the Boycott, Divestment and Sanc­tions (BDS) movement. While on the one hand dismissing its effectiveness, it has identified it as an “existential threat.” It set up a task force, initially funded with $25 million, under the Strategic Affairs Ministry led by Gilad Erdan to target the BDS movement.

In February 2016, during the Global Coalition for Israel confer­ence in Jerusalem, Erdan outlined Israel’s strategies for combating the movement that has gained momentum in recent years. Erdan said he hoped that the meeting would signify a turning point in the fight against delegitimisa­tion. “BDS is spreading to more and more countries and fields” he said. His colleague Yisrael Katz, minister for transportation went further, saying: “Israel must carry out targeted civil thwarting of the leadership [of BDS].”

Erdan concluded by stating that Jewish communities around the world play a crucial role. Telling them “you are on the ground and know what is going on.” “I can’t do it alone. We are all on the front line together,” he said.

A combination of mobilising the elite and what are claimed to be “jewish community” organisa­tions, which are in fact pro-israel organisations, has seen a marked rise in the silencing or at least the attempted silencing of israel’s critics. This has targeted “centres for delegitimisation,” identified by the reut report — namely london, paris, toronto, madrid, brussels and the san francisco bay area.

Attempts to silence critics have included the conflation of anti-semitism and anti-zionism through the creation and promo­tion of a definition of the former to encompass criticism of israel and labelling bds as anti-semitic. Venues that are booked to host pro-palestinian events have been targeted and warned that they are hosting “anti-semitic” events or allowing platforms to anti-semites and “promoters of terror.”

Recently, the israeli knesset passed a law banning proponents of bds from entering israel, even if they promote a boycott of illegal settlements. If fully implemented, the law, which was heavily criti­cised even by jewish organisations in the west, would also deny entry to jews who promote boycotts.

Observers said the attempts to silence critics were not working but were reinforcing israel’s im­age of a bully that claims to be a democracy but then silences free speech, a key democratic value.

Banning BDS supporters is incompatible with a Western-style democracy

First published by the Middle East Eye on 14/3/2017

The next time you hear Israel laud its democratic credentials, remember the ban on BDS supporters and take it with a pinch of salt

Israel’s parliament began the year with a volley of bills designed to entrench its occupation of the Palestinian territories, insult the indigenous Palestinian population and place a heavy price on anyone critical of its policies.

What is particularly galling is that to achieve this, it has used its loudly touted claim to be a Western-style democracy.

The year kicked off with the passing of the “regulation bill” on 6 February 2017, designed unashamedly to retroactively “legalise” 4,000 Jewish Israeli homes which were previously deemed illegal under Israel’s own laws.

The bill, supported by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was condemned by human rights group Peace Now which described it as a “fatal blow to democracy” and, if passed, would “turn Israeli citizens to thieves and stain Israel’s law books”.

While Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, did call the law unconstitutional and while it is likely to eventually be struck down by the Israeli Supreme Court, its initial passage shows a dangerous direction of travel for Israeli democracy.

Silencing the call to prayer

On 12 February, Israeli ministers endorsed a draft bill, which would restrict the Muslim call to prayers. In the draft, the athan, the Muslim call to prayer – and an integral part of Palestinian culture and history since the siege of Jerusalem in 637 AD – was insultingly characterised as “noise pollution”.

Those initiating the bill argued that it disturbs non-Muslims – or more specifically, illegal settlers who have moved into predominantly Palestinian areas including East Jerusalem.

With the two bills and under the guise of a democracy and responding to the wishes of its citizens, Israel is using its predominantly Jewish Israeli votes in the Knesset to target Muslim history and Palestinian culture.

‘Threat to the state’

The impact of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on Israel was downplayed by Israeli leaders until 2015, the 10th anniversary of the launch of the boycott call by Palestinian civil society.

Suddenly, it was identified as a “strategic threat to the state” and one which both Israeli leaders and supporters of Israel around the world decided to combat. In response, Netanyahu appointed Gilad Erdan as minister of public security, strategic affairs and public diplomacy, to tackle both BDS activism and Iran’s nuclear programme. Several pro-Israeli organisations and individuals gathered to find the most effective ways to quash the movement they described as seeking to delegitimise Israel and later labelled as anti-Semitic. Some $25m was allocated to their fight.

Last March, at the Yediot Achronot conference in Jerusalem, Intelligence Minister Israel Katz called for the “civil targeted killing” of BDS leaders like Omar Barghouti. Several months later, Israeli authorities imposed a travel ban on Barghouti. His residency status in Israel continues to be under threat.

With the BDS movement showing no signs of abating, Israel has since moved to pressure its allies to quash and criminalise it in their own countries. It has also worked hard to push back against rising support for the Palestinian cause and against its oppressive policies on university campuses in the West.

Some US states have moved to criminalise boycotts, such as in California and New York. France’s highest court of appeal ruled that promoters of a boycott against Israel were “guilty of inciting hate or discrimination”, while a Paris Municipality recently passed anti-BDS resolutions. The UK government has specifically outlawed local authorities from using their pension policies to participate in the movement.

Banning boycotters

BDS supporters, however, have been, for the most part, free to enter Israel – to observe the situation on the ground and engage with groups promoting boycotts. But this changed on 6 March when the Knesset passed a law banning any foreign citizen who supports or promotes the boycott of Israel from entering.

In a statement after the bill passed, the parliament said: “A visa will not be granted nor a residence permit of any kind to any person who is not an Israeli citizen or permanent resident if he, or the organisation or body in which he is active, has knowingly issued a public call to boycott the state of Israel or pledged to take part in such a boycott.”

The law was quickly slammed by Jewish groups around the world including Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The ADL tweeted: “Israel’s democracy, pluralism, open society serve as best defense against BDS. New law harms rather than helps.”

In Britain, Jewish groups including the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jewish Leadership Council and Union of Jewish Students criticised the move, calling it “anti-democratic”, “indiscriminate” and “deeply problematic”.

The first to be banned

The first victim of the new travel ban was Hugh Lanning, chairman of the UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign. A longstanding human rights campaigner, Lanning was denied entry to Israel this past Sunday, less than a week after the passing of the bill.

Lanning, a frequent traveller to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, had never been barred from entry before, so it is reasonable to assume that the new law is behind his barring. Shortly after his entry was denied, Yiftah Curiel, spokesperson for the Israeli embassy in London, tweeted: “Lanning is the chairman of the PSC, an organisation that leads the campaign in the UK to demonise and boycott Israel.”

PSC Chair Hugh Lanning

In a statement on Monday, PSC director Ben Jamal said: “By introducing this law, Israel is violating fundamental freedoms essential to a democracy – the right to free speech, to criticise government policies and human rights violations, the right to advocate non-violent actions to address human rights abuses, the right of free movement and travel. A democratic country does not behave in the way Israel is behaving.”

Lanning, who is now safely back in the UK, told MEE: “What an honour – the first to be deported using the law.” He added that his questioning was “long and bizarre, mainly focused on people I had met, what I did as a chair, was I politically active?” More importantly, Lanning was “never charged with or accused of doing anything wrong on this or previous visits.”

He reiterated Jamal’s statement that: “If Israel believes that by introducing these draconian undemocratic laws it will intimidate its critics into silence it is mistaken. The PSC will not stop raising its voice to highlight the systematic violation of Palestinian human rights in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel itself.”

Messages of support for Lanning and condemnation of the ban and his deportation have poured in, privately and over social media. Examples include trade unions PCS, UNITE and ASLEF.

Even from among Israel’s supporters, the sentiment is that this ban is a step too far. An integral part of any western-style democracy is freedom of expression. Israel’s initial objection to academic boycotts was that they restricted the opportunity to debate and criticise.

Now, by passing this law, it has closed the door itself on dialogue that could take place in Israel and the occupied territories. Not only does democracy lose, but Israel also loses support from those that gave it the benefit of the doubt as the self-proclaimed “only democracy in the Middle East”. This includes support from Jews with an actual connection to Israel through family members who may now be denied entry because they support a limited boycott of goods made in illegal settlements.

The next time you hear Israel laud its democratic credentials, take it with a pinch of salt.

Expecting more of the same for Palestinians

First published by the Arab Weekly on 25/12/2016

London – Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims are looking back with deep concern at a year in which they saw their struggle for freedom and independence bat­tered.

The Palestinians end the year with no sign of reconciliation be­tween the main political factions Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, which governs the West Bank. Gaza’s siege continues unabated, Jewish settlements are expanding and Israeli settler in­cursions into Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque grow in number and fre­quency.

Fatah’s seventh congress includ­ed a marathon 3-hour speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that simply confirmed com­mitment to the established direc­tion of travel. Abbas was re-elected party chairman and he, in turn, re­affirmed his commitment to nego­tiations with Israel for the ultimate goal of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with minor land swaps and with East Jerusalem as its capital and a fair resolution of the refugee problem.

The Palestinians find their cause, which once took centre stage, com­peting with Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen for international attention. Israel has benefited from the di­version of attention away from its continued illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories and its daily oppressive practices.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu repeatedly reminds his allies that Israel faces major threats in a tough neighbourhood. He claims that this is the wrong time for Israel to concede territory to the Palestinians, which may al­low either Hamas or the Islamic State (ISIS) to establish a foothold in the West Bank, threatening Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion International Airport.

The status quo is that Israel effec­tively controls the whole of historic Palestine, further colonises Pales­tinian land, judaises Jerusalem and blockades Gaza. The Palestinian Authority provides it with security cooperation that Abbas considers sacred. Israel is therefore comfort­able, despite occasional uprisings.

Add to that a deal with the out­going US administration to deliver $38 billion in military aid over the next ten years and a promise to protect it from any criticism or im­position of a peace deal at the UN Security Council and 2016 can be considered to have been an excel­lent year for the 68-year old state.

However, that is not the end of the good news for Israel. The 2016 Republican Party platform for the first time rejected the description of Israel as “an occupier”, omitted any mention of a two-state solu­tion and conflated settlements with Israel itself.

During the campaign, US Presi­dent-elect Donald Trump first de­clared his intention to be “neutral” on the Palestinians and Israel so as to broker a deal but he changed his tune when he spoke at the con­ference of the main Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He not only de­clared his unwavering support for Israel but promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusa­lem, a position his advisers reiter­ated after his election.

If implemented, this would break long-standing US policy and is guaranteed to generate unprec­edented anger among Palestinians and their supporters around the world.

US President Barack Obama has, it seems, given up on any last-minute moves to reignite the peace process or to impose some pres­sure on Israel through the Secu­rity Council. However, he remains committed to the two-state solu­tion, despite some senior Israeli of­ficials’ calls for it to be abandoned.

Speaking at the Saban Forum, an annual gathering of senior Israeli and US policymakers, US Secretary of State John Kerry concluded that “more than 50% of the ministers in the current Israeli government have publicly stated they are op­posed to a Palestinian state and that there will be no Palestinian state”.

He said Israeli settlement con­struction is a deliberate obstacle to peace and warned that such expansion was undermining any hope of a two-state solution. Kerry was speaking as the Knesset was about to move forward on a bill that would legalise illegal settle­ment outposts in the West Bank, despite the world being united in considering all settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem il­legal.

Efforts by France to have a peace conference before the end of the year also failed. French President François Hollande could not even convince Netanyahu to attend a pre-Christmas meeting with Abbas in Paris. Netanyahu would only ac­cept such an invitation if France gave up on its peace initiative, ren­dering the meeting useless.

Perhaps the real reason for Netanyahu declining the French invitation is that on January 20th Trump moves into the White House. Why engage with France or anyone else when Trump and his administration are making the right noises as far as Israel is concerned?

Trump’s election has further em­boldened Israeli leaders including Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who declared “Trump’s victory is an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state in the centre of the country, which would hurt our security and just cause”. This conclusion by Bennett is a reflec­tion of Israeli thinking at the high­est level.

While many have been argu­ing for some time that Israel has been making a two-state solution impossible through changing the situation on the ground, it is now being declared dead by its main backer, the United States.

It is therefore likely that as the centenary of Balfour Declaration is marked in 2017, together with the 50th anniversary of the Israeli oc­cupation, we will be no nearer to a resolution to the conflict. With this the Palestinian leadership is likely to turn to international institu­tions, including the International Criminal Court, to pursue actions against Israel to at the very least remind the international commu­nity of the need to find a solution.

As for ordinary citizens around the world, it seems that support­ing the Palestinians through the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) is the main form of effective solidarity they can exercise to help the Palestinians reach their legitimate goals of free­dom, equality and independence.

The UK’s new anti-Semitism definition is more about protecting Israel than British Jews

First published by the Middle East Eye on 13/12/2016

The definition makes anti-Semitism less about problems an individual or group has with Jews and more a refusal to accept Israeli policies

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Britain’s pro-Israel lobby has won a battle, but its win won’t help bring about the peace that Palestinians and Israelis crave.

This week, the British government announced that it will adopt a new definition of anti-Semitism which, in itself, will not provide British Jews with greater protection from hatred any more than the previous definitions and understanding of this scourge did.

However, it could potentially make it more difficult for campaigners for justice for Palestinians, and Palestinians themselves, to speak out against Israel’s 68-year long colonisation and 49 years of illegal occupation. In fact, my previous sentence may itself now be judged to be on the edge of whether it is anti-Semitic.

My contention is that existing definitions and understandings of anti-Semitism were adequate. This was clearly demonstrated by the case of Joshua Bonehill-Paine. His vile anti-Semitic trolling of British MP Luciana Berger landed him with a conviction for racially aggravated harassment last week.

Prosecutor Philip Stott said “the ideology which so stirred Mr Bonehill-Paine is one of fierce anti-Semitism” and that he had demonstrated “hostility based on her membership or presumed membership of a particular racial group, namely Jews”.

May’s announcement

On Monday, the British prime minister took time out from her busy schedule and the Brexit shenanigans among her ministers to make a speech to the Conservatives’ own pro-Israel lobby, Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI). Britain, she announced, will adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) ‘formal’ definition of anti-Semitism.

“Just last week we were at the forefront to try to ensure that the definition was adopted across the continent too, at the summit of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The result was 56 countries in favour. One country opposed it: Russia,” May told the crowd. “But, as I said, we will adopt it here in the UK.”

Her contention was that “there will be one definition of anti-Semitism – in essence, language or behaviour that displays hatred towards Jews because they are Jews – and anyone guilty of that will be called out on it”.

The IHRA definition, which is largely based on the discredited European Union’s Monitoring Centre definition that Britain is adopting, is: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

However, had the PM stopped there – and made it clear that the definition stops there – other Palestinians and I would have been able to live with this. In fact, that definition still effectively states the traditional understanding of what anti-Semitism is, namely “hatred of Jews because they are Jews”.

However, May and her team failed to elaborate on the small print which makes this definition problematic, especially for Palestinians.

The small print

The IHRA’s small print moves immediately to bring criticism of Israel into the definition as an example of anti-Semitism stating that “manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”

The IHRA goes on to offer contemporary examples of anti-Semitism. Some were examples of classic anti-Semitism which most fair-minded people would agree are wrong. However, several were specifically related to Israel including:

  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel

Suddenly, anti-Semitism becomes not a problem an individual or group may have with Jews because they are Jews, and more about refusing to accept the policies, practices and actions of a state. Most importantly though, there is no attempt either in the definition or the prime minister’s speech to formally and fully acknowledge that Israel does not exist in a vacuum.

From a Palestinian perspective

No, prime minister. The last time I checked, Israel was created on a land that was not empty against our will, one that was a homeland to my people, the Palestinians. It expanded beyond even the unjust UN Partition Plan to now rule over the whole of the Palestinian homeland. It defies international law, and has been in breach of international humanitarian law, not for a few days or years, but for decades.

It builds settlements only for Jews illegally on internationally recognised land that belongs to another people. It continues to lay a siege on two million people in Gaza for political reasons and has repeatedly carried out wars against the enclave which UN reports concluded may have included the committal of war crimes.

It continues to deny Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homeland in defiance of UN resolution 194. It has rejected the Arab Peace Initiative offered in 2002. Israel continues to confiscate Palestinian land, demolish Palestinian homes and evict Palestinian families from their homes, moving Jewish settlers into them.

It continues to demolish ‘unrecognised’ Bedouin villages in the Negev and in the case of Umm Al-Hiran plans to build a settlement only for Jews on the same spot. It has some 50 laws that discriminate against non-Jewish citizens. The list goes on. That is how Palestinians see Israel.

However, the prime minister only sees it as “a thriving democracy, a beacon of tolerance, an engine of enterprise and an example to the rest of the world for overcoming adversity and defying disadvantages”. She even agreed with Israeli ambassador Mark Regev who said “we have common values; we work together, on health, counter-terrorism, cyber-security, technology; and we can help each other achieve our aims”.

However, what I described above from a Palestinian perspective she reduced to a slight problem, stating that “no one is saying the path has been perfect – or that many problems do not remain”. For the Palestinians, it is not just a few problems but a catastrophe that started in 1947 and continues to this day.

Palestinians had no choice in who had an eye on their homeland and who then settled it without their consent. The Zionist movement chose Palestine knowing it was a land for a people. When we Palestinians criticise the occupier, resist its oppressive regime and ask supporters of justice across the world to help us, we do not target Israeli Jews because they are Jews but because they are our occupiers. That is an undisputable fact.

The new definition of anti-Semitism has been adopted without consultation with the Palestinian people or British Palestinians to ascertain its impact on them. Equality legislation requires that an assessment is carried out to consider the impact of actions in order to avoid unintended consequences.

At the very least, an impact assessment should have been carried out to assess the unintended consequences of silencing Palestinians and their supporters through the adoption of the new definition – unless of course that was the intention. Either way, the Palestinian people cannot afford to be silent. We will not be a ‘model occupied people’.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com. He writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: British Prime Minister Theresa May at a press conference last month (AFP)

With Bannon’s appointment, Israel is comfortable with anti-Semitism

First published by the Middle East Eye on Monday 28/11/2016

From MEE. A file photo of Stephen Bannon, who was recently named to be Donald Trump’s chief strategist in the White House (Reuters)

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The cat is out of the bag: Israel is comfortable associating with suspected holding anti-Semitic and extremist right-wing views as long as they support it.

How else is it possible to explain Israel and its supporters’ lack of objection to the appointment of Steve Bannon as chief strategist for US President-elect Donald Trump?

Bannon’s own ex-wife Mary Louise Pickard accused him in court of having a problem with his daughters attending a particular school. The reason given was “the biggest problem he had with Archer is the number of Jews that attend. He said that he doesn’t like Jews and that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiney brats’ and that he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews”. He also questioned why another school had “so many Hanukkah books in the library”?

It is important to note that the allegations were made in a custody battle. However, at least one of the allegations regarding the Hanukkah books incident was corroborated by a representative of the school in question.

As has been widely reported since his appointment to the Trump team, Bannon ran the far-right publication, Breitbart News. Bannon was accused of presiding over “the premier website of the ‘alt-right’ – a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists” by the Anti-Defamation League’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who is a staunch supporter of Israel.

Joining in the criticism, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in a statement “the President is entitled to choose advisors who he believes will help him implement his agenda. However, both in his roles as editor of the Breitbart website and as a strategist in the Trump campaign, Mr. Bannon was responsible for the advancement of ideologies antithetical to our nation, including anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism and Islamophobia. There should be no place for such views in the White House”.

A speedy examination of Breitbart shows it has covered Israel sympathetically, but it also has covered the alt-right movement sympathetically by including individuals who have expressed homophobic, misogynist, white supremacists and anti-Semitic views. Matthew Tyrmand, a columnist for Breitbart News attacked Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, calling her a “Polish, Jewish, American elitist.”

One would have thought that Israel and its supporters would at least raise their concerns with the man Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called “a true friend of Israel”, President-elect Trump, or would at least seek clarification about Bannon’s past views. After all, anti-Semitism is not only wrong in its own right but has recently formed a major plank of attacks both on the British Labour party and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Instead of raising concerns, Israeli officials and supporters have rallied around Bannon. Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer praised Trump and his team saying “Israel has no doubt that President-elect Trump is a true friend of Israel. We have no doubt that Vice-President-elect Mike Pence is a true friend of Israel, he was one of Israel’s greatest friends in the Congress, one of the most pro-Israel governors in the country, and we look forward to working with the Trump administration, with all of the members of the Trump administration, including Steve Bannon, and making the US-Israel alliance stronger than ever”.

Emeritus Harvard Law Professor and staunch supporter of Israel, Alan Dershowitz, leaped to Bannon’s support saying “I think we have to be very careful before we accuse any particular individual of being an anti-Semite. The evidence certainly suggests that Mr. Bannon has very good relationships with individual Jews. My former researcher, Joel Pollak, is an Orthodox Jew who takes off the Jewish holidays, who is a committed Jew and a committed Zionist, and he has worked closely with him. He has been supportive of Israel”. The clue is in the last sentence, “supportive of Israel”.

Dershowitz went further in his defence: “so, I haven’t seen any evidence of personal anti-Semitism on the part of Bannon. I think the headline (on the Breitbart website) about a Conservative Republican being a renegade Jew was ill-advised. But it doesn’t suggest to me anti-Semitism. It suggests to me a degree of carelessness”.

Dershowitz has in the past accused Black Lives Matter, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and Richard Goldstone either of outright antisemitism or behaviour that he judged to be problematic in this regard. However, it is behaviour towards Israel or criticism of its practices that has formed the core of his assertions. The contrast with his take on Bannon could not be starker.

It is important to note that his appointment has been widely condemned by Jewish organisations, including Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). In a statement, Rabbi Alissa Wise JVP Deputy Director said:

“In President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of Steve Bannon–a leading white nationalist–as Chief Strategist, we are seeing a confirmation of exactly what Trump promised throughout his campaign: the open endorsement of racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and antisemitism”. She reflected on the dangers of a far right Government not with reference to an abstract or theoretical situation but to the reality of Israel adding “From our work on Israel, we are familiar with the deepening violence, hatred and repression that comes from a far right government”.

The National Jewish Democratic Council feared that “Trump’s choice of Steve Bannon is just the first appointment of many individuals who have engaged in, or at least, tolerated anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia”. The pro-Israel Group J Street also joined Jewish groups condemning Bannon. However, it is telling that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) declined to take a position on Bannon claiming through its spokesman, Marshall Wittmann: “AIPAC has a long-standing policy of not taking positions on presidential appointments”.

However, is it a leap to conclude from the Bannon episode that Israel turns a blind eye to anti-Semites and extremists if they support it and its policies? Well, Bannon is no joe public. He is the most senior advisor to the President-elect of the United States and the future leader of the free world. Israel and its supporters have perhaps judged that they could not have hoped for a better outcome form the US elections than a Trump win. The team he is forming is to their liking, so why rock the boat about an individual who I would contend would have been more problematic to them had he been called to serve in the Obama Administration.

If a President Trump fulfils his promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, protects Israel at the UN Security Council and finally scuppers any chances of a Palestinian state, then tolerating a troublesome senior advisor in his administration is a price worth paying.

However, we are entitled to think that those of us who receive accusations of anti-Semitism must feel aggrieved when we criticise Israel without demonstrating any hatred towards Jews. Those people would surely be happy to send their children to a school with Jewish children when Bannon would not. Those people that have been vilified as anti-Semites suggests there is a major antisemitism problem within the right wing.

Redefining anti-Semitism will not silence Palestinians’ struggle for justice

First published in the Middle East Eye on 19/10/2016

The UK home affairs select committee has fallen for the Israeli lobby’s attempt to conflate criticising Israel with anti-Semitism

I would not be writing this column in this way if the UK Parliament’s home affairs select committee had not dragged my homeland, Palestine, into the controversy surrounding anti-Semitism in this country through its decision this month to redefine the term.

Britain, which made the Balfour Declaration to the Zionists in 1917, has through the findings of this report, given the right to Zionists to silence Palestinians and their supporters in 2016.

It may surprise some people to read this, but that is exactly what happened when the select committee decided to bring Israel, which exists in historic Palestine, into its proposed revised definition of anti-Semitism.

The very fact that the committee brought the state of Israel into the discussion on anti-Semitism was in my view misguided and a disservice to the Jewish community in this country.

The committee decided that it should “aim to establish a definition which achieves an appropriate balance between condemning anti-Semitism vehemently, in all its forms, and maintaining freedom of speech – particularly in relation to legitimate criticism of the government of Israel”.

However, once criticism of Israel is linked to hatred of Jews in the UK, a line was crossed which implicitly makes the Jewish community somehow responsible for the actions of a foreign state. Previously established definitions of anti-Semitism did not make such a connection.

Just like in 1917, our voice as British Palestinians has neither been sought nor heard, while the voice of the Jewish community was sought and heard by members of Parliament. If anyone had asked, we would have told them that we have a clear view on racism and anti-Semitism which, unlike the views of some contributors who offered evidence, is not marred by support for a foreign state.

This includes representatives of Friends of Israel groups in the main political parties and several groups which claim to speak on behalf of the Jewish community, but are part of the pro-Israel lobby, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council.

It is telling that the chair of Conservative Friends of Israel, Eric Pickles, a former Conservative Party chairman, is listed as UK special envoy for post-Holocaust issues. Pickles told the committee: “The old stereotype of Jews owning everything, how they look and how they dress, that is completely unacceptable, but a kind of new anti-Semitism has crept in through this back-door, through anti-Zionism. Things that people say about Israelis or Zionists if they said about Jews would be clearly seen as being anti-Semitic”.

The Chief Rabbi himself suggested that “Zionism has been an integral part of Judaism from the dawn of our faith” when in fact it was developed in the 19th century.

Palestinians oppose anti-Semitism

As I wrote earlier this year, when the controversy surrounding alleged anti-Semitism in the British Labour party broke, we British Palestinians said we wanted to see anti-Semitism eradicated and also want sanctions imposed on Israel for its crimes against us. We stand with our fellow Jewish British citizens in their fight to eradicate the specific form of racism that affects them, which targets them, and we stand with fellow Palestinians in our homeland as they seek a just solution to our collective predicament.

I have always understood what is meant by racism and the specific form that targets Jews which is anti-Semitism. The definition of anti-Semitism which I grew up knowing is “the hatred of Jews because they are Jews”. This can and does apply to whichever country one lives in, including the Arab world, and should apply in a future independent Palestine.

If Jews are targeted because they are Jews then that is anti-Semitism. There is no need to qualify this or to renew it every few years for political motives. I can already hear cries that I have no right to define anti-Semitism for Jews. However, the cries will come from those who had no right to take or support the taking of my homeland.

In recent years, there has been a move to qualify and even redefine the term in light of the creation of Israel as a result of the development of a political ideology, Zionism, in the 19th century.

Various definitions of Zionism exist, but as far as Palestinians are concerned, the ideology revolved around the creation of a political entity for Jews in our homeland, historic Palestine, without our permission because they thought it would solve their problem. The fact that it was and continues to be a catastrophe for us is a minor inconvenience.

Bizarrely, Zionists claim that they have an eternal right to exclusively populate a specific plot of land and the world must accept this claim without question, they are simply “returning”. I say bizarrely because Christians do not argue that they have an eternal right to the birthplace of their religion, Palestine, nor do all Muslims claim an eternal right to the birthplace of their religion, Mecca and Medina.

Even more bizarrely, the claimants to my homeland were not living in it when they made their claim; my people, the Palestinians were. And, just as Jews, Christians and Muslims inhabited Palestine as a people, they also did so in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Yemen, to name but a few Arab countries where Jews lived alongside Muslims. Palestine was not an empty land as Zionists claimed.

Had Israel not been forced onto Palestine, an independent Palestine would have probably emerged in which Christians, Jews and Muslims became citizens of that new Palestinian nation as would have been the case in Syria and Iraq, for example. It was the forced creation of Israel that created a catastrophe for Palestinians (the Nakba) and turmoil in the Middle East, which resulted in most Jews leaving their Arab homelands for the newly established Israel.

‘Model occupied people’

We Palestinians are told that we must accept Israel as a reality, that we must not question its right to exist. But those who ask this of us would not have accepted the creation of a Zionist entity in their homeland. As I argued in a letter I wrote back in May, the Welsh people would not have accepted the creation of Israel in their homeland if Balfour had promised Wales to the Zionists.

Not only are Palestinians asked to accept Israel, we are expected to behave as a “model occupied people” while it decides what to do with us. The so-called “international community” has thus far failed to pressure Israel to agree to the most painful concession a people could give, to accept the existence of a foreign state on nearly 80 percent of our historic homeland. Israel wants more.

Israel’s education minister has recently made an explicit call for the annexation of the West Bank, to get even closer to achieving the dream of Zionism: Israel from the “river to the sea”. As Western governments have failed us, we Palestinians have turned to ordinary citizens to support us and they have.

Our call for a campaign to pressure Israel through Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), a peaceful campaign, has been gathering momentum. It is hurting Israel which has decided to fight it rather than come to its senses and meet its legitimate demands.

Israel has dedicated significant resource to this fight but has also called on its supporters in other countries to fight it too. The UK government has regularly expressed opposition to BDS and the current foreign secretary was caught in a controversy about it when he visited Palestine and Israel as London’s mayor last November.

Redefining anti-Semitism

In addition, some supporters of Zionism and apologists for Israel’s illegal practices have in recent years been attempting to qualify the established definition of anti-Semitism with the explicit intention of establishing a significant linkage between being a Jew and Israel. They have tried tirelessly to conflate Judaism, Zionism and Israel. If you are anti any of them, you should be labelled an anti-Semite.

They attempted to steer the recent debate on anti-Semitism in the UK’s Labour Party in this direction. When the inquiry into Baroness Chakrabarti did not find in their favour, they rubbished her report and turned their attention to the Home Affairs Select Committee on anti-Semitism.

Instead of rejecting the pro-Israel camp’s desire to redefine anti-Semitism, the select committee took a discredited European Union definition, and then amended it to now include criticism of Israel as part of the term, but not always, resulting in a dog’s breakfast.  The committee fell for the pro-Israel lobby’s desire for the conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism hook, line and sinker. Anti-Semitism was redefined and the supporters of Israel are cheering.

Criminalising dissent

We Palestinians are not cheering. We are entitled to be extremely concerned that our ability and that of our supporters to educate and campaign has been compromised through the deliberate attempt by supporters of Israel to abuse anti-Semitism for the purpose of taking the heat off the rogue state they support.

They not only want us to think twice about speaking out and criticising Israel, but they also want the government to move to criminalise us if we do and when they (whoever they are) judge that we have overstepped the mark.

It seems that from Balfour to anti-Semitism, Britain is determined to complete the Zionist colonisation of our homeland, Palestine.

Our message to British politicians is this: as long as Israel continues to occupy Palestine, to oppress and murder, to lay siege to two million people, to steal our land and resources, to restrict our movement, to refuse to allow the refugees to return, to attack our religious sites, to illegally settle our land and to leave our people with no hope of freedom, dignity or independence, we and our supporters will continue to speak out, to educate and to demand that the British government changes its shameful, but deliberate policies which place trade with Israel above human rights.

We will not allow Zionists who support a state that does all of the above to silence us under the disguise of the “new anti-Semitism” but we will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Jews in their fight against the real anti-Semitism that some still undoubtedly face.

As Palestinians, we demand the British government reject the select committee’s call to adopt its proposed definition of anti-Semitism.

Netanyahu turns to ‘ethnic cleansing’ and sophistry to justify Israel’s criminal acts

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 23/9/2016

Having failed to convince most of the world to accept its colonisation of Palestine, Israel has been busy redefining the long standing meaning of words and phrases in the hope that their new definition becomes the accepted norm. Words and phrases such as terror, anti-Semitism, security, existential threat and, most recently, ethnic cleansing have been through the Israeli mill and there seems to be no end in sight of this desecration of the English language. Thankfully, the Israeli tactic is transparent and reasonable people can see through it clearly.

Terror

As far as the term “terror” is concerned, it is reported that the Oxford Dictionary first defined it as “government by intimidation”. Established definitions of this include, “extreme fear”, “the use of extreme fear to intimidate people” and “a person or thing that causes extreme fear”. A more explicit definition related to the reporting of violent incidents in recent years is “the unofficial or unauthorised use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.”

Israel regularly uses this to define attacks by Palestinians not only on Israeli civilians but on Israeli soldiers or security personnel in the occupied territories. However, security personnel are armed instruments of the Israeli state, operating on the land of another people, be it in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza or the Golan Heights. They are enforcing an illegal occupation and, in the process, are oppressing, abducting and killing both adults and children. As such, Israel has been redefining the term “terror” to incite world opinion against Palestinians and to justify its harsh treatment of them, including extrajudicial killing. It uses “terror” conveniently to justify its illegal acts, as a part of the so-called “global war on terror”.

Israel has also been stretching the meaning of the term. Current Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman labelled attempts by the Palestinian leadership to get upgraded membership of the United Nations as “political terror”. Then Deputy Foreign Minister Dani Danon dubbed the same peaceful moves as “diplomatic terror”. In both cases they equated entirely peaceful and legitimate political steps with physical harm to individuals through violence.

More recently, Israel’s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked labelled another peaceful initiative, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as “the new face of terrorism” at a Jewish National Fund (JNF) conference in New York. This is both outrageous and bizarre when you consider that BDS does not call for any violent act to be carried out against anyone. Shaked’s colleague, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, called moves by the EU to boycott organisations and companies located in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories as “economic terror”. Again, it was an attempt to equate non-violent political activism with violence.

Democracy

Israel regularly stretches the meaning of the word democracy by claiming that it is the only democratic state in the Middle East, when its Jewish citizens enjoy a five-star democracy — even when residing in illegal settlements — while its Palestinian citizens enjoy perhaps a two-star version. Some five million Palestinians in the occupied territories enjoy no democracy at all, as “democratic” Israel controls every aspect of their lives with its military occupation.

Security

This is one of the terms that Israel stretches to mean anything it likes in order to justify its actions designed to entrench the occupation. It has convinced its main backers that far from rights driving a resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians, it is Israel’s security that trumps Palestinian rights, including human rights. It claims that the Apartheid Wall it has been building is a security measure when in fact it is used both to protect illegal settlements and as a land grab mechanism. It confiscates Palestinian land regularly and turns it into “military zones” in the name of security, often only to turn it over to settlers to build more illegal colony-settlements. Israel cuts down olive trees in the West Bank and clears farmland in Gaza in the name of security, destroying the livelihoods of thousands of Palestinians. It also couples the use of “security” with “self-defence” to justify its regular wars on Gaza, when the evidence shows that this results in what has been called a disproportionate number of Palestinian to Israeli casualties.

Anti-Semitism

The well-known pro-Israel group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) defines anti-Semitism as beliefs or behaviour hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum says that it means “prejudice against or hatred of Jews”. However, the government of Israel and its supporters have been attempting to redefine the term to include reference to the state. Many refer to the “EUMC working definition of antisemitism”. This defunct and discredited definition, which was never adopted by the EU, states that, “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” It goes on to say that “in addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”

This takes what was a clear and accepted definition in a new direction for political reasons, to shield Israel from being held accountable for its illegal practices and crimes. Criticising Israel, according to such a definition, immediately brings charges of anti-Semitism rather than requiring it to adhere to accepted norms and international law.

Two-state solution

Israel and indeed its supporters claim that they want a two-state solution to the conflict when, in fact, it is a euphemism for a continuation of the occupation and a rejection of equal rights for Jews and non-Jews residing in historic Palestine. Settlements have made a two-state solution impossible to achieve and most prominent Israeli politicians reject it. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has uttered the words, suggesting that he approved, but then insisted during the 2015 election campaign that there would not be a Palestinian state on his watch. What a two-state solution really means needs to be demystified.

Ethnic cleansing

The Oxford Dictionary defines ethnic cleansing as “the mass expulsion or killing of members of one ethnic or religious group in an area by those of another”. Palestinians understand this term completely. The creation of Israel in 1948 led to the mass expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their historic homeland, and no other ethnic group. Netanyahu recently claimed that removing Jewish settlers from illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as part of an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine amounts to “ethnic cleansing”. UN General SecretaryBan Ki-moon called his remarks “outrageous” and even the head of the ADL, Jonathan Greenblatt, thought that this was crass. “Sorry Bibi,” he told Netanyahu, “the Palestinians are not ‘ethnic cleansing’ Jewish settlers”.

Truth

Finally, the word “truth”. When the prime minister of Israel tells you that he is telling you the truth, be very cautious. Not only have Israeli politicians questioned his honesty — as Tzipi Livni did when she asked him, “When was the last time you told the truth to yourself, your ministers, the voting public?” — but even a staunch supporter of Israel and former President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, told President Barack Obama that Netanyahu is a liar.

As he embarked on a trip to address the UN General Assembly in New York this week, the Israeli leader said, “I will then address the United Nations General Assembly. I will present Israel’s case, Israel’s truth, Israel’s justice and also Israel’s heroism – the heroism of our soldiers, our police officers and our citizens, who are waging an uncompromising struggle against brutal terrorism.” With his track record, particularly exaggerating, if not actually lying, about Iran’s readiness to produce a nuclear bomb, everyone should be careful about believing anything that Netanyahu says.

Whether it is terrorism, ethnic cleansing or truth, Israel has been trying to redefine terms that have stood the test of time in order to engage in malicious sophistry. We should always be very wary when Israel claims that a term means something that it has not done in the past. It could just be using it to justify its criminal acts.