Israel has done nothing to deserve normalisation with the Arab world

First published by the Middle East Eye on 12/11/2018

Growing normalisation has left Palestinians struggling to understand what happened to the Arab world’s support for the Palestinian cause

 

Our Arab brothers – as none of our leaders are women – have stabbed us in the front and the back, abandoning us politically while embracing Israel.

Israeli flags could soon be flying in the skies of some Gulf states, while they pressure the Palestinian leadership into accepting a “peace” deal that is unacceptable.

I say this as a Palestinian who has watched sickening images of a beaming Benjamin Netanyahu – the leader of an oppressive apartheid state, with bucketloads of Palestinian and other Arab blood on his hands – being welcomed with open arms, together with his wife, by the ailing sultan of Oman.

Enshrining apartheid

Setting aside his leadership of the settlement enterprise, repeated wars on Gaza and the killing of hundreds of peaceful Palestinian protesters at the Gaza fence, Netanyahu recently dismissed the five-decade occupation of the Palestinian territories as “nonsense”. He also fast-tracked Israel’s nation-state law, enshrining apartheid into Israel’s basic law.

Netanyahu’s surprise trip to Oman was closely followed with a visit to the sultanate by Israeli Transport and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz. At the International Road Transport Union meeting in Muscat, he outlined Israel’s plan for a railway that would link the Gulf states via Jordan with the Mediterranean through the port of Haifa. This is the same extremist minister who called for the “targeted killings” of leaders of the peaceful boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in 2016.

Haifa is just 130 kilometres south of Beirut. A united Arab world, working for its people, should be making Beirut the Mediterranean destination of the train line, bringing Syria into the project and bypassing Israel. It could use the achievement of a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians and the return of the Golan Heights to Syria as the precondition for linking to an Israeli port.

As if welcoming two Israeli ministers to Oman was not enough, Israel scored a normalisation hat-trick with the bizarre visit of Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev to the United Arab Emirates, where she laughed and joked with her hosts in the Sheikh Zayed mosque in Abu Dhabi. This is the same extremist minister who labelled African asylum seekers as “a cancer in our society”.

Israeli flag raised in Abu Dhabi

Regev was in the UAE to see the Israeli Judo team compete in the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam. A gold medal for Israel’s Sagi Muki saw the Israeli flag raised and the national anthem, Hatikva, played for his win. Back in Jerusalem and Hebron, Israel sought to silence the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, because it disturbs the illegal settlers’ sleep.

Qatar recently hosted the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships and allowed an Israeli team not only to participate, but also to display Israeli national emblems. Qatar was one of the first Arab countries to open an official Israeli trade mission in 1996, and its news channel, Al Jazeera, was the first Arab TV station to host Israelis, citing its mission to allow both sides of the story to be told.

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev visits the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi in October (Reuters)

Meanwhile, Israeli Communications Minister Ayoub Kara said in February that he had met with Prince Mubarak Al Khalifa of Bahrain in Tel Aviv while he was visiting Israel. Kara said they met “to strengthen the relationship between our two countries”, boasting of the encounter as a sign of growing relations between Israel and Bahrain. In July, Bahrain hosted Israeli diplomats attending a UNESCO conference.

There have also been examples of Saudi officials visiting Israel or openly engaging with Israeli officials in other countries, including Prince Turki Bin Faisal and retired General Anwar Eshki. There were rumours the Saudi crown prince himself had visited Tel Aviv, though Saudi Arabia denied this. Saudi Arabia has also allowed Air India to fly through its airspace en route to Tel Aviv, in what may be a prelude to opening Saudi Arabia’s skies to Israeli carrier El Al.

Growing ‘Iranophobia’

This is normalisation on steroids, checked only by a small number of countries. In the Gulf, only Kuwait continues to oppose any warming of ties with Israel, while Tunisia and Algeria stand out in North Africa. Israel has formal ties and peace deals only with Egypt and Jordan, which have endured various stresses and strains but brought neither country the same benefits Israel has gained, particularly in terms of security and quiet on its borders.

With this growing normalisation, we Palestinians are entitled to ask why. What has Israel done to deserve this? What happened to the steadfast Arab and Muslim support for the Palestinian cause? What about the slogan that Palestine is not just a Palestinian issue, but an Arab and Muslim issue? Whatever happened to the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002?

There is no doubt that on the Arab street’s support for Palestinian rights is still strong. It is at the regime level where the once-clandestine ties with Israel are now out in the open. Israel has successfully frightened the Gulf states in particular into a form of “Iranophobia”, sending them running for protection to the US, which has in turn convinced them that Israel is not an enemy but an ally.

US President Donald Trump has been quite brutal in reminding them how vulnerable they are – not only to an Iranian threat, but to any threat. He recently told King Salman of Saudi Arabia: “You might not be there for two weeks without us. You have to pay for your military.”

Former Saudi King Abdullah offered Israel the Arab “peace initiative” in 2002, while Yasser Arafat was under siege in Ramallah. It offered Israel a normalisation of relations with the Arab world if peace was achieved between Israel and Palestine. Israel never accepted this plan, and the Arabs have now bypassed it, without even an Arab League summit to bury it.

Changing course

In return, Israel has offered nothing, except for a shared fear of the Iranian threat and increasing supplies of security software and military hardware. It continues to threaten the sanctity of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem and Hebron and to deny Palestinians their legitimate rights. It has no plans to accept a just peace with Palestinians or to return the illegally occupied Golan Heights to Syria.

If the normalising Arabs think that Israel would send its jets to protect their thrones in the unlikely event of an Iranian attack, then they are deluded, or at best, badly advised. It will sit back and enjoy seeing their respective countries destroyed, as it did watching the powerful Syria and Iraq reduced to rubble. I do not want to see that happen.

The situation is recoverable. They can change course and reinstate a united Arab front in support of Palestine and against apartheid Israel. They need look no further for inspiration than Paraguay, which had initially announced it would follow the US in moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, only to reverse that decision.

That did, of course, come after a change in Paraguay’s leadership.

– 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 a regular columnist and appears regularly in the media as a commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwash. 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: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets Sultan Qaboos in Oman in October (Handout)

Western hypocrisy: Khashoggi and Murtaja two deceased journalists but the world will only remember one

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 30/10/2018

Rushdi Sarraj [r], co-founder of Ain Media and Yaser Murtaja who was killed by an Israeli sniper in April

Yaser Murtaja was a Palestinian photojournalist who had gone to the Gaza fence with Israel to cover the second Friday of the Great Return March. He was killed by an IDF sniper on 7 April. There was modest coverage of his death coming on the second Friday of the Great Return March. The world was troubled by the deliberate targeting by highly trained Israeli snipers of Palestinian civilians who posed no threat, but Western governments were hesitant about criticising Israel for targeting men, women, children, medics and journalists. The young medic, Razan Al-Najjar was shot and killed weeks later while tending to the wounded at the Gaza fence. At the same time, Nikki Haley was plotting to scupper a UN Security Council resolution to protect Palestinian civilians.

In its most recent atrocity, Israel targeted and killed three children in Gaza. They identified as Khaled Bassam Mahmoud Abu Saeed, 14; Abdul Hameed Mohammed Abdul Aziz Abu Zaher, 13; and Mohammed Ibrahim Abdullah Al-Sutari, 13.

I did not know Yasir, Razan, Khaled, Abdul Hameed or Mohammed. However, their loss and the grief I felt when they died lives with me to this day. Why has the world not sanctioned Israel for killing them? Why does it get a pass when it violates basic human rights while other states are held to account?

OPINION: Israel’s war on photographers and their images

Reaction to their killings is in sharp contrast to the disappearance and then confirmed killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on 2 October, which has captured the world’s imagination. I have not met a single person who has not been aware of the story or who has not followed with absolute horror the sordid details emerging from sources in the Turkish government about his murder and the possible mutilation of his body. Calls for sanctions on Saudi Arabia have been widespread, ranging from ordinary citizens to governments.

I was fortunate to meet Jamal and to chair a session at Middle East Monitor’s conference on the Oslo Accords the Saturday before his return to Istanbul to complete some paperwork at the Saudi Consulate to enable him to marry his fiancee Hatice Cengiz. Never did I or any of us present imagine how events would unfold hours later.

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (R) at the Oslo25 Conference in London, on 29 September, 2018 [Jehan Alfarra/Middle East Monitor]

There are many reasons for the coverage that Jamal’s murder received, which set him apart from other journalists that have been targeted for their writings or coverage of important world events including Syria, Iraq and Libya to name but a few. He was a loyal Saudi citizen who had been closely connected with the Royal family but one who felt his freedom to speak under the –effective- rule of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman had been curtailed. He was a columnist for the Washington Post.

Khashoggi’s murder pitted two major Muslim states – Saudi Arabia and Turkey – against each other. The murder was not carried out on the streets of Istanbul but inside a diplomatic mission. There were leaks and denials. There were different versions of what happened put out by Saudi Arabia which were at best inconsistent but which turned out to be lies. There was the theatre of Turkey’s President Erdogan’s widely advertised speech, which promised much detail but ended up a masterpiece of political prudence devoid of new information.  The fate of the Saudi Crown Prince and even the Saudi monarchy as we know it hangs in the balance.

To this day, Khashoggi’s body has not been recovered. Questions remain unanswered about who ordered the murder, how it was conducted, what has happened to the body and what actual evidence Turkey holds, leaving much room for speculation. Was Turkey eavesdropping on the Saudi Consulate and therefore was the actual murder recorded on audio or video?

READ: Details of the 11-minute audio recording of the torture and death of Khashoggi

Those are some of the reasons why Jamal’s murder has tantalised the world for the past couple of weeks and will do so as more details are leaked or if Turkey finally decides to make public its evidence, which may include identifying who in the Saudi hierarchy was the most senior person that ordered Khashoggi’s killing.

Western countries have started imposing sanctions on individuals suspected of being part of the murder squad, effectively cancelling visas they may hold, and calls for imposing an arms embargoon Saudi Arabia have been made, especially in Europe. While these have been balanced against the strategic importance of trade with Saudi Arabia, it is at least an indication that Western countries can act to pressure other states accused of committing crimes.

The world moved to impose sanctions on Russia and Iran, while history shows other countries faced sanctions, including Iraq and Libya.

However, it seems that the world is reluctant to sanction Israel whatever it does. In fact, many western countries justify its crimes as a necessary means of “self-defence”. There is no talk of imposing a two-way arms embargo on Israel. The Americans have not considered an end to the $3 billion annual military aid for killing Razan or Yaser. This would be moral, but also a saving for the American taxpayer who does not choose for the American Administration to fund a self-declared Apartheid state with half its overseas aid budget.

The world is right to be outraged by journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing and the manner in which it was carried out. It is right to ask for the truth and then for sanctions to be imposed on those responsible for his horrible murder. However, its hypocrisy in only mildly criticising Israel for killing Palestinian journalists provides it with the impunity it has enjoyed and continues to enjoy. The life of a Palestinian, Saudi or Israeli journalist should be worth the same.

The world’s firmness in dealing with Jamal’s killers may well dissuade other states from committing crimes against journalists, except possibly Israel. No country should be able to act above the law, including Israel.

Supporting Palestine can now get you denied entry to the US

First published by the Middle East Eye on 17/10/2018

I have been a severe critic of the current US administration’s policy towards the Palestinians. But does this make me a possible security threat to the US? Of course not

In April 2017, while travelling for a routine family holiday to Jerusalem, I was denied entryupon arrival at Tel Aviv airport. Israeli authorities’ official – and bizarre – explanation for the entry denial was: I had attempted to “gain illegal entry”. However, being British citizens, we are normally allowed to travel to Israel without a visa. We have it issued at the entry point and I had obtained it on many occasions before.

But as I came to realise later the real reason was due to my role as vice chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), a UK-based organisation that campaigns peacefully for Palestinian rights and which upholds the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel’s occupation.

BDS promoters denied

In March 2017, Israel passed the “BDS law“, which allowed it to deny entry to those engaged in BDS movement promotion. My colleague and PSC chair, Hugh Lanning, was denied entry soon after the law was passed. Another colleague, Anwar Makhlouf, head of the Palestinian Federation of Chile, was also denied entry at the Allenby Bridge based on the same law.

When I contacted both the British embassy in Tel Aviv and the foreign office in London for an explanation, I received the same reply: this was a sovereign decision for Israel. This meant Britain did not even acknowledge that Israel has no sovereignty over the occupied Palestinian Territories. The UK’s position is what gives Israel the green light to conduct its policy with total impunity.

Even pro-Palestine Jewish foreign nationals, who are supposedly entitled to go to Israel by the Law of Return (which grants citizenship to Jews from anywhere in the world) have been denied entry, and even denied permission to board their flights to Israel.

In July 2017, five members of an interfaith delegation were denied permission to board a Lufthansa flight at Washington DC’s Dulles International Airport that would ultimately take them to Tel Aviv. Among them was Rabbi Alissa Wise of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), who said in a statement: “Israel denied me the ability to travel there because of my work for justice for Palestinians, even though I’m Jewish and a rabbi.”

She added: “I’m heartbroken and outraged. This is yet another demonstration that democracy and tolerance in Israel only extends to those who fall in line with its increasingly repressive policies against Palestinians.”

US student Lara Alqasem sits for a hearing at the Tel Aviv district Court on 11 October, 2018 (AFP)

Last July, Ariel Gold, co-director of BDS campaign group Code Pink, was denied entry at Ben Gurion airport despite obtaining a visa in advance to take a course at the Hebrew University. Her deportation, and those of others, are normally ordered by Israeli Minister of Security Gilan Erdan, and Israeli Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri.

The most recent case of entry denial involved Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old Palestinian-American student, despite the fact that she has recently been granted a student visa for her masters’ degree in the Hebrew University. Alqasem spent days in detention at Tel Aviv airport struggling to be allowed to join the course she had registered for.

At the time of writing, Alqasem was planning a second appeal to Israeli courts. She stood her ground, refusing to bow to the demands by Erdan to renounce the BDS movement.

When I was denied entry to Israel last year, the Israeli interrogator had printed many pages of my tweets and challenged me about a small number of them. However, because they were presented to me in Hebrew I declined the opportunity to comment.

Israel’s arrests of Palestinians for social media posts have soared. In May, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Centre for Studies (PPC) said that Israel had detained some 500 Palestinians, including women and children, because of their social media posts. In 2015, Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian poet, was detained for three years, before her release last month, for writing a poem, entitled “Resist my people, resist.”

US ban?

Entry denial due to BDS movement promotion is an established Israeli policy. I wonder, however, if my activity on social media, and my op-eds on the Palestinian conflict, were the reasons behind being denied boarding of a US-bound plane at Heathrow airport in August.

US authorities have thus far refused to provide me with an explanation as to why this happened despite having initially secured approval through the visa waiver (ESTA) scheme, just as any other British citizen is normally entitled to do.

ESTA entitles the holder to travel to the US without a visa for a two-year period. I had obtained this in the past and travelled to the US to attend conferences connected to my academic work without any problem, the last time being in 2015.

My trip was planned at short notice to spend Eid Al-Adha with relatives in America. Having obtained my ESTA, I made my way to Heathrow to board a Virgin Atlantic flight to Seattle on 17 August. Upon arriving, I tried to check-in via the terminals but could not.

I was informed by a member of staff that I would not be allowed to travel since my ESTA had been declined, despite its initial approval. No explanation was given. I was then told that I could apply for a visa at the American Consulate in London.

I was shocked and devastated. I had now missed the window for my holiday and lost a substantial amount of money, which was not recoverable.

What could possibly have changed since my last trip to the US? My immediate answer was that there was a new administration in the White House, with little tolerance for foreigners and which is blindingly supportive of Israel.

However, I decided to investigate further before my hunch was confirmed. I wrote to the US ambassador in London and completed a “redress” request directly to the US Department for Homeland Security.

Hugh Lanning addresses a Palestine Solidarity Campaign rally in the UK in 2014 (PSC/Flickr)

A couple of weeks later, the embassy responded through its Customs and Border Protection Attache saying: “Whilst the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are unable to discuss any person’s denial of an ESTA or their admission into the US due to security/privacy policy laws, I can confirm that you will require Non-Immigrant visa should you wish to travel to the US in the future.”

The “redress” response, which arrived a few days later, was almost unintelligible.

Trump’s America

In the absence of an explanation, I am left with the conclusion that Trump’s America does not tolerate criticism of its policies and that it works very closely with Israel, sharing intelligence about individuals who are deemed undesirable for both countries.

It is safe to assume that Israeli authorities have supplied US authorities with names of individuals like myself who have been denied entry because of their advocacy for the Palestinian people. However, for the US to then deny them entry based on this peaceful work is very troubling.

I have been a severe critic of the current US administration’s policy towards the Palestinians. But does this make me a possible security threat to the US? Of course not. However, it helps Israel to further bully its critics into silence if they fear being denied entry to other countries that Israel can influence.

Neither denial of entry to Israel nor to the US will silence supporters of the Palestinian people. In fact, this will embolden us to be even more vocal in our criticism of apartheid Israel.

Photo: Travellers arrive at the international terminal of O’Hare International Airport on 25 April, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois (AFP)

Trump’s Administration will fail to break the Palestinians

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 11/9/2018

Trump and Netanyahu are now brothers in arms in racism against the Palestinians

US President Donald Trump (L) is welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) in Tel Aviv on May 22, 2017 [Daniel Bar On/Anadolu Agency]

US President Donald Trump (L) is welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) in Tel Aviv on 22 May 2017 [Daniel Bar On/Anadolu Agency]

The Palestinian people and their cause are facing an existential threat in their homeland. Anyone who thinks that this an exaggeration should remember how many times since US President Donald Trump took office that the phrase “I can’t believe what he has just done” was used. People said that when he appointed his anti-Palestinian “dream peace team” made up of his son-in-law Jared Kushner, former company lawyer Jason Greenblatt and former bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman. All three are ardent supporters of Zionism, Israel and the settlement enterprise. Unbelievably he recently added war monger and Palestinian-hater John Bolton as National Security Adviser.

They said that it was unbelievable that Trump broke with every previous American president since Bill Clinton by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December last year. He followed this by moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in record time. His daughter and son-in-law inaugurated it on the 70st anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba as over 60 Palestinians were murdered at the Gaza fence marching peacefully to return to the homes they were expelled from in 1948. Trump had the audacity to claim that his move would bring peace closer because it would take Jerusalem “off the table”.

They said it was unbelievable when Trump initially cut and recently ended the US contribution to UNRWA, the UN agency which has delivered vital services to the most vulnerable Palestinians, the refugees. Rather than exert pressure on Israel to allow them to peacefully return to their homes, Trump parroted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that the agency “perpetuates” the refugee problem by passing this status from one generation to another. Facing severe financial difficulties as a result of this immoral US move, the agency’s schools which reopened recently for the new academic year warned that they may have to close at the end of September unless the $217 million deficit is plugged by others. Palestine was recently reported to have one of the lowest illiteracy rates in the world.

Read: Trump cuts aid to Palestinian hospitals in occupied Jerusalem

Jared Kushner was reported to have tried to pressure King Abdullah of Jordan to remove the status of some two million Palestinian refugees residing in his Kingdom, which the King refused to do.

They said it was unbelievable when the US cut funding to the Palestinian Authority by $200 million but kept funding for the security services, which secure |Israel, not the Palestinians. What was even more unbelievable was the American administration’s decision to cut its $25 million of funding for the treatment of cancer in Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem. This sickening decision hits the most vulnerable with immediate effect.

It should be unbelievable that the neither the US nor the EU have condemned Israel’s racist and Apartheid confirming Nation-state Law. However, we all remember which side the US and EU took when blacks in South Africa were fighting for their freedom and the end of Apartheid there.

Perhaps less unbelievable was the decision to close the PLO Office in Washington. This has been on the cards for some time, but presumably Sheldon Addison and AIPAC could not bear seeing the Palestinian flag lying in Washington. However, what is unbelievable is that Congress still considers the PLO a terrorist organisation, despite the White House rolling out the red carpet for first Yasser Arafat and then Mahmoud Abbas on a number of occasions and despite the famous signing of the Oslo Accords and the famous Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House lawns in 1993. Trump himself met Abbas in Bethlehem on his first visit as president to the region last year. The reason given for the closure was the PA’s refusal to return to meaningless negotiations and to dare to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

It was therefore not unbelievable, though it should be, to watch John Bolton rubbish and threaten the ICC with sanctions in his recent speech. He directly threatened judges if they actually do their work and bring to justice not just American citizens but Israelis suspected of war crimes. He warned: “If the court comes after us, Israel, or other US allies, we will not sit quietly,” adding: “We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the US financial system, and we will prosecute them in the US criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.”

Read: The debate on UNRWA takes focus away from the realities of Palestinian refugees

Working in cahoots with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Bolton clearly does not consider the West Bank or East Jerusalem as occupied. In his speech he referred to the construction of illegal Israel settlements as simply “Israeli construction of housing projects on the West Bank”, which he castigated the ICC for even considering prosecuting Israeli leaders for sanctioning and funding. Unbelievable too was Israeli high court proclamation that settlers acted “in good faith” when they built illegally on Palestinian land.

With Jerusalem “off the table”, settlements just construction projects, no right of return for Palestinian refugees, no recourse for Palestinians to the ICC and UN Security Council paralysed by an Israeli veto (yes) and an administration that is content with supporting Israel both politically and to the tune of $3 billion per year, the Palestinian cause faces an existential threat.

However, not only is the cause facing an existential threat, the Palestinians themselves are facing an existential threat. Israel’s Nation State Law gave only Jews the right to self-determination within whatever borders Israel claims for itself but not to Palestinians. It further recognised Jewish only settlements as a “national value”. If only Jews have a right to self-determination in Israel then they could decide they do not want any Palestinians in the area Israel rules.

A racist Israeli state is now supported by an American administration that is racist against the Palestinian people. It sees them as having no rights whatsoever, apart from any crumbs that Netanyahu and his extremist government will give them but only if that does not impact Israel’s security, whatever that means.

#UNRWA

Having failed to “encourage” Palestinians to leave of their own accord through 70 years of oppression, it may be the right moment for Israel to put all Palestinians on busses to Jordan and “Greater Gaza”, which has been talked about as part of Trump’s “ultimate deal”. Is that beyond belief? Just think who would act to stop it if it tried? It certainly won’t be America, the EU or the Arab states. It also won’t be the UK as this will be a further fulfilment of the Balfour Declaration, whose centenary it celebrated last year.

The only thing that will stop it, which Trump has not built in as a factor in his immoral “ultimate deal” is the resilience of the Palestinian people, all 13 million of them. He should have realised this on the day the embassy was moved when over 60 Palestinians were killed in Gaza. That has not stopped them going to the fence again and again and again as they have done since 30 March. The Palestinians will outlast Trump’s administration. However long it takes they will stay and fight for their very existence in their homeland and those in the diaspora will not give up on their right to return. After all they are the people of the land not Israeli settler colonialists whose resilience will waiver and whose hold on the land is only maintained through the barrel of a gun.

Why Palestinians have a problem with the IHRA definition of ‘anti-Semitism’w

First published by the Arab Weekly on 9/9/2018

The conflation of anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism suits Israel.
People wear flag of Israel glasses at a gathering organised by the Campaign Against Antisemitism outside the head office of the British opposition Labour Party in London. (AFP)
Not seeing eye to eye. People wear flag of Israel glasses at a gathering organised by the Campaign Against Antisemitism outside the head office of the British opposition Labour Party in London. (AFP)

If the average person is asked to define “anti-Semitism,” most would likely reply something like “hatred towards Jews because they are Jews.” It is safe to argue that “Israel” would not be mentioned in the same breath as “hatred towards Jews” in any traditional definition of anti-Semitism.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines anti-Semitism as “having or showing a strong dislike of Jewish people or treating them in a cruel and unfair way.” The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “hostility to or prejudice against Jews.”

This sets in context the reason supporters of Israel have been working to create a new definition to reflect what they consider to be the “new anti-Semitism,” one that would conflate anti-Semitism with opinions against Zionism, the founding ideology of Israel. This most certainly would include references to “Israel” in any such definition.

In 2005, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) published a working definition of anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed towards Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, towards Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

It then brought Israel into the mix by stating: “In addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”

Several examples were cited as to how anti-Semitism would manifest itself when related to the state of Israel, including “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.”

While supporters of Israel referred to it as a definition, its stated purpose was to “provide a guide for identifying incidents, collecting data and supporting the implementation and enforcement of legislation dealing with anti-Semitism.”

In November 2013, the definition was removed from the organisation’s website in “a clear-out of non-official documents.” A spokesman stated that the document had never been viewed as a valid definition and that “we are not aware of any official definition.”

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which lists 31 countries as members, states that it “unites governments and experts to strengthen, advance and promote Holocaust education, research and remembrance and to uphold the commitments to the 2000 Stockholm Declaration.”

It produced a non-legally binding working definition: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed towards Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, towards Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The IHRA went further stating: “The following examples may serve as illustrations: 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.”

Had the statement stopped at the clunky 38 words of the actual definition, then many people would have accepted it. However, once Israel is brought in, its potential effect stretches beyond Jews in any country and links them all to Israel, when many of them do not identify with it.

Scholars have argued that bringing Israel into the definition would affect the ability of the Palestinians to advocate for their rights. Brian Klug, a researcher in philosophy at St Benet’s Hall, Oxford, argued that the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia’s — and by implication the IHRA’s — definition “proscribed legitimate criticism of the human rights record of the Israeli government by attempting to bring criticism of Israel into the category of anti-Semitism and does not sufficiently distinguish between criticism of Israeli actions and criticism of Zionism as a political ideology, on the one hand, and racially based violence towards, discrimination against, or abuse of, Jews.”

An opinion by Hugh Tomlinson, QC, concluded that the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is unclear and confusing and should be used with caution and, in an opinion prepared for the Palestinian Return Centre, Geoffrey Robertson, QC, said the definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the government is “not fit for purpose.”

The United Kingdom’s Conservative government has adopted the full IHRA definition. However, the British Labour Party, which has been engulfed in a controversy over anti-Semitism since Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader in September 2015, decided to develop its own code of conduct to deal with anti-Semitism in the party, based on the IHRA definition but clarifying and contextualising the examples related to Israel.

This brought the wrath of the pro-Israel lobby and raised the heat on Corbyn, who has been attacked by some party members for failing to adopt the IHRA definition in full.

While, in the past even Corbyn’s staunchest critics on the matter held back from accusing him of anti-Semitism, some, including MP Margret Hodge, have explicitly called him an anti-Semite. The controversy over anti-Semitism has reached a level that may split the party.

The reality is that Corbyn’s record on fighting racism, including anti-Semitism is exemplary. So why the attacks on him? The answer lies in his support for Palestinian rights, for an end to the suffering of the Palestinians and for recognition of a Palestinian state.

The conflation of anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism suits Israel. Its supporters have suggested — without evidence or justification — that the UK Jewish community would face an existential threat from a Corbyn-led government. The message to the British electorate is not to vote Labour while Corbyn is its leader.

The Labour Party’s adoption of the IHRA definition, including all 11 illustrative examples, was a huge blow to the Palestinians and their supporters. They said they fear it would restrict their ability to describe events leading to the creation of Israel, which they consider a racist endeavour. This is despite the party’s National Executive Committee adding that it would not “in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of the Palestinians.” This statement has been seen by Israel-supporters as a farce. Richard Angell, director of the centre-left Progress group, said: “The Jewish community made it clear and simple to Labour: Pass the IHRA definition in full — no caveats, no compromises.”

While the controversy is currently about the Labour Party, the effect of the adoption of the IHRA definition in full is chilling in that it is designed to curtail criticism of Israel. There has been no assessment made to measure how this would affect the Palestinian people’s ability to campaign for their rights, denied by Israel, without fear that they or their supporters would be accused of anti-Semitism.

It is important to note that the Palestinian people, who have been the victims of the creation of the state of Israel in their homeland and without their permission, have not been consulted about any definition of anti-Semitism that brings Israel into the equation.

While the Labour Party consulted with British Palestinians and solidarity groups about its code, which advised the National Executive Committee against its adoption, it adopted it, raising fears that legitimate criticism of Israel at its inception and its policies may be called anti-Semitism by pro-Israel groups despite the additional statement. This could lead to their suspension or expulsion or at least smear them as racists while an investigation takes place.

Attention turns to other public bodies that will be pressured to follow Labour and adopt the IHRA definition in full. They, too, should be cautious about taking steps through the adoption of the IHRA definition that could curtail discussion on the effect of the creation of the state of Israel through ethnic cleansing and dispossession and its policies on the Palestinian people. This is particularly important now that Israel passed the Nation-State Law, which confirms its apartheid status.

Labour’s anti-Semitism controversy protecting Israel from criticism

First published by the New Arab on 7/9/2018

Labour's anti-Semitism controversy protecting Israel from criticism

Protesters lobbied Labour’s NEC members as they arrived to decide on the new definition [Getty]

The UK’s Labour party has been embroiled in a controversy over anti-Semitism, which broke soon after the socialist candidate for the party’s leadership, Jeremy Corbyn, won the contest.

There was no immediate accusation that he had ever harboured any dislike, let alone hatred for Jews. Corbyn is acknowledged to be a lifelong campaigner for human rights, who has defied his party on several occasions and voted against Tony Blair’s decision to sanction the war on Iraq in early 2003.

Corbyn has supported the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom, justice and equality for decades, leading many marches and speaking at numerous rallies, with passion, but never blaming British Jews for the actions of modern-day Israel. He also hosted many meetings in parliament, helping raise the Palestinian issue at the heart of Britain’s democracy.

He saw the comparisons between Israeli discriminatory policies and those of the Apartheid system which operated in South Africa. There too was a campaign of which he was a part until Apartheid fell, being arrested in the process in 1984. He was a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign prior to his election and has notably maintained that role.

At the heart of the current row in the party are accusations against Corbyn of not taking the issue of anti-Semitism seriously, an issue which was never raised as a major problem in the party before his election to the leadership.

The question of whether anti-Semitism was a real problem in the party or had been exaggerated for political purposes was clouded by the demand… to adopt a new definition of anti-Semitism

The accusations have been led by UK organisations which claim to represent the Jewish community, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), but which also have a record of unwavering support for Israel. In addition, two pro-Israel organisations within the Labour Party – namely Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) and the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) – have also taken up the fight against Corbyn.

The LFI was the subject of an undercover Al Jazeera investigation which showed it worked closely with the Israeli embassy in London.

The question of whether anti-Semitism was a real problem in the party or had been exaggerated for political purposes was clouded by the demand by pro-Israel organisations for public bodies, including political parties, governments and city councils to adopt a new definition of anti-Semitism, produced by the 31-member International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which launched in 2016 as a non-legally bindingworking definition of anti-Semitism:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

While experts argued over those 38 words, it was the next part of the document that caused heated arguments among both supporters of Israel and supporters of the Palestinian people.

“To guide IHRA in its work, the following examples may serve as illustrations:
 
Manifestations [of anti-Semitism] might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

This was followed by 11 illustrative examples, seven of which made reference to Israel. Two in particular raised major concerns about their impact on freedom of expression and the freedom for Palestinians to impart facts about their continuing injustice and how they and their supporters might act to deliver justice 71 years after Israel’s creation in their homeland through violent ethnic cleansing and terror.

Palestinians identified grave dangers in the example which claimed,“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” would be anti-Semitic.

For Palestinians it is clear that Israel was created as a homeland for Jews from any part of the world to move to, while 750,000 were violently expelled to neighbouring Arab countries in 1948 and have not been allowed to return to their homes despite the UN passing resolution 194 in 1948 recognising their right to return peacefully.

They see the creation of this Israel as a racist endeavour but the application of the definition appears to be designed to label any Palestinian or supporter who wishes to impart this information to fellow citizens as an anti-Semite.

This danger was illustrated clearly by Joan Ryan, Chair of LFI, who wrote to Jeremy Corbyn in June asking him to clarify a tweet in which he said: “We must work for a real two state settlement to the Israel Palestine conflict, which ends the occupation and siege of Gaza and makes the Palestinian right to return a reality.”

Her argument was that the realisation of the Palestinian right of return “…would effectively turn Israel into a Palestinian state and destroy the Jewish people’s right to self-determination”. Palestinians claiming their legitimate right to return to their homes becomes an anti-Semitic demand, according to Ryan, based on the IHRA code.

The other example given by the IHRA which supporters of Israel will use to close down debate is one which states that “Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

Israel often claims that it is singled out for criticism and that this is done essentially because it is the only Jewish state in the world. This essentially relates to support for the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against it until meets legal and moral demands for an end to the occupation, equal treatment for all of its citizens and the promotion and implementation of the right of return.

It is of course difficult to find another state which has been in continuous occupation of another people for more than 51 years, which denies the refugees it expelled the right of return, which builds illegally on another people’s land and has just passed a law (the Nation State Law) which gives one part of its population a right to self-determination but denies this to any others.

While the Labour Party considered adopting the 38-word IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, it also developed a code for dealing with any accusations that might come against members, which attempted to contextualise the examples in the definition and to protect free speech.

The pro-Israel community organisations in the UK were outraged that Labour had not simply adopted the IHRA definition with all 11 illustrative examples, arguing that the definition still made it possible to criticise Israel. They exerted severe pressure on the party and led what many of Corbyn’s supporters have described as a campaign to discredit him, which moved from accusing him from failing to deal with anti-Semitism to being an anti-Semite and racist himself.

Under mounting pressure and despite consulting with both Jewish and non-Jewish organisations including Palestinian organisations, and despite an opinion given by leading barrister Geoffrey Robinson QC – in which he claimed the IHRA definition was “not fit for purpose” – the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee adopted the full definition with the illustrative examples. A party spokesperson said: “The NEC has today adopted all of the IHRA examples of antisemitism, in addition to the IHRA definition which Labour adopted in 2016, alongside a statement which ensures this will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians.”

Corbyn had argued, “It cannot be considered racist to treat Israel like any other state or assess its conduct against the standards of international law. Nor should it be regarded as anti-Semitic to describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact, or to support another settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

However, there was insufficient support for this part of his longer statement and it was not put to a vote.

While this was a matter for the Labour Party, other public bodies will now be under pressure to adopt the IHRA definition under pressure from Britain’s Israel lobby. Protecting Israel from criticism and silencing Palestinian voices is at the heart of the campaign by the lobby for the adoption of the problematic definition.

In a letter to The Guardian published before the vote, Palestinians had argued that, “The fundamental right to free expression, guaranteed by article 10 of the Human Rights Act, is first and foremost the right to ‘receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority’.”

They warned “any use by public bodies of the IHRA examples on anti-Semitism that either inhibits discussion relating to our dispossession by ethnic cleansing, when Israel was established, or attempts to silence public discussions on current or past practices of settler colonialism, apartheid, racism and discrimination, and the ongoing violent military occupation, directly contravenes core rights. First, the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, who remain protected by international laws and conventions; and second, the rights of all those British citizens who stand by our side, in the solidarity of a common humanity.”

That warning still stands, as it is inevitable that the pro-Israel lobby will now move to bring accusations of anti-Semitism against Labour members, citing the IHRA definition while working to pressure all public bodies to adopt it. However, what is important for Palestinians is that their supporters, who have been deflected from their campaigning work to try and influence Labour’s NEC, now refocus the effort on campaigning for the cause, particularly as US President Donald Trump’s administration works to impose a “deal of the century” that negates their rights.

 

With Israel’s Nation State Law in place, violence against Palestinians will get worse

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 30/8/2018

Israeli forces fire tear gas at Palestinian during a protest in Nablus West Bank on 15 February 2018 [Nedal Eshtayah/Anadolu Agency]

Ever since Israel passed the Nation State Law, Palestinians and neutral observers have been wondering about its possible impact on the substantial Palestinian minority in Israel as well as those living under occupation in the rest of historic Palestine. The law says that Israel is the state for Jews all over the world and that only Jews have a right to self-determination therein. It also demoted the status of Arabic, which has up to now been recognised as an official language. The law further proclaimed illegal Jewish settlements to be a national value. The Palestinians, whether citizens of Israel or living under its occupation, did not feature.

The signal going out to Jewish Israelis is that this is their land, even though its borders remain undefined, albeit they are assumed to be from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan. Non-Jewish Israelis have no rights in the land, despite the fact that the Palestinians are the indigenous people. The natural conclusion to this “logic” is that they should leave of their own accord, otherwise ways will be found to make their lives so unbearable that they leave out of fear, as happened in the 1948 Nakba when the majority of the Palestinians were expelled.

The world’s shameful silence at Israel’s open declaration that it is a de facto Apartheid state was deafening. If a state can pass such a discriminatory law and get away with it, then it can do anything.

Netanyahu: Nation state law grants all Jews ‘automatic’ immigration rights to Israel

It is worth noting that Israel passed this law shortly after a bill was disqualified from being tabled in the Knesset; that proposed legislation called for equal rights for all Israeli citizens, something we take for granted in real democracies. Readers are reminded that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considered “Arabs” voting in the last elections as such a threat that he appealed to his supporters to go out and vote, because “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves.” So much for the self-proclaimed “only democracy in the Middle East”. The reality is that Palestinian citizens of Israel — 20 per cent of the population — have always been seen as a threat rather than an asset. Israel is very aware of the “demographic threat” that they pose, simply for having beautiful babies.The Israeli government can now use the Nation State Law as a backdrop to expand the gap further between its Palestinian citizens and their fellow citizens who happen to be Jews, particularly in relation to creating more settlements within the 1948 borders and further restricting building in Palestinian communities. Jew-only communities can use entirely legal “admissions committees” to ban Palestinian Israelis from moving in, fearing that they may sully their neighbourhood. The recent demonstration in the northern town of Afula against the sale of one house to a Palestinian family is testament to the increasingly racist nature of Israeli society.Sadly, it does not stop at demonstrations or the pretence of a state that upholds international norms for a democracy or a fair legal system. Palestinians, both citizens and occupied, face increasing violence simply for who they are and that they remain in their land.

At Haifa’s Kiryat Haim beach recently, three Palestinian Israeli citizens from Shafram were approached by a group of Jewish Israelis who asked them if they were “Arabs”. Their answer in the affirmative resulted in the inquisitors leaving only for a group of eight to return with weapons, attack them violently and yell, “You are Arab dogs, do not stay here.” They explained later that they were not doing anyone any harm on the beach, but that the attackers “just decided to hit us without cause. They almost killed us. We asked them to stop but they continued. They were removed only after other people arrived at the scene. We hope the police find them.” The Palestinians acknowledge that it was other Israeli Jews who came to their rescue.

They worry about nationalist attacks. “Unfortunately, despite the various condemnations against racism, it persists,” they added. “Who will be next?” The Israeli police have arrested a 23-year-old resident of Kiryat Haim on suspicion of attacking the three men.

Poll: 58% of Israelis support the Jewish ‘nation state law’

This incident is particularly worrying because it was an unprovoked attack on Palestinian Israelis just weeks after the passing of the Nation State Law. The only official condemnation reportedly came from President Reuven Rivlin, not Netanyahu.

This was not the first incident of such attacks by Israeli Jews on Palestinians. In May, bus driver Adham Badir, 38, was pepper sprayed and assaulted between Petah Tikva and Kafr Qasem by three young settlers simply for asking them to wait for the next bus as his was too full for them to bring their electric bikes on board.

A number of attacks have been carried out by members of far-right Jewish group Lehava, which is against romantic relationships between Palestinian men and Jewish girls. In April last year, five Israeli men and one juvenile, all of them Jews, were charged in connection with a series of brutal assaults on Palestinian men in the southern city of Be’er Sheva. The suspects confirmedthat they had been involved in at least six separate incidents between December 2016 and 6 April 2017 carried out with the aim of stopping their targets from pursuing romantic relationships with Jewish women.

In the Occupied Territories, settler violence has been a feature of the daily lives of Palestinians for years. The most high profile incidents were the murders of Mohammed Abu Khdair in Jerusalem in 2014 and the burning to death of the Dawabsheh family a year later. Added to this is a long list of daily attacks on property, crops and olive trees, normally overseen by the Israel Defence Forces, the self-proclaimed “most moral army in the world”. IDF soldiers openly admit that they are there to protect the illegal settlers, not the Palestinians.

Netanyahu promises to ease house demolitions in Druze communities post-Nation State Law

The soldiers recently faced a dilemma when 10 Jewish Israeli settlers attacked 4 Jewish Israeli peace activists from Ta’ayush who were documenting illegal construction in the unauthorised Jewish outpost of Mitzpe Yair. Just who do they protect? In the event, injuries occurred only on the peace activists’ side, leaving us to draw our own conclusion about which side the soldiers are on.

It is particularly worrying that Israel is “relaxing the rules” on gun ownership and allowing up to 500,000 more civilians to carry lethal weapons. This would allow veterans of Israel’s infantry units to obtain licenses more easily, as well as officers and commanders who have completed their reserve duty to keep their weapons. The implication is that the overwhelming majority of those who will benefit will be Jewish Israelis. This poses a real threat to Palestinians across historic Palestine — Israel and the Occupied Territories, including Jerusalem —from trigger-happy Israeli Jews.

International solidarity activists have also faced violence from settlers and the IDF. Norwegian activist Kristen Foss, 43, was shot with rubber bullets on two occasions by soldiers, in the abdomen on 18 August and in the ankle almost a week later. She was taking part in demonstrations in Kafr Qaddum to express solidarity with the residents’ demand for the reopening of the direct road to Nablus and access to their farmland.

Calls for violence against Palestinians including “death to the Arabs” are a regular feature of right-wing rallies and extremist gangs. Thousands chanted this in Rabin Square in 2016 as the crowd gathered in support of Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier filmed executing 21 year old Abdul Fatah Al-Sharif in illegally occupied Hebron, even though the young Palestinian was already incapacitated having been shot by other soldiers following an alleged knife attack. Azaria was convicted of manslaughter, though in the event he only served only half of his 18-month sentence. Even more troubling was Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s repeated calls for Azaria’s pardon.

Hebron shooter Azaria: ‘I have no remorse whatsoever’

Upon his release in May, Azaria received a hero’s welcome when he returned to the scene of the crime. Activists of the far-right Otzma Yehudit group organised his homecoming.

Far from showing any remorse for what he did, Azaria has said, “I have no remorse. I am completely at peace with myself. I acted as needed. I went with my own [inner] truth. I acted in the most proper way possible and what happened afterwards [his trial and conviction] should not have happened.” What message does that send to other young Israelis?

The lack of condemnation or even concern by Israeli leaders about rising Jewish Israeli violence against Palestinians serves to embolden the extremists. Israel’s leadership feels emboldened and protected by US President Trump and his administration, as well as the silence of the Arab and Muslim world; Netanyahu now feels that he can do whatever he wants with complete impunity.

The future, post the passing of the Nation State Law, is worrying for Palestinians across historic Palestine. They need protection from Israeli violence, which is currently going unchallenged. Is the so called “international community” willing to help, or even capable of doing so?