Every picture tells a story; can the Palestinians expect any justice from this bunch?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 23/6/2017


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Jared Kushner (3rd L) in Jerusalem on 21 June 2017 [Handout / Amos Ben Gershom / GPO]

Throughout his first trip abroad as US president, during which he visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, Donald Trump expressed his desire to bring peace to the region. It would be, he said, the “ultimate deal.”

He promised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas: “We want to create peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We will get it done. We will be working so hard to get it done.”

In order to put the “ultimate deal” together, it is reasonable to expect that a team with knowledge of both sides of the conflict would be gathered together to determine the facts and the rhetoric before a truly honest broker could succeed in the task. No such attempt at balance was made during Trump’s election campaign; his Middle East adviser then was Walid Phares, who is of Lebanese Christian Maronite heritage and well-known for his pro-Israel position. Trump had no adviser on his team who could provide a pro-Palestinian perspective.

As president, we now see that the team that Trump has put together to launch another attempt at a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians not only lacks any balance whatsoever, but is also tilted entirely in Israel’s favour.

Trump’s senior adviser on the Middle East, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, recently returned to the US after a 15-hour trip to the Holy Land during which he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the PA’s Abbas. The photograph circulated of his meeting with Netanyahu is a revealing snapshot of the team planning to launch Trump’s new peace initiative; every picture tells a story, and this one is no different.

Kushner himself is an orthodox Jew and the son of Holocaust survivors. The real estate developer’s family has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the illegal West Bank settlement of Bet El. He started his visit in his new role as Trump’s “senior adviser” by offering condolences to the family of Israeli police officer Hadas Malka who died during an attack by Palestinians recently. Although he would have a much longer list to choose from, he did not seek out the family of any Palestinian killed by Israel to show that he understood the suffering on both sides.

In the picture too is Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt. Trump’s company lawyer from New York is also an orthodox Jew. He does not see Israeli settlements as an obstacle to peace and does not think that the United States or any other party should try to impose an agreement on Israel. In a recent visit to the Zionist state, Greenblatt met with leaders of the settlement movement, including the Yesha leaders Oded Revivi and Yossi Dagan.


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Jared Kushner (L) in Jerusalem on 21 June 2017 [Handout / Amos Ben Gershom / GPO]

The final member of the US trio in the official photograph is David Friedman, Trump’s pick as ambassador to Israel; an orthodox Jew and bankruptcy lawyer, Friedman is also committed to the settlement enterprise and advocates moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in contravention of international law. Like Kushner, he has close ties with the illegal West Bank settlement of Beit El. Indeed, Friedman heads Friends of Beit El Institutions, an organisation which recently funded a five-story block in the Israeli colony built on occupied Palestinian territory. Friedman does not believe that the colony-settlements are an impediment to peace or that annexing the West Bank would compromise Israel’s Jewish or democratic character.

Representing Israel in the picture is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a man who has led the far-right Israeli government for a total of 13 years, alongside Israel’s US-born ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, who has been in post for the past 4 years. During the 2015 Israeli election campaign Netanyahu promised that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch; he now insists that Israel must keep security control “west of the River Jordan” in any peace deal. He was prime minister during the 2014 Israeli military offensive against Gaza in which over 2,000 Palestinian civilians, including more than 350 children, were killed.

Everyone in the picture of Kushner’s meeting with Netanyahu is a Zionist Jew; not a single American of Palestinian origin or US advisor with even slightly less partisan views, never mind pro-Palestinian. Of course, I do not wish to imply that Jews cannot help deliver a peace deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis — there are many who are active in the peace movement — but it is difficult to see how Zionist Americans, whether Jewish or not, can be even-handed in their endeavours to get the “ultimate deal”.

Anyone looking among Trump’s team for some counterbalance to the pro-Israel views championed by Kushner, Greenblatt or Friedman will be sorely disappointed. Another of the president’s senior appointments is US ambassador to the UN Nikki Hayley; it is hardly surprising that she is a staunch supporter of Israel who has criticised the international body for being “biased” in its criticism of Israel’s illegal activities. She recently promised the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — the main pro-Israel lobby group in Washington — that “the days of Israel bashing [at the UN] are over.”

Hayley went to Israel in between the Trump and Kushner visits, providing Netanyahu with an opportunity to heap praise upon her and her boss. “President Trump and you, I think, have changed the discourse, have drawn new standards, and everybody’s taking up, and that’s great,” Netanyahu gushed. “Again, I felt that the UN would collapse, you know, that whole scaffolding of lies would just collapse. I think you’ve put in that simple word, truth.”

The “truth” is that with a blatantly pro-Israel team in place who believe in Israeli settlements but are not committed even to the concept of two states, the Palestinians cannot rely on the US to act as an honest broker and deliver peace.

It was, therefore, bewildering — though not, perhaps, surprising — to hear one of Mahmoud Abbas’s top advisers express the PA’s anger at a new illegal settlement being built. “[This is] a serious escalation, an attempt to thwart the efforts of the US administration and to frustrate the efforts of US President Donald Trump,” claimed Nabil Abu Rudeineh, as if this would generate some reaction from Washington. It has not and will not. With Kushner et al calling the shots, how could it?

The Palestinian leadership is in a real bind, mostly of its own making. This goes back several years, particularly since Abbas took over and pinned his colours solely to the mast of the “peace process” with Israel bereft of any reference to international law and under US patronage. It is blindingly obvious that America will always side with Israel and if pressure is ever exerted on anyone, it will be on the Palestinians to make yet more concessions.

To add to Palestinian woes, Trump has further succeeded in driving a real wedge between those Arab states that remain intact and the Palestinian cause. At the recent Arab League summit in Amman, Abbas looked isolated and had to work hard simply to ensure that the Arab peace plan was not watered down further to offer Israel more incentive to take it seriously. He then learnt that some Gulf States are considering partial normalisation with Israel in advance of a peace deal, which runs contrary to the Arab initiative.

The Palestinians need to accept that the strategy adopted by the PA has failed to deliver peace or even get the siege of Gaza lifted to alleviate the daily suffering of two million people. If any progress is to be made, the PLO and its institutions must be rebuilt and the Palestinians within and beyond historic Palestine have to be reconnected, working together for the same objective of achieving justice, freedom and equality. The Palestinians must rely on themselves for a change; relying on Trump’s team to deliver justice or anything but capitulation is preposterous.

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.

The Palestinian leadership must embrace the Conference for Palestinians Abroad

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 6/3/2017

In my last article for MEMO, I wondered whether the Conference for Palestinians Abroad (CPA) could lead to Palestinian unity of vision. It was a privilege to be with an estimated 6,000 Palestinians from 50 countries in Istanbul for the conference, which took place on 25 and 26 February, both as a founding member and to test that question.

The dates are important because I believe that the launch of this conference will mark a milestone in the Palestinian struggle for justice, freedom, equality and the restoration of our rights. The 26 February will forever by the day when Palestinians who live outside Palestine and who are refused the right to return to their homeland said loud and clear that enough is enough. We will no longer be sidelined or ignored, either by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO, our non-representative representative); Israel (the cause of our catastrophe); or those in the “international community” who had a hand in our dispossession and expulsion from our homeland by Zionist terrorists in 1948 and who continue to deny us our rights to this day.

The unequivocal message from Istanbul was that the Palestinians will not give up their right to return to the places from which we were ethnically cleansed. This was exemplified by Palestinian poet Mohammed Abu Daya who brought his original title deeds to the conference and after a moving speech handed them to one of his many grandchildren, imploring him to commit to returning, and receiving a promise from him that he will struggle to return to that very plot of land one day. Some may see this as unrealistic and theatrical. However, that would be to misunderstand the core Palestinian issue. The struggle has always been about Palestinian refugees returning to their homes instead of languishing in the diaspora, whatever political structure exists in historic Palestine.

Reaffirming the right of return was at the heart of the conference but the final statement also reaffirmed the commitment by Palestinians in involuntary exile to liberate Palestine from the “river to the sea”. Such language is usually mistranslated by Zionists to mean the destruction of Israel and “throwing the Jews into the sea”. That is pure propaganda from Zionists who, by the way, happen to believe that the Palestinians must be thrown out of their own land for there to be a truly Jewish state west of the River Jordan.

They are forever looking for means to achieve this, claiming that “Jordan is the Palestinian state” or that a state can be created in the Sinai to which the Palestinians in “Judea and Samaria” (the occupied West Bank) can be sent, by force if necessary. Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely has no qualms about claiming the whole of historic Palestine for Israel. “We need to return to the basic truth of our rights to this country,” she believes. “This land is ours. All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologise for that.”

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, buoyed by Donald Trump being in the White House, claims that there will not be a Palestinian state. Indeed, the far-right Bennett has called for the annexation of most of the illegally-occupied West Bank, starting with the illegal colony-settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, and bringing it under Israeli “sovereignty”.

Standing next to Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu placed two conditions that must be met before “peace”: The Palestinians must recognise Israel as a Jewish state and, “Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River.” The latter is de facto Israeli sovereignty over historic Palestine from the river to the sea. While he has not explicitly called for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, Israel would continue to rule over an occupied people for ever, making their lives so miserable under the pretext of security that they would leave of their own accord. In Zionist terminology, this is known as “silent transfer” and it is very much part of Israel’s strategy for a Palestinian-free land.

None of the above inflammatory statements by the most senior Israeli ministers has been condemned by any member of the so called international community. It seems that Western governments are happy for Zionist Israelis to claim the whole of historic Palestine as theirs, but not for the Palestinians whose land it is to do so. If modern day Zionists with no real connection to historic Palestine can lay claim to the whole land on the basis of what they claim to be a Biblical legacy, then surely Palestinians have every right to lay claim to their homeland, which they inhabited prior to Israel’s creation was forced upon them and from which they were expelled over the past 70 years.

I must stress that I did not get any impression from the CPA that liberating Palestine would necessitate or result in the mass expulsion of Jews, unlike the mass expulsion of Palestinians which took place in 1948. The conference focused on the emergence of a just political solution with the right for Palestinian refugees to return at its heart. Had I detected any sense of the former at the conference, I would certainly have withdrawn.

The failure of the two-state solution demonstrates the need for creative thinking to meet the needs of those who truly wish to coexist in historic Palestine. A solution is needed which would end separation. There should be no racist settlements built only for Jews or a new town built only for non-Jews. The solution must allow all who inhabit historic Palestine to live in peace wherever they desire. It should allow those refugees in Gaza, Jenin, Syria, Brazil, Europe and elsewhere to return to their land and homes. A reconciliation commission would need to be set up to deal with the details where the reclamation of exact sites is not physically possible.

Following the Trump-Netanyahu press conference in Washington, the Palestinian leadership’s 24-year long negotiations strategy — the charade of the peace process since signing the catastrophic Oslo accords — has collapsed. The PLO has been almost silent since that 15 February media circus, apart from calling for the international community not to abandon the two-state solution, bringing new meaning to the term “flogging a dead horse”.

It is time for fresh thinking that can strengthen the hand of a future, democratically-elected Palestinian leadership. The 6.3 million Palestinians abroad can play a vital role in shaping this. However, in the absence of a clear plan by the PLO to revitalise diaspora input, the CPA is the only game in town. The outcome of the conference was a commitment to continue to build both the new institution and Palestinian community, as well as lobby organisations abroad.

What is needed for this to materialise is for every Palestinian outside the borders of their homeland to make a commitment for contributions to the struggle in his or her adopted country. They should be knocking on the doors of their local decision-makers, lobbying for a just solution. They should take a more active part in the political system through joining political parties and standing for both local and national elections. They should be supporting and joining local solidarity groups, both as activists and donors. They should be forming alliances with other human rights groups and Jewish groups committed to justice for Palestinians. They should raise their voices in the media, locally and nationally, using articulate and convincing speakers and writers. They should also be knocking on the door of the PLO leadership in support of the CPA to ensure that the message is received and it is understood that they will no longer accept being ignored.

The CPA needs to find a sustainable way to continue to function long into the future. For that, it will need to widen its membership base in order to put to bed accusations that it is led by one group. The more community organisations which join, bringing together the widest possible spectrum of Palestinian views, the more representative the CPA will be. In turn, the more effective that the CPA is, the louder will be the call to the PLO to wake up and respond to that half of the constituency that it is meant to serve but which it has ignored since 1993. It can take strength from blessing the CPA, working to encourage Palestinians abroad to join it and developing appropriate links to it, leading to elections for the Palestine National Council, the people’s parliament.

Can the PLO rise to this challenge, as it must? Can its necessary reform include true representation for Palestinians abroad? Not only do they hope that it can, but all Palestinians would also want this. Fulfilling its responsibility would strengthen its hand in uniting and representing the Palestinian people and seeking a just solution for them. Ignoring or smearing the CPA will only add to the PLO’s own weakness, bringing it to the point of irrelevance. No Palestinian would want that to happen or for it to be interpreted as a desired outcome of the gathering of 6,000 Palestinians in Istanbul last month.

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.

Palestinians do not mourn the passing of war criminal Peres, even if Mahmoud Abbas does

I write on the eve of the burial of a war criminal. Shimon Peres, former Israeli Prime Minister and President died on the 28th of September at the age of 93. I mourn the fact that he never faced justice to answer for his crimes against Palestinian and Lebanese innocent civilians. I also mourn the truly nauseating specter of the leader of the Palestinians, President Mahmoud Abbas joining other world leaders at his funeral, if granted permission to do so. Palestinians met this move with disbelief. His decision shows how out of touch he is with the people he was elected to represent but who have since been denied the opportunity to consider whether he should continue to do so.

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Had Abbas seen peace come to historic Palestine, with Israelis recognizing Palestinians as equal human beings deserving of the realization of freedom and independence, then I might understand. However, that simply is not the situation on the ground and I do not need to describe it to those who follow the conflict as they know that peace is simply not on the horizon due to Israel’s lack of desire for it. It is comfortable with the status quo and in the absence of any sanctions by the International Community, the weakness of the Palestinian leadership which has left the Palestinian people have no credible strategy for ending the conflict.

Almost 69 years since the Nakba and the creation of Israel and 49 years since the occupation of the remainder of historic Palestine, Peres meets his maker knowing he played his part in the theft of Palestine and the destruction of the future of the Palestinian people. Israel’s creation has been a catastrophe for the Palestinians and Peres was one of the architects. Palestinians cannot forgive him for that because they still live with consequences. Over five million live as refugees in surrounding countries; others live under occupation in the West Bank, under siege in Gaza and as second class citizens in Israel.

Make no mistake about it; Peres’s commitment was to Israel and the Zionist dream not to peace. If he was committed to peace there would have been no need for Oslo, simply a implementation of UN resolutions that would have ended the occupation and allowed the refugees to return. Instead, he fathered the settlement project which planted over 600,000 Israelis in colonies for Jews and only Jews.  I will always recall seeing him interviewed and denying that there was an occupation. “Who did we occupy it from?” he asked.

He was one of the most skilled communicators of the Israeli narrative and did his best to justify Israeli crimes, including those he sanctioned including that of Qana in Lebanon. He died never acknowledging his crimes or showing remorse for the Nakba.

peres-qana

For the Palestinian leadership to call him a man of peace is at odds with his legacy and how Palestinians perceive him. His supposed switch from settlement architect to man of peace resulted in the Oslo accords which have been catastrophic for the Palestinians. He, together with Rabin, Abbas and Arafat signed the Oslo Accords at the White House but that was no prelude to peace, it was a deal to allow Israel to colonize and steel. His Nobel Prize was awarded prematurely. We still do not have a peace treaty between Israelis and Palestinians.

Israel has shelved Oslo except when it needs to use it to justify its crimes, particularly in the Oslo designated area C. It regularly withholds Palestinian taxes  as punishment for what it considers Palestinian violence or peaceful diplomatic moves.

I won’t be shedding a tear when Peres laid to rest. The Palestinians have laid tens of their loved ones to rest because of his crimes. If there is a God that he is answerable to then he may finally face justice.