Criticise Israel and you immediately trigger its army of outraged partisans

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

An army of social media trolls are at the ready to denounce legitimate criticism of Israel’s occupation and settlement enterprise
Israel was created through violence and terror, which it continues to heap on Palestinians to this day, as it works to fulfill the dream of Zionism – a Jewish state from the river to the sea. 

How, then, does it continue to portray itself as the victim, while painting the actual victims – Palestinians – as the aggressors?

It has become a tired and broken record, one that Israel and its ardent supporters play, regardless of the rationality of their arguments. Any criticism of Israel, or any peaceful act to put pressure on the state, draws the same outrage, expressed through carefully thought out, yet irrational, talking points.

Total impunity

Anyone, or any organisation, who dares to criticise the self-proclaimed “only democracy in the Middle East” is accused of being motivated by anti-semitism. Any critical act or protest aimed at pressing Israel to uphold international law, no matter how peaceful, is denounced.

Israel’s treatment with kid gloves is not new; what is new, however, is its launching of the bullying trigger button within seconds of an attack.

Israel was created through violence and terror, which it continues to heap on Palestinians to this day, as it works to fulfill the dream of Zionism – a Jewish state from the river to the sea. 

How, then, does it continue to portray itself as the victim, while painting the actual victims – Palestinians – as the aggressors?

It has become a tired and broken record, one that Israel and its ardent supporters play, regardless of the rationality of their arguments. Any criticism of Israel, or any peaceful act to put pressure on the state, draws the same outrage, expressed through carefully thought out, yet irrational, talking points.

Total impunity

Anyone, or any organisation, who dares to criticise the self-proclaimed “only democracy in the Middle East” is accused of being motivated by anti-semitism. Any critical act or protest aimed at pressing Israel to uphold international law, no matter how peaceful, is denounced.

Israel’s treatment with kid gloves is not new; what is new, however, is its launching of the bullying trigger button within seconds of an attack.

While access to the nuclear button is normally reserved for the head of state, any pro-Israel civilian can launch the bullying trigger button, and they are encouraged to do so by Israel. An army of social media trolls linked to Israeli missions abroad have their fingers hovering over this button, ready to defend as soon as they perceive an attack. It’s a button they have pressed repeatedly in recent days.

Take the case of Airbnb. The holiday property listings company enraged the bullying army by withdrawing listingsfor properties built in illegal Israeli settlements from its website. Pro-Israel critics claimed that Airbnb was singling out Jewish Israeli properties, and therefore, this was anti-semitic.

Breaking international law

The reality is that the settlement enterprise itself is racist, because homes are only built for Jewish Israelis. Imagine the outcry if Britain built homes only for white Christians, banning other inhabitants of Britain from acquiring them. Settlements are also illegal under international law.

Airbnb said it took action because settlements were at the “core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians”.

A statement from the company noted: “US law permits companies like Airbnb to engage in business in these territories. At the same time, many in the global community have stated that companies should not do business here because they believe companies should not profit on lands where people have been displaced.

A reasonable person would see clear logic in that stance. However, the bullying trigger button was pressed, and an illegal settler is now bringing a lawsuit against Airbnb. Consider that for a moment: an illegal settler is suing a company for a moral and legal act.

It was then the turn of British Quakers to enrage the pro-Israel lobby. Their crime? Divesting from companies that profit from Israel’s illegal occupation. Paul Parker, recording clerk for Quakers in Britain, said in a statement: “With the occupation now in its 51st year, and with no end in near sight, we believe we have a moral duty to state publicly that we will not invest in any company profiting from the occupation.”

More pressure needed

This time, it was the Board of Deputies of British Jews that pressed the bullying trigger button. In a statement, the board’s president, Marie van der Zyl, condemned the decision: “The appalling decision of the Friends House hierarchy to divest from just one country in the world – the only Jewish state – despite everything else going on around the globe, shows the dangers of the obsessive and tunnel-visioned approach that a narrow clique of church officials have taken in recent years.”

Any reasonable person who knows the Quakers would realise that they would have reflected seriously before making such a decision, and that it was based on their deep knowledge of the situation over decades. Divesting from companies that profit from an illegal occupation is moral and legal.

Israel does not recognise that the West Bank and East Jerusalem are occupied. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has deemed it absurd to talk of an occupation, and the long-advertised US “deal of the century” will likely reflect this by avoiding a call to end the occupation.

This will certainly not lead to peace. What is needed is more pressure on Israel to comply with international law and to finally end the occupation of Palestinian land. Airbnb was correct to identify the settlements as a core issue, and it is time that others follow suit.

Whither free speech?

The bullying trigger button will now be pressed regularly, judging by the number of moves to ban trade with illegal Israeli settlements.

Chile’s congress overwhelmingly passed a resolution demanding that the government “forbid the entry of products manufactured and coming from Israeli colonies in the occupied Palestinian territory”. This follows hot on the heels of Ireland’s senate passing a bill banning the import of products from illegal Israeli settlements.

The vicious attack on CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill, fired for standing with Palestinians, shows that Israel is being singled out not for criticism, but rather for protection from accountability.

Free speech, it seems, is a value that most claim to uphold – except those who blindly support Israel. Speak if you want to, they say, but the price will be high. The bullying trigger button can be pressed by anyone in defence of Israeli apartheid. 

“تداعيات تبنّي حزب العمال البريطاني تعريف “معاداة السامية

  5/9/2018 مشاركتي في برنامج أضواء على الأحداث على قناة الحوار بتاريخ

Debate on British Palestinians’ letter to the Guardian on their right to freedom of speech

I joined a debate on RT UK on this letter in the Guardian which I signed on 1/8/2018

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)