Great discussion on Al Jazeera English on the (in?) ability of the Jewish state to be a truly democratic nation for all its citizens. Mehdi Hasan debates with former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami:
Great discussion on Al Jazeera English on the (in?) ability of the Jewish state to be a truly democratic nation for all its citizens. Mehdi Hasan debates with former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami:
The Western media prides itself on self-criticism but the fact remains that very journalists routinely challenge the inherent power structures of government and the press.
RT host Abby Martin this week damned Russian incursions into Crimea and meddling in Ukraine (she maintains her job thus far) and in this interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan she highlights the narrow perspectives on US commercial TV when debating war and peace:
My weekly Guardian column is published today:
Official, government-mandated story telling should be treated with suspicion. How else to to separate the truth from hagiograhy?
Australian prime minister Tony Abbott was in Darwin last week-end to attend a welcome home ceremony for soldiers who fought in Afghanistan. “Australians don’t fight to conquer”, he said in a voice filled with emotion. “We fight to help, to build and to serve. So yes, it was worth it. The price was high but the cause was great and the success has been sufficient.”
Abbott announced that a national day of commemoration for the Afghan war will be held for the first time on 21 March 2015. It’s hard to imagine that this occasion will be anything other than a chance for the state to praise the soldiers who fought in the war, rather than any serious examination of our legacy in Uruzgan province, where 40 men died during our deployment and 261 were seriously wounded. Around 400 “military personnel” remain in the country.
On the ground in Afghanistan, the evidence for any long-lasting and positive legacy is lacking, with many infrastructure projects now abandoned. Britain faces a similar desultory result in the Helmand province.
The coming years will see plenty of celebration and reflection on the contribution of Australia (and Britain) to countless conflicts since the first world war. Author Thomas Keneally recently said he hoped that “no one says ‘Australia was born at Gallipoli’. Australia was born in 1901, and there needs to be a certain amount of de-mythologising. Let’s hope the historians win out over the politicians, who strike me as fairly jingoistic.”
Keneally was correct to call for a rational recollection of the horrors of war (“we let them down when they came back”) though it’s arguable whether Indigenous Australians would agree the country started in 1901. Aboriginal people already feel ignored by official historians, as shown in John Pilger’s documentary Utopia, when he visits the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and finds no recognition of Aboriginal involvement in our foreign or local, frontier wars.
Ask any soldier about the brutality of war – and I’ve spoken to many in Afghanistan – and few of them idealise the battle. Yes, tales of heroism are guaranteed and the latest Hollywood blockbuster Lone Survivor proves that there’ s still an appetite for an Afghan war movie without any Afghans. But the toll of post-traumatic stress, mental health problems, lost limbs and suicide, now an epidemic amongst returning US war veterans, cannot be ignored. Moreover, far too often in the western consciousness local, ethnic voices are diminished or ignored.
War isn’t glorious or beautiful but messy, bloody and destructive. Victory isn’t clean or pretty, a fact that any objective observer will recognise when assessing the the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, two wars with a very questionable outcome (an indisputable victory would perhaps embolden Canberra, London and Washington to embark on yet more colonial adventures). Instead, as Dirty Wars author Jeremy Scahill explains, the Obama administration now prefers covert assassination squads and drones to defang an unseen enemy.
So how should we, as a nation, remember the fallen and living, the disabled and broken, both our own victims and the ones we’ve created in foreign lands?
The job of governments who send men and women into battle is to insulate the public from the bloody mission, but our focus surely must be on avoiding futile and costly foreign wars for the sake of backing our bigger allies. I hope for a day when an Australian prime minister, along with both major sides of the political divide, have the moral fortitude to reject an American request for soldiers or grunt. The world is not designed to be conquered by newest weapons, fastest satellites, deadliest missiles and metadata-acquired intelligence.
James Brown, a former Australian army officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, argues in his new book Anzac’s Long Shadow that the lack of skeptical thinking, and excessive spending on first world war commemorations, is “creating a culture in which critical analysis is rare and difficult. That is very dangerous for a military that should be adapting to face new threats.” He’s right, to a point. And yet his vision remains narrow, as Brown then argues that, “it is bizarre and inexcusable that there is as yet no commissioned official military history of the conflicts in East Timor, the Solomons, Iraq or Afghanistan … Serving generals should be making the case to government for the urgent completion of these histories so that the military can learn and improve, but they are not.”
This is exactly the wrong way to approach history. The “official” version of wars are guaranteed to ignore what the public needs to know and feel (look at the Pentagon’s deeply dishonest rendering of the Vietnam war to commemorate the conflict’s 50th anniversary). The 2013 New York Times best-selling book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, uncovers new research by journalist Nick Turse that torpedoes the idea that the infamous My Lai massacre was an anomaly. Instead, we discover that US forces routinely killed Vietnamese non-combatants on an industrial scale. Former US army medic Jamie Henry is just one man who tried to detail the atrocities committed by his unit, but the military ignored his allegations and shunned him.
The danger signs are here if we care to look, and a true reckoning of any military past is incomplete without hearing the testimony of all participants, not just our own.
This is the kind of real history that the late Howard Zinn tried to capture in A People’s History of the United States; unvarnished, honest, truthful. Is Australia even willing to begin a similarly sober conversation about our eagerness to join distant wars?
In 2012 I wrote for the Guardian a column about the lunacy of the “war on drugs” and the need to decriminalise or legalise many drugs.
Last week I was interviewed by one of Australia’s more popular radio presenters, Neil Mitchell, about these issues and why it’s becoming increasingly mainstream, especially in the US, to discuss them (my interview starts just after the one hour mark):
A strong piece by Larry Derfner in +972 magazine:
Most people in the West, I’d say, think that if Israel gives up the occupation, it will be healed. It will no longer be a danger to others and itself. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and additional proof of this came Monday night when Israeli jet bombers again struck Hezbollah in Lebanon. The attack was another reminder that even if Israel were to get out of the West Bank and adopt a hands-off policy toward Gaza, it still believes it has the right to bomb neighboring countries to retard their military develoIpment, all the while Israel itself, of course, goes on building its arsenal to the heavens.
That won’t change if Israel signs a peace treaty with the Palestinians. Hezbollah will still be arming itself across the border, Muslim countries will sooner or later try to build nuclear weapons. And Israel won’t tolerate that; Israel will keep sending out the jet bombers (unless, as in the case with Iran, America puts its foot down).
Israel’s regional military policy – bombing Iraq’s embryonic nuclear reactor (which marked not the end of Saddam’s nuclear program, but really its beginning), bombing Syria’s embryonic nuclear reactor, killing Iranian nuclear scientists, killing Hezbollah’s military chief, bombing Hamas-bound arms convoys in Sudan, and, the latest obsession, bombing Hezbollah-bound arms convoys along the Lebanese-Syrian border – is more dangerous, at least in the short term, than the occupation. Any of these attacks could start a war, and eventually one of them is likely to do just that, unless you believe that Israel can go on hitting its neighbors indefinitely without them ever hitting back. (Since the 2006 war in Lebanon, the blowback has been limited to a Hezbollah terror attack that killed five Israelis on a tourist bus in Burgas, Bulgaria, and an Iranian attack on the Israeli embassy in New Delhi that injured the wife of a diplomat.)
Another way in which Israel’s regional military policy is a worse problem than the occupation is the complete acceptance of it by the country’s Jewish majority, and the apathy toward it from the Western world. That these attacks are acts of military aggression by a regional superpower using bombs to maintain its “qualitative edge” doesn’t seem to matter to anyone; Hezbollah is bad, Iran is bad, Syria is bad, they’re all bad, and Israel is good, or at least relatively good, so anything goes. (As long as it doesn’t backfire.) These enemies are “pledged to Israel’s destruction,” they’re “militant Islamists,” so Israel can attack them to its heart’s content. They don’t have to fire any missiles at Israel, they just have to possess those missiles (which are a pittance compared to Israel’s), and any Israeli bombing run on their territory automatically becomes “self-defense.”
It goes without saying that if any of the neighbors bombed Israel’s advanced weapons or killed its nuclear scientists or even tried to fly a spy plane through its airspace, which Israel does about every other day in Lebanon, it would be treated as an act of war, an attempt to destroy this country.
You would think that a nation which is so much stronger than its enemies, which attacks them time after time without getting hit back, would one day say: “What do you know – they’re afraid of me. That means I don’t have to attack them – I just have to sit on my military superiority and I’ll be safe. There’s a name for this, isn’t there? Oh yeah – deterrence.” Israel’s deterrence, as seen again in Monday night’s lethal, unanswered attack on Hezbollah, is absolutely incredible. Hezbollah, Syria, Iran – as much as they loathe Israel, as much as they’d love to attack it, not only don’t they attack, they very rarely lift a finger when Israel attacks them! Yet this country goes on doing it because it believes that if these enemies ever get even a fraction of the sophisticated weaponry Israel has, they will go for the kill.
The problem with this theory is it assumes that Iraq, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah (not to mention the Palestinians, who have been under attack 24/7 for nearly half a century) are willing to destroy themselves for the sake of destroying this country. Because no matter how strong they get, they will never be able to carry out a crushing, life-threatening attack on Israel, even with nuclear weapons, without ending up in smoking ruins themselves.
But Israeli policy is based on the assumption that its enemies are willing – no, eager – to pay that price. They are willing to die en masse for the privilege of annihilating the Jewish state. And there’s no deterrence against that, there’s only, as Prime Minister Netanyahu likes to call it, “vigilance.”
Yet what does this assumption say about Israel’s view of its enemies? That they’re not exactly human. They’re willing to sacrifice their entire country, their entire society, for the sake of destroying this one. What human society has ever been willing to do that? What species of animal has ever been homicidal to the point of collective suicide? Yet this is what Israel believes about its enemies, which is why it can’t stop bombing them. We’re up against a “culture of death.” As Golda Meir said, in one of the most beloved aphorisms of Zionist history, “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”
This is what we believe: that the Arabs hate us more than they love their children.
There is a term for an attitude such as ours: “dehumanization.”
It is dehumanization of Arabs, of Muslims, that causes Israel to go on bombing its enemies even when those enemies don’t retaliate, even when they are incomparably weaker than Israel, even when it’s self-evident to Israel that those enemies know how weak they are and how strong Israel is. We bomb them because we know that if they ever stop being weak, they will kill us, even though they know we will kill them, too, because they don’t care. They hate us more than they love their own children.
They’re not human. There’s no deterrence against them. Only vigilance.
The issue of the Sydney Biennale receiving financial support from Transfield, a company profiting from running detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, has troubled many artists and activists (my recent Guardian column examined it).
My weekly Guardian column is published today:
Years after America officially withdrew from the country it invaded in 2003, Iraq remains in chaos. The issue is largely ignored in the press these days, except for the occasional horrific tale of carnage. Nobody senior in the western world has found themselves in the dock defending their justifications for the war.
While examining the lack of legal oversight, the lack of planning or concern for the aftermath of the inevitable fall of Saddam Hussein, and the lack of parliamentary scrutiny preceding what amounted to a US war of aggression, it’s worth reflecting on the viability of making a peaceful, citizen’s arrest on former Australian prime minister John Howard for his central role in this story.
This idea has a clear and principled pedigree. In 2010, Guardian columnist George Monbiot initiated the ArrestBlair.org campaign for the purpose of rewarding anybody who made a peaceful citizen’s arrest of the former British leader. Blair was accused of “crimes against peace” and the crime of aggression. Because the political and media elites continue to insulate Blair and his colleagues from legal culpability over the Iraq war, alternative methods were required.
To this day, Iraqis are enduring insecurity, violence, kidnapping, sexual violence, extremism and terrorism. The legacy of the conflict is absolutely devastating. And yet the politicians who took America, Britain and Australia into the conflict work and play openly.
Howard, who led Australia into Iraq in 2003, remains a free man, lecturing around the world. He was given an award at Tel Aviv University this year for his “unwavering, courageous advocacy of the state of Israel spanning decades”, is often quoted in the media, and gave a talk at Sydney’s Lowy Institute in 2013 defending the morality of removing Hussein from power.
No apologies, no mea culpas and no serious questions followed. The vast bulk of the political elite prefers to ignore what transpired in 2003, and there are no serious calls to hold Howard accountable for alleged breaches of international law in joining George W Bush’s operation (Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry is a notable exception).
In Britain, the Downing Street memo revealed the illegality of the war without a UN resolution. In Australia Howard’s government, according to countless interviews with insiders at the time, had no interest in gaining advice about the legality of the enterprise. Blindly supporting the US alliance, and a desire to crush a former American ally, was paramount. Then defence department head Ric Smith has said that he “was not aware of any senior official advising against it [going into Iraq] in my time .” In reality, John Howard ministers took no advice before joining the war.
The head of the department of prime minister and cabinet, Peter Shergold, told journalist Paul Kelly in his 2009 book The March of the Patriots that “it would be wrong to think they [Howard and then foreign minister Alexander Downer] were not interested in advice but the advice they wanted … was about the conduct of the war and capabilities, not the decision to go to war.”
Britain’s Chilcot inquiry, yet to release its report amidst accusations of political interference, heard in 2010 that every senior legal advisor at the Foreign Office before the war concluded that it breached international law. Despite these damning facts, Blair and his foreign secretary Jack Straw are seemingly immune from prosecution or even serious investigation.
This is where the power of the people becomes vital, if for only symbolic reasons, to highlight the institutional failure of our nominally democratic system to hold the highest office bearers to account. International law must apply to all.
This January, Monbiot praised the latest individual who confronted Blair, at a restaurant in London, and wrote that:
It has already succeeded in doing two things: keeping the issue – and the memories of those who have been killed – alive, and sustaining the pressure to ensure that international law binds the powerful as well as the puny.
The evidence against Howard is long and detailed. He has continued to claim it was “near universal” that Saddam had WMDs and Iraq was therefore a threat to the world. In fact, countless officials, insiders,weapons inspectors and secret services questioned the accuracy of these “slam dunk” assessments. The head of Britain’s MI6 told Blair in 2002 that “the intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy.” In Australia, senior intelligence officer Andrew Wilkie resigned in 2003 over his claims that Howard was abusing intelligence reports over Iraq. No independent legal advice was sought, and therefore the party cabinet decision on war was not a transparent process .
Even former Howard government minister, Nick Minchin, admitted in 2010 that he regretted Australia was “not able to be more successful in persuading the Bush administration to remain focused on Afghanistan rather than in opening up another front in Iraq.” Minchin argued that he “knew that the decision [to invade Iraq] having been made, Australia had to support it.” There was no mention of legal advice supporting Canberra’s entry into the conflict.
Margaret Swieringa, a senior Australian public servant who worked as a secretary to the federal parliamentary intelligence committee from 2002 until 2007, wrote in 2013 that Howard’s use of intelligence reports was fundamentally flawed. She knew, as an insider, that, “none of the government’s arguments [of Iraq’s apparent immediate threat] were supported by the intelligence presented to it by its own agencies. None of these arguments were true.”
A campaign to hold Howard to account wouldn’t be a stunt. It would be a serious attempt to keep the most devastating war in a generation in the public arena by reminding those most implicated that there is a price to be paid if such actions are ever repeated again.
A full public inquiry into the Iraq war, including the war powers used by Howard to take Australia into a conflict opposed by a great number of Australian people, is required.
A stunning work from the new investigative site The Intercept – founded by Jeremy Scahill, Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, the articles already speak for themselves; critical, punchy and unafraid to take on power – reveals the British and American attempts to destroy Wikileaks and attack its supporters. As a backer of Wikileaks since the beginning, in 2006, I continue to believe its documents are some of the most important this century:
Top-secret documents from the National Security Agency and its British counterpart reveal for the first time how the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom targeted WikiLeaks and other activist groups with tactics ranging from covert surveillance to prosecution.
The efforts – detailed in documents provided previously by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – included a broad campaign of international pressure aimed not only at WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but at what the U.S. government calls “the human network that supports WikiLeaks.” The documents also contain internal discussions about targeting the file-sharing site Pirate Bay and hacktivist collectives such as Anonymous.
One classified document from Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s top spy agency, shows that GCHQ used its surveillance system to secretly monitor visitors to a WikiLeaks site. By exploiting its ability to tap into the fiber-optic cables that make up the backbone of the Internet, the agency confided to allies in 2012, it was able to collect the IP addresses of visitors in real time, as well as the search terms that visitors used to reach the site from search engines like Google.
Another classified document from the U.S. intelligence community, dated August 2010, recounts how the Obama administration urged foreign allies to file criminal charges against Assange over the group’s publication of the Afghanistan war logs.
A third document, from July 2011, contains a summary of an internal discussion in which officials from two NSA offices – including the agency’s general counsel and an arm of its Threat Operations Center – considered designating WikiLeaks as “a ‘malicious foreign actor’ for the purpose of targeting.” Such a designation would have allowed the group to be targeted with extensive electronic surveillance – without the need to exclude U.S. persons from the surveillance searches.
In 2008, not long after WikiLeaks was formed, the U.S. Army prepared a report that identified the organization as an enemy, and plotted how it could be destroyed. The new documents provide a window into how the U.S. and British governments appear to have shared the view that WikiLeaks represented a serious threat, and reveal the controversial measures they were willing to take to combat it.
In a statement to The Intercept, Assange condemned what he called “the reckless and unlawful behavior of the National Security Agency” and GCHQ’s “extensive hostile monitoring of a popular publisher’s website and its readers.”
“News that the NSA planned these operations at the level of its Office of the General Counsel is especially troubling,” Assange said. “Today, we call on the White House to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the extent of the NSA’s criminal activity against the media, including WikiLeaks, its staff, its associates and its supporters.”
Illustrating how far afield the NSA deviates from its self-proclaimed focus on terrorism and national security, the documents reveal that the agency considered using its sweeping surveillance system against Pirate Bay, which has been accused of facilitating copyright violations. The agency also approved surveillance of the foreign “branches” of hacktivist groups, mentioning Anonymous by name.
The documents call into question the Obama administration’s repeated insistence that U.S. citizens are not being caught up in the sweeping surveillance dragnet being cast by the NSA. Under the broad rationale considered by the agency, for example, any communication with a group designated as a “malicious foreign actor,” such as WikiLeaks and Anonymous, would be considered fair game for surveillance.
Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in surveillance issues, says the revelations shed a disturbing light on the NSA’s willingness to sweep up American citizens in its surveillance net.
“All the reassurances Americans heard that the broad authorities of the FISA Amendments Act could only be used to ‘target’ foreigners seem a bit more hollow,” Sanchez says, “when you realize that the ‘foreign target’ can be an entire Web site or online forum used by thousands if not millions of Americans.”
Back in January 2013 I signed a statement as a Jew in a global campaign backing the Palestinian right of return. The same New York-based Jews have collected signatures for a new, equally vital statement and my signature appears below:
We salute the American Studies Association’s courageous endorsement of the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israeli academic institutions, which are leading accomplices in more than six decades of ethnic cleansing, colonization, war crimes, and apartheid.
As Jews, we refuse to remain silent as a so-called “Jewish state,” armed by the U.S. and its allies, commits these injustices with impunity in our name.
Contrary to baseless charges of “anti-Semitism,” BDS resembles the boycotts that “singled out” similarly racist regimes in Jim Crow United States and apartheid South Africa.
Applying the same standards to apartheid Israel, BDS demands nothing more — nor less — than freedom and justice throughout all of historic Palestine, by calling for:
• An end to Israeli military occupation of the 1967 territories
• Full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel
• Right of return for Palestinian refugees, as affirmed by UN resolution 194
We call on Jews of conscience everywhere to honor our own proud heritage of resistance to oppression and injustice by standing with the Palestinian people, BDS, the ASA, and the growing international movement in support of these fundamental human rights.
Partial list of initial signers
(List in formation; affiliations listed for identification only. Add your name here.)
- Avigail Abarbanel, psychotherapist, activist, writer; Inverness, Scotland
- Gabriel Ash, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network-Switzerland
- Prof. Jonathan Beller, Humanities and Media Studies; Director, Graduate Program in Media Studies, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn
- Prof. Steve Brier, historian, New York
- Eitan Bronstein Aparicio, Tel Aviv
- Nora Barrows-Friedman, journalist; Oakland
- Max Blumenthal, journalist and author of Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel
- Daniel Boyarin, Professor of Talmudic Culture, UC Berkeley
- Lenni Brenner, author of Zionism In The Age Of The Dictators
- Estee Chandler, Community Organizer, Los Angeles
- Mike Cushman, Convener, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (UK)
- Eron Davidson, award-winning filmmaker, Roadmap to Apartheid, USA
- Warren Davis, labor and political activist, Philadelphia, PA
- Hedy Epstein, Nazi Holocaust survivor and human rights activist; St. Louis, MO
- Samuel Farber, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Brooklyn College, CUNY
- Joel Finkel, Jewish Voices for Peace-Chicago
- Prof. Cynthia Franklin, Co-Editor, Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, University of Hawai’i
- Lee Gargaliano, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network-US
- Dr. Terri Ginsberg, film and media scholar, New York
- Sherna Berger Gluck, emerita faculty, California State University, Long Beach; founding member, US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel; Israel Divestment Campaign
- Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence, Berkeley
- Hector Grad, Prof. of Social Anthropology, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid
- Ira Grupper, former National Co-Chair, New Jewish Agenda (1989-1993)
- Jeff Halper, Director, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)
- Stanley Heller, Host, “The Struggle” Video News, TSVN
- Shir Hever, Jewish Voice for Just Peace, Germany
- Tikva Honig-Parnass, former member of the Zionist armed forces (1948); author of False Prophets of Peace: Liberal Zionism and the Struggle for Palestine
- Adam Horowitz, Co-Editor, Mondoweiss
- Selma James, Global Women’s Strike; International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network-UK
- Jake Javanshir, Independent Jewish Voices, Toronto
- Emily Katz Kishawi, Jewish Anti Zionist Network, San Francisco
- Sara Kershnar, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network-International
- David Klein, Organizing Committee, US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
- Toby Kramer, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network-US
- David Letwin, activist and teacher, Al-Awda NY: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition
- Michael Letwin, Former president, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325; Organizing Committee, US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel; Al-Awda NY: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition
- Dr. Les Levidow, Open University, UK
- Brooke Lober, PhD candidate, Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Arizona
- Antony Loewenstein, Australian journalist and author
- Jennifer Loewenstein, Faculty Associate, Middle East Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Samantha Liapes, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network
- Barbara Lubin, Executive Director, Middle East Children’s Alliance; Oakland, CA
- Prof. David Makofsky, Research Anthropologist, People’s Republic of China
- Mike Marqusee, author of If I Am Not for Myself: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew
- Thomas Mayer, Professor Emeritus, University of Colorado at Boulder
- Linda Milazzo, writer, activist, educator, Los Angeles
- Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action-Los Angeles/People Against Racist Terror (ARA-LA/PART)
- Prof. Bertell Ollman, Dept. of Politics, New York University
- Prof. Ilan Pappé, Israeli historian and socialist activist
- Miko Peled, writer, activist, author of The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine
- Prof. Nurit Peled-Elhanan, Sakharov Prize laureate, Jerusalem
- Karen Pomer, granddaughter of Henri B. van Leeuwen, Dutch anti-Zionist leader and Bergen-Belsen survivor
- Roland Rance, Jews Against Zionism, London
- Michael Ratner, President Emeritus, Center for Constitutional Rights (for ID purposes only); New York
- Ruben Rosenberg Colorni, Journalist, The News Junkie Post, Activist – Youth for Palestine; The Hague
- Lillian Rosengarten, activist for Palestinian liberation and a bi-national Israel/Palestinian State; New York
- Prof. Jonathan Rosenhead, London School of Economics
- Ilana Rossoff, community organizer; New Jersey
- Cheryl Rubenberg, retired associate professor of Middle East politics at Florida International University (Miami)
- Josh Ruebner, Author of Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace
- Margot Salom, Just Peace for Palestine; Brisbane
- Yom Shamash, Independent Jewish Voices; Vancouver
- Tali Shapiro, Boycott from Within; Israel
- Sid Shniad, Independent Jewish Voices; Vancouver
- Jonatan Stanczak, Managing Director, The Freedom Theatre
- Marsha Steinberg, BDS-LA for Justice in Palestine
- Prof. Miriam Swenson, educational psychology
- Steve Terry, criminal defense attorney; Brooklyn, NY
- Sam Weinstein, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network-Labor
- Abraham Weizfeld, Administrative Secretary, Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians
- Marcy Winograd, former congressional candidate, Los Angeles
- Bekah Wolf, UC Hastings College of Law Student; Co-founder, Palestine Solidarity Project
- Sherry Wolf, Associate Editor, International Socialist Review
- Dr. Roger van Zwanenberg, Non-Executive Director, Pluto Books Ltd.; London
My weekly Guardian column is below:
But a major sponsor is Transfield, a company used by the Australian Federal Government to handle refugee services and which therefore profits from the asylum seeker industry on Nauru and Manus Island. This association has caused refugee activists to call for a boycott of the Biennale.
Sydney design academic, Matthew Kiem, recently penned an open letter to visual arts teachers to send a strong, public message to the Biennale that association with a company like Transfield was ethically unacceptable. He wrote in part:
The most appropriate response to this situation is to boycott the Biennale. While this may feel as though we are giving something up, it is in fact one of the best opportunities we have to make a material impact on the supply chains that permit the detention industry to work. We are in a particularly strong position here given that our decisions could have the effect of redirecting a significant number of students, income, and kudos away from [this event] and towards other kinds of experiences and discussions … A strong response this year is the best way to ensure that future Biennales are not funded through [companies associated with asylum seeker detention].
Kiem told artsHub that “we can and should be putting pressure on the Biennale organisers to find other ways of funding art.”
In the last week I’ve seen countless high profile refugee activists writing on Twitter that they intend to boycott the event and will encourage supporters and the public to follow suit.
Thus far the Biennale has stayed relatively quiet on the matter, though last Friday tweeted:
Naming and shaming corporate sponsors of cultural events and products has a long and noble history. London’s Tate Modern is backed by BP, causing British activists to stress the corporation’s questionable environmental practices. This year in Australia the Minerals Council, in an attempt to sex up and soften its image, is sponsoring a popular commercial radio program. Online protest was guaranteed.
Actor Scarlett Johansson recently found herself in the crosshairs of pro-Palestine advocates because she backed Sodastream, a company with a factory in an illegal settlement in the West Bank. Her reputation has taken a hit and the role of Palestinian workers under occupation received global attention. Other firms operating in the West Bank, while brazenly saying they don’t fear future boycotts, are naive if they don’t think similar actions will soon affect them.
In America recently the gender equality organisation Catalyst awarded weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin for “supporting women’s advancement”. I know there were a number of employees at Catalyst who expressed dismay at the tragic irony of praising a corporation that sells technology to some of the worst abusers of women in the world, such as Saudi Arabia. Separating politics from ethics is impossible.
Meanwhile, back in Australia, a critical social media campaign against the Biennale, currently developing organically, has the potential to embarrass the event and highlight the often vexed question of corporate sponsorship of artistic and cultural events. If the boycott grows, it won’t be the first time that these tactics have been employed in Australia over funding.
Tasmania’s Ten Days on the Island festival faced outrage in 2002 when it was announced that Forestry Tasmania would be a sponsor in 2003.Artists boycotted, including novelist Peter Carey, and the move caused a vital debate about the ways in which organisations, often with a problematic public image, aim to alter perceptions by backing arts events. Principled participants have a potential choice; be involved and risk being seen as complicit or remove themselves and remain pure. In the real world, such decisions, especially for artists who need and crave exposure, are not easy matters.
Although it’s true that Transfield has a long history of backing various artistic forms, the last years have seen a conscious choice to enter the world of asylum detention. Both Serco and G4S know how financially beneficial this is.
The exact nature of Transfield’s work is mired in mystery - a press release on 29 January merely referred to Garrison Support Services and Welfare at both Manus Island and Nauru – but it’s clear that management sees further opportunities with Tony Abbott’s government; Canberra has a bottomless pit of money to “stop the boats” and punish refugees.
The links between the Biennale and Transfield are not hidden – the chairman of the Biennale, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, is also an executive director at Transfield.
Is this really the kind of corporation to which a leading arts event wants to be associated? What message does this send to the wider community? Should it be acceptable to earn money from the grubby business of imprisoning asylum seekers while at the same time backing glittering artistic works?
I’ve asked the Biennale to address these contradictions. “Our understanding”, they write, “is that the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru are run by the Serco Group, which is not a Biennale sponsor.” This is incorrect; Serco has no known involvement.
“If any sponsor were found to be directly involved in the abuse of refugees, or anyone else for that matter, we would naturally reconsider our relationship.”
The statement continues: “Transfield Services has been a long time supporter of the Biennale. They supply food, clothing and other provisions to a number of industries and government projects. They are a listed company with high ethical standards and a publicly stated code of conduct.”
Addressing the call to boycott the event, “we believe that the campaign is well intentioned but misguided.” I ask about the potential social media campaign against them. “Many of us at the Biennale hold strong views on the refugee issue,” they argue. “We would not knowingly associate with the abuse of a disadvantaged group like the refugees. We believe that any action to hinder the Biennale would damage the ability of 94 artists to exhibit their work and gain exposure for their talent. That would be regrettable.”
How the Biennale and related events are funded should be key public questions, especially in an age where far too many companies want to mask their dirty profit-making with shiny, artistic treats. It is our responsibility to demand better.