Last weekend I was invited to speak at a big Palestine conference in Istanbul, Turkey. Palestine Addressing the World brought speakers from over 60 countries across the world – one of the keynote speakers was going to be Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, murdered by the Saudi government in Istanbul – and nearly 1000 participants. It was an interesting two days on covering Israel/Palestine in the global media.
I gave a talk on a panel titled, “Strategies to confront the discriminatory discourse of Israel”. A key focus was the rise of Jewish dissent opposed to Israel’s permanent occupation of Palestine.
My following essay appears in the Israel/Palestine news outlet +972 magazine:
There’s a moment near the end of the four-part, Al Jazeera documentary on the U.S. Israel lobby — censored by its own network due to pressure from the U.S. government and incensed U.S.-based, pro-Israel lobbyists — where the show’s undercover reporter, “Tony,” films a key Israel advocate in Washington. Eric Gallagher was a senior manager at The Israel Project and admits that the dominant pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, faces an existential crisis.
“People at AIPAC know that something has changed,” Gallagher says. “They know something is wrong. They are not as effective as they used to be.” He worries that the day is coming soon when AIPAC wouldn’t be able to deeply influence the Israel lobby crafted in the U.S. Congress, as it does today, and that the pro-Israel lobby will have to operate without AIPAC’s power. “There’s this big bowling ball that’s being hurled towards them [AIPAC] and the response is to run faster,” Gallagher continues. “They need to get on the bowling ball and start dancing.”
Gallagher doesn’t explain why so many Americans are turning against Israel in public opinion polls. The latest figures from The Economist and YouGov, an online data analytics firm, find that U.S. liberals, millennials, and women have turned against the Jewish state in large numbers. The 50-plus year occupation of Palestinians and their lands, constant killings of civilians in Gaza, and the Trump administration’s obsessive embrace of Israel’s hard-right are all factors.
Republicans and conservatives still back Israel in large numbers, as do many in the evangelical Christian community (though younger members are more skeptical). For the foreseeable future, however, Israel will likely receive unprecedented financial, military, and diplomatic support from the United States.
Tony films Gallagher in a Washington D.C. café explaining that “the foundation that AIPAC sat on is rotting. There used to be widespread public support for Israel in the United States…I don’t think that AIPAC is the tip of the spear anymore, which is worrisome, because who is?”
It’s a telling admission in a documentary that’s full of them. Following Al Jazeera’s 2017 examination of Britain’s Israel lobby — a film that uncovered extensive Israeli government interference in the British political system, along with Labour Party operatives who aimed to silence critics of Israel with false charges of anti-Semitism — expectations were high for the U.S. version. They planted a convincing young, British, Jewish man, James Anthony Kleinfeld, within the American Zionist establishment, who filmed undercover for months to reveal pro-Israel lobbyists and Israeli government affiliates talking tactics and spewing racism against Muslims and Palestinians. Al Jazeera even admitted to planting an undercover reporter inside U.S. pro-Israel lobby groups in 2017, but the channel never broadcast the final product.
Director and founder of Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit, Clayton Swisher, has detailed the political reasons for this decision: a combination of Qatari government capitulation, pro-Israel lobbyists in Washington threatening to convince Congress to register the network as “foreign agents,” and false accusations of anti-Semitism against the producers of the documentary. A source told me that U.S. President Donald Trump’s first Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, had even lobbied the Qataris not to screen the film. Whatever exactly Israeli, American, and pro-Zionist lobbyists did, it worked, though clips of the film started leaking in the last months. The full film can’t be far behind [it leaked a few days after this piece was published].
The leaks prove that the Israeli embassy, often working with pro-Israel groups, spies on pro-Palestinian students and attempts to disrupt the growth of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement across the U.S. Other Zionist lobbyists want students who support Palestinian rights to be criminally prosecuted. Fake Facebook accounts are created by Israel lobby groups that only occasionally mention Israel, because the Israel brand has become so toxic. The notorious Canary Mission website, used by the Israel government to target pro-Palestinian supporters on arrival in its country, is exposed as being funded by major pro-Israel donors in the U.S.
These are all important revelations, and an international audience deserves to see them. There’s nothing remotely anti-Semitic in the film. It’s a sober and detailed exposé of a lobby that functions despite the demographic gravity pushing against it. It’s not just young Americans losing support for Israel, but American Jews who increasingly can’t abide by a foreign country that advocateschauvinism, occupation, and racism. The horrific Pittsburgh synagogue massacre has only deepened this divide between Israel and its vast Jewish Diaspora.
Banning the film shows the weakness of the Zionist lobby, not its strength, because it acknowledges that any criticism that shatters the illusion of how the lobby operates secretly cannot survive sunlight or public scrutiny. Nonetheless, it’s worrying that Al Jazeera continues to stonewall about the real reasons it has not scheduled the film.
Swisher’s documentary is a positive development, however, from the myopic discussions around the U.S. Israel lobby that greeted the 2007 book on the subject by academics Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer (who appears in the film). The authors were accused of anti-Semitism and scapegoating Jews. U.S. journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, now editor of The Atlantic, who is notorious for policingsupposedly acceptable boundaries of debate around Israel/Palestine, called Walt, without evidence, a “grubby Jew-baiter.”
Yes, Swisher and his team have been accused of anti-Semitism, more than a decade after the Mearsheimer-Walt book. But the label no longer sticks effectively, apart from the rigid ideologues who won’t tolerate any criticism of Israeli actions. When real anti-Semitism is surging globally, it’s a damning indictment on those who abuse the term for shabby political ends. The Israel lobby does this around the world.
A key theme throughout the film is the perceived need by Israel and its advocates to secretly and publicly smear supporters of Palestinian rights. That’s what being strongly pro-Israel means for the litany of Zionist lobby groups featured in the documentary, from The Israel Project to the Brandeis Center. It looks and feels grubby and desperate. BDS is framed as an existential threat to the continuation of the Jewish state, a severe exaggeration in the current moment, but it has undeniably achieved great psychological damage to the Israeli narrative and justification for indefinitely occupying millions of Palestinians.
One of the early reviews of the film, written by Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz, argues that the U.S. Israel lobby and Israeli government are “begging a bunch of amateurs for intel [on BDS supporters].” Although he later admits that the film shows a “self-harming campaign” that costs the Israeli government millions of dollars every year, he ignores the wider implications for the many targeted liberal Jews, pro-Palestinian activists and Muslims whose lives and records are smeared by the lobby for daring to defend Palestinian rights. Free speech around Israel/Palestine is now under attack in the U.S. and across the globe. The FBI is using Canary Mission as a reference point to harass pro-Palestinian activists.
This Al Jazeera documentary deserves a wide audience because it exposes the motivations and methods of individuals and groups that will spend the next 50 or 100 years defending Israeli control of Palestinian lives.
Antony Loewenstein is a Jerusalem-based, independent journalist, film-maker, author of My Israel Question and Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe and is currently writing a book on the global “war on drugs”, out in 2019. He has been reporting on Israel/Palestine since 2003.
I was interviewed yesterday by US radio station Loud and Clear, the hosts are Brian Becker and former CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, on Hurricane Florence in North Carolina and the ways in which disaster capitalism affects both the relief effort and long-term trends:
I was recently asked to endorse the new book by Palestinian writer Dr Olfat Mahmoud whose work is called Tears for Tarshiha. Published by Wild Dingo Press, here’s the book’s blurb:
Olfat Mahmoud, a stateless refugee, is a descendant of the ‘forgotten Palestinians’, forced from their homes by the Israeli military in 1948. A former nurse, NGO director and academic, Mahmoud’s confronting autobiography asks when the world will deliver on its promise and allow her people to return home.
Here’s my endorsement:
“For too long, Palestinians have remained largely invisible in our media and demonised as terrorists. It’s therefore wonderfully refreshing to read the history, reflections and passions of Olfat Mahmoud and understand what exile still means for millions of Palestinians around the world, refused access to their former homeland. I commend this book for its humanity and quest for justice. The Middle East will not see peace until these issues are resolved.”
– Antony Loewenstein, independent journalist, film-maker, author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe and My Israel Question
I was interviewed by The Wire news radio program yesterday:
The already fragile stability in the Middle East has been further affected in recent weeks, with the US Embassy move to Jerusalem and President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.
Overnight 55 Palestinian protesters were killed by Israeli forces in Gaza, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish state. This is the highest protest casualty rate in the region since 2014, and has some experts feeling that the US’s increased backing of Israel will lead to a more aggressive stance on neighbours such as Palestine and Syria.
My investigation in the Sydney Morning Herald/Melbourne Age:
The legal pursuit in Israel of alleged sexual predator Malka Leifer took a strange turn this week.
As she fought extradition attempts by Victoria Police over 74 charges of child sexual abuse, the 54-year-old first gained, then lost the support of influential Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman.
Grossman is a highly respected rabbi in Israel. He was awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement in 2004 – Israel’s highest cultural honour – and he’s the founder and head of Migdal Ohr, a major NGO that helps children and underprivileged teens across Israel.
But last week, in a surprise appearance before the Jerusalem district court, he pledged to monitor Leifer under house arrest if the judge agreed to her release from police custody.
It was “humiliating”, he claimed, for Leifer to remain incarcerated, and bad for her mental health.
The court apparently agreed and authorised her release.
Leifer is a former teacher and principal at Melbourne’s ultra-orthodox Adass Israel girls’ school, who fled Australia with the aid of the Adass community after her alleged offending was revealed.
One of Leifer’s alleged victims, Melbourne-based Dassi Erlich, was gutted at the court’s decision.
“We are trying so desperately to hold onto hope and trying to desperately see justice. We want to hold onto the fact that we will see her back in Australia one day,” she said.
However, early this week, Grossman reversed his position and withdrew support for Leifer, citing the perception that his backing had been “interpreted as supporting an attempt to avoid trial”.
There are many confounding aspects of this case including the role of Rabbi Grossman.
Grossman has assisted accused sexual predators before, including Breslov Rabbi Eliezer Berland who fought extradition to Israel from South Africa. Grossman went to South Africa twice and argued for Berland to be given bail.
Ultimately, Berland was sentenced in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court in 2016 after admitting to one assault and two counts of indecent acts.
So why did Grossman back away from Leifer?
Multiple sources in both Australia and Israel said the backlash against the rabbi’s decision to support Leifer was immediate. Donors, staff and some board members of his Migdal Ohr organisation objected to his move on social media, and directly to the organisation.
One source said that he personally knew people who had contacted board members to complain, only to be told they were sullying the reputation of a fine man.
However a social media campaign involving Australian and American activists and a number of Australian rabbis put moral pressure on the rabbi. An open letter addressed to Grossman said Leifer’s alleged crimes had “caused untold pain and suffering”.
“Your conduct in this matter raises many serious questions … By involving yourself in legal proceedings which have nothing to do with you for the purpose of supporting an alleged multiple rapist and child sexual abuser and in showing no regard for the pain and suffering of her alleged victims, you are guilty of not only gross Rabbinic overreach but have also committed a huge Chillul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s name), which has brought the entire Jewish community into disrepute,” the letter read.
More than that, sources say, was the threat to the funding of Migdal Ohr.
Rabbi Grossman’s group claims to endorse child protection, and sources have told Fairfax Media many key funders, particularly in the United States, demanded that Grossman retract his support for Leifer.
About half the funding for Grossman’s organisation comes from the Israeli government, and the rest from Jewish communities from across the world including Canada, Brazil and Britain and 10 percent from the Jewish Agency for Israel. The United Israel Appeal Australia (UIA) donates money to the Jewish Agency but a representative from the UIA in Melbourne told Fairfax Media that “we’re transparent about where our money goes” and none had ever been sent to Migdal Ohr.
“Rabbi Grossman didn’t have a moral realisation”, the source said. “He didn’t issue an apology for the hurt caused [to Leifer’s victims.]”
One source told Fairfax Media that Grossman knew about the allegations against Leifer as far back as 2012 and supported her.
Fairfax approached Rabbi Grossman Enterprises for a response, but was referred to his earlier statement.
Leifer has been fighting extradition to Australia for four years. She fled from Australia to Israel soon after the allegations were aired in 2008, living there while alleging she was mentally unfit to stand trial.
But police were forced to act after an Israeli private investigator filmed more than 200 hours of footage of Leifer in an occupied West Bank settlement and found her to be a “normal, healthy person”.
She remains in custody while an Israeli judge assesses an appeal to deny her access to house arrest.
There are growing calls from the Jewish community within Australia for the Israeli legal system to facilitate Leifer’s extradition to Australia and face justice. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has raised the matter with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in 2017 said that, “justice demands that she be brought back to Australia to answer the charges.”
In 2015, Victorian Supreme Court judge Jack Rush ordered the Adass Israel girls’ school to pay $1,024,428 in damages to Ms Erlich.
Leifer’s fate remains in the balance. Well connected in the secretive Hassidic community, along with her husband Jacob, she’ll undoubtedly fight to stay in Israel and never return to Australia. If the Israeli court finds that she cannot remain in a psychiatric ward and with Rabbi Grossman’s offer now void, she may be released back into the Israeli community. Her victims demand that she faces court in Australia.
Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist, author of “Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe”, and was based in Jerusalem in 2016/2017.
Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters recently toured around Australia. One night in Melbourne he took the time to speak at a public event, in conversation with Palestinian writer Randa Abdel-Fattah and me, about politics, the media, Palestine and the Middle East. He appeared before a packed house at the Athanaeum Theatre and the video has just been released of the event, organised by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network.
Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is in trouble, and it partly stems from his close relationship with Australia’s most recognisable billionaire, James Packer.
The country’s second longest-serving Prime Minister is facing potential charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust after an extensive investigation by Israeli police. They accuse Netanyahu of accepting nearly $US300,000 ($A380,000) in gifts over 10 years.
“Case 1000” which is also known as “Cigars and Champagne,” revolves around alleged bribery and paying for favours. Packer, along with Hollywood producer and former secret Israeli agent Arnon Milchan, are alleged to be those behind the payments.
It’s now up to the country’s Attorney General, Avichai Mendelblit, to decide whether the police evidence is strong enough to indict the Prime Minister.
Netanyahu does not deny accepting huge gifts from both men, but refutes allegations that he granted them any favours.
Milchan’s personal assistant, Hadas Klein, told Israeli police in November that, “there was an understanding that Arnon had to supply the Netanyahu couple with whatever they wanted. The cigars were requested by Netanyahu personally.”
The Prime Minister alleges that pink champagne and expensive jewellery requested by Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, were tokens of good friendship with Milchan.
Israeli police claim that Netanyahu pushed for the “Milchan law”, cutting taxes for returning Israelis who have spent time overseas, helped Milchan get a 10-year US visa and assisted the producer in furthering his film work. Israeli police have also recommended charging Milchan.
Packer’s relationship with the Netanyahu family is also under scrutiny (though he is not facing charges). According to testimony released by Israel’s Channel 10 in late 2017 after Packer spoke to Australian Federal Police agents in Australia on behalf of Israeli investigators, the casino mogul said: “I admire Prime Minister Netanyahu and am happy that I was given the opportunity to be his friend. I was happy to give him presents, many times at his request and his wife Sara’s request”.
At the time of the interview, a spokesman for Mr Packer’s Crown Resorts said: “There is no allegation of wrongdoing on Mr Packer’s behalf … The Israeli and Australian police have confirmed that he was interviewed as a witness, not a suspect.”
Netanyahu allegedly requested gifts and services from Packer worth up to $US100,000 including champagne, tickets to a Mariah Carey concert (Packer was previously engaged to the pop star) and cigars. Packer also showered Netanyahu’s son, Yair, with gifts including free accommodation at his luxury properties around the world.
Netanyahu responded that Packer was his “neighbour and friend” and “now and again, I asked him to bring me something to Israel from abroad”.
Netanyahu’s friendship with Packer reportedly began in 2014 when the Australian businessman met the Israeli leader at a dinner organised by Milchan and Packer. They apparently connected quickly and Packer soon purchased a multimillion dollar mansion in Israel beside a property owned by Netanyahu.
Packer accelerated his business interests in Israel’s cyber-security industry, saying in 2015 that he wanted to build a company with Milchan because, “Israel now has the highest start-ups per capita in the world and this will provide major opportunities in the future”.
Packer was with Netanyahu in the US Congress and UN General Assembly in 2015 when the Israeli Prime Minister slammed the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran. In the same year, Packer echoed Netanayhu’s hardline position, saying that it was “the stupidest thing I’ve seen in my life”.
Israel’s Interior Minister confirmed to the ABC in 2017 that he had met Packer’s lawyer to discuss possible residency and citizenship of Israel. Such a development would have significant tax advantages for Packer.
Case 2000 is another headache for Netanyahu. He’s accused of colluding with the publisher of one of Israel’s biggest newspapers, Yedioth Ahronoth. Caught on tape, the Israeli Prime Minister was telling its owner Arnon Mozes that he would convince his paper’s main competition, Israeli Hayom, owned by Las Vegas tycoon Sheldon Adelson, to reduce its circulation.
Netanyahu reportedly asked Mozes in return if he could get his publication to be less critical of the Prime Minister and his government. Netanyahu now says he wasn’t serious, but Adelson partially confirmed the allegation, telling Israeli police last year that Netanyahu had asked him not to expand his media outlet.
Adelson used to be Netanyahu’s biggest backer in his battles with the Palestinians and Obama administration, but that friendship appears to have cooled. Adelson is a key Donald Trump backer and reportedly encouraged the US President to move its embassy to Jerusalem and quash Palestinian nationalism for good.
Netanyahu denies all the allegations against him and continues to serve as the country’s Prime Minister.
He has been in a similar situation twice before, facing corruption allegations in 1997 and 2000, but both times he escaped being charged. Israel has a long history of former politicians being indicted for corruption including, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who served time in prison for accepting bribes during his time as mayor of Jerusalem.
Columnist Anshel Pfeffer in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz writes that Netanyahu’s fatal flaw is that, “just like his belief in the cult of hasbara (or public diplomacy), and that if only Israel explains itself better to the world, everyone will be won over, he’s convinced that his image, as presented by the media, is the source of all his setbacks”.
Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist, author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe, and was based in Jerusalem in 2016/2017
Last Friday night in Melbourne, I interviewed Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters alongside Palestinian writer Randa Abdel-Fattah. The event was organised by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network. Waters is in Australia on his massive “Us and Them” world tour (which I saw on Saturday night and it was one of the most spectacular music performances I’ve ever seen).
The Q&A was a unique public event, over 500 people attended, and we discussed the Middle East, Donald Trump, Palestine and his politics over decades. He was frank, funny and refreshingly down to earth. Unsurprisingly, Australian, pro-Israel politician Michael Danby condemned the event, including my involvement, but got both my names wrong in his press release.
Full video of the evening is coming soon but in the meantime here’s a story from popular music website, Noise 11:
Pink Floyd legend Roger Waters gave his time for the Australia Palestine Advocate Network in Melbourne on Friday and while explaining the issues between Palestine and Israel also took aim at a number of his fellow artists Elton John, Thom Yorke, Steven Tyler, Steve Van Zandt and Nick Cave.
Roger Waters has been working tirelessly since 2006 to try and bridge peace between Palestine and Israel after being confronted by Israeli fans at one of his concerts in Tel Aviv after calling on them to make peace with their neighbours 12 years ago.
Ever since he has campaigned for musicians to boycott performances in Israel and recently praised Lorde for doing so. However, he hasn’t had the same reaction from others.
In Melbourne, Roger Waters sat down for a Q&A for the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN).
During his talk for APAN Waters called Thom Yorke “a self-obsessed, narcissistic, drippy little prick” and Elton John ‘Queen Mum’. He also called out Nick Cave for saying he was bullying him, said “fuck you” to Steve Van Zandt and referred to Steven Tyler as “an old lady”.
Waters has been spreading the message to help mend the Middle East situation after that personal confrontation at his gig.
About Thom Yorke he said:
“Thom Yorke said that Ken Roach and I were throwing mud at him. No we weren’t. We were trying to engage him. I had a long email exchange with Thom Yorke and in the end he said ‘that’s it I’m giving up the music business, you have finally convinced me’. He was just being sarcastic. He is a prick. At least have a conversation. He is just a self-obsessed, narcissistic, drippy little prick”.
About Elton John:
Elton John went and played in Sun City about 500 times when everyone else in the world was anti-apartheid and said you can’t go and play in Sun City and he said ‘yeah I can, I’m the Queen Mum’. You kind of go, well he is just dopey and also he obviously doesn’t give a fuck about anybody else except the lesbian gay whatever whatever community which he does seem to care about. He will make videos protecting his one little area of people who are having violence done to them but he seems blind to (others). We are all human but some people are human in different ways.
About Little Steven
Little Steven, Steven Van Zandt from the E Street Band. He produced ‘Sun City’. I wrote to him and said ‘hey Steve, don’t you think it’s time we did one of these about Palestine because the situation is appalling. It is exactly the same situation it was in South Africa, it’s worse. He wrote me a letter back and said “I think the situation in Palestine is much more complicated and that turned into a threat. He said ‘I think you should be very careful about what you do and what you say because your career could be over in a heartbeat. I thought “fuck you”. This guy in his charlady hat is threatening me. He did say however he admired my courage and would love to have lunch so I wrote back and said “what about next Friday?” That was four years ago.
About Nick Cave
Your bloke, Cave. Gimme a break, was he really saying that his freedom of speech was being infringed? It doesn’t deserve an answer. I was co-signatory of all the letters sent to him. I didn’t speak to him personally. I don’t want to speak to him. I think it is pitiful to bring that up and say “I don’t want Roger Waters bullying me. I’m a musician, I just want to play my music”. What? They are shooting the fucking feet of 18-year-olds who want to play soccer. Don’t talk to me about your freedom of speech. Pay Attention”.
About Aerosmith and Steven Tyler
Aerosmith went to one of these training camps. What are they doing? What were they thinking? I ran into Steve Tyler in a sushi restaurant in LA and he leapt up to me. I thought, who is this, a little old lady? He had his hair up and I thought ‘oh God there’s a little old lady who wants to talk to me’ and it was Steven Tyler.