Strong interview with Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah on Al-Jazeera English explaining the reality of Israeli violence in Gaza, resistance to its onslaught and the need for justice:
Gideon Levy in Haaretz:
The goal of Operation Protective Edge is to restore the calm; the means: killing civilians. The slogan of the Mafia has become official Israeli policy. Israel sincerely believes that if it kills hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, quiet will reign. It is pointless to destroy the weapons stores of Hamas, which has already proved capable of rearmament. Bringing down the Hamas government is an unrealistic (and illegitimate) goal, one that Israel does not want: It is aware that the alternative could be much worse. That leaves only one possible purpose for the military operation: death to Arabs, accompanied by the cheering of the masses.
The Israel Defense Forces already has a “map of pain,” a diabolical invention that has replaced the no less diabolical “bank of targets,” and that map is spreading at a sickening pace. Watch Al Jazeera English, a balanced and professional television channel (unlike its Arabic sister station), and see the extent of its success. You won’t see it in Israel’s “open” broadcast studios, which as usual are only open to the Israeli victim, but on Al Jazeera you will see the whole truth, and perhaps you will even be shocked.
The bodies in Gaza are piling up, the desperate, constantly updated tabulation of mass killing that Israel boasts of, which already numbers dozens of civilians, including 24 children as of noon on Saturday; hundreds of people injured, in addition to horror and destruction. One school and one hospital have already been bombed. The aim is to strike homes, and no amount of justification can help: It’s a war crime, even if the IDF calls them “command-and-control centers” or “conference rooms.” Granted, there are strikes that are much more brutal than Israel’s, but in this war, which is nothing other than mutual attacks on civilians — the elephant against the fly — there aren’t even any refugees. In contrast to Syria and Iraq, in the Gaza Strip the inhabitants do not have the luxury of fleeing for their lives. In a cage, there’s nowhere to run.
Since the first Lebanon war, more than 30 years ago, the killing of Arabs has become Israel’s primary strategic instrument. The IDF doesn’t wage war against armies, and its main target is civilian populations. Arabs are born only to kill and to be killed, as everyone knows. They have no other goal in life, and Israel kills them.
One must, of course, be outraged by the modus operandi of Hamas: Not only does it aim its rockets at civilian population centers in Israel, not only does it position itself within population centers — it may not have an alternative, given the crowded conditions in the Strip — but it also leaves the Gazan civilian population vulnerable to Israel’s brutal attacks, without seeing to a single siren, shelter or protected space. That is criminal. But the barrages of the Israel Air Force are no less criminal, on account of both the result and the intent: There isn’t a single residential building in the Gaza Strip that is not home to dozens of women and children; the IDF cannot, therefore, claim that it does not mean to hurt innocent civilians. If the recent demolition of the home of a terrorist in the West Bank still stirred a weak protest, now dozens of homes are being destroyed, together with their occupants.
Retired generals and commentators on active duty compete to make the most monstrous proposal: “If we kill their families, that will frighten them,” explained Maj.Gen. (res.) Oren Shachor, without batting an eyelid. “We must create a situation such that when they come out of their burrows, they won’t recognize Gaza,” others said. Shamelessly, without question — until the next Goldstone investigation.
A war with no goal is among the most despicable of wars; the deliberate targeting of civilians is among the most atrocious of means. Terror now reigns in Israel as well, but it’s unlikely there is a single Israeli who can imagine what it’s like for Gaza’s 1.8 million inhabitants, whose already miserable lives are now totally horrific. The Gaza Strip is not a “hornet’s nest,” it is a province of human desperation. Hamas is not an army, far from it, despite all the fear tactics: If it really did build such a sophisticated network of tunnels there, as is claimed, then why doesn’t it build Tel Aviv’s light rail network, already?
The 1,000-sortie and 1,000 tons of explosives marks have almost been reached, and Israel is waiting for the “victory picture” that has already been achieved: Death to Arabs.
In 2013, I released with my co-editor Ahmed Moor the edited collection, After Zionism. It featured many prominent views on the viability and necessity of a one-state solution in Israel and Palestine.
Now a new study of Palestinians, via Haaretz, reveals the growing belief amongst Palestinians in Palestine that a state treating all its citizens with equal respect under the law is desirable. Sadly, there’s no evidence that the majority of Israelis feel the same way:
By more than a 2-1 margin, Palestinians oppose the two-state solution, favoring instead the goal of a Palestinian state “from the river to the sea,” according to a recent poll by the centrist Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
At the same time, though, the poll found that a large majority of Palestinians favored the tactic of “popular resistance” – such as demonstrations and strikes – over violence to achieve their goals, Globes reported Sunday.
Interestingly, Gazans were more moderate when it came to tactics, but more hardline about the goal.
The survey also found that West Bank leader Mahmoud Abbas was a much more popular leader than Gazan leader Ismail Haniyeh – both in the West Bank (28.1 percent to 6.9 percent) and in the Gaza Strip (32.4 percent to 11.7 percent).
The poll, which questioned a relatively large sample of 1,200 respondents, was taken June 15-17 – following the abductions of three Israeli teenagers, the formation of the Fatah-Hamas unity government, and the collapse of the Kerry peace talks. However, it was conducted just before West Bank protests arose against Abbas for his cooperation with Israel’s search for the kidnapped boys and crackdown on Hamas.
Asked what political goal they favored over the next five years, 60.3 percent replied “action to return historic Palestine, from the river to the sea, to our hands,” while 27.3 percent answered “end[ing] the occupation of the West Bank in order to reach a two-state solution.”
Another 10.1 percent said the goal should be a “one-state solution, for the entire region, from the river to the sea, in which Jews and Arabs enjoy equal rights.”
If a Palestinian leadership were to reach agreement with Israel on a two-state deal, 64 percent said Palestinians should still continue to press on for a Palestinian state encompassing the territories and Israel, while 31.6 percent said they would accept a two-state solution.
On the question of tactics, again, the trend was toward moderation, with 70 percent of Gazans and 56 percent of West Bankers saying Hamas should observe a cease-fire with Israel. Asked if Hamas should go along with Abbas’ demand that the unity government publicly renounce violence, 57 percent of Gazans agreed, while West Bankers were split evenly.
Popular resistance won the support of 73 percent Palestinians in Gaza and 62 percent of those in the West Bank.
My following interview appears in the Guardian:
During an event at the Sydney writer’s festival last month, Israeli writer and author Ari Shavit told a packed auditorium that his country was “an oasis in the Middle East”. He explained to the audience, who largely appreciated his words despite some grumblings when he condemned the occupation of the Palestinian territories, that “the Zionist revolution is a phenomenal success”.
Shavit’s new book, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, has received plaudits from the cream of the liberal, American, political elite. Even former Israeli prime minister and defence minister Ehud Barak writes on the back cover that Shavit “is being brutally honest regarding the Zionist enterprise”.
The book attempts to challenge Zionist myths. One of the more celebrated chapters revolves around Shavit’s recounting of Israeli forces driving the Arab residents from the Palestinian town of Lydda in 1948. He doesn’t shy away from explaining the violence inflicted but then writes that, “I know that if it wasn’t for them [the militias], the State of Israel would not have been born … They did the dirty, filthy work that enables my people, myself, my daughter, and my sons to live.”
During an exclusive and extensive conversation with Shavit, he tells me that despite decades of conflict and negotiation the “only solution is the two-state solution”.
He continues: “It is the moral and political duty of every Israeli prime minister to try to achieve the two-state solution. Because I have some doubts if this final status peace agreement can be signed today, the next step should be trying to create two-state dynamics that will lead to a two-state solution. We must end the occupation for sure, which if it can’t be done in these circumstances immediately must be done gradually by a settlement freeze and then a withdrawal from parts of the West Bank.”
Shavit also believes that the Palestinians have a responsibility to build a viable state of their own. They “should use whatever land liberated for them in order to have development projects and rebuild a new kind of Palestinian reality,” he says. “You then have Israel moving forward, what I call a nation saving project that ends the occupation, while Palestinians are going into a nation building process to hopefully build a democratic, life-loving Palestine.”
On the first page of My Promised Land, Shavit writes that, “as long as I can remember, I remember fear. Existential fear.” I ask him if he still feels that way in the 21st century, as a man in his late 50s. He does. “Although Israel seems to be strong, politically, economically and militarily, at the same time we are intimidated. The two pillars of Israel’s existence are occupation and intimidation and there is a tendency on the Left to see occupation and overlook intimidation and on the Right to focus on intimidation and overlook occupation. Both are there and both are unacceptable.
“Peace-loving people around the world should also address that Israel’s security concerns are not just an issue for generals and strategic experts, or because of Jewish neurosis and our history, but we’re intimidated because of Iran and brutal, violent forces in the region such as Hamas, Hizbollah and Islamist forces in Syria.”
My Promised Land hasn’t received universal praise. American historian Norman Finkelstein just released an entire book, Old Wine, Broken Bottle, debunking the book. Others condemn Shavit’s many writings advocating violence against Israel’s enemies in the Middle East.
Independent Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf, writing in +972 Magazine, sees the work as the “Zionist story, retold by the elite, for the elite”. Sheizaf attacks “the intellectualisation of violence – and ultimately, murder – [as] a central theme with elites in the US and Israel, due to the inherent contradiction between their values and the massive implementation of military force they often pursue.”
Sheizaf condemns Shavit for obsessively focusing on powerful Ashkenazi, Jewish men with the almost complete exclusion of Mizrahi Jews, another large and influential section of Israeli society. “Every social or political group remains the object of the same view”, the reviewer concludes, “deprived of an existence that stretches beyond the role it plays in the Ashkenazi elite’s drama.” Furthermore, Sheizaf wonders about the lack of women in Shavit’s narrative.
Shavit counters these critics not by responding directly to them but by telling me that he refuses to accept that Israel, of all nations “with a past” such as Australia, should not be welcomed. He argues that it can’t be that “liberal Americans, liberal Canadians, liberal Australians and liberal New Zealanders will say that of all the peoples in the world, Israel is the only one that is sinful and morally wrong. Most nations, if not all nations, have skeletons in their past and I thought it was my moral duty to address the side that many Zionists and Israelis do not address. But to take that out of context and not see the larger tragedy of Jewish history and the larger impressive and sometimes even heroic parts of Israeli and Zionist history, that’s wrong.”
What does the success of Shavit’s book in the US reflect about the current climate towards the Jewish state? The author tells me that, “I think there are many people who have an issue with Israel’s present policy, mainly occupation and settlements, and yet they have a sense that there is a need to have Israel, that Israel is legitimate, just and a necessary entity.”
I ask Shavit about the growing global movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, which the author strongly rejects. “The only way to win the battle within Israel [against Jewish extremism] is to have a strong sense that the international community will stand by Israel,” Shavit says to me, “totally accepts Israel’s legitimacy, and will stand by it post occupation.
“If people are not Israel haters and are into really ending the occupation in a reasonable way, the policy should be the exact opposite of BDS. Go to Israelis, hug them, promise them love and support once they do the right thing and demand of them to do the right thing. Right now so many Israelis have deep suspicions whether this kind of [BDS] pressure will end the moment they end the occupation.”
During Shavit’s Sydney writers’ festival event, he continually claimed that, “Israel is not settlers or soldiers” and yet the occupation of Palestinian land in the West Bank has been a fact for nearly 50 years. Although he wants to “avoid the blame game” – he praises pro-settlement, Zionist lobbyists around the world because “I’m not ashamed that we have some organisations speaking up for the Jewish minority” – he’s aware that there is growing global impatience with maintaining the status quo.
Ultimately, Shavit fears the “cancer eating Israel from within” and tells me that, “we cannot survive another decade with the suicidal ways in which Israel is building more settlements”. But he has some hope that “a realistic peace concept, rather than a utopian one” can appear to convince the majority of Israelis that “they must act to save Israel from occupation”.
Rap News have been producing sensational political videos for years. Their latest, on Israel/Palestine, is a cracker:
My weekly Guardian column:
To have a prominent political figure challenging the power and message of the Israel lobby is almost unheard of in most western nations – which is precisely what makes the just released diaries of former Australian foreign minister Bob Carr all the more remarkable.
Across 500 pages, Carr catalogues his intense exercise regime, friendships with Hillary Clinton and Henry Kissinger and hectic schedule of meetings and first-class travel. Carr’s more eccentric quotes certainly makes it tempting to dismiss the book, but to do so would be missing the vital importance of his remarks on the Israel/Palestine conflict and Zionism’s most aggressive advocates.
Carr explains, in compelling detail, how Melbourne’s Zionist lobby pressures, romances, bullies and cajoles politicians to tow the most fundamentalist position over illegal Israeli colonies, Palestinian recognition at the UN, and even the language used to describe Israeli actions. He also claims that Israel lobby financing impacted the positions of elected politicians on foreign policy. Carr reports former Kevin Rudd telling him that about one-fifth of the money he had raised in the 2007 election campaign had come from the Jewish community, and criticises Julia Gillard’s unfailing pro-Israel stance (see, for example, her effusive praise of the Jewish state after she received the Jerusalem Prize), pointing out that she would not even let him criticise Israeli West Bank settlements.
“It’s an appalling situation if Australia allows a group of [Jewish] businessmen [in Melbourne] to veto policy on the Middle East”, Carr summarises in frustration (unsurprisingly, local Zionist groups have responded with fury and defensiveness to the attack).
Carr is right, of course, but I would also have liked to see him discussing in depth the countless numbers of politician and journalists taken on free trips to Israel by the Zionist lobby, where they are often given a selective tour of the region. Tim Wilson, to take just one example, described an introduction to Israel which included a visit to a refugee camp in Bethlehem and a tour of the old city of Jerusalem, along with “meetings with politicians, academics and journalists” (organisers insist guests are “not controlled” and allowed open access).
Part of the softening of politicians to be receptive to the most extreme views on Israel and Palestine comes from those sponsored trips, coupled with relatively weak Palestinian advocacy and a post 9/11 context which paints Arabs with a discriminatory brush. These trips are not, as The Australian claimed last week, “to better understand its strategic fragilities from the ground” – that’s just lobby language. No, those trips – such as AIJAC’s Rambam Israel fellowship – are in essence programs engineered to show journalists, human rights commissioners, advisors, student leaders and politicians the Israeli government perspective. More than a fair share of them return to Australia singing the praises of Israel, issuing caution over any end to the occupation in the process.
Be astounded with this list, provided by the essential blog chronicler of the lobby, Middle East reality check, of all the media and politicians who have taken these trips over the last few years. This hand-holding can be perceived as one way to propagandise the elites against growing public support for Palestine, especially since few of these visitors seem to use their own initiative and visit Gaza or the West Bank for more than a few hours.
The lobby has to acknowledge its power and access to senior politicians. AIJAC head Mark Leibler didn’t realise or care during his ABC TV Lateline interview last week that boasting about such encounters, when most of his meetings with prime ministers and senior ministers aren’t on the public record, reinforces the public perception that they too often operate in the dark, without accountability. Let’s not forget: this is a lobby which often pushes Australia to take a hardline view on settlements on occupied territories only shared by a handful of other nations, such as the Marshall Islands, Palau and Nauru at the UN.
We are that isolated, and Australians deserve to know what goes on behind the scenes. In the meantime, it’s considered perfectly normal for our political class to proudly tweet a photo with Moshe Feiglin, one of the most hardline Israeli politicians (as Australia’s ambassador to Israel did last week), or to welcome a pro-occupation Israeli leader such as Naftali Bennett to Australia.
This is the political environment in which Carr’s diaries and observations must be seen. Australia, and most western countries, continue to indulge Israeli occupation. But cracks are appearing in this strategy, and Carr should be congratulated for slamming the groups and power centres that aim to continue this dysfunctional alliance.
Last night in Sydney there was a successful event to highlight the growing global movement of BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against Israel and the legal case against proponent and Sydney University academic Dr Jake Lynch.
Around 140 people came to hear various speakers detailing the many reasons BDS is one just way to apply pressure on occupying Israel.
Here’s my statement of support that I read last night:
South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a key successful fighter against apartheid in South Africa, recently wrote a letter condemning US lawmakers for their increasingly crude attempts to curb free speech over BDS. Tutu argued why he long backed BDS:
“I have supported this movement because it exerts pressure without violence on the State of Israel to create lasting peace for the citizens of Israel and Palestine, peace which most citizens crave. I have witnessed the systematic violence against and humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces. Their humiliation and pain is all too familiar to us South Africans.”
I support BDS as a human being first and a Jew second. Don’t believe the false rhetoric from the corporate press, some politicians and media as well as the Zionist lobby that BDS is anti-Semitic or discriminatory. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at the leading US Israel lobby conference this year, slammed BDS backers as “bigots”. It was a desperate move from a leader and movement, Zionism, that is increasingly known globally as occupiers and brutes.
BDS is working, removing the legitimacy of a nation that claims to be a democracy but oppresses millions of Palestinians every day. I have seen this with my own eyes in Israel proper, the West Bank and Gaza.
BDS has moved mainstream, from leading European pension funds divesting from Israeli banks and corporations operating illegally in the occupied territories to Sydney University Professor Jake Lynch refusing to partner with an Israeli academic whose institution colludes with the Israeli state and enforces the occupation. I am proud to call Jake a friend, colleague and partner.
Believe me when I say that growing numbers of Jews worldwide are uncomfortable with blind support for Israel. Ferocious debates within the Jewish community in the US are a weekly affair. It bodes well for a future when justice for all Jews and Palestinians is possible and both peoples can live free from racism in the name of Zionism.
When the US-led “peace process” is a sham designed to benefit Israel and the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop refuses to condemn Israeli colonies in the West Bank, BDS is one answer. It challenges the occupier and the forces that support it, demanding equality and punishing the individuals and groups, such as Sodastream, that aim to financially benefit.
BDS is growing and I’m proud to be part of a global movement that’s led by the Palestinians most directly affected.
UPDATE: Green Left Weekly has covered the event.
Me at ABC’s The Drum today:
The BDS movement is a logical and non-violent response to human rights abuses in Palestine, so why is it being threatened in a country like America that prides itself on free speech, asks Antony Loewenstein.
It seems barely a week passes without a student union or corporation somewhere in the world taking a public stand against Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Many now state that they’re following the dictates of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement as a way to protest ongoing colonisation of the West Bank and Gaza which remains in breach of international law. In America, where free speech is a long-held tradition, BDS faces multiple attacks against its legitimacy and legal right to be heard, as well as allegations of anti-Semitism.
Today it’s clear that the US political system and, in my view, the sham “peace process” is little more than cover for ongoing and illegal settlement expansion; BDS is rising globally in popularity and coverage partly due to this fact. Even The Australian’s Middle East reporter John Lyons in his paper, the most pro-Israel publication in the country, last weekend accused Australian Zionist leaders of ignoring the human cost of the occupation. For some citizens BDS is seen as a logical, humane and non-violent response to these abuses in Palestine (abuses which countries like the US, UK, and Australia only denounce through lip service). This right, to condemn Israeli actions, should be a fundamental tenet of any democracy.
The only official answer, offered by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters, is falsely accusing BDS of anti-Semitism. At the recent Israel lobby AIPAC conference in Washington, Netanyahu mentioned BDS many times - so much for it being irrelevant and ineffectual as Zionists often claim - and said its adherents were just the latest believers in anti-Semitism. It’s a slur that many people dismiss, hence the gradual rise in BDS support.
Just this week the National University of Galway passed a motion in support of BDS and therefore became Ireland’s first student union to get on-board. The reason for this move was made clear in the public statement: “Institutional collusion between NUI Galway and Israeli oppression, such as NUI Galway’s use of G4S, the international security company notorious for its provision of security and incarceration ‘services’ to Israel’s inhumane prison regime.”
Last month the student union at the University of Kent decided to sever its ties with G4S and find another provider for assisting the union with a cash handling role. The complicity of G4S in breaching human rights is global, from Australian-run detention centres to poorly run British immigration houses, and cutting ties with the English multinational is gathering steam. The message is clear; hit a company and its shareholders where it hurts, the bottom line.
In the US, politicians and conservative commentators are arguing for the criminalisation of BDS. This would have a chilling effect on free speech in a nation that likes to pride itself on the sanctity of the First Amendment. Perhaps surprisingly, given the American press insulates Americans from the brutal, daily reality of Israeli actions, opposition has been encouragingly strong.
Back in December the American Studies Association (ASA) endorsed BDS and the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli universities due to their complicity in the Israeli infrastructure of occupation. Individual Israeli academics would not be targeted but any official association with the Israeli state would end until “Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law”.
As a result of this strong and principled stance, echoing the campaign against apartheid South Africa, other state legislatures pledged to help Israel. New York politicians wanted to pass a bill that would have blocked the state from funding academic groups that supported the idea. I wonder if this political enthusiasm was more about securing funding for future political campaigns than an actual belief in Israel. Whatever the case, free speech was threatened and many politicians are still pledging to take action.
The New York Times editorialised (before the bill failed) and wrote that it “would trample on academic freedoms and chill free speech and dissent. Academics are rightly concerned that it will impose a political test on faculty members seeking university support for research meetings and travel”.
The Maryland General Assembly also recently moved to insulate Israel from criticism with a similar bill and even the Washington Post, a strident backer of Israel, condemned it. Maryland may well still back this bill – it has not been quashed.
There are countless other moves to silence free speech over legitimate criticism of Israel, including members of Northeastern University’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) being told in early March that their chapter had been suspended for at least a year. The reason that university administrators said the students needed to undergo training was principally due to the group distributing notices across campus that parodied similar eviction notices placed on Palestinian homes targeted for Israeli demolition. Astoundingly, the police were called in to investigate. And this all for just distributing brochures.
This example and many others are why a number of US academics, including Judith Butler and Rashid Khalidi, signed a recent statement that read in part:
“It is important to recognise that boycotts are internationally affirmed and constitutionally protected forms of political expression … We are now witnessing accelerating efforts to curtail speech, to exercise censorship, and to carry out retaliatory action against individuals on the basis of their political views or associations, notably support for BDS. We ask cultural and educational institutions to have the courage and the principle to stand for, and safeguard, the very principles of free expression and the free exchange of ideas that make those institutions possible.”
This message must be the core of any reasonable public debate over BDS. Disagreeing with its aim is a legitimate position, of course, but a free society, in America or beyond, is defined by the ability to both tolerate and encourage speech and views that some may find repugnant. American Jewish leaders are waking up to the BDS “threat” and aiming to counter with a pro-Israel message. It’s unlikely that slicker PR will be enough.
The strength of BDS, explained by Jewish Voice for Peace head Rebecca Vilkomerson this month, is that it’s forcing self-described liberals to struggle with the once accepted idea that Israel can be both Jewish and democratic when all the evidence is proving its impossibility. “As a people who have experienced over and over the trauma of refugee-hood and longing for homeland,” she argues, “how can we possibly deny the validity of the right of return for Palestinians? And which do we value more: our fears or our respect for the universality of rights for all people?”
The building debate over Israel/Palestine, with Jews and Arabs, is increasingly about enlarging the tent of public discussion and articulating why virtually all points of view (except for Holocaust denial) must be integral to mature contemporary debate.
A society that believes in free speech would welcome a multitude of views over the Middle East. Trying to intimidate or silence critics of Israel, and its ongoing occupation, is not the way to engender support for the Jewish state.
I was recently interviewed for the Executive Style section (!) at Fairfax Media by Gary Nunn, under the headline, Winning By Putting Yourself Second, on my work over Palestine:
Antony Loewenstein is an Australian-Jewish opponent of Israel. Having spent time in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and written two books on the subject, he says it’s his “responsibility as a human first, and a Jew second, to speak out when injustice occurs committed by my people’’.
He says while growing up in Melbourne, he attended Sabbath meals with his family.
‘‘I recall discussions about Israel and Palestine and the casual racism expressed towards Arabs. I didn’t have the knowledge then or language to forcefully respond but it made me distinctly uncomfortable.”
If he didn’t have the forceful language back then, he’s certainly learnt it since.
“Too many politicians and journalists stay silent and endorse Israeli policies out of a deluded sense of solidarity. Their silence shames us all.”
He admits that his stance puts plenty at stake. “My parents have been partly ostracised by many in the Melbourne Jewish community … and I continue to receive hate mail and occasional death threats for daring to support the Palestinians.”
This news is big and important (and ignore the typical and utterly tiresome accusations of anti-Semitism) and signals a growing shift to tackle Israel where it hurts; legitimacy. When you occupy Palestinians for decades, expect to pay a price.
An American organization of professors on Monday announced a boycott of Israeli academic institutions to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, signaling that a movement to isolate and pressure Israel that is gaining ground in Europe has begun to make strides in the United States.
Members of the American Studies Association voted by a ratio of more than two to one to endorse the boycott in online balloting that concluded Sunday night, the group said.
With fewer than 5,000 members, the group is not one of the larger scholarly associations. But its vote is a milestone for a Palestinian movement known as B.D.S., for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions, which for the past decade had found little traction in the United States. The American Studies Association is the second American academic group to back the boycott, movement organizers say, following the Association for Asian American Studies, which did so in April.
“It’s almost like a family betrayal,” said Manuel Trajtenberg, a leading Israeli scholar. “It’s very grave and very saddening that this happens, particularly so in the U.S.,” he said.
Dr. Trajtenberg, an economics professor at Tel Aviv University, earned his doctorate at Harvard and like many Israeli academics has had frequent sabbaticals at American universities.
Israel has strong trade ties with Western Europe, where the B.D.S. campaign has won some backing for economic measures, a particular concern for Israelis. Last week a Dutch company, Vitens, announced that it would not do business with Israel’s national water company, Mekorot, because of Israel’s policies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Israel recently faced a potential crisis when it seemed its universities and companies would lose out on some $700 million for research from a European Union program after new guidelines prohibited investment in any institutions operating in territory Israel seized in the 1967 war. Israeli academics were reeling at the possibility that they would be punished over government policy toward the Palestinians, until Israeli and European officials struck a deal late last month to allow Israel to participate.
In April, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland endorsed an academic boycott of Israel, and several times in recent years there have been strong efforts within Britain’s largest professors’ group, the University and College Union, to do the same.
Israelis have long seen Europe as more hostile — even anti-Semitic in some pockets — but a slap from the United States has a particular sting.
“Rather than standing up for academic freedom and human rights by boycotting countries where professors are imprisoned for their views, the A.S.A. chooses as its first ever boycott to boycott Israel, the sole democracy in the Middle East, in which academics are free to say what they want, write what they want and research what they want,” Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, said Monday.
America is viewed not only as Israel’s staunchest ally, but its best friend, and many analysts have fretted publicly in recent weeks that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s outspoken opposition to the interim Iran nuclear deal had damaged relations with Washington.
Next month, the Modern Language Association’s annual meeting will debate a resolution calling on the State Department to criticize Israel for barring American professors from going to Gaza and the West Bank when invited by Palestinian universities.
People on both sides of the issue acknowledged that despite the heat it generates, the requested boycott will have little practical effect, at least for now. The American Studies Association resolution bars official collaboration with Israeli institutions but not with Israeli scholars themselves; it has no binding power over members, and no American colleges have signed on.
In fact, the American Association of University Professors, the nation’s largest professors’ group, said it opposed the boycott. A number of American scholars, while angry at Israeli policies in the West Bank, say they oppose singling Israel out over other countries with far worse human rights records. Others say it makes little sense to focus on Israeli universities where government policy often comes under strong criticism.
“O.K., so a couple of Israeli researchers will not be invited by a couple of American researchers,” said Avraham Burg, a leftist former Labor Party lawmaker who was one of the founders of Molad, a research group that recentlypublished a report on Israeli isolation. “That for me is awful, because the academic community is the last one with the freedom of thought and freedom of expression.”
But Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian activist and a founder of the B.D.S. movement, said the boycott vote shed light on the close collaboration between Israel’s universities and its government and military, and it put those universities on notice that they will become unwelcome in international academic circles.
“It is perhaps the strongest indicator yet that the B.D.S. movement is reaching a tipping point, even in the U.S., the last bastion of support for Israel’s unjust system,” he said.
Brant Rosen is that rare breed, an American Jewish Rabbi who remains outspoken about Israeli crimes against the Palestinians.
He’s been profiled in the New York Jewish Forward newspaper:
It was on December 28, 2008, soon after Israel launched its punishing military campaign in Gaza, known as Operation Cast Lead, that Rabbi Brant Rosen hit the “send” key for a blog post that he believed could well pitch him out of his pulpit.
“We good liberal Jews are ready to protest oppression and human-rights abuse anywhere in the world, but are all too willing to give Israel a pass,” Rosen had typed out as Israel’s bombs were falling on Gaza — part of a massive response, with numerous civilian casualties, to rockets fired into Southern Israel by the Palestinian faction Hamas, which controls the territory.
“What Israel has been doing to the people of Gaza,” Rosen, 50, wrote on his blog, Shalom Rav, “is an outrage.”
The young rabbi, then a decade into his tenure as spiritual leader of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, a 520-household synagogue in Evanston, Ill., concluded his 221-word post with these sentences: “There, I’ve said it. Now what do I do?”
That rhetorical question came from a writer whom Newsweek had named earlier that year to its list of the top 25 pulpit rabbis in the United States.
Today, Rosen, 50, heads the rabbinical council of a group called Jewish Voice for Peace, which makes him a high-profile official with an organization on a much different kind of list: the Anti-Defamation League’s “Top Ten Anti-Israel Groups in the U.S.” for 2013.
JVP, which is No. 6 on the list, does not just criticize Israel’s fundamental policies toward the Palestinians and Iran, while claiming its position as a matter of Jewish values. The group contains a range of Israel critics, from self-described left-wing Zionists who favor some form of binational state to outright anti-Zionists. And it supports boycott, divestment and sanction campaigns against targets it views as involved in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. As an organization, it is determinedly agnostic on whether Israel should be governed as an explicitly Jewish state.
An October 2013 report from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs underlines how unusual Rosen’s profile is. Of 552 rabbis from varied points on the political spectrum that the council polled, nearly 40% said they sometimes or often avoided expressing their true feelings about Israel.
“[Rabbis] frequently find themselves fearful of, or caught in the maelstrom of, tension regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and their personal views about it,” the JCPA report said.
Rosen said the report’s findings were consistent with his own observations regarding his colleagues. “Most rabbis just don’t engage in Israel at all. They don’t fit in the AIPAC route,” he said, referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful mainstream pro-Israel lobby. “But they’re also afraid to speak their truth on this issue…. I confess I was like that for a long time.”
Rosen’s credo for his own congregational leadership is a famous journalistic motto: to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” If he had not become a rabbi, Rosen said, his longtime dream had been to become a newspaper columnist.
Back in June I was invited to Brisbane by the Queensland History Teacher’s Association to deliver the keynote speech at their annual conference. I spoke about Israel/Palestine, the role of Zionist violence against Palestinians, apartheid in the West Bank and the responsibility of all of us to speak out when injustice occurs. It was warmly received.
I was informed soon after the event that the Queensland Zionist lobby was upset. How dare this organisation invite me to talk to teachers, they wrote? Apparently I may have infected these teachers with dangerous ideas, such as BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) and a realistic view of the conflict. This is problematic for insular and bigoted Jews who are desperate to maintain the fiction that Israel is a noble state that doesn’t oppress the Palestinians but merely cuddles them gently.
To their great credit, the History Teacher’s Association responded strongly, rejecting Zionist bullying and rightly arguing that alternative views are vital when discussing the Middle East and adherence to a blindly Zionist line serves nobody except propagandists. The correspondence, written by the Zionist lobby and Association, shows the extremism of hardline Jews who refuse to tolerate any challenge to their narrative. Global, public opinion, along with many young Jews, is increasingly turning away from a militant and pro-occupation Israel.
In the Association’s latest public newsletter, extracts published below, it’s clear how out of touch the Zionist lobby has become.
First the Association’s introduction:
The term 3 ejournal is special because it contains a tremendously important debate about the history of the Middle East. Given that so many senior Modern History courses feature a unit on the Arab/Israeli conflict we think it would be useful to share these exchanges. At the recent QHTA Annual Conference, author Antony Loewenstein was invited to explore a notable silence in the crisis in the Middle East narrative – the events of 1948. Indeed, these events have never been accepted as a legitimate part of Middle East Peace talks. Antony highlighted what he believed were key moments in the removal of 800 000 Palestinians from their homes. He also explores the way Judaism and Zionism merge in most mainstream commentary on the Middle East.
In this framework the interests of all Jewish people are identical with Israel and its policies. Antony argues that this is not the case. The presentation drew sharp criticism from Jason Steinberg, President of the Jewish Board of Deputies Queensland Chapter. Jason Steinberg argued that Antony did not have the credentials of a historian to reliably evaluate the circumstances surrounding the establishment of Israel. He indicated that Queensland students were being misled if teachers uncritically accepted Antony Loewenstein’s version of Israel’s foundation year.
In response to Jason Steinberg’s letter, President of the QHTA Sue Burvill-Shaw wrote an account of Antony’s participation in the QHTA conference and outlined the approach Queensland history teachers adopt when teaching contested history.
We have published Antony Loewenstein’s speech, an article by Jason Steinberg criticising the central tenet of a recent book by Antony entitled After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine, as well as our letter because they remind us that different interpretations of the past are often connected to current debates and that these debates shape the way evidence is gathered and empathy is expressed. We invite readers to contribute their understanding of the historiographical issues raised in this journal.
When students reflect on the Arab/Israeli conflict it can sometimes appear that violence and religious discord are structural features of the region. The past, and not too distant, provides evidence of vibrant multi-faith communities across the Middle East. In Baghdad, Alexandria and Jerusalem many saw themselves as part of a common Judeo-Arabic culture. Jews and Arabs once sat in the same coffee houses and enjoyed the same music. The Israeli poet, Amira Hess declared, “I am Baghdad’s daughter”. Echoing this affectionate recollection of a Jewish upbringing in a multi-faith environment, Israeli novelist Shime’on Ballas wrote “I have never denied my Arab origins or the Arabic language. I am an Arab who has taken up an Israeli identity but no less an Arab than any other Arab”. These affirmations of a shared culture can be a source of hope.
Dr Brian Hoepper suggests that Tony Abbott’s comments about the Australian History Curriculum might indicate a re-emergence of the of the history wars that raged during the Howard years. In the lead-up to the Federal election Mr Abbott argued that there was a left wing bias in the curriculum because too prominent a place is afforded Indigenous studies and trade union history. The Australian, an energetic participant in most cultural battles, tells its readers that the focus in schools should be the “solid canon of history”. Brian neatly traces the opening salvos in the campaign to shape history education and points to some important questions that need to be asked.
In this edition Janis Hanley encourages us to consider ways that we are able to connect large and complicated global events such as a world war to local sources of historical knowledge. Janis describes an investigation carried out by year 2s at the Mudgeeraba Light Horse Museum and supported by local experts. Also included towards the end of this journal are some teaching suggestions guides to accessing the most recent information about the Senior Ancient and Modern History Curriculum.
Centenary State High School
Here’s the Israel lobby’s letter:
The word “Zionism” was grossly misrepresented by Antony Loewenstein in his speech to the QHTA earlier this year. Zionism is simply the affirmation of the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination in Israel. It does not imply a territorial claim to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip or to particular borders. The fundamental and incontrovertible nature of the right of self-determination of peoples has been recognized in the UN Charter (Art 1.2) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Art 1.1) and by the International Court of Justice in the Namibia, Western Sahara and East Timor cases. Australia’s Professor James Crawford regards the right of self-determination and other peoples’ rights as a category of human rights. Individual rights are another. And yes, we accept that the right applies also to the Palestinians. We support a two-State solution for that reason. The UN has supported a resolution of the conflict on the basis of two States for two peoples since 1947, and has rejected the so-called one-State solution.
If a person were to contend that Palestinians are not an authentic nation and do not have the right to national self-determination and to have their own state, I suspect that that person would be widely denounced as a racist, with Antony Loewenstein leading the charge. Yet he sees no irony in contending, expressly or by implication, that the Jewish people (despite centuries of nationhood and statehood, amply attested by their own records and the writings of neighbouring civilisations) are not an authentic nation and do not have the right to national self-determination and to have their own state. He may not admit it expressly but he is saying, in effect, that it is acceptable for the Jews to live once again as vulnerable minority communities within States which each give expression to the language, culture and history of their majority community, but this would never do for the Palestinians! We say that this would never do for either people.
The following article “One-State Dream, One-State Nightmare” published in the New York Times in August this year will hopefully provide Queensland history teachers with some further information about why the suggestion of a One-State solution would not work.
Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies