As the results of the recent Israeli election came through last week, I was interviewed by global broadcaster TRT World about the (likely then and certain now) 5th term of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:
In the last years (and in fact for many decades), the Israeli government has become increasingly close with the global far-right. Why? They often share “values”, dislike/hate Muslims, nations want Israeli defence equipment and the Jewish state needs international support for its never-ending occupation of Palestine.
“I think Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes friends with people who share the Israeli government’s values. Those values are deeply slickened to hatred of Islam and Muslims,” said Antony Loewenstein, a Jerusalem-based, independent journalist and author, who has recently penned Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe.
According to Loewenstein, both Israel and far-right movements, which have been fomented by recent migration waves mostly from Muslim-majority countries, have been meeting on a common Islamophobic agenda.
“They have no problem treating Palestinians or Muslims as second-class citizens because they themselves view Muslims as second-class citizens in their own countries like Brazil, Poland, Hungary,” Loewenstein told TRT World, referring to the attitudes of anti-migrant far-right movements across the world.
The Israeli love affair with the new far-right does not only have ideological roots but also political aims.
“Israel wants to get international recognition or legitimacy for its occupation of the Palestinian lands and these countries [where the far-right is on the rise] provide legitimacy,” Loewenstein observed.
“I believe mainstream left-wing groups in the West have either abandoned Israel or pretty much expressed a lot of contempt how Israel treats Palestinians and other minorities,” Loewenstein said, arguing that this abandonment could be one of the leading causes of the recent far-right-Israeli alliance.
“For many people around the world including myself, who is Jewish, I find it very disturbing and offensive,” Loewenstein said.
Loewenstein thinks Netanyahu feels free to pursue such a policy because his first concern is not anti-Semitism, which has recently increased in significant proportions in Europe, forcing 40 percent of Jews to think about leaving Europe, according to a recent study.
“They believe and view that all the Jews around the world should move in Israel and be in safe. No way in the world is safe for the Jews unless you live in Israel, they say,” Loewenstein said.
“But the truth is because Israel has been occupying Palestinian lands more than 50 years, in fact, Israel is in some way a very unsafe place for the Jews,” he says.
At the same time, the Israeli government stays silent against the rise of anti-Semitism and Trump-supported white nationalism in the US, he added.
According to Loewenstein, Netanyahu’s Israel believes that “anti-Semitism is not very destructive.”
At the same time, the current far-right agenda is more about Islamophobia than anti-Semitism despite both trends being on the rise, overlapping with Netanyahu’s political agenda.
Furthermore, strangely, the rise of anti-Semitism forces Jews to move to Israel, helping to implement Israel’s political agenda that the country is the only place Jews can feel safe.
But Loewenstein and others still think differently.
“Israel claims to speak for all Jews around the world. Israel claims to be the Jewish state. For me, as a Jew, Israel does not speak for me. Israel is a country that regularly assaults Palestinians and occupies for over 50 years,” he said.
“For me what Jewish values should be is believing in all people are equal,” he concluded.
My investigation in Australian outlet Crikey:
Australian aid to Palestine has fallen greatly under the Coalition government, partly due to successive Liberal prime ministers believing false allegations of mismanagement and illegality by Palestinians.
The result for Palestinians living under occupation in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza has been devastating and comes on top of the Trump administration cutting all aid to Palestine early this year (changes that particularly impact women).
The World Vision case
One particular case highlights the rot that’s developed in the Palestinian aid debate. Israel charged a Gaza-based, World Vision employee, Mohammed El Halabi, in 2016 with illegally diverting millions of dollars of aid money to Hamas coffers. The Australian government, having given the Christian charity $5 million for its work over years in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, immediately suspended its support. The Australian/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council was quick to believe the Israeli allegations. The Israeli judge initially told Halabi that he was almost guaranteed of being found guilty.
By the following year, however, both the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) and World Vision had found no evidence that Halabi was guilty of any crimes. Nonetheless, DFAT did not resume funding to these programs.
Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, had long wanted to nail an international NGO with direct ties to Hamas, aiming to prove that such organisations were helping support the Islamist regime. In late 2018, Israeli forces were caught in Gaza impersonating aid workers, an act that endangered all foreigners working there.
Today, Israel continues to prosecute Halabi despite his denials of wrongdoing. He has refused to take a plea deal, accuses Israel of torturing him in prison, has pled not guilty and no evidence has ever been shown publicly that supports the Israeli claims. Halabi remains incarcerated with no end in sight.
Halabi’s Jerusalem-based lawyer, Maher Hanna, told Crikey that Halabi had been pressured by Israeli officials to admit guilt a long time ago but he had refused, saying that he was innocent. Hanna recently petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court over the slow pace of the trial and urged Halabi to be transferred to house arrest in Haifa. This was refused because the Israeli prosecutor claimed that Halabi was too dangerous. Hanna said that he had never seen another case like this in Israel with such secrecy.
Another Australian aid organisation, Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA, was also falsely smearedby Israel supporters in 2018 for backing terrorism.
Labor and Palestine
Labor’s Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong told Crikey that if her party won government this year it would increase aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) by $20 million. The US cut all funding to UNRWA in 2018, affecting millions of Palestinians under occupation.
Although Wong wouldn’t commit to supporting programs run by World Vision, she said that aid was “vital to the work of countering extremism and promoting peace in the Middle East.” The money would have “appropriate oversights to ensure the funding is being used as intended, to directly support development programs for the Palestinian people.”
The Labor party has pledged to recognise Palestine when it is next in government, though what that means in practice is not clear given both governments that nominally rule over Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas (aside from Israel that exercises control over the entire territory), are dictatorships.
During the recent anniversary of 70 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and Australia, both Liberal Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor leader Bill Shorten expressed support for the Jewish state. Israel is “a beacon of democracy in the Middle East”, Morrison said. No mention of the recent botched attempt by Canberra to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Meanwhile in the occupied Jordan Valley, extreme Jewish settlers and their associates in the Israeli army are making life a daily nightmare for Palestinian shepherds. During a recent visit to the area, I witnessed soldiers harassing Palestinians and their sheep by driving a jeep too close to them. One Palestinian man was illegally arrested (and released soon after). Israeli activist Guy Hirschfeld told me that he saw constant collusion between the Israeli army and Zionist settlers. “Change here will have to come from outside [the country]”, Hirschfeld told me.
Antony Loewenstein is a Jerusalem-based, independent investigative journalist who has written for the New York Times, Guardian and many others.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been indicted on corruption charges amidst a ferocious Israeli election campaign. My interview on global broadcaster TRT World discusses this development and the wider, arguably far more important questions, around Palestinian rights and the never-ending occupation of Palestinian lands:
My article in US outlet Forward:
On Wednesday, it was reported that in the midst of a tense election cycle, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed the right-wing Jewish Home Party to join with the Jewish Power Party, which is populated by followers of the racist, banned leader Meir Kahane.
So important was this merger to Netanyahu that he cancelled a planned visit to Moscow this week to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. Netanyahu leads the most extreme, right-wing coalition in the country’s history. The Jewish state’s occupation over the West Bank and Gaza is now permanent, imprisoning millions of Palestinians under military rule.
But despite all this — even despite inviting avowed racists into the governing coalition — Netanyahu isn’t really the main problem. Nor will removing him from office, through indictment over multiple corruption cases or a loss at the polls in April, do much to alter the political alignment of Israel’s power elite.
For the truth is, all the major candidates for Israeli Prime Minister support an indefinite continuation of the occupation. That’s the greater scandal that barely receives any press in the West or Israel.
Netanyahu is a symptom of Israel’s right-wing drift, not its primary cause.
Netanyahu’s loudest critics seem to believe that the crimes he’s accused of, like the relatively minor corruption of receiving gifts from millionaires, are the worst sins a leader can commit. They go on at length about how serious his alleged crimes are, and the consequences they’d like to see.
To be sure, it’s hard to ignore the reality that Israel remains one of the more corrupt nations in the developed world. But these are not Netanyahu’s greatest crimes by a long shot.
Netanyahu’s greatest hits include entrenching the occupation around Palestinian villages, building a new “apartheid road” in the West Bank, killing unarmed Palestinian protestors in Gaza and demonizing African refugees. These have all been far more damaging than the bottles of Champagne he’s accused of accepting. And yet, corruption is the issue that may bring Netanyahu down.
Netanyahu has other flaws, too. He’s perfected the art of selling Israeli military expertise, turning over fifty years of occupation into a lucrative, global business of intelligence and surveillance equipment.
The walls and fences he’s built around unwanted populations has been warmly received by US President Donald Trump, the European far-right and white nationalists who admire the Jewish state’s creation of an ethno-state.
Even worse, Netanyahu doesn’t mind anti-Semitism if it’s expressed by his allies; opposing Islam and Muslim refugees but supporting the Israeli occupation are enough to get him on board, a short-term kind of thinking that endangers Jews everywhere.
What they’ll find is tribalism and anti-Palestinian racism has become extraordinarily mainstream in the Jewish state.
A 2016 poll in Israel found that nearly half of Jewish citizens wouldn’t live in the same apartment block as Arabs. A 2018 study found that many Israelis Jews didn’t want to hear Arabic spoken in public spaces and a majority didn’t want their children becoming friends with Palestinians of the opposite sex.
Now look at Israel’s political options. Yair Lapid is head of the Yesh Atid party, a man with a long history of anti-Arab outbursts. From refusing to serve in a government alongside Palestinians to expressing opposition to inter-marriage between Jews and non-Jews to urging the assassination of Hamas leaders in Gaza, Lapid is a more telegenic version of Netanyahu.
Then there’s newcomer and former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, who has formed a new party and is polling well. But he’s said little about his policies. He recently backed the idea of Israel keeping some illegal, West Bank settlements in any peace treaty. And a two state solution seems unlikely on his watch.
One of Gantz’s campaign ads even brags about the number of Palestinians killed during the 2014 Gaza war. And a Palestinian-Dutch citizen is suing Gantz for bombing his family home in Gaza during the 2014 war with Israel.
And those are just the so-called centrists. Pro-settler politician Naftali Bennett doesn’t believe that Palestinians are even under Israeli occupation (and he refuses to accept that all Palestinians in the West Bank be given full, civilian rights under the law), to say nothing of what Jewish Power is likely to come up with.
The state of Israeli democracy is parlous. At the April election, only one in four of the 6.5 million Palestinians living under various forms of Israeli rule in occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, or around 24%, have the legal right to vote.
This leaves American and Diaspora Jews with a dilemma. When will the love affair with the Jewish state end, or at least, become so strained that automatic support isn’t guaranteed?
That moment has arrived with some Democrats in the US increasingly critical of Israeli policies (though the party leadership remains a close friend of the Jewish state). And young Jews in Europe and the US are vocal about their disgust with more than 50 years of Israeli occupation (notwithstanding the surging support for nationalist and pro-Israel policies in many European nations).
Older Jews are following — as they should be.
It’s foolish to believe that the removal of any leader, even a leader like Netanyahu, will radically change the political direction Israel has taken, descending ever rightward. There is no leader in Israeli politics today capable — or willing — to guide Israel into the warm embrace of the liberal, Zionist dream of a two-state solution.
This is not to defend or justify Netanyahu. He’s a corrupt menace to minorities and human rights and must be vigorously opposed and defeated. But the reason behind his rise to power and retention of huge amounts of support is the more uncomfortable question that must be answered.
Antony Loewenstein is a Jerusalem-based, independent, investigative journalist who has written for the New York Times, Guardian and many others, author of “My Israel Question” and “Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe”, amongst others, writer of the documentary “Disaster Capitalism” and will be releasing a book on the global “war on drugs” in 2019. He’s been reporting on Israel/Palestine since 2003.
My interview with the US radio program, By Any Means Necessary, based on my recent investigation in the New York Review of Books on Israel exporting knowledge and equipment gained from years of occupying Palestine:
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.