Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein trav­els across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on or­ganized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.

Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help cor­porations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local commu­nity forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.

What emerges through Loewenstein’s re­porting is a dark history of multinational corpo­rations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valu­able commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015 and in paperback in January 2017.

Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

On anti-Semitism, BDS, Palestine and justice

My essay in New Matilda is here:

As the BDS campaign starts to gain traction, accusations of anti-semitism should be treated gravely – whether from pro-Palestine advocates or Israel’s defenders, writes Antony Loewenstein

The charges of racism were serious. University orientation weeks, reported Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper, The Australian, in early March, “have been marred by a series of alleged anti-semitic incidents”.

Socialist Alternative stood accused, according to the Australian Union of Jewish Students, of expressing hateful comments towards Jewish students, praising Hamas and calling for “death to the Zionist entity” at the Australian National University and the University of New South Wales.

The reliability of the allegations of anti-semitism has not yet been assessed but, if they are found to be true, those responsible must be opposed. A spokesperson from Socialist Alternative tells me that his organisation categorically denies all of the allegations.

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne, a man who never misses an opportunity to fight a culture war he can’t win, accused backers of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel of making anti-semitism “a fashionability among highly ignorant sections of the far Left”. He wanted universities to “step in and take a very firm line” against racism on campus. “Free speech does not extend to ugly threats and physical harassment,” he argued.

It’s time to call this co-ordinated campaign of the local Zionist lobby and the Murdoch press for what it is; a cheapening of real anti-semitism and a clear attempt to brand all critics of Israel as Jew haters. It’s a tactic imported from America and Europe, articulated from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu down, that aims to neuter opponents of the Jewish state’s brutal, military occupation as deluded and anti-semitic.

The rhetoric is increasing as BDS scores impressive wins globally — countless European firms are changing their business practices towards Israel in rejecting the occupation — and has entered the mainstream as a legitimate tool to oppose Israeli policies.

Israel supporters have long believed that better PR will solve its problems, as if, for example, there’s any way to positively spin dozens of Israeli teens announcing their refusal to serve in the IDF due to its deleterious effect on Israeli society and Palestinian lives.

It’s a small but deeply courageous step in a society that still idolises a human rights abusing army (Amnesty’s new report details countless examples of the IDF killing Palestinian civilians in cold blood).

None of these profound shifts should escape the debate in Australian, where the Federal Government refuses to condemn illegal Israeli colonies in the West Bank.

The establishment Zionist lobby has tried for decades, with a degree of success, to insulate the Jewish community from the realities of occupying Palestine.

The advent of the internet and social media, along with a more critical young population who won’t be easily bullied into support for Israel because of the Holocaust, are changing the landscape. Hence the need to use old, tired tactics. Parroting Netanyahu’s fear-mongering over Iran and Arabs is increasingly treated worldwide with the contempt it deserves.

The old men who run the Jewish community may catch on one day that it isn’t enough to run an hackneyed style enemies list against opponents; countless journalists and editors will tell you of the bullying calls, letters and emails employed by the Zionist community against critical coverage. It only sometimes now works.

It’s a failing style even called out by The Australian’s Middle East correspondent John Lyons in a recent, robust defence of his stunning ABC TV 4 Corners story on Palestine, accusing distant, self-appointed Zionist leaders of being little more than blind defenders of Israeli government policy. Pundits take note: whenever quoting such people remember to whom they pledge partial allegiance and ask about their funding sources.

Any form of racism must be completely condemned, whether it’s directed at Jews, Muslims, Christians or other minorities. But the way in which a state and community deals with racism is a more pressing the question. After years of falsely accusing critics of Israel of anti-semitism — Sydney University’s Jake Lynch is the latest person to face the predictable and costly wrath of an Israeli-government endorsed legal case against his ethically justified backing of BDS — the organised Zionist establishment lacks credibility in crying about opposing racism, when it so flagrantly encourages demonisation of Israel’s critics along racial lines.

They have a morally compromised voice by being occupation backers themselves. How dare they claim to cry over an alleged rise in real anti-semitism (mostly online) while at the same time shedding crocodile tears against the growing BDS movement? Perhaps they should learn some humility and recognise what their beloved state has become known for globally: repressing Palestinians.

Politically, the Abbott government has pledged to remove section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in an attempt, in their words, to increase free speech (a position loudly backed by The Australian).

Federal Attorney George Brandis said on ABC TV’s Q&A this week, defending his administration’s proposed changes that are opposed by the Jewish community and many other ethnic groups, that the current drafting in section 18C restricts the rights of all peoples to speak and be offensive. Now that there are signs that Brandis may be back-tracking on a complete repeal of the section, it’s really only the Murdoch press that bangs on about “free speech” while denying the same rights to many of its critics.

Despite all this, I’ve argued elsewhere, in opposition to many on the Left who believe the legislation should remain unchanged, that although all speech has limits, a robust democracy should legally tolerate insults over race. But the vast bulk of “discussion” over 18C has been at a desultory level.

Take the recent Australian Jewish News article by Fergal Davis, a senior lecturer in law at the University of NSW. He backed maintaining the current 18C legislation and then wistfully argued that the Abbott government could be the champions of human rights because “we must convince Australians that human rights are not ‘left wing’; they are at the heart of the fair go.” Nice sentiments, but utterly removed from reality. Davis ignores the new government’s shocking treatment of asylum seekers and refusal to seriously condemn abuses at the UN by allies Sri Lanka, Israel and Egypt.

The real questions for the Murdoch press, Zionist establishment, Abbott ministers and other supposed defenders of open speech are as follows: will you follow the path of many politicians in the US, both Democrat and Republican, who are increasingly trying to criminalise civilian backing for BDS? How serious is your commitment to free speech? How willing are you to preach tolerance and acceptance while believing that certain issues, such as legitimate criticisms of Israel (defined by whom will always be the question?) are beyond the pale and anti-semitic?

Away from the huffing and puffing of self-described friends of Israel lies the real limits of insulating Israel from criticism. Trying to stop BDS, through the courts, laws, parliament or defamatory attacks, will change nothing on the ground for Palestinians, and countless people around the world now know it. Israel and its dwindling band of Zionist backers in Australia and worldwide are desperately hanging onto 20th century tactics to fight modern opposition to a racially based state.

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A truly free society would support and not silence BDS

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.

Concerned Israeli businesspeople are already feeling the strain and Israeli commentators are worrying that Israel is not winning the war over narrative.

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.

Antony Loewenstein is a freelance journalist, author, photographer and blogger. His latest book is Profits Of Doom. View his full profile here.

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Why Zionism is incompatible with democracy

Great discussion on Al Jazeera English on the (in?) ability of the Jewish state to be a truly democratic nation for all its citizens. Mehdi Hasan debates with former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami:

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How Israel brutally imposes regional order (yet fails to get respect)

A strong piece by Larry Derfner in +972 magazine:

Most people in the West, I’d say, think that if Israel gives up the occupation, it will be healed. It will no longer be a danger to others and itself. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and additional proof of this came Monday night when Israeli jet bombers again struck Hezbollah in Lebanon. The attack was another reminder that even if Israel were to get out of the West Bank and adopt a hands-off policy toward Gaza, it still believes it has the right to bomb neighboring countries to retard their military develoIpment, all the while Israel itself, of course, goes on building its arsenal to the heavens.

That won’t change if Israel signs a peace treaty with the Palestinians. Hezbollah will still be arming itself across the border, Muslim countries will sooner or later try to build nuclear weapons. And Israel won’t tolerate that; Israel will keep sending out the jet bombers (unless, as in the case with Iran, America puts its foot down).

Israel’s regional military policy – bombing Iraq’s embryonic nuclear reactor (which marked not the end of Saddam’s nuclear program, but really its beginning), bombing Syria’s embryonic nuclear reactor, killing Iranian nuclear scientists, killing Hezbollah’s military chief, bombing Hamas-bound arms convoys in Sudan, and, the latest obsession, bombing Hezbollah-bound arms convoys along the Lebanese-Syrian border – is more dangerous, at least in the short term, than the occupation. Any of these attacks could start a war, and eventually one of them is likely to do just that, unless you believe that Israel can go on hitting its neighbors indefinitely without them ever hitting back. (Since the 2006 war in Lebanon, the blowback has been limited to a Hezbollah terror attack that killed five Israelis on a tourist bus in Burgas, Bulgaria, and an Iranian attack on the Israeli embassy in New Delhi that injured the wife of a diplomat.)

Another way in which Israel’s regional military policy is a worse problem than the occupation is the complete acceptance of it by the country’s Jewish majority, and the apathy toward it from the Western world. That these attacks are acts of military aggression by a regional superpower using bombs to maintain its “qualitative edge” doesn’t seem to matter to anyone; Hezbollah is bad, Iran is bad, Syria is bad, they’re all bad, and Israel is good, or at least relatively good, so anything goes. (As long as it doesn’t backfire.) These enemies are “pledged to Israel’s destruction,” they’re “militant Islamists,” so Israel can attack them to its heart’s content. They don’t have to fire any missiles at Israel, they just have to possess those missiles (which are a pittance compared to Israel’s), and any Israeli bombing run on their territory automatically becomes “self-defense.”

It goes without saying that if any of the neighbors bombed Israel’s advanced weapons or killed its nuclear scientists or even tried to fly a spy plane through its airspace, which Israel does about every other day in Lebanon, it would be treated as an act of war, an attempt to destroy this country.

You would think that a nation which is so much stronger than its enemies, which attacks them time after time without getting hit back, would one day say: “What do you know – they’re afraid of me. That means I don’t have to attack them – I just have to sit on my military superiority and I’ll be safe. There’s a name for this, isn’t there? Oh yeah – deterrence.” Israel’s deterrence, as seen again in Monday night’s lethal, unanswered attack on Hezbollah, is absolutely incredible. Hezbollah, Syria, Iran – as much as they loathe Israel, as much as they’d love to attack it, not only don’t they attack, they very rarely lift a finger when Israel attacks them! Yet this country goes on doing it because it believes that if these enemies ever get even a fraction of the sophisticated weaponry Israel has, they will go for the kill.

The problem with this theory is it assumes that Iraq, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah (not to mention the Palestinians, who have been under attack 24/7 for nearly half a century) are willing to destroy themselves for the sake of destroying this country. Because no matter how strong they get, they will never be able to carry out a crushing, life-threatening attack on Israel, even with nuclear weapons, without ending up in smoking ruins themselves.

But Israeli policy is based on the assumption that its enemies are willing – no, eager – to pay that price. They are willing to die en masse for the privilege of annihilating the Jewish state. And there’s no deterrence against that, there’s only, as Prime Minister Netanyahu likes to call it, “vigilance.”

Yet what does this assumption say about Israel’s view of its enemies? That they’re not exactly human. They’re willing to sacrifice their entire country, their entire society, for the sake of destroying this one. What human society has ever been willing to do that? What species of animal has ever been homicidal to the point of collective suicide? Yet this is what Israel believes about its enemies, which is why it can’t stop bombing them. We’re up against a “culture of death.” As Golda Meir said, in one of the most beloved aphorisms of Zionist history, “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”

This is what we believe: that the Arabs hate us more than they love their children.

There is a term for an attitude such as ours: “dehumanization.”

It is dehumanization of Arabs, of Muslims, that causes Israel to go on bombing its enemies even when those enemies don’t retaliate, even when they are incomparably weaker than Israel, even when it’s self-evident to Israel that those enemies know how weak they are and how strong Israel is. We bomb them because we know that if they ever stop being weak, they will kill us, even though they know we will kill them, too, because they don’t care. They hate us more than they love their own children.

They’re not human. There’s no deterrence against them. Only vigilance.

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Dangers of corporate sponsorship for cultural and artistic events

My weekly Guardian column is below:

The 19th Biennale of Sydney opens on 21 March. There will be a range of artists displaying all manners of artistic endeavour. So far, so good.

But a major sponsor is Transfield, a company used by the Australian Federal Government to handle refugee services and which therefore profits from the asylum seeker industry on Nauru and Manus Island. This association has caused refugee activists to call for a boycott of the Biennale.

Sydney design academic, Matthew Kiem, recently penned an open letter to visual arts teachers to send a strong, public message to the Biennale that association with a company like Transfield was ethically unacceptable. He wrote in part:

The most appropriate response to this situation is to boycott the Biennale. While this may feel as though we are giving something up, it is in fact one of the best opportunities we have to make a material impact on the supply chains that permit the detention industry to work. We are in a particularly strong position here given that our decisions could have the effect of redirecting a significant number of students, income, and kudos away from [this event] and towards other kinds of experiences and discussions … A strong response this year is the best way to ensure that future Biennales are not funded through [companies associated with asylum seeker detention].

Kiem told artsHub that “we can and should be putting pressure on the Biennale organisers to find other ways of funding art.”

In the last week I’ve seen countless high profile refugee activists writing on Twitter that they intend to boycott the event and will encourage supporters and the public to follow suit.

Thus far the Biennale has stayed relatively quiet on the matter, though last Friday tweeted:

RE: comments on BOS sponsors: BOS brings attn 2 the ideas & issues of our times – objectors only deny the legitimate voice of BOS artists

— Biennale of Sydney (@biennalesydney) February 6, 2014

Naming and shaming corporate sponsors of cultural events and products has a long and noble history. London’s Tate Modern is backed by BP, causing British activists to stress the corporation’s questionable environmental practices. This year in Australia the Minerals Council, in an attempt to sex up and soften its image, is sponsoring a popular commercial radio program. Online protest was guaranteed.

Actor Scarlett Johansson recently found herself in the crosshairs of pro-Palestine advocates because she backed Sodastream, a company with a factory in an illegal settlement in the West Bank. Her reputation has taken a hit and the role of Palestinian workers under occupation received global attention. Other firms operating in the West Bank, while brazenly saying they don’t fear future boycotts, are naive if they don’t think similar actions will soon affect them.

In America recently the gender equality organisation Catalyst awarded weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin for “supporting women’s advancement”. I know there were a number of employees at Catalyst who expressed dismay at the tragic irony of praising a corporation that sells technology to some of the worst abusers of women in the world, such as Saudi Arabia. Separating politics from ethics is impossible.

Meanwhile, back in Australia, a critical social media campaign against the Biennale, currently developing organically, has the potential to embarrass the event and highlight the often vexed question of corporate sponsorship of artistic and cultural events. If the boycott grows, it won’t be the first time that these tactics have been employed in Australia over funding.

Tasmania’s Ten Days on the Island festival faced outrage in 2002 when it was announced that Forestry Tasmania would be a sponsor in 2003.Artists boycotted, including novelist Peter Carey, and the move caused a vital debate about the ways in which organisations, often with a problematic public image, aim to alter perceptions by backing arts events. Principled participants have a potential choice; be involved and risk being seen as complicit or remove themselves and remain pure. In the real world, such decisions, especially for artists who need and crave exposure, are not easy matters.

Although it’s true that Transfield has a long history of backing various artistic forms, the last years have seen a conscious choice to enter the world of asylum detention. Both Serco and G4S know how financially beneficial this is.

The exact nature of Transfield’s work is mired in mystery – a press release on 29 January merely referred to Garrison Support Services and Welfare at both Manus Island and Nauru – but it’s clear that management sees further opportunities with Tony Abbott’s government; Canberra has a bottomless pit of money to “stop the boats” and punish refugees.

The links between the Biennale and Transfield are not hidden – the chairman of the Biennale, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, is also an executive director at Transfield.

Is this really the kind of corporation to which a leading arts event wants to be associated? What message does this send to the wider community? Should it be acceptable to earn money from the grubby business of imprisoning asylum seekers while at the same time backing glittering artistic works?

I’ve asked the Biennale to address these contradictions. “Our understanding”, they write, “is that the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru are run by the Serco Group, which is not a Biennale sponsor.” This is incorrect; Serco has no known involvement.

“If any sponsor were found to be directly involved in the abuse of refugees, or anyone else for that matter, we would naturally reconsider our relationship.”

The statement continues: “Transfield Services has been a long time supporter of the Biennale. They supply food, clothing and other provisions to a number of industries and government projects. They are a listed company with high ethical standards and a publicly stated code of conduct.”

Addressing the call to boycott the event, “we believe that the campaign is well intentioned but misguided.” I ask about the potential social media campaign against them. “Many of us at the Biennale hold strong views on the refugee issue,” they argue. “We would not knowingly associate with the abuse of a disadvantaged group like the refugees. We believe that any action to hinder the Biennale would damage the ability of 94 artists to exhibit their work and gain exposure for their talent. That would be regrettable.”

How the Biennale and related events are funded should be key public questions, especially in an age where far too many companies want to mask their dirty profit-making with shiny, artistic treats. It is our responsibility to demand better.

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Israeli government wants to unleash war against BDS backers

Welcome to the smell of futility. The last months have seen an avalanche of Zionists, liberal Zionists, columnists and fear-mongers claiming that boycotts against Israel are dangerous, yet offering nothing to end the occupation.

The latest, via Haaretz, is the Netanyahu government potentially spending huge dollars on attacking BDS backers. There’s one small problem (as usual): it’s about spin and does nothing to end daily violence against Palestinians:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a meeting Sunday evening to discuss how to cope with the growing threat of the economic boycott on Israel in light of continued occupation and settlement construction in the West Bank.

Senior Israeli officials said prior to the meeting that the plan was to try to decide on a strategy and determine whether to launch an aggressive public campaign or operate through quieter, diplomatic channels.

The discussion had been scheduled to take place last week, but canceled at the last minute due to the political row between Netanyahu and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. Sunday’s meeting will take place amid a different confron
tation – this time between Bennett and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The previous discussion was supposed to include a broad forum of ministers. The Science Ministry asked to separate the discussion on the economic boycott threat from a discussion on the academic boycott threat, since there is already a strategy for the latter, while the former has yet to be dealt with.

The discussion, scheduled to begin at 5:30 P.M., will only include Lieberman, Bennett and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is expected to present a plan his ministry has been working on.

According to plan, Israel should be proactive in its opposition to organizations who promote boycotts against Israel. The plan proposes to invest substantial resources in organizing a public campaign.

Minister Steinitz is demanding a budget of 100 million shekels for implementation of the plan, which would include PR materials and aggressive legal and media campaigns against pro-boycott organizations.

The Foreign Ministry has a different approach. Diplomats think the non-governmental organizations pushing for a wide-ranging boycott against Israel and not strictly against the settlements are relatively marginal and that a public campaign against them will only play into their hands, bolstering them.

The Foreign Ministry thinks the public response to organizations promoting a boycott against Israel should be constricted. It wants to focus on less public diplomatic activity to combat such initiatives and believes advancing the peace process with the Palestinians will stave off a large portion of the boycott threats.

One of the issues to be discussed at the meeting is whether to file legal suits in European and North American courts against organizations that are proponents of the boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Ministers will also consider whether to take legal action against financial institutions that boycott settlements, or boycott Israeli companies that are somehow operating in or connected to the settlements.

Another consideration is whether to activate the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., specifically AIPAC, in order to promote legislation in Congress against the economic boycott of Israel, akin to the legislation that was passed in the 1970’s against the Arab boycott.

One of the issues that will be raised during the discussion is that there is a lack of knowledge and inefficient tracking by Israeli intelligence of pro-BDS organizations.

The Strategic Affairs Ministry has provided the Israel Defense Forces’ intelligence department a budget of several million shekels for the purpose of bolstering military surveillance of such organizations. However, the need for the prime minister to instruct the Shin Bet Security Service and the Mossad on the efforts is likely to come up.

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The day Scarlett Johansson fell in love with Zionist occupation

During the SuperBowl last night, a game I watched here in New York with a mixture of confusion and amazement during the litany of mundane celebrity-endorsed advertisements, the questions over SodaStream were strong. This pro Israeli-occupation company, now supported by actress Scarlett Johansson, found itself in a storm of controversy. Deservedly so. Al Jazeera America reports:

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Boycott of Israel makes prime-time coverage in Israel

The Zionist lobby and its various backers can argue that global anti-Semitism is the reason the Jewish state is increasingly isolated. Dream on. Here’s Larry Derfner, writing in +972 Magazine, explaining the sign of the BDS times:

On Saturday night the boycott of Israel gained an impressive new level of mainstream recognition in this country. Channel 2 News, easily the most watched, most influential news show here, ran a heavily-promoted, 16-minute piece on the boycott in its 8 p.m. prime-time program. The piece was remarkable not only for its length and prominence, but even more so because it did not demonize the boycott movement, it didn’t blame the boycott on anti-Semitism or Israel-bashing. Instead, top-drawer reporter Dana Weiss treated the boycott as an established, rapidly growing presence that sprang up because of Israel’s settlement policy and whose only remedy is that policy’s reversal.

In her narration, Weiss ridicules the settlers and the government’s head-in-the-sand reaction to the rising tide. The segment from the West Bank’s Barkan Industrial Park opens against a background of twangy guitar music like from a Western. “To the world it’s a black mark, a symbol of the occupation,” she reads. “But here they insist it’s actually a point of light in the area, an island of coexistence that continues to flourish despite efforts to erase it from the map.” A factory owner who moved his business to Barkan from the other side of the Green Line makes a fool of himself by saying, “If the state would only assist us by boycotting the Europeans and other countries causing us trouble …” The Barkan segment ends with the manager of Shamir Salads saying that between the European and Palestinian boycott, he’s losing about $115,000 to $143,000 a month in sales. “In my view,” he says, “it will spread from [the West Bank] to other places in Israel that have no connection to the territories.”

Weiss likewise ridicules Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who runs the government’s “hasbara war,” as he puts it. Weiss: “Yes, in the Foreign Ministry they are for the time being sticking to the old conception: it’s all a question of hasbara. This week the campaign’s new weapon, developed with the contributions of world Jewry: (Pause) Another hasbara agency, this time with the original name ‘Face To Israel.’” She quotes the co-owner of Psagot Winery saying the boycott is “nothing to get excited about,” that people have been boycotting Jews for 2,000 years, and concluding, “If you ask me, in the last 2,000 years, our situation today is the best it’s ever been.” That final phrase, along with what Weiss describes as Elkin’s “conceptzia,” are the same infamous words that Israelis associate with the fatal complacency that preceded the surprise Yom Kippur War.

The Channel 2 piece features abortive telephone calls with boycott “victims” who didn’t want to be interviewed for fear of bad publicity. The most dramatic testimony comes from Daniel Reisner, an attorney with the blue-chip law firm Herzog Fox Neeman who advises such clients. He explains:

Most of the companies victimized by the boycott behave like rape victims. They don’t want to tell anybody. It’s as if they’ve contracted some sort of disease and they don’t want anyone to know.

More and more companies are coming to us for advice – quietly, in the evening, where no one can hear them – and they say: ‘I’ve gotten into this or that situation; is there something you can do to help?’”

Without giving the names of his clients or the extent of their losses, Reisner says the boycott is causing Israeli businesses to lose foreign contracts and investors. “My fear is of a snowball effect,” he says. Prof. Shai Arkin, vice president for R&D at Hebrew University, says there are many cases of Israeli candidates for research fellowships at foreign universities being turned down because their resumes include service in the Israeli army.

Advice from a friend abroad comes from Matthew Gould, the British ambassador to Israel: “I love Israel. And I’m worried that in another five years Israel will wake up and find that it doesn’t have enough friends.”

Weiss asks the EU ambassador here, Lars Faaborg-Andersen: “If Israel would change its policy, all this would go away?” The ambassador replies: “Yes. It is about Israeli policies. If the settlement business continue[s] to expand, Israel will be facing increasing isolation.”

The piece presents Tzipi Livni as the country’s would-be savior. She says the current negotiations with the Palestinians (in which she represents Israel, along with Netanyahu confidant Isaac Molho) are holding back the boycott’s expansion, but that “if there is a crisis [in the talks], everything will break loose.” She says she is “shouting at people to wake up.”

Weiss: “What does this all mean? What is it going to be like here? South Africa?”

Livni: “Yes. I spoke with some of the Jews who are living n South Africa now. They say, ‘We thought we had time. We thought we could deal with this. We thought we didn’t need the world so much for everything. And it happens all at once.’”

Sixteen minutes of prime time on Israel’s all-popular TV news show on Saturday night, the end of the week in this country. Bracing stuff. A wrench thrown into the national denial machine – and by Channel 2. Definitely a sign of progress – and of life. Another reminder of why this country is worth fighting for – which, for many of us Israeli boycott-supporters, if not necessarily most of us, is what the boycott, strange as it may sound, is all about.

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How Israeli abuses splinters Jewish identity

Any thinking Jew (and/or human being) has major issues with the ways in which Israel occupies the Palestinians. It’s something I’ve written about and struggled with for years.

Al-Jazeera journalist Matthew Cassel (a visitor to Australia in 2011 and we shared a stage talking about the Arab revolutions) has produced a moving, telling, revealing and beautiful two-part documentary about these issues. Essential viewing:

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Slowly but surely US intellectuals challenge Israeli violence

As Israel continues its strangulation of the West Bank and Gaza, the Jewish state is starting to realise such actions come with a price (like South Africa during apartheid).

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.

The New York Times reports:

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.

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Why BDS must be supported for justice in the Middle East

My weekly Guardian column is published today:

The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, a thriving Palestinian-led initiative that attacks institutional links to Israel’s illegal settlements, has been gaining in popularity. In Australia, the movement has been slowly growing as Israel continues to defy international law – and it now faces one of its greatest opportunities in the court of public opinion.

Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center is an Israel-based organisation that claims to be a civil group “fighting for rights of hundreds of terror victims”. It is currently taking Jake Lynch, head of Sydney University’sCentre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS), to the Australian federal court. They assert that Lynch has allegedly breached the 1975 racial discrimination act by refusing to sponsor a fellowship application by Israeli academic Dan Avnon. Lynch and CPACS support BDS, and since Avnon works at Hebrew University – a key intellectual hub which is targeted by boycotters for allegedly being complicit in the establishment of illegal settlements – Lynch declined to be named as a reference.

The story has been largely ignored. Fairfax Media has not touched it, and ABC TV’s 7.30 only briefly addressed it last week. Instead, it is Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian which has been driving the debate on the issue, publishing countless stories that deliberately conflates antisemitism and support for the BDS movement.

Just last week, after the horrific bashing of Jewish men in Sydney, the paper featured a Holocaust survivor on its front page condemning the attack. Within the article was the rhetorical device of inserting comment about BDS – as if physically assaulting Jewish people was on the same spectrum as a peaceful, non-violent attempt to force Israel to abide by international law. Bizarrely, an op-ed published by Newscorp’s The Telegraph also said that the best response to the assaults was to support Max Brenner – the chocolate shop whose parent company, the Strauss Group, has been a target of BDS protestors for supporting the Israeli Defence Force.

Countless letters have since been published in The Australian reinforcing a correlation between antisemitism and the boycott – following this logic, Lynch and his backers are a threat to public order. This also ignores the nearly 2,000 signatories of a public petition backing Lynch (which a number of academics, including the co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish VoicesPeter Slezak, signed).

Last week, The Australian ran an editorial which implied that Lynch blocked Avnon’s academic credentials simply because he was an Israeli. Another front page story in the paper last week claimed that Hebrew University is a bastion of Jewish and Arab co-operation, yet ignored an example of the institution repressing Palestinian rights through its connections to the arms industry.

Lynch tells me that Shurat HaDin have deliberately skewed his BDS stance. He denies, despite what the group’s Australian lawyer Andrew Hamilton said on ABC TV last week, having “admitted” that he boycotted Avnon because he was Israeli. He told me:

“I have made it abundantly clear from the start that the policy is aimed at institutional links. If the Hebrew University is anything like the University of Sydney, then it probably employs academics from various backgrounds in terms of religious affiliation and country of origin. It would not make any difference to my or the CPACS’ policy if the applicant was originally from Belgium, Botswana or Bolivia – I believe the University of Sydney should revoke its part in the Sir Zelman Cowen and Technion fellowship schemes, and I reserve my right not to collaborate with them. Andrew Hamilton has clearly not paid serious attention to our policy, or to what I have actually done in pursuit of it.”

It’s worth noting that Avnon, endlessly praised in the Australian media as a humanist who believes in co-operation between Israelis and Palestinians, sits on Israeli group Metzilah’s General Assembly. This is a group that put out a report explicitly rejecting the Palestinian right of return to lands stolen by Israel, and claims that a Jewish state discriminating against equal rights for Palestinians is not problematic. It is worth noting that the Palestinian right of return is a requirement in international law.

Largely missing from the ferocious media coverage has been any information about the real agenda of Shurat HaDin. The organisation, according to Wikileaks documents, has strong links to Israeli intelligence and Mossad, just one of the many groups that now prosecutes Israel’s argument for the Jewish state. The law firm tried to sue Twitter for daring to host Hizbollah tweets, former US President Jimmy Carter for criticising Israel and Stephen Hawking for damning the Israeli occupation. Even the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, a leading Zionist lobby, refuses to endorse Shurat HaDin’s case against Lynch, pointing out that attempts to suppress the campaign through litigation are inappropriate.

Also absent from the debate is the reason BDS exists. It is growing due to a complete lack of faith in US-led peace talks. American journalist Max Blumenthal recently published a book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, which shows in forensic detail the reality of the Israeli mainstream’s embrace of blatant racism against Arabs and Africans. This isn’t what the Israel Shurat HaDin and its fellow travellers want the world to see. Indeed, Australian Israel lobby AIJAC responded to the latest BDS case against Lynch by completely ignoring illegal settlements altogether. This week Dean Sherr, a young lobbyist, wrote an entire column in The Australian about BDS without mentioning their existence.

The fear of BDS is reflected in the massive amount of money and resources Israel is spending to stop it. Instead of moving towards a democratic state for all its citizens, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to demolish Palestinian homes and build illegal colonies on Palestinian land.

Shurat HaDin’s Australian lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, told Haaretz last week that BDS “does nothing to help Palestinians and indeed harms them. It is merely an excuse for the vilest public antisemitic campaign the western world has seen since the Holocaust.” With such a statement, which essentially compares Jake Lynch to a Nazi, it’s no wonder Zionist advocates are losing the public relations battle globally.

For some of us on the left, using the racial discrimination act as a tool to silence views we find distasteful is deeply worrying – I write this as somebody who opposed the legal case against News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt in 2011. A real democracy is a place where any individual has the right to vehemently oppose colluding with an overseas university institution that disputes equal rights for Jews and Arabs.

I look forward to Australia’s leading public backers of free speech, such as Bolt, Miranda Devine and the Institute of Public Affairs, loudly backing Lynch. Somehow I think I’ll be waiting a while for these brave advocates to find their voice.

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Max Blumenthal talks about his new book “Goliath” on Israel/Palestine

American journalist Max Blumenthal has been reporting on the Middle East, the far-right, racists and weirdos for years. He’s a gem, and a friend.

His latest book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, has been released (I’ve just received a copy). Here he is speaking to Abby Martin on RT:

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