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.

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.

Irish radio Pat Kenny Show interview on bloody legacy of Israeli Shimon Peres

Amidst the orgy of praise for deceased Israeli “peace maker” Shimon Peres – some necessary voices of dissent here, here and here – I was interviewed yesterday by leading Irish radio program, Pat Kenny, about the real Shimon Peres:

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What happens if Israeli occupies Palestine forever?

My essay in UAE newspaper The National:

From its beginning, Israel’s settlement project was shrouded in secrecy. Newly uncovered documents from 1969, two years after Israel’s takeover of the West Bank and Gaza, revealed that the military censor was used to keep documents hidden that proved the establishment of illegal settlements.

After 50 years of occupation, Israel is a radically different country than in the late 1960s. Zionism, with a messianic and nationalist fervour, is in the ascendancy while liberal and more tolerant humanism is dying. Although Israel was celebrated by the global left as a socialist paradise, conveniently ignoring the roughly 750,000 Palestinians ethnically cleansed during its founding in 1948, today’s Israel is entrenched in the belief that Israeli control of Palestinian land and resources is essential for its survival. Palestinians are barely heard in the Israeli media, their voices and views largely invisible. Many in the Israeli left are leaving, disillusioned with their country and its move towards an ethnocracy.

Supporters of the two-state solution are fearful that the occupation is now permanent. Next year is the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation and yet liberal Zionists are desperate to maintain Jewish privilege. The “Decision at 50” movement is pushing for a referendum – for Israeli citizens only – on the fate of the West Bank. Its website calls on Israeli prime minister Benjamin Neta­nyahu to ask Israelis “whether Israel’s vision includes one state between the river and the sea or a two state solution”.

In theory, this sounds like a sensible idea but it’s a deeply flawed proposal. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are given no voice on their own future. After all, they bear the brunt of Israel’s military occupation. Secondly, Israelis have made it abundantly clear, over countless elections, that ever-expanding colonies in the West Bank and regular bombardments of the Gaza Strip are both necessary and morally defensible. World powers, despite occasional complaints, have done nothing to change this view including buying the latest Israeli weapons and technology battle-tested on Palestinians.

Living and travelling around Israel and Palestine, I regularly hear disparaging comments about Arabs by Israeli Jews, unwilling or incapable of imagining them as anything other than a threat to be neutralised and placed behind walls and fences. Palestinians and Israelis have barely any physical contact these days and the majority of Palestinians view Israeli Jews as brutish occupiers who steal their livelihood. They only see them as rampaging settlers or uniformed soldiers.

A recent article in Israel’s most popular newspaper, Israel Hayom, revealed the mainstream Israeli mindset. Written by a former settler spokeswoman, Emily Amrousi, she longed for “the day we decided to win”.

“We made the decision to destroy terrorists’ homes with no advance warning”, she wrote. “We deported the families of terrorists. We wrapped the bodies of terrorists in pig skin. ‘They’ve gone crazy,’ everyone said. Yes, we had already gone crazy, when they murdered a young girl in her bed.”

After five decades of occupation, with no end in sight, no interest in establishing a Palestinian state or giving full rights to all Arabs, the international community has a decision to make. It can continue to indulge Israeli policies or take concrete action to change them through severing military or diplomatic connections.

Two-state backers are often called the “peace process industry” because they’ve been making money for decades writing opinion pieces and being hired by politicians to convince sceptics that peace is just around the corner if Palestinians capitulate and Israel removes a few settlements.

There are more than 500,000 settlers living illegally on Palestinian land. Moving them all is an impossibility. Besides, Israel feels no real pressure to do so.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump sell themselves as Israel’s best friends but in fact they’re its worst enemies, funding its insatiable appetite for never-ending expansion. With many Middle East states consumed by civil war, freedom for Palestinians is now a fifth tier issue in the diplomatic community.

Could the occupation last another 50 years?

Quite possibly, if Israeli hardliners annex vast swaths of the West Bank, kick out Palestinians by stealth and continue selling to the world the methods, technology and ideology that celebrate the control of a people led by corrupt leaders.

Next year’s occupation anniversary will be marked with global protests, loud voices of opposition and harsh denunciations of Israel. But the occupation is permanent and sustainable unless Israeli Jews are made to pay an economic price for it. Daily life for Palestinians under Israeli occupation is barely discussed in the Israeli media. Colonisation is seen to be almost cost-free. A healthy society would never tolerate millions of people living under military rule.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist in Jerusalem

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How Israeli settlers are winning (for now)

My essay in UAE newspaper The National:

During this month’s Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av, commemorating various disasters in Jewish history, thousands of Israelis marched along the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem and called for annexation of the occupied West Bank. Pro-settlement group Women in Green, founded in 1993 and “dedicated to safeguarding our God-given Biblical homeland”, spoke at the rally. Co-founder Yehudit Katsover told the Israeli government to build more settlements and claimed this wasn’t happening “because we’re afraid of pressure from the dwarf Obama … we don’t impose sovereignty because we fear the demographics”.

Other speakers, including Dov Kalmanovich, the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, demanded countless more colonies across the West Bank. Former member of parliament Aryeh Eldad, who lives in an illegal settlement himself, told an cheering crowd that, “this curse of Palestine has been chasing us to this day. We must erase the name Palestine from Eretz Israel”.

A prominent member of the Israeli Knesset, Yehuda Glick, said: “We must make clear that all the talk about the chance for a Palestinian state is finished … we will proceed in imposing Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], and anyone wishing to live in peace is welcome, and if they don’t we’ll use harsh measures against them.”

It’s easy to dismiss such comments as emerging from a far-right Zionist fringe, disconnected from the Israeli population. Some Israelis would certainly oppose these ideas as antithetical to peace with the Jewish state’s Palestinian neighbours and population. But the Israeli mainstream has moved sharply to the right in the last decade. A poll conducted by the Peace Index from the Israeli Democracy Institute this year found that 72 per cent of Jewish Israelis did not consider Israeli control over Palestinians as “occupation”.

This profound state of denial is ubiquitous within Israeli society and its largely docile media. Life in the West Bank for Palestinians, let alone Gaza, is rarely examined in the press except in the context of how it impacts the ability of the Israeli Defence Forces to operate with impunity.

Next year is the 50th anniversary of Israel’s control of the West Bank and Gaza. Today there are more than 400,000 Jewish settlers squatting illegally in the West Bank, with at least 200,000 more in East Jerusalem.

Oxford University scholar Sara Yael Hirschhorn released figures in 2015 that showed about 15 per cent of West Bank settlers, roughly 60,000 people, were American citizens. Dr Hirschhorn told a conference in Jerusalem last year that these people were “young, idealistic, intelligent and seasoned liberal Americans who were Zionist activists, and who were eager to apply their values and experiences to the Israeli settler movement”.

If the majority of Israelis don’t view their policies over the Palestinians as discriminatory and regard it as normal to control countless aspects of daily Palestinian life – from house demolitions to random checkpoints and arresting children in the middle of the night to expropriating Palestinian land for ever-expanding Israeli settlements – it’s important to understand how and why this narrative became so accepted. Israel’s settler movement has operated over five decades with strategic brilliance, occupying senior positions in all levels of the government and military.

I recently travelled around the West Bank, spending time with Israeli settlers and sleeping in their homes. I wanted to understand their world view, from the religious fanatics to the pragmatic occupier who craved cheaper housing (property is far less expensive in the West Bank than in Israel proper). The mood was mostly defiant, nobody feared being evacuated any time soon, if ever, and yet insecurity and arrogance permeated many of my conversations. Some feared an unlikely coalition of local and global journalists, leftists, politicians and NGOs forcing Israel to concede territory and divide the land. To anybody who spends a few hours travelling around the West Bank, however, it is clear that a just two-state solution is no longer possible.

Orthodox Jew Yair Ben-David lives with his family at Kashuela Farms near Gush Etzion settlement. Surrounded by sheep and goats, he told me that”Palestinians know that Israel is the best place to live.

“It’s better than life under Hamas or the Palestinian Authority. Be good and you will get a good situation as a Palestinian.”

Like virtually every settler I met, Mr Ben-David tolerated Palestinians living in a Jewish state but they had to be subservient to Jewish rule.

With such facts on the ground, it seems almost unimaginable that Israel’s occupation will not last for the foreseeable future. There are no serious forces pushing against it (though the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is growing in global strength).

But never-ending colonisation presents practical and moral questions: how to manage millions of disaffected Palestinians? Ethnically cleansing them to neighbouring states is logistically challenging (let alone ethically abhorrent) and yet I’ve long wondered if western and Arab powers would really care apart from issuing stern statements of opposition. They’ve spent decades doing little else.

Israel finds itself in a unique position. Situated in a region where nations are convulsing and disintegrating, the Jewish state advertises itself as an island of stability. Occupation barely bothers any Israelis enough to do anything concrete about it and the Israeli government is packed with politicians who crave annexing the entire West Bank.

In this scenario, Palestinians are trapped between their own corrupt leaders and Israeli intransigence. A third intifada is inevitable.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist in Jerusalem and author of Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe

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US magazine Truthout interview on disaster capitalism and Gaza

My interview in US magazine Truthout by Dan Falcone:

Dan Falcone recently interviewed journalist, blogger, filmmaker, activist and author Antony Loewenstein in East Jerusalem via Skype to discuss his current film project, Disaster Capitalism — inspired by his 2015 book, Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe (Verso, 2015), as well as a host of domestic and foreign issues impacting the West, the US and the world. In his film project, Loewenstein provides commentary on US involvement and influence in Haiti, Afghanistan, Gaza, Papua New Guinea and beyond. Loewenstein also draws parallels to Brexit and the national election in the US within his own research and work, and explains how those areas are relevant.

Daniel Falcone: I wanted to first ask you about the film that you’re making, Disaster Capitalism. I know that you’ve spoken a lot about the book, about your thesis, about the argument. Could you just tell me something about the film or where you are in the process of the film and what will the film convey differently from the book, if anything?  

Antony Loewenstein: I started working on the book about five years ago, and I started working on the film at about the same time, and initially, I was working on my own. I was traveling to some of these places that are featured in the book, and decided I wanted to do a documentary about it. I didn’t know the shape of what that would look like. In 2012, I partnered with a New York-based filmmaker Thor Neureiter, and he and I have been working together ever since. He’s my film partner and we have been to Papua New Guinea, Afghanistan and Haiti, twice each.

They’re featured in the book as well, but the film is different for a few reasons. One obviously touches on similar issues — people making money from misery, corporations, individuals in countries that are poor or developing. But a lot of the money ended up being unaccountable, and many Haitians themselves say to us, in the film, that “We never saw the money.”

We look at, in the film also — as I do in the book — the role of the Clintons, particularly Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Bill Clinton, of course — for those who don’t know Hillary and Bill actually had their honeymoon in Haiti in the mid-1970s. I only mention that because they have expressed a love for Haiti for decades, and what that love has actually meant though is, “I believe that Haiti should be exploited.” Until a few years ago, she was the face of putting in power the last prime minister, Michel Martelly, who was a dictator, essentially. He had no qualifications. He used to be a nightclub singer, and I’m not putting down nightclub singers, but he just had no experience in the political arena. The country, basically, has gone to turmoil since.

So the film shows communities, locally, who are suffering, and Papua New Guinea, in Bougainville, which is a small province or country to the north of Australia, it’s a beautiful, beautiful country, incredibly rich with natural resources, but in reality, like so many countries that are so wealthy, it’s incredibly poor because it’s been exploited by Australian and American and Canadian mineral companies, and Bougainville had a huge copper mine — it was the biggest in the world in the 1970s and ’80s — run by the large mineral company Rio Tinto, [which is in both] Australia and London.

There was a huge civil war over this mine. It was one of the most brutal civil wars in that part of the world, between Australia and Asia Pacific for years, but no one’s ever really heard of it. It’s not particularly known.

Outstanding work, thank you, Antony. In shifting gears a bit but perhaps related, how about the Brexit decision and other European countries that might follow suit. How is that pertinent in the realm of disaster capitalism in your estimation?  

I think it’s really relevant. You know, I spend time in my book, not in the film, but in the book Disaster Capitalism, I spent quite a bit of time in the UK and looking at particularly the issue of immigration and how immigration is often being privatized and outsourced. What that means is that a lot of detention centers where immigrants are being imprisoned, essentially, run for profit. I think the Brexit decision was an interesting one.

On the one hand, I think the effect of it is going to be very negative for Britain, but at the same time, I had a great deal of sympathy, from a left-wing perspective of why people wanted to leave. I think the majority of people who wanted to leave and voted to leave were not going from a left-wing position from what I’ve read. What I’ve read and spoken to people is that there was profound degree of unease, concern, about the fact that in the last 30 years — which is something I talk about in my book — the British economy has not benefited the majority of the population, and it’s why then immigration is easily blamed for these problems.

So in line of what you’re saying in terms of Trump versus Clinton, the Trump populism, if you will, or his ethno-nationalism, is gathering support in terms of his foreign policy, where he’s trying to take advantage of this mistrust for neoliberals and institutions, and he’s not giving very constructive answers, and his base is given dangerous points of view to real concerns. Can you comment on this? 

I agree, and just to be very, very clear again, this is not at all a robust defense of Donald Trump. He is using a clearly strong sentiment of an aspect of predominantly white Americans who feel totally disenfranchised from the US economy. That view is not illegitimate.

I think the people who support him don’t overly care about the fact that there’s not a great deal of detail behind his policies.

Hillary Clinton, to me, is a dangerous demagogue who also has learned nothing from history whatsoever and has made so many bad decisions on Iraq, on Libya, on many other cases. I’m not suggesting that someone like Trump would be better.

Clearly, I think it’d be wonderful that there’s a female president, yes, but surely that’s not the only important issue. How does she see women in Afghanistan? Does she think that Muslim women should be bombed in various Muslim countries? Yes, she does. That’s a less than feminist position.

They’re not leaving us with very good choices in the US; often the case.  

Agreed. And if I was American, and I’m not for a second telling you how Americans should vote, I think, at the moment, I would probably vote for someone like Jill Stein who’s of the Green Party, who from what I read, has very interesting policies. They’re progressive.

When looking at a region like Gaza, how can disaster capitalism be pertinent in the Middle East and especially in terms of our relationship with Israel? For example, it seems like a lot of your work — I know you touch on warfare and the consequences of militarism, but it sounds like — what it reads to me as anyway — is your critique of imperialism and resource wars in addition to how we sponsor terrorism or military campaigns across the world, but how about specifically Gaza? Is the west essentially destroying that place only to build it back up and destroy it again and other regions that support the occupation? 

The situation in Gaza is incredibly desperate. I have not been there for a few years. I was last there in 2009. I’m now based in East Jerusalem. Gaza is really almost the perfect example of the tacit failure of Israeli and US policy towards Palestinians — that there really is no great desire to resolve this issue. What I mean by that is, the circle status quo that exists between Israel and Hamas, the rulers of Gaza, is Israel doesn’t actually have a great desire to overthrow Hamas. They could overthrow Hamas in a day.

So Israel essentially believes, and the US gives uncontrolled and unlimited amounts of military support, which I might add has increased under Obama. This idea, somehow, that many in the Zionist community argue that Obama has been the worst president for Israel and a disaster, it’s a complete lie. The fact that settlements on the West Bank have no impact on the financial support that Israel has received.

The occupation is going to be 50 years old in 2017, next year. That’s in the West Bank. In Gaza, Israel in theory disengaged in 2005. As I said before, they still control the land, sea and air borders, which was always done in an incredibly bad and poor way, barely touches the surfaces of what Gaza needs.

It’s like an open-air prison. The border with Egypt is sealed virtually 99 percent of the time. The border with Israel is also mostly sealed. Very few Gazans can get in and out. So the effect that Israel, and with US and Western support, is backing, and funding and arming a permanent open-air prison, for no real strategic benefit, let alone humanitarian relief. It really depends how one views the Israel-Palestine conflict.

A lot of the Americans, when they watch the news media coverage of the Middle East, and they’re presented with a sampling — don’t really have an understanding of who the Palestinians are. They don’t know much about the Palestinians, but they see, I think, isolated acts of violence perpetrated by Palestinians against Israeli soldiers, and it’s a separate point to Israel “mowing the lawn,” or barricading a place like Hebron, the city that they recently did indeed block off. In other words, separate from the Israeli policy, there seems to be this marriage between what Israel does as justified because they are on the receiving end of Palestinian terrorism. 

And people aren’t really able to distill the fact that Israel policy is going to carry on no matter what happens, whether there’s a stabbing, a kidnapping, an explosion, etc. People are correlating Israeli policy with actions of people on the other end of this for years. This isn’t just a media culture, but it’s in the educational system, higher education and people that study international relations. What do you think about the corporate media structure and how it delivers this picture to American society from the standpoint of what’s happening to the Palestinians?

Well, certainly, 9/11 has made this far worse, and even before then, but certainly become a lot worse since 9/11 in your country. The framing of the Israel-Palestine conflict is usually like this: Israel is defending itself. Israel was sort of sitting here minding its own business. Palestinians are aggressive. They’re angry. They’re stabbing us. They’re killing us. They’re blowing up buses in Tel Aviv. They hate us because we’re free, because we’re Jews, because we’re a democracy, whatever it may be.

That’s a fundamentally wrong and racist view. There’s no doubt that there is Palestinian violence against Israel. Yes, it happens. There are — not so much these days, but there have been suicide bombings and stabbings, and any attack, to me, against civilians is fundamentally wrong, and should stop. There’s an occupation that is happening. I’m living here in East Jerusalem. It’s happening right here, and it’s happening right down the road.

So in Israel the rhetoric — and in the US too is — Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS, Al-qaeda are all the same thing. They’re framed in all the same way, so when there’s, for example, a beheading of a journalist in Syria, or Iraq, by ISIS the last couple of years, many in the Israeli political elite and the media automatically tie that, and they say, “You see. The Arabs, they’re crazy.”

We’re still at a stage, in 2016, where we’re actually — are we not accepting it’s an occupation? Are we saying that it’s not permanent? Fifty years is permanent.

What are your thoughts on something like the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) or the impact of the lobby? A lot of the criticism of Israel that I read shows the left sort of having these divisions within the progressive side in terms of criticizing the United States’ support of Israel and the occupation. How influential is the lobby? Are we more concerned with government decisions, media structures, or is the lobby the influential interest group? I see differences of opinion in terms of what question should we be asking and where do we apply a critical focus.  

Also, in BDS, there’s a disagreement there too. How pertinent is BDS? Is that the most constructive response? I just see members of the left wing that are — I wouldn’t say feuding, but they disagree on the effectiveness of BDS, where do you come down on this?  

Okay, two points there. There’s no doubt the Israel lobby is influential. It has power. AIPAC, which is America’s largest Israel lobby, at its conference a few months ago, and you see it’s powered by the people that are speaking there, which is pretty much all the top political leaders on the Democratic and Republican side, hundreds of Senators come, thousands of delegates, Jews and non-Jews, mostly Jews, but others too. They have influence. They have power. There’s no question about that. They push a very hardline position.

There are small groups. The group Jewish Voice for Peace is one that I have a lot of time for. They’re a lobby group of sorts. They’re liberal Jews. They’re based around the US. They have, I think, about 100,000 people signed up. They speak out very forcefully about occupation.

Let’s not forget, BDS was established, officially, in 2005 by Palestinian Civil Society, essentially saying to the world, “We’re living here under occupation. We’re asking you to please help us by not supporting any institution within Israel. That could be cultural. That could be academic.”

I think there is a desperate attempt now, in the US, to make BDS illegal. I don’t think we’re that far away from a very important test case that I suspect will go to the Supreme Court.

We’re talking about criticizing a policy which demonizes Palestinians for over half a century. Within Israel itself, BDS is not supported by the majority of Israel Jews. There’s no question about that.

Thank you, very much.  

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Newsweek Middle East cover story on Israel’s settler movement

I’m now based in East Jerusalem as a freelance journalist and I was thrilled to recently secure the cover story in Newsweek Middle East (15 June edition) on Israel’s settler movement (+ here are my photos from the assignment):


The full story, over 3000 words, is below (and here’s the published PDF version: newsweekfeatureonisraelisettlers):

Har Bracha vineyard is a Jewish business situated near Nablus in the occupied West Bank. Established in 2004, its location offers spectacular views. With an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) jeep parked outside, owner Nir Lavi recently told me that he was proud of his livelihood cultivating grapes, because it proved that anti-Semitism would always fail.

“European anti-Semitism never dies,” he said. “Boycotts against us [Israel] show this.” He sells most of his products to Israelis and Jewish communities in the United States, “who have Shomron [greater Israel] in their hearts.” In response to growing global and local moves to boycott products produced by Israelis in the West Bank, Lavi opened a shop in Tel Aviv this year. He aimed to convince Israelis that the West Bank was a place of safety and legitimacy.

Last week marked the 49th year of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. In 1967 Israel seized what is now termed the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) in an act of war. Soon after this war, illegal settlements—Israeli communities built on occupied ground—began to take shape, and some 30 settlements were established between 1967 and 1977, home to roughly 5000 settlers. During this period, settlements were mostly in the Jordan Valley and it wasn’t until the late 1970s, under a more right-wing Israeli government, that they began to expand in the West Bank. Now, nearly 700,000 settlers live throughout the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

On a daily basis, and in contravention of international law, Israel confiscates land and constructs settlements that run deep into Palestinian territory. Worse still, Israel demolishes Palestinian homes and other civilian structures, forcibly displaces and transfers Palestinian civilians and exploits the natural resources of the Palestinian land. Despite the widespread condemnations and calls for cessation, Israel continues its actions with impunity. The persistent confiscation of land, water, and other natural resources also violates The Hague Regulations of 1907, which prohibit an occupying power from expropriating the resources of occupied territory for its own benefit.

Earlier this year, U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro sparked unease when he noted that Israeli settlements have expanded; Israeli vigilantes murder Palestinians without fear of investigation or reprisal; and, in the occupied, Palestinian areas, Israelis enjoy civilian legal protections while Palestinians live under military rule.

Lavi told U.S. Jewish publication, The Algemeiner, in January that the aim of his shop was, “to show sympathy and patriotism at this time, and to connect to our fellow Israelis. We don’t mind where they come from, what their background is, or what’s their political agenda. We want us to be united.”
Har Bracha employee Alice Zeeman, a religious settler with seven children who was born in Germany and converted to Judaism in her teens, told me that the facility opened 20 years ago because “there was a prophecy.” After being evacuated from the West Bank settlement of Homesh in 2005, along with thousands of settlers in Gaza during the so-called “disengagement,” Zeeman was unequivocal about her Arab neighbours. “I shout at Arabs [because they kill Jews],” she said. “I don’t call them Palestinians. They’re our enemy. We cannot employ the Arabs here. In the vineyard, only Jews work. I don’t want to see Arabs dead but I just want them to live somewhere else in the Arab world. They can only live here if they accept Jewish rule. It’s in the Bible.”

Wearing a red headscarf and speaking with a slight German accent, Zeeman explained that one of her life missions was to have a large family. “I never listen to the news. I just keep on having children. One of the most important products of the settlements are children.” She disagreed with the idea of Arabs either working with her or building settlements. A common sight across the West Bank is Palestinians constructing Israeli homes, because they have few other job opportunities due to high unemployment and a traditional farming economy that has been crushed by the Israeli occupation. “Settlements should just be built by Jews,” Zeeman said. It was a view echoed by Lavi. “We only want to have Israelis build our community,” he said.

This is a story of how the settlers won. After nearly 50 years since Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Six Day War, its proponents have placed themselves in all levels of the Israeli state, guaranteeing institutional support for the continued expansion of settlements across the West Bank. It has rendered impossible any contiguous Palestinian state, the clear aim of the settlers and their enablers from the beginning. The two-state solution is dead, if it was ever possible.

I recently spent time traveling across the West Bank in the searing June heat talking to settlers, sleeping overnight in their houses and engaging on politics, daily life and Palestinians. I was given a unique insight into communities that mostly appear in the media as cartoon character extremists, blind ideologues or those seeking cheap housing (Israel encourages people to move to the West Bank by providing huge financial incentives and inexpensive accommodation). I witnessed all three, but also found people defiant in their beliefs, angered by what they perceived was global opposition to their lives fueled by anti-Semitism and confident that they were unlikely to be forced to leave their homes in any peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Jewish supremacy, the belief that Jews have the God-given right to control all the land in Israel and Palestine and the Arabs must submit to it, was ubiquitous throughout my travels. Paternalism merged with capitalism. Yehuda Cohen, CEO of the plastics company Lipski, which has a factory in the West Bank Barkan industrial park, told me that he hired 50 Palestinian workers because he gave “people hope. I need Palestinians and they need me.” He said that Europeans wanted to boycott his products and label them but today he was still able to sell freely across Europe.

There are around 1,000 Israeli companies operating in over a dozen industrial zones in the West Bank and about 25,000 Palestinians working in these facilities, usually making more money than if they were employed by Palestinian firms. Many Palestinian workers and unions oppose these jobs because they normalize the occupation and do nothing to strengthen the Palestinian economy. Human Rights Watch issued a report in January criticizing Israeli discrimination for “entrenching a system that contributes to the impoverishment of many Palestinian residents of the West Bank while directly benefitting settlement businesses, making Palestinians’ desperate need for jobs a poor basis to justify continued complicity in that discrimination.”

“Europeans wanted to boycott my products,” Cohen said, “but they have a brain and see that I’m part of the solution and not the problem for the conflict.” One of his Palestinian workers, Abel, argued that, “if Europeans boycott us, it affects our livelihoods. We should bring Arab students here to see how co-existence is possible.” It was impossible to know if these were his real views—because his boss was standing beside him when he spoke.

In the company staff room, Cohen showed me a pin-board full of photographs where he said he took his Palestinian and Jewish employees on short holidays. He wasn’t overly worried about growing boycott threats against his factory from around the world because, as he told The Times of Israel in 2014, “If we let them [the Europeans] profit, in the end they’ll invest. The Europeans know one thing: Israel treats them well.”

At a briefing by the Shomron Regional Council, one of the largest in the West Bank, travel guide Boaz Haetzni proudly said that there were now roughly 430,000 Jewish residents in the West Bank and appropriately 250,000 in East Jerusalem. All settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this. “Settlements have negative connotations so we use the terms ‘towns’ and ‘villages’,” he said.

Haetzni was frustrated that Israeli outposts in the West Bank, mostly considered illegal even under Israeli law, “were not authorized because of American pressure. We live in an economically viable area but the government of Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to disturb this growth. Our area is the solution to Israel’s housing crisis but authorities are trying to stop us.” He attacked President Barack Obama for placing unfair restrictions on Israeli expansion and alleged that Netanyahu publicly praised the settlements—but in private instructed his officials to contain any new construction in the occupied territories.

Haetzni acknowledged that Arab residents lived in “parallel land and systems under a different economic system and often on different roads.” This form of racial and economic discrimination is why many critics of Israel compare it to apartheid South Africa. It’s also why the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is rising in popularity across the world, especially on British and American campuses. A recent survey by Ipsos global market research found that one third of Americans and 40 percent of Britons backed a boycott of Israel, but problematically, many still viewed the tactic as anti-Semitic.

Over dips, vegetables and fresh bread, Haetnzi stated that the nearby Barkan industrial park was “the only place in the Middle East where Jews and Arabs are in peace—but we have still been boycotted by the Europeans and Palestinian Authority.” Like many settlers I met, Haetzni was obsessed with Jewish and Arab birthrates, proudly explaining that Jewish birthrates were soaring and could comfortably maintain a majority over Arabs in the West Bank for the foreseeable future. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics disagrees, having issued a report this year that found the number of Jews in Israel would equal the number of Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories by the end of 2017.

It’s unsurprising that most settlers have no interest in leaving. They occupy some of the most fertile and beautiful parts of the West Bank. At the “Israel Lookout” in the Peduel settlement, the striking green and brown horizon included Tel Aviv through a heat haze and Ben Gurion International Airport. A young settler man serenaded his girlfriend with a guitar while sitting in a solitary wooden seat overlooking the view. The scene was tranquil and yet something was missing; Arabs were nowhere to be seen or heard. My guide Yehoshua Carmel, a friendly 30-year-old man born and living in Elkana settlement, acknowledged that it was “not normal to have Israeli soldiers around us all the time [for security]. I don’t want to live like this but it’s the only solution for now. If the IDF leaves here, it means that the government doesn’t want me to stay in this area. I would be very sad.”

I asked Carmel about settler violence against Palestinians, a constant threat and reality against Arab lives, farms and equipment, but he denied it was a problem and claimed the majority of attacks in the West Bank were by Arabs against Jews. “Maybe there are 50 fundamentalist Jews who want to use violence but most of us oppose violence,” he said. In July 2015, Palestinians in the village of Duma were firebombed by Jewish settlers and three members of the Dawabsheh family died including their 18-month old baby, Ali. Carmel questioned whether Jews could have committed such a grievous act. “It’s the wish of many around the world that the Duma murderers are Jewish,” he said. “It’s not terrorism if Jews did it; it’s murder. I won’t put the same terror label against Jews and Arabs. I’m religious and Duma was terrible. I’m praying it’s not Jews who did it.”

Israel’s settler movement has succeeded brilliantly in realizing its goals since 1967 due to a number of complimentary factors including decades-long persistence, Israel’s growing rightward shift, widespread distrust and contempt for Arabs and international support and complicity. The Jewish State’s backing of colonizing the West Bank has been prohibitively expensive, however. It was estimated by Israeli experts in 2007 to have cost US$50 billion since 1967 including security and civilian expenses.

Israel’s army has around 176,000 active duty soldiers and Israeli journalist Yossi Melman has calculated that it takes nearly 100,000 soldiers to keep the West Bank under Israeli control. US$600 million is required to maintain the occupation every year. The World Bank says that the Palestinian economy loses US$3.4 billion a year due to Israel’s discriminatory practices.

After nearly five decades of settlement expansion, reversing the trend is currently impossible. Although American and European governments often issue stern criticisms of Israel when new settlements are announced, there’s no economic incentive or punishment for Israel to end the addiction to expanding its territory. According to a new report by the non-profit Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, Israel has destroyed US$74 million worth of European Union projects in Palestinian territory in 2016, but the Jewish state has received no more than a public rebuke. U.S. President Barack Obama was condemned throughout my travels across the West Bank as anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli, but his time in office has seen the greatest financial support for the Jewish state in the country’s history.

Yet another failed peace initiative was recently pushed by France. A meeting was held in Paris that resulted in a bland statement with vague intentions to pursue an international conference before the end of the year, and Israel dismissed it entirely. The Palestinian Authority, a corrupt and un-elected body residing in Ramallah that faces increasing opposition from its own people for decades of mismanagement and failure, welcomed the initiative but has no power to encourage it. Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza that faces a strangulating blockade from Israel and Egypt, are determined to hold onto power and avoid another devastating military conflict with Israel.

With Daesh, Syria, Libya and Iraq weighing the region down into protracted conflicts, the Israel-Palestine conflict is no longer the key Middle East issue to be resolved. The ‘peace-process’ is dead, and Israel’s settler movement has capitalised on its demise; Netanyahu’s government has pro-settler politicians at every level including the recently appointed Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman who lives in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim.

When resigning Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon warned in May of “manifestations of extremism, violence and racism in Israeli society,” his message was decades too late. Thousands of Israelis converged at a Tel Aviv rally in April to support a solider who had executed an injured Palestinian in Hebron and the mood of the crowd was extreme, with one sign copying the Nazi SS slogan, “My honour is loyalty.” Also attending were members of Jewish supremacist group El Yahud who often attack Palestinians and leftist Israelis.

This wasn’t a fringe crowd but accurately representative of Israel’s body politic in 2016 with prominent politicians attending the event, including those from Netanyahu’s Likud party. A headline in Israeli daily Haaretz recently read: “Neo-fascists Threaten the West. In Israel They’ve Already Arrived.”

The settlers are equally mainstream and cannot be dismissed as minor players. Supporters recently released a guide book for tourists, “Yesha is Fun: The Good Life Guide to Judea and Samaria” [Biblical names for the West Bank] that pushes a “new and unique type of boutique tourism…tens of years after the return of the People of Israel to the land of our forebears”. Israel’s Civil Administration, tasked with managing the West Bank, were recently exposed by Haaretz for secretly re-mapping large sections of the West Bank in attempts to massively expand settlements. Israel’s largest human rights group, B’Tselem, announced in late May that it would no longer file complaints to the IDF and Israeli police about Israeli abuses in the West Bank and Gaza, citing poor or non-existent investigations by Israeli authorities.

Although there are small moves within Israel to find possible solutions to the conflict—“Two States One Homeland,” a new, small group including left-wing Israelis, Palestinians and settlers, advocates two sovereign states with open borders—the general Israeli mood is one of defiance, and an acceptance of the status-quo. It’s why the settler movement is so comfortable with its position and has few fears for its future. A 2016 poll by the Peace Index from the Israeli Democracy Institute found that 72 percent of Jewish Israelis did not believe that Israeli control over Palestinians was occupation.

It was a hot June afternoon when I reached Kashuela Farms near the Gush Etzion settlements. Located near Jerusalem and Bethlehem, I drove down a dirt track to find two Jewish families living in basic conditions in a partially cleared forest, with a simple campsite and two tipis for visitors. A website advertising the location said that, “putting it mildly, the Arab villagers in the area do not ‘like’ the presence of the farm. Hence there is round-the-clock security.” Herds of goats and sheep lived in large enclosures and I arrived to find a British, Jewish woman and her three children, all living in a nearby settlement, buying a few chickens as pets.

It was a peaceful environment. Head farmer Yair Ben-David, 38-years-old with four children, told me that he had moved to the area four years ago because the Israeli government only wanted Jews to protect the 2,000 donums of land. After the Jewish National Fund and mayor of Gush Etzion provided initial assistance to secure Jewish hold on the territory, Ben-David started developing the site. “It’s Jewish land,” he said. “Even if Palestinians have ancestors here, they don’t have a 2,000-year connection like us.” He was friendly with only one Arab man who lived in an adjacent village. “Sometimes it’s better to have no relationship [with Arabs] than a bad relationship,” he said. “Arabs know that Israel is the best place to live [in the Middle East].”

I joined Ben-David’s family and his related neighbours for a Sabbath meal inside a house made secure with water pipes and plastic sheeting. Hebrew blessings were given over the bread and the food consisted of salads, roasted chicken and vegetables, Shepherd’s pie, beans and quinoa. The children ate and then ran around the room, rendered freezing after the blaring air-conditioning could not be switched off during the Sabbath. Ben-David had timers to control the lights and hot plate for food, because he was religiously unable to do it during the Sabbath.

During the meal, we discussed relationships, the 2005 Gaza disengagement (“one of the saddest days in Israeli history,” one said), successive Gaza wars (I was told that the Israeli military was too cautious and overly worried about civilian casualties) and the boycott movement against Israel (it could only be explained as anti-Semitism, Ben-David said). The atmosphere was friendly and I sensed they welcomed the opportunity to discuss politics with somebody whose views opposed theirs.

After sleeping in a tipi, the following morning I accompanied Ben-David and two of his children to the gated outpost of Gevaot on a nearby hilltop to attend Sabbath prayers. It was held in a modern synagogue overlooking a playground paid for by the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton-Passaic in New Jersey. A highly controversial outpost, in 2014 the Israeli government appropriated large tracts of private Palestinian land and illegally redefined it as Israeli state land. Today it houses around 35 families. Many of the residents were with special needs, including Down’s syndrome, and some of these men contributed to the gender-separated, morning prayers. A civilian, Jewish guard with a machine gun walked in and placed his weapon beneath him while he prayed. After the service, I saw four IDF soldiers relaxing near a settler home, playing with their caged animals, and enjoying ice-creams given to them by a settler woman.

The settlers have created an armed, garrison state with a frontier mentality. Defiant in their belief that God gave Jews the land and Arabs must submit to their rule or leave, their success over five decades of expansion is clear. Funded, insulated, protected and armed by the Israeli state, Israel’s present and future is being written by them. It’s a vision that guarantees ongoing racial tensions and Palestinian dispossession. The international community has known this for decades and done virtually nothing to stop it.

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How occupation truths about Palestine often hidden by politicians and reporters

My column in the Guardian:

New South Wales Premier Mike Baird recently visited Israel and Palestine, the first for a sitting leader of the Australian state. After travelling to the occupied West Bank and seeing the Aida refugee camp, Baird wrote on Facebook that the situation was “heartbreaking.” He continued:

“I don’t know where the cycle of thousands of years of violence ends. But I do know that all kids should be able to dream. That they should have hope of a better future.”

Baird’s motherhood statements, pushing the human angle of the conflict, diluted the politics. He didn’t mention the Israeli occupation, its nearly 50-year existence and effects on Palestinian children. Human Rights Watch recently stated that, “Israeli security forces are abusing Palestinian children detained in the West Bank. The number of Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces has more than doubled since October 2015.” Amnesty issued a report this month telling Israel to protect human rights defenders and activists from Israeli military and settler violence.

Baird also briefly went to Bethlehem and met its first female mayor. He wrote that Vera Baboun was a teacher and “fierce advocate for her community as she seeks to solve some very complex problems.”

Channel 9 News and Sky News covered Baird’s time in the West Bank, at least the word “occupation” was briefly uttered by one report, yet they both grossly exaggerated the journey into a supposedly brutal war zone. It’s nothing of the sort. I’m based in East Jerusalem and safely travel to the West Bank without fear of attack.

Apart from scant time in the West Bank, Baird’s trip was principally about deepening NSW’s economic, medical cannabis and policing ties to Israel. Co-ordinated by the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Baird was effusive in his praise for Israel. He told the Australian Jewish News that Israel is an “incredible nation” that is “leading the world in so many ways”. He wanted his trip to represent a “critical turning point” in relations between NSW and Israel, “going from being … allies and friends to significant collaborators and economic partners.”

Baird inked a deal with Israeli arms manufacturer, Elbit Services, to provide a flight simulator to help the Australian Royal Flying Doctor Service. Elbit is subject to a worldwide campaign against its involvement in Israel’s military and building of the separation wall through Palestinian territory.

The politics around Israel/Palestine are changing in Australia, however, and Baird’s visit won’t change this reality. Outgoing Labor MP Melissa Parke – who worked as a UN lawyer in Gaza – tabled a petition in parliament urging Australia to back the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. The Greens’ Lee Rhiannon is an outspoken opponent of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Although many politicians and journalists from most media outlets routinely take free pro-Israel lobby trips to Israel with a few minutes in the West Bank, and despite growing opposition in the NSW Labor party, the Australian public are becoming less tolerant of the Israeli occupation and regular attacks against Gaza.

Roy Morgan polling from 2011 showed that a majority of Australians opposed expanding Israeli colonies in the West Bank, and in 2014 a majority also thought that Australia should vote yes for Palestinian recognition as an independent member state at the UN. These trends have had no effect on Australia partneringwith Israelis weapon’s manufacturers over the last decade; Canberra is keen to purchase battle-tested armaments.

The boundaries of acceptable political debate in Australia are narrow. Think of so-called Labor dissidents pushing for the party to recognise Palestine at some point in the indeterminate future when such a policy is irrelevant to facts on the ground after nearly 50 years of Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

The Palestinian Authority, the likely head of this “state”, is an authoritarian and corrupt body backed by the west, including Australia. What’s brave calling for them to rule over Palestinians? On the ground in Palestine, the idea of “recognising” Palestine elicits confusion. Many Palestinians tell me they crave global support and recognition but after years of empty gestures and UN resolutions their scepticism is warranted. Palestinian politicians haven’t faced an election in over 10 years.

I know that some activists in Australia celebrated Mike Baird’s brief trip to Palestine as a sign that political leaders have to at least show interest in the Palestinians in 2016. Perhaps. But until journalists and politicians talk more honesty about Israel’s stranglehold on the Palestinian territories, public opinion will continue to turn away from the Jewish state.

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The risk and financial cost of speaking honestly about Israel/Palestine

Crikey is one of Australia’s best independent news websites. I contributed extensively over the years from 2009 – 2012. Its current departing editor, Marni Cordell, with whom I worked when she edited another great Australian site, New Matilda, has written a revealing article that interviews previous Crikey editors and their experiences. It contains this anecdote that proves once again that being critical about Israel/Palestine is full of political and financial risks:

Misha Ketchell (2005-2006) says he felt sick “pretty much every morning” as Crikey ed. “I don’t miss the sheer terror of being on that tight morning deadline, or coming home at the end of the day a shell of a human being. I’ve never since worked under the same sort of compressed time pressure that we did at Crikey in those early days.”

One of the most awkward, however, was “probably when I published a poem that Guy Rundle wrote as a tribute to Antony Loewenstein, called ‘Ballad of the self-hating Jew’.

“When the poem arrived I realised it was genuinely affectionate tribute to Loewenstein, but it was riffing in a typical Rundle edgy way and I was worried that some people might not get the satire and think it was anti-Semitic,” he says.

“I rang Antony and asked him to vet the poem. He liked it and said we should publish it, so we did. Then the calls started to come in accusing us of anti-Semitism. Some very important advertisers pulled their advertising. Eric Beecher was great about it — he never said a word — but I knew it hurt Crikey commercially.”

For the record, I still like the poem so here it is (this will make most sense for people living in Australia):

by Guy Rundle (for Antony Loewenstein):

He was trucking down Carlisle St

With a bagel in his hand

Someone said to someone

Who is that awful man?

Him? Oh my dear I thought you knew

That’s the neurotic, self-hating Jew

He thinks it’s not impossible

That Israel is in error

And even if you’re airborne

Terror is still terror

Mass killing might be wrong!

Gosh even torture too?

Yes, amazingly, cos he’s a neurotic quite

psychotic, self-hating Jew

He believes peaceful neighbours

Can’t be built from rubble

And it’s possible that Begin

Was Arafat sans stubble

That Dershowitz is crazy

And Danby might be too

He’s a neurotic, psychotic, ingrate

third rate, self-hating Jew

He’s pretty sure that AIJACS

Will get a surface clean

(sotto voce: Gaza for example)

But you shouldn’t inhale it,

If you know what I mean

He disagrees with Leibler (gasps)

So alas it must be true

He’s a third rate, ingrate, simple inexplicable,

Utterly despicable, neurotic, quite psychotic, blue meanie party pooping self-hating Jew

He thinks that Eretz Israel

Needs someone to restrain her

Says he likes chopped liver

But not if it’s called “Qana”

He’s a yarmulke-wearing mullah

And once we’ve whacked Hezbollah

(any day now)

We’ll settle his hash too

Ingrate third rate, neurotic, quite psychotic

Vanunu in a muu-muu, self-hating Jew.

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Israel’s biggest anti-BDS conference hits Jerusalem

My story in Mondoweiss (my photos here):

One of Israel’s biggest newspapers staged the country’s first national conference against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement this week in Jerusalem. Yedioth Ahronoth and its website Ynet organized a day-long event that featured the majority of leading Israeli politicians and many cultural figures. Fear, paranoia, anger and determination was ubiquitous amongst the panelists and audience. BDS could never have imagined a more high-profile advertisement for its agenda.

Co-sponsored by Sodastream, World Jewish Congress, Bank Hapoalim and StandWithUs, who are organizing their own anti-BDS event in Los Angeles in April, the aim of the day was to counter the worldwide growth of BDS. The organizers stated that, “without knives or missiles but with an explosive payload consisting of outrageous lies – genocide, apartheid and crimes against humanity – the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is conquering a growing number of strongholds in Europe, the United States and elsewhere. From the campuses of California to the supermarkets of Paris, the academic, economic and cultural boycott is becoming a palpable threat to the international status of the State of Israel.”

Held in the Jerusalem Convention Center, hundreds of young and old participants from across the globe were treated to a collection of images in the foyer mocking the intentions of BDS supporters. One picture featured two black Africans standing on dry land while pro-Palestinian flotillas headed out to sea in the opposite direction. “Let’s wave these, maybe we’ll get some support, too”, one of the impoverished looking Africans said to the other while holding Palestinian flags. Another image showed an Israeli soldier saying to what was presumably a Palestinian woman, “Ho, cute baby.” A man sitting in a director’s chair labelled BDS shouts, “Cut! We need more hatred! The world won’t buy that!”


The professionally organized conference was slick. Throughout the day, short videos with ominous music were shown to the crowd. The clips were of BDS supporters, BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti (a name repeatedly mentioned during the day, including threats to remove his permanent resident status), global protests against Israel and musicians who refuse to play in the Jewish state.

Speaker after speaker either confirmed the BDS threat or said it shouldn’t be exaggerated. There was confusion how to tackle a problem that couldn’t be destroyed by conventional military means. Yedioth Ahronoth Editor-in-Chief Ron Yaron said that BDS should not be underestimated. There was a “feeling that you have been marked…We don’t want to wake up in 10 years to find ourselves in a position like apartheid South Africa.” He quickly dismissed any comparison between the two nations.

An “information kit for Israelis studying abroad” was available listing the “lies” and “truth” about Israel. It’s a curious document. While acknowledging that, “not every closing of every store in Hebron is fair and not every delay at every checkpoint is justifiable”, occupation (though this word isn’t used) is still sugar-coated. “In spite of the obvious improvements in the lives of Palestinians from 1967 until today, Israeli rule has also created serious issues for Palestinians.” The 1948 Nakba is explained away as “there were some instances of expulsions [but] these were not the rule.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, hailed as a moderate in some of the American media despite recently meeting with members of Lev HaOlam (a group dedicated to supporting businesses in the occupied West Bank), condemned BDS. “The BDS movement is a movement founded on the non-acceptance of Israel’s existence”, he said. “We must differentiate between criticism and de-legitimization. We must show the world the claims of the BDS movement are based on hatred and enmity of the State of Israel.” Rivlin praised Israel’s democratic nature and “one of the most ethical armies in the world”. He closed his remarks by saying that, “the Israeli flag should be held high and we should be proud”. The crowd cheered.

Ron Lauder, head of the World Jewish Congress, told the gathering that, “our enemies have failed to destroy Israel militarily and economically. Having failed, they are trying to destroy Israel politically.” He accused “well-financed anti-Israel groups” of poisoning the minds of Jews on US campuses. “Most Jewish students are ill-equipped to defend themselves”, he argued. The irony was lost on the crowd that the US Zionist community has already spent tens of millions of dollars trying to polish Israel’s image with little discernable effect. There’s no evidence that BDS groups have received any comparable financial backing.

Lauder pledged to push the US Congress and other nations “to make economic boycotts illegal.” There are signs that the US Congress is taking note and pushing to criminalize constitutionally protected speech and non-violent resistance. France is leading the way with other countries likely to follow. Such legislation guarantees BDS activists will break the law and challenge its moral and legal basis.

Successive politicians slammed BDS and never mentioned the occupation (a word that only appeared during the day when questioning BDS allegations against Israel). Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan linked BDS to jihadism and Islamist terrorism, a connection repeatedly made across every panel. “Supporters of BDS justify their actions because of the ‘occupation,’ but if we really look at them, they also wave Hamas flags and call for the destruction of the State of Israel. This fight is not over any particular thing in our lives – but over our right to live here.” Erdan was pleased that every US Presidential candidate spoke out against BDS at the recent AIPAC conference in Washington DC. “Not Bernie Sanders”, he said, “but I’m sure he’ll be against it, too…With the help of God and you all, we will succeed.” Erdan recently claimed that BDS was a threat “to the international community” as well as Israel.

Haaretz journalist and commentator Gideon Levy has written for years that the majority of the Israeli media are mouthpieces for the government of the day. They may disagree with certain policies now and then but in the end they’ll side with Israel’s pro-occupation regime. The anti-BDS conference offered more evidence to prove Levy’s point. Yedioth Ahronoth columnist Ben Dror Yemini praised Israel’s democracy and relished “exposing” critics “who publish lies”. Another Yedioth reporter, Ronen Bergman, after recounting one of his Israeli intelligence sources “recently telling me that we can fight Hizbollah, Iran and its nukes but we haven’t yet defeated BDS; it’s a strategic challenge for the Israeli state”, asked whether “we defeat BDS like we did Hamas and Islamic Jihad 15 years ago [during a wave of suicide bombings]?”

One of the more predictably disappointing speakers was EU Ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, who was recently defamed in a video by Israeli settlers comparing him to Hannibal Lector. After refusing pro-Palestinian activists request to withdraw from appearing on stage with Dani Dayan, former head of the settler movement and just appointed Israeli consul-general in New York, his comments were timid. After stating that EU policy towards the settlements was that they were illegal, he continued: “Our policy is engagement with Israel. We are Israel’s largest trade partner, and we are Israel’s most important international partner in science, technology, and the list goes on.”

He was asked if an Israeli company had offices or factories in both Israel and the occupied territories was reason to label its product from the settlements (as is now happening in the EU with products from the West Bank). He said no. “Settlement products are welcome on the EU market”, he stated, undermining any effort to hold Israeli companies to account.

A flurry of Israeli politicians appeared, mouthed anti-BDS platitudes and left the building. Labor Opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog, who recently proposed a policy of forcibly separating from the Palestinians, praised the IDF as “working to the highest goals” and compared BDS to classic anti-Semitism. Yair Lapid hoped to “motivate the start-up nation”.

Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon said there was “no evidence that the Israeli economy was affected” by BDS though pledged to help any Israeli company that was. Israeli farmer Bar Heffetz recently wrote on Facebook that BDS was having an effect on sales to Europe. Kahlon said that Palestinians were the ones suffering the most from BDS “as the boycott harms the exports from the settlements, where most of the workers are Palestinians.” Former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said it was fashionable to “be vegan and hate on Israel” and wanted Israel to “change its policies [and] support the IDF as a moral and strong army.” Education Minister Naftali Bennett wanted Israel to “change the narrative and highlight our strong points. Trade with Europe is up and Israel is a steady light tower in an Arab storm.”

Challenging the official position that BDS wasn’t harming the Israeli economy, a panel with Israel’s leading industrialists argued otherwise. Former Intel Israeli President Shmuel Eden said that BDS was a “terrible threat” and “we are losing young, Jewish Americans”. Michael Jonas, CEO of Afek Oil and Gas, accused BDS of “terror” and expressed displeasure that many Arab states didn’t recognize its drilling in the occupied Golan Heights. Daniel Birnbaum, CEO of Sodastream, said Israel was in a “war” and denied that his company’s recent move to open a new plant in the Negev had any connection to BDS pressure (a contrary position to what he argued last year). “We needed a bigger plant and in the Negev, one hour from Ramallah, gives Palestinians work. This isn’t an apartheid state; we need co-existence.” Ofra Strauss, chairperson of the Strauss Group, urged more publicity about US and Israeli ties. “I grow in pride when people around the world drink Sodastream”, she said.

A sign of the anti-BDS campaign’s desperation was asking American actress and comedian Roseanne Barr to give the keynote address. She has a history of defaming Islam. Her talk rambled between accusing BDS of being “fascist” and “right-wing” and denying Israel was occupying any Palestinian territory at all (a position shared by virtually all of the day’s speakers). The crowd cheered throughout her talk. “It’s a huge turn-on being in service as a Jew”, she said to applause.

A panel dedicated to “beating the boycott movement on social media” consisted of mostly StandWithUs employees. “Strategic consultant” Chen Mazig, self-described “good friend” of Roseanne Barr, called prominent Palestinian writer and tweeter Ali Abunimah “a raving fanatic, a lunatic. He hates Jews”. Honest Reporting CEO Joe Hyams wanted the audience to “focus on the 85%-90% of people [online] who are undecided about Israel”. His organization routinely publishes propaganda for the IDF.

By late afternoon, and the program running overtime, US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, repeated US talking points about Israel and vigorously opposed BDS. Interestingly, he urged Israel to resume peace talks with the Palestinians because, “when we have such a tool, our hand is strengthened, not with the core advocates of BDS, who have a truly anti-Israel agenda independent of the conflict, but with those who are persuadable, and there are significant numbers of such people.” It was a theme repeated by Tzipi Livni earlier in the day. BDS would apparently suffer if at least the illusion of peace talks took place.

Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked, a hard-right politician who has called all Palestinian people the “enemy”, said that “justice ministers around the world are great friends of Israel. They all love Israel and want to cooperate with it, especially in light of Israel’s experience in the war against terrorism.” She’s right; this co-operation is deepening and will likely continue to do so after more attacks like the ones recently suffered in Europe.

By day’s end, with all the fish, chicken, salad and marzipan chocolate eaten, the final session was about the cultural boycott of Israel and how to beat it. Actress Yael Abecassis said that she was a “spokesperson [for Israel] as soon as I leave the house, when I leave the country. We are all soldiers.” Musician Idan Raichel said that BDS activists had never successfully cancelled his performances. Producer Shuki Weiss, who revealed that Elton John was asked to sign an Israeli loyalty pledge before his show in Tel Aviv, said that few international musicians were listening to the BDS call by former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters.

It was a surreal day, filled with determination to defeat BDS, but participants were seemingly incapable of truly understanding why the movement was surging globally. Anti-Semitism was the oft-stated reason. The current mood in Jewish Israel is nationalistic, belligerent, fearful and contemptuous of Palestinians, pro-military and intolerant of dissent. International media is being blamed for Israel’s poor global standing.

BDS is working. Israeli companies are increasingly moving out of the West Bank to avoid being boycotted (though corporate media outlets like the Financial Times continue to produce plush spreads about the “start-up nation”). In many ways, the West Bank and Israel are already indivisible politically and morally; it’s one state with Jews and Arabs facing different rights and laws. Israel proper is complicit in establishing and deepening the West Bank colonies. De-facto annexation of the West Bank is happening today. Gaza remains broken.

The fact that this anti-BDS event happened at all, after years of Zionist groups and the Israeli government claiming the movement was irrelevant, was a clear sign that BDS has started to bite. Mossad is already pushing a cyberwar against BDS activists. The anti-BDS conference revealed that there are few strategies being contemplated apart from more money for US campuses to spread Israeli propaganda and funds to better sell the country’s supposed benefits to an increasingly skeptical world.

There’s no doubt that draconian legislation against BDS could hamper the movement’s rise in the short term, and BDS leaders could be targeted by political, social or military means, but the underlying trajectory of Israel is clear. The US and its allies are now supporting the “first signs of fascism in Israel”, Gideon Levy recently said. BDS will continue to grow globally because Israel is helping its cause on a daily basis.

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The importance of creating a one-state solution in Palestine

My book review in Electronic Intifada:

The Re-Emergence of the Single State Solution in Palestine/Israel by Cherine Hussein (Routledge, 2015)

The death of the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine has been a long time coming.

Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff recently wrote in The Times of Israel that the settler movement had “won.”

“No Palestinian state will exist here beside the State of Israel,” he said. He argued that Israel was beginning “its inexorable slide toward eventually becoming a Muslim state.” Issacharoff feared this outcome because he believed “separation” was the only way for Israel to survive as a Jewish-majority entity.

The unspoken reality, however, has always been that a two-state arrangement, if it ever came to fruition, would disproportionately discriminate against Palestinians, including Palestinian citizens of Israel. Moreover, a true democracy doesn’t divide itself along ethnic or religious lines unless it wants to resemble apartheid South Africaor the Jim Crow south in the United States.

In today’s Jewish state and even more so in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israeli violence against Palestinians isn’t an aberration but a deliberate policy of control.

And nobody truly believes that hundreds of thousands of Israeli colonists will be moved from their places of residence without causing a Jewish civil war in Israel.

These realities require more imaginative thinking towards a viable outcome for an oppressed Palestinian population.

This book by Cherine Hussein, deputy director and research fellow at the Council for British Research in the Levant’s Kenyon Institute in East Jerusalem, aims to correct the myriad of misconceptions about the one-state solution. She frames her argument around the celebratory mood after the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993 and posits a more realistic alternative.

“Since then, the two-state solution has continued to both dominate, and frustrate, the official search for peace” she explains. “In parallel to this however, a more obscured struggle of resistance — centered upon the single state idea as a more liberating pathway towards justice — has re-emerged against the hegemony of Zionism and separation, and the shrinking territorial space for a viable two-state solution in the contested land.”

For Hussein, this struggle is personal. She writes that being an Egyptian “played a big role in establishing an easy rapport based upon a natural solidarity with the Palestinian people.”

She wants to know “whether or not the single state solution simply represented the resurfacing of an idea within the corridors of academia; to illuminate the kind of phenomenon the single state idea could be in the process of becoming; and to inform the understandings of political and social transformation deployed within it.”

Hussein aims to illuminate questions relevant to the scholarly field of International Relations, but her project also aims to be forward-looking, and to “explore the possibility of a single-state movement seriously.”

Over the course of the book, it becomes clear that Hussein had only limited access to Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories. It’s an unfortunate gap, despite the author blaming “geographical accessibility and limited sources of information.”

Modern communication technology surely renders these excuses redundant. After all, decades of futile negotiations between a complicit Palestinian Authority and Israel has led to growing support within Palestine for a single state. We need to hear these voices.

Hussein offers a pithy history of how the one-state option entered the public consciousness, highlighting a number of articles in American literary publications and surely more importantly “the extent to which ‘the facts on the ground’ created by Israel were irreversible, and how profoundly this reality had transformed the search for workable solutions and viable futures.”

Importantly, she stresses that “the broad ideological orientations of single-state intellectuals are located within the realm of the secular” despite the majority of Palestinians being either proud Christians or Muslims. The challenge of including, say, Hamas in a one-state imagination, a group wanting an Islamic entity, is acknowledged.

How to mainstream the one-state solution, to generate widespread support among Palestinians in the diaspora and in Palestine itself is a key question without any set answers. Hussein writes that, “while it is Palestinian-Israelis [Palestinian citizens of Israel] who are acknowledged to be the central energy behind the re-emergence of the single-state idea, Diaspora Palestinians are its fastest growing force.”

Deepening Israeli racism, occupation and intransigence are arguably the best weapons one-state advocates have and there’s every indication Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government will continue delivering on that front.

The surging boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign is intricately linked to this shift in political alignment. Hussein correctly concludes that, “while the BDS movement may not take an open stand on political solutions … its practices of resistance remain interlinked with the tactics of the single-state conception of the world.”

However, the short-term impediments to the one-state movement and Palestinian political elites joining forces are clear: “no official Palestinian body or faction has openly supported the single-state solution as the desired Palestinian solution as of this writing. As such, single-state intellectuals are obstructed by this obstacle in openly calling for a single-state solution within diverse theaters of international civil society.”

Hussein is presumably referring to the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, two leading political bodies with a desultory record of adherence to human rights.

This book would have been greatly enhanced by Hussein spending far more time on the ground in Palestine rather than overly relying on (often) years-old sources and writings. This is an academic text and sometimes feels burdened with impenetrable language. The aim is clearly a scholarly readership.

The urgency in Palestine for solutions has never been clearer. The author has written a summary of the key events in modern Palestine and why the one-state solution is a just outcome to the conflict.

Insightful analysis is vital in an age of cheap and predictable opinions, and Hussein reviews the record comprehensively. It would have been helpful for the author to provide more concrete thoughts on how more Palestinians (and Israelis, for that matter) would embrace a truly democratic, one-state solution, but perhaps that’s a task for another book.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and Guardian columnist. He is author of, most recently,Disaster Capitalism.

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The important logic of BDS against Israeli occupation

There is increasing global pressure on Israel over its brutal treatment of the Palestinians. The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign is thriving due to daily abuses and racism against Arabs in Israel proper and the occupied, Palestinian territories. The Israeli government is scared (see here and here) and even Hillary Clinton, in a transparent move to secure money for her Presidential campaign, pledges to fight BDS.

I’ve been writing about this issue for over a decade and always Zionists and Israel defenders simply believe that better PR will address their legitimacy problems; very few seriously believe that ending a nearly half-century occupation is even part of the equation. That’s why they’re losing so badly.

I’ve been interviewed for a feature in The Jerusalem Report (part of the right-wing Jerusalem Post). The PDF is here: Taking on BDS

Read and judge for yourself but a few points (apart from getting my surname wrong). It barely mentions the occupation, dishonestly – and seriously, this is the best pro-Israel types can do? – links BDS to anti-Semitism and interviews two Australian academics whose book on BDS has a weird obsession with me, shows stunning ignorance in the reality of Israel’s occupation of Palestine and asks the world to hug Israelis instead of boycotting them; no wonder “liberal Zionists” are flailing about for relevance as Israeli racism soars.

If this is part of the anti-BDS push, the movement has a long and proud period ahead.

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Gough Whitlam was a giant but Timor is a shameful blindspot

My weekly Guardian column:

After yesterday’s state memorial service, the beatification of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam is complete. His domestic policies were rightly praised for dragging the country into a more enlightened age (although the project is far from complete) but since his death in October there’s been curiously little written about his foreign affairs legacy.

A few exceptions exist: The Australian’s Greg Sheridan’s praised Whitlam for backing the Indonesian invasion of Timor Leste, and John Pilgersaluted his rare challenge to global American dominance.

On foreign policy, Whitlam supported some troubling causes. He cosied up to Indonesian dictator General Suharto, and gave his assent to Jakarta’s plans to occupy what was then Portuguese Timor. During a conversation he had with Suharto in Townsville in April 1975, the former prime minister expressed concern about the Australian left.

“[They] tended to be paternalistic, patronising and wholly convinced of their purity and of the soundness of their own views,” Whitlam told Suharto.

“From this basis they assumed the right to criticise the domestic politics of other countries and to find fault with certain aspects of the social or political structure of other countries, including corruption or the fact that there were too many Generals in government departments.”

This was less than 10 years after the horrific, Western-backed massacres unleashed by Suharto against his own people, which led to one of the worst genocides of the 20th century.

The World Bank later called Suharto a model pupil for his repressive economic and political positions. Every Australian prime minister to the present day, from both the Labor and Liberal parties, agreed. On Suharto’s death in 2008, former prime minister Paul Keating praised the dictator as bringing “peace and order” to his country.

It took until the late 1990s for a rare voice of elite dissent to emerge. Labor’s foreign affairs spokesman Laurie Brereton argued that his party should change its stance on Timor and support self-determination. It’s a view that angered Whitlam. A revealing cartoon from 1999 reflected the mood.

Less well-known is how Whitlam’s stance on Timor influenced Jakarta’s domestic policy. According to a letter sent to Timor’s Jose Ramos Horta on 17 June 1974, Indonesian foreign minister Adam Malik expressed support for an independent Timor. “The independence of every country is the right of every nation, with no exception for the people of Timor”, Malik stated.

This may have been an untruth, designed to fool Timorese independence leaders. A cable sent to Canberra on 14 October 1974 showed that Whitlam’s views influenced Jakarta’s decision to invade:

“Until Mr Whitlam’s visit to Djakarta they [Indonesia] had been undecided about Timor. However the Prime Minister’s support for the idea of incorporation into Indonesia had helped them to crystallise their own thinking and they were now firmly convinced of the wisdom of this course.”

When Indonesian troops rolled into Timor in December 1975 and occupied the nation until October 1999, decades of violence and hundreds of thousands of deaths followed. Diplomatic, political and military support came from Australia, America and Britain.

The murder of the Balibo Five, Australian journalists who were killed by Indonesian security forces in October 1975, remains an open sore from that time; both countries are loathe to investigate the deaths more thoroughly. Even the Jakarta Post recently acknowledged the lack of accountability over Indonesian atrocities in Timor.

Like every political leader, Whitlam could be principled, humane and provocative. On the Israel/Palestine conflict, unlike every prime minister since, he sent the Zionist establishment and Israeli government into conniptions. Like Bob Carr, the Gillard government’s foreign minister, Whitlam was also sceptical of Israel’s colonial ambitions.

Where Bob Hawke was once described as a “pro-Israel fanatic” by US ambassador James Hargrove, the Australian Financial Review’s Tony Walker lamented on Whitlam’s death that “Australian governments have a tendency to tailor Middle East policy to suit domestic political considerations and forego first principles.”

With the notable exception of Labor MP Melissa Parke – who recently saluted the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel – it’s almost unimaginable for an Australian politician, let alone a prime minister, to speak like Whitlam did during his time in government:

“There can be no peace until Israeli forces have been withdrawn from occupied territories, to secure and recognised boundaries, and a just settlement of the refugee problem is achievable. That is an even-handed policy.”

Myth-making is common when a legendary figure dies and Whitlam is no different. His support for the independence of Papua New Guinea in 1975, a long overdue recognition that Canberra should no longer control Port Moresby’s affairs, has attracted revisionism from across the political spectrum.

Some critics believe Whitlam used independence for PNG as “a lever to advance his ambitions in the Labor party”, and that PNG – now a “failed state” – would have been better to wait, perhaps indefinitely, for statehood. Missing from the picture are the real causes of the country’s woes: corruption and the resource curse, prompted by Western leaders and corporations too keen to exploit precious minerals and people.

In a similar way, progressives laud Whitlam for challenging Washington’s meddling in Australia, the Pine Gap intelligence base and the disastrous US invasion of Vietnam. Newly released documents portray a more nuanced picture. Whitlam had resolved to shift the balance in favour of Australian sovereignty. The US consequently became anxious over the future of its military installations.

The Nixon administration seriously considered ditching the formal strategic alliance with Canberra, and proposed to move key intelligence posts to other nations. It was only after Whitlam publicly defended the installations – against the wishes of many in his party – that he again became palatable to Washington.

Every great leader, of which too few exist today, is a bundle of vision, wit, force and contradiction. Whitlam was no different. Domestically his agenda was saintly and vital, giving Australia a modern face and temperament. Overseas, however, he both excelled and sinned. Any assessment of a great leader must acknowledge who benefits, and who suffers – both locally and internationally.

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US radio interview with Alan Dershowitz on Israel, Zionism and occupation

Last week I received a surprising email from the producer of a new US radio program hosted by the famed Zionist academic and writer Alan Dershowitz. It’s called Debate Dershowitz. I was invited on as a guest last weekend to discuss Israel, Palestine, occupation and war. As one of America’s most vocal and blind defenders of Israel I wasn’t expecting a calm and rational discussion. It was sometimes hard getting a word in, Dershowitz loves defending Israel and its every actions, but I’m happy to report I mentioned boycotts, violence, Jews turning away from Zionism and the one-state solution. My interview begins at 26:49: