Saturday, November 27, 2010

Stephen R. Shalom analyses claims of anti-Semitic double standards /

Critics of Israel are anti-Semitic, say apologists on behalf of Israel. The proof? They (the critics) resort to double standards, demanding of Israel what they don't demand of other nations.

Stephen Shalom goes through various variation of the double standard/anti-Semitism claims, checking to see what merit they have, if any.
I see this essay and the references at the end as a useful tool for activists, who encounter regularly the very allegations Shalom analyses.

Racheli Gai.

Stephen R. Shalom: anti-Semitism and the Israel-Palestine conflict – assessing the claim of double standards

Israeli Occupation Archive – 19 Nov 2010

[This is a revised version of a talk given at Yale University on Nov. 11, 2010, at a forum sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine]

As it becomes increasingly difficult to justify Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people, Israel's apologists — whether based in Israel or at pseudo-academic centers such as the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism — resort to another line of defense: namely, they accuse Israel's critics of being anti-Semitic. Not the sort of classic anti-Semitism found for example in Hamas's Charter, but instead the anti-Semitism of an anti-Israel double standard.

What I'd like to do is examine some of these claims of anti-Semitism and double standards and see what merit they may have.


One argument supporting the charge of anti-Semitism goes like this: It is anti-Semitic to hold Israel to a higher standard than other countries. Why, for example, are critics more concerned about civilian casualties caused by Israel in its attack on Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009 than by the United States in its assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah in November 2004? This is the argument made for example, by Israeli analyst Yossi Alpher.[1]

Alpher, I think, overstates the number of casualties in Fallujah, but let's agree that both attacks killed large numbers of innocent civilians. So, yes, anyone who cheered the U.S. military in Fallujah and condemned Israel in Gaza would be a hypocrite. But this certainly wasn't the view taken by leading progressive critics of Israel, whose position was quite consistent and principled: they denounced both attacks for showing an immoral disregard for the welfare of non-combatants; they accused both the Bush administration and the Olmert government of responsibility for grave war crimes.[2]

There was in fact widespread criticism of the Fallujah attack; and the Iraq war as a whole was overwhelmingly opposed by world public opinion. In fact, the only country in the world where a clear majority of the population supported the initiation of the war was Israel.[3] Six months before the war began Israel's deputy Interior Minister, Gideon Ezra, said regarding a U.S. attack on Iraq "The more aggressive the attack is, the more it will help Israel against the Palestinians. The understanding would be that what is good to do in Iraq, is also good for here."[4]

I don't mean to suggest that Israel learned how to treat Palestinians from U.S. behavior in Iraq. Actually, there's quite a bit of evidence that U.S. tactics in Iraq draw from Israeli experience. For example, Dexter Filkins wrote in The New York Times in December 2003,

"American soldiers are demolishing buildings thought to be used by Iraqi attackers. They have begun imprisoning the relatives of suspected guerrillas, in hopes of pressing the insurgents to turn themselves in….The response they chose is beginning to echo the Israeli counterinsurgency campaign in the occupied territories."[5]

The press also reported Israeli urban warfare experts briefing U.S. military personnel on what they might encounter in Iraq. But in fact the U.S. military and the Israeli military are so intertwined that it's hard to sort out the chicken and the egg here. In 2007, for example, the U.S. Marine Corps newspaper reported on a new urban warfare training center in Israel where U.S. troops hoped to later train.[6] The center was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and funded largely from U.S. military aid, and was said to be preparing Israeli forces for combat in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, and Syria.

So it would indeed be wrong to criticize Israeli actions in Gaza in 2008-09 while giving a pass to the United States. But there's no double standard — there's a single standard — when we say all attacks that cause massive harm to civilians violate international humanitarian law and should be firmly denounced. And that's why we denounce both Israeli behavior and that of the U.S. government in Iraq.


A second argument holds that it's anti-Semitic to criticize Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, when in fact the Arab countries themselves have severely mistreated Palestinians, and refused to take steps to resettle the Palestinian refugees.

There is no doubt that Palestinians have fared badly in the Arab world. Only in Jordan have Palestinians been eligible for citizenship. In Lebanon, the government fears that allowing Palestinians to become citizens would disturb the country's delicate Christian-Muslim balance; in Egypt, the shortage of arable land led the government to confine the Palestinians to the Gaza Strip. It must be noted, however, that the Palestinians were reluctant to leave the camps if that meant acquiescing in the loss of homes and property or giving up their right to return. One saw the same pattern during the 1999 Kosovo war. Many Kosovar Albanians who were driven from their homes did not want to leave the refugee camps on the borders for fear this would weaken their claim to later return home.

In any event, it is true that Palestinians have been abused in many Arab countries. One should note, however, that the worst treatment of Palestinians often was carried out in collaboration with the Israelis. So when Lebanese Phalangists massacred thousands at Sabra and Shitila, Israel gave them support, at a minimum firing illumination flares over the camps so that the killers could carry out their grizzly deeds. When King Hussein of Jordan slaughtered thousands in September of 1970, Israel (and Washington) stood ready to come to his aid. When Kuwait expelled its entire Palestinian population following the Gulf War, no voices in Tel Aviv or Washington were raised on their behalf.

It is sometimes implied that the lack of assistance to Palestinians from Arab nations somehow justifies Israel's refusal to acknowledge and address the claims of the refugees. But if you harm someone, you are responsible for redressing that harm, regardless of whether the victim's relatives are supportive.

One must distinguish here between the attitude of the Arab states and of the Arab people. Efraim Karsh in a recent op-ed in the New York Times[7] is quite right about the sorry record of the Arab states when it comes to supporting Palestinians, but when he claims to cite a public opinion poll showing that the Arab population shares this indifference, he's basing his claim on a non-poll that didn't ask about Palestinians at all.[8] There is in fact deep support in the Arab world for Palestinian rights. And when Karsh tells us that Jordan's King Abdullah went to war in 1948 not on behalf of the Palestinians, but to grab territory, he's correct; but what Karsh omits is that Israel was in cahoots with Abdullah, with the two nations secretly agreeing to carve up between themselves the fledgling Palestinian state.[9] So by all means let us denounce Abdullah's treachery, but this hardly whitewashes the record of Abdullah's senior partner, the Israeli state.


Some claim that it's anti-Semitic to demand a state for Palestinians at the expense of the world's one Jewish state. After all, the Arabs already have 22 states. Why do they need another one?

This argument, of course, is nonsensical. Not all Arabs are the same. That other Arabs may already have their right of self-determination does not take away from Palestinians' basic rights. There are more than 50 European nations. Is this an argument to deny Hungarians, say, a state of their own? Would anyone think of suggesting that Hungarians could be re-settled in one of the other 50 European states and so don't need their own state?

The fact that many Palestinians live in Jordan and have considerable influence and rights there — or at least those rights that are compatible with living in an authoritarian monarchy — doesn't mean that the millions of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation or who were expelled from their homes and are now in refugee camps aren't entitled to their rights — any more than the fact that there are a lot of Jews in the United States, where they have considerable influence and rights, means that Israeli Jews should be packed off across the Atlantic.


It is anti-Semitic — claims another argument — to be concerned about Palestinian refugees, but not about the approximately equal number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. In fact, there's been a population exchange, with Jews from Arab lands coming to Israel and replacing the Palestinians. So nothing needs to be done for the Palestinians.

This argument too is spurious. Jews left Arab countries under various circumstances: some were forced out, some came voluntarily, some were recruited by Zionist officials. In the case of Iraq, Jews feared that they might be harmed, a fear possibly helped along by some covert bombs placed by Zionist agents.[10]

But whatever the case, there are no moral grounds for punishing Palestinians (or denying them their due) because of how Jews were treated in the Arab world. Individual Palestinians are not responsible for the wrong-doing of Arab governments. If Italy were to abuse American citizens, this would not justify the United States harming or expelling Italian-Americans.

Not all Jews from Arab lands are refugees. Those Jews who were mistreated in or expelled from Arab countries deserve compensation and a right to return if they so desire. But this is nothing for which the Palestinians bear any responsibility.


It's anti-Semitic, says another argument, to accuse Israel of refusing to work toward peace when in fact Israel accepted compromises in 1947 and again in 2000, while the Palestinians rejected them.

This claim, however, doesn't mesh with the historical evidence. In 1947 Jews were only one third of the population of Palestine and owned only 6% of the land. Yet the partition plan granted the Jewish state 55% of the total land area. The Arab state was to have an overwhelmingly Arab population, while the Jewish state would have almost as many Arabs as Jews. This is known in political science as gerrymandering. If it was unjust to force Jews to be a 1/3 minority in an Arab state, it was no more just to force Arabs to be an almost 50% minority in a Jewish state.

Understandably, the Palestinians rejected partition. The Zionists accepted it, but in private Zionist leaders had more expansive goals. In 1937, during earlier partition proposals, David Ben Gurion, who was to become Israel's first prime minister, wrote to his son,

"A partial Jewish state is not the end, but only the beginning. The establishment of such a Jewish State will serve as a means in our historical efforts to redeem the country in its entirety….We shall organize a modern defense force…and then I am certain that we will not be prevented from settling in other parts of the country, either by mutual agreement with our Arab neighbors or by some other means….We will expel the Arabs and take their places…with the force at our disposal."[11]

A year later, Ben Gurion told a Zionist meeting: "I favor partition of the country because when we become a strong power after the establishment of the state, we will abolish partition and spread throughout all of Palestine."[12]

In early 1949, Ben Gurion told his aides: "Before the founding of the state, on the eve of its creation, our main interest was self-defense….But now the issue at hand is conquest, not self-defense. As for setting the borders — it's an open-ended matter. In the Bible as well as in history there are all kinds of definitions of the country's borders, so there's no real limit."[13]

So this was hardly a case of Palestinians rejecting a fair compromise and the Zionists accepting it. But even if that were the case, this can provide no moral justification for denying Palestinians their basic right of self- determination for more than half a century. This right is not a function of this or that agreement, but a basic right to which every person is entitled. Are Palestinians for all eternity to be denied the fundamental right of self-determination and must they live under foreign control because their leaders may have rejected an agreement in 1947? No one would think of saying that Israelis ought to live under foreign military occupation for seven generations because of the wrongdoing of the Israeli state. But that seems to be the argument with respect to Palestinians.

Even if we think that the Palestinians were wrong to reject partition in 1947, how could that justify Israel taking over a large chunk of the territory assigned to the Palestinian state, and taking over as well half of Jerusalem, which the partition resolution had set aside as an international zone? And how could it justify not just expelling large numbers of Palestinians from their homes and confiscating their property, but also refusing to allow — as the UN continually urged — the return of those Palestinians willing to live in peace with their neighbors?

As for the Camp David talks in 2000, the view promoted by Israeli apologists and the Clinton administration (but I repeat myself) is that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made an exceedingly generous offer to Yasser Arafat, but Arafat rejected it, choosing violence instead.

A U.S. participant in the Camp David talks, Robert Malley, has shown the falsity of this view.[14] Barak never put any offer into writing and never provided details, so that in Malley's words, "strictly speaking, there never was an Israeli offer." The terms of the non-offer, as best we can tell, were to give the Palestinians Israeli land equivalent to 1% of the West Bank (unspecified, but to be chosen by Israel) in return for 9% of the West Bank that housed settlements, highways, and military bases, effectively dividing the West Bank into separate regions. Thus, there would have been no meaningfully independent Palestinian state emerging from Camp David, but a series of Bantustans, while all the best land and water aquifers would be in Israeli hands. Israel would also "temporarily" hold an additional 10 percent of West Bank land. And given that Barak had not carried out the previous withdrawals to which Israel had committed, Palestinian skepticism regarding "tempo
Israeli occupation is not surprising. It's a myth, Malley wrote, that "Israel's offer met most if not all of the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations" and a myth as well that the "Palestinians made no concession of their own."

Some Israeli analysts have made a similar assessment. For example, influential commentator Ze'ev Schiff wrote that, to Palestinians, "the prospect of being able to establish a viable state was fading right before their eyes. They were confronted with an intolerable set of options: to agree to the spreading occupation … or to set up wretched Bantustans, or to launch an uprising."[15]


Another argument holds that it's anti-Semitic to condemn Israel for occupying the "occupied territories," since these territories were acquired by Israel in a just war of defense. Israel's supporters argue that although Israel fired the first shots in this war, it was a justified preventive war, given that Arab armies were mobilizing on Israel's borders, with murderous rhetoric.

The rhetoric was indeed blood-curdling, and many people around the world worried for Israel's safety. But those who understood the military situation — in the Israeli government and in the U.S. government — knew quite well that even if the Arabs struck first, Israel would prevail in any war. Nasser was looking for a way out and agreed to send his vice-president to Washington for negotiations. Israel attacked when it did in part because it rejected negotiations and the prospect of any face-saving compromise for Nasser. Menachem Begin, a member of the Israeli cabinet at the time and an enthusiastic supporter of this (and other) Israeli wars, was quite clear about whether it had been necessary to launch an attack: Israel, he said, "had a choice." Egyptian Army concentrations did not prove that Nasser was about to attack us. "We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him."[16]

However, even if it were the case that the 1967 war was wholly defensive on Israel's part, this cannot justify the continued rule over Palestinians. A people do not lose their right to self-determination because the government of a neighboring state goes to war. Sure, punish Egypt and Jordan — don't give them back Gaza and the West Bank. But there is no basis for punishing the Palestinian population by forcing them to submit to foreign military occupation.

Immediately following the war, Israel incorporated occupied East Jerusalem into Israel proper, announcing that Jerusalem was its united and eternal capital. It then began to establish settlements in the Occupied Territories in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibit a conquering power from settling its population on occupied territory. And despite Israeli government apologetics, it always knew that the settlements were illegal, having been so advised privately by its legal adviser at the time, the distinguished jurist Theodor Meron.[17]

When the war began, the Israeli government lied, saying Israel had been attacked first, but in any event it assured the world that its defensive intentions could be seen by the fact that it had no territorial ambitions. When U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk later reminded Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban of this assurance, Eban "simply shrugged his shoulders and said, 'We've changed our minds.'"[18] Indeed.


Another argument notes that the United Nations, dominated by anti-Semitic regimes, singles out Israel for special condemnation. The General Assembly passes numerous anti-Israel resolutions each year and raises barely a peep about the offenses of others, even when they are far more egregious.

There is no doubt that nations in the UN General Assembly allow all sorts of considerations — from self-interest to power politics to bigotry — to affect their voting behavior. Many of the world's crimes go unremarked in that body. But the question remains whether the many condemnations of Israel are the result of anti-Israel bias or of Israeli policies that are disproportionately worthy of condemnation.

Here's a way we can resolve this question. Instead of looking at the General Assembly, let's look at the UN Security Council. By the undemocratic procedure that prevails in that body, no substantive resolution can be adopted if the United States votes no, because of its veto power. Thus, we can see what the second most pro-Israeli government in the world thinks about Israeli behavior over the years.

Now this test that I am employing is an exceedingly conservative one: many times when Israel indeed warrants the most severe condemnation, the Security Council fails to do so because of the United States' veto power. 42 times Washington vetoed resolutions critical of Israel. And countless other times, critical resolutions were not submitted because of the certain U.S. veto. And since the end of the Cold War, the Council has been notably quiet on the Israel-Palestine conflict.[19] In 2006, Israel's UN Ambassador, Dan Gillerman, jokingly told a meeting of B'nai Brith International that the U.S. UN Ambassador John Bolton was "a secret member of Israel's own team at the United Nations." The Israeli delegation, he said, was really not just five diplomats. "We are at least six including John Bolton."[20] But what was farce the first time may become tragedy under the Obama administration, where Washington has offered Netanyahu, in addition to other appalling concessi
ons, a
pledge to veto any anti-Israel resolution in the Security Council for the next year if he would freeze settlement construction for three months — though details remain unclear.[21]

So my procedure will have a lot of what social scientists call type I errors — instances where Israel deserved extreme condemnation, but didn't get it — and very few type II errors — cases where it was wrongly condemned.

So what does this extremely conservative test of Security Council resolutions reveal?

It shows that Israel has been criticized, condemned, and censured by the Security Council — including by the United States — more than any other country in the world: for its military attacks on its neighbors, for its annexation of territory, for its refusal to apply the Fourth Geneva Convention to the Occupied Territories, for refusing to withdraw its troops, for taking hostages, for deporting civilians, for seizing a civilian airliner, and on and on. [For details, see Appendix.]

Is there a double standard? Absolutely. But the double standard is in Israel's favor. Why? Because no other nation with such a record of violations of international law and of the resolutions of the Security Council and other UN bodies has been as immune as Israel from Security Council sanctions. Iraq was of course sharply condemned by the Council, but the condemnation was not just words: the Council authorized military action in 1991 and more than a decade of the harshest sanctions. South Africa was frequently criticized by the Security Council, and an arms embargo was imposed. Thanks in part to the obstruction of the United States, Britain, and France, the sanctions against Pretoria were quite limited, but nevertheless there were sanctions. Portugal was often condemned for its colonial and military policies in Africa, and it too was the subject of sanctions. Serbian behavior was the subject of numerous Security Council resolutions, and military action was authorized. In
the case
of Israel, on the other hand, its record-breaking numbers of U.S.-backed Security Council condemnations were not accompanied by any sanctions at all.[22]


The final argument I want to consider says that surely Israel does not have the worst human rights record in the world. So why is it getting picked on?

There are three points to note here.

First, the UN does have an inherent bias to pay inadequate attention to domestic matters. There is a tension in the UN Charter: on the one hand, articles 55 and 56 of the Charter commit member states to respect human rights; on the other hand, article 2 section 7 stipulates that the UN has no right "to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state." This tension is not surprising given that the leading powers at the UN's founding were the Jim Crow United States and the Soviet Union under Stalin.

In a few cases, the UN has gotten involved in domestic human rights issues, most notably in the case of South Africa, but in general even unpopular states have avoided criticism for their internal affairs. This is true even of Israel. In the many resolutions condemning Israel over the years, they are almost entirely focused on its treatment of people in occupied territories or people who have been forced across international borders or civilians in neighboring states — not its treatment of its internal population.[23] So, yes, one can name numerous states whose domestic human rights record is worse, far worse, than Israel's, but how many states are there whose human rights record in occupied territories is worse than Israel's?

It could certainly be argued that Indonesia's murderous occupation of East Timor was worse. Because of Indonesia's political clout the UN was pretty ineffectual in dealing with the Timor situation. Indonesia had the backing of many non-aligned states, and its invasion and occupation were abetted by the United States. Among the countries that didn't think Indonesian behavior was so bad, however, was Israel, which abstained on the General Assembly resolutions condemning Indonesia's invasion. Morocco's rule in Western Sahara is another awful occupation — but Washington and Paris have prevented any UN sanctions against Morocco, and maintain close ties with Rabat. Israel too is on good terms with the Moroccan government.[24] Sixty-four countries currently recognize the "right of self-determination of the Sahrawi people," but absent from this list are the United States and Israel.[25] Thus, the two governments that most vociferously complain that Israel has been sin
gled out
for criticism have been rather muted in their condemnation of other occupations. On the other hand, some of the leading defenders of the Timorese and Sahrawi people have also been sharp critics of Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.[26]

Washington, of course, was outspoken in its denunciation of the horrendous human rights violations accompanying Iraq's takeover of Kuwait. But Iraq was hardly given a pass: as noted, the condemnations of Iraq were near unanimous and both sanctions and military action were approved by the Security Council.

A second point to make about human rights double standards is that it makes sense as Americans that we should focus attention on the crimes of our own government or those enabled by our own government — that's where we have the greatest moral responsibility and where we can make the most difference. So, yes, there were two horrible atrocities in 1982 in the Middle East: Israel's invasion of Lebanon and Syria's massacre in the city of Hama. But Israel was significantly armed by the United States. It was given diplomatic backing by the United States. So it's appropriate for Americans to be critical of crimes for which they bear some significant responsibility and which they could stop. Syria, on the other hand, was not armed by Washington. The artillery shells that fell on Hama, unlike the cluster bombs that fell on Lebanon, were not made in the United States. The United States did not run interference for Syria in the UN. Americans bore little responsibility for the
destruction of Hama and could do little to stop it.

Related to this point is a third one: it is reasonable to allocate one's time on the basis of likely impact. To spend a lot of time writing books or articles opposing something that everyone opposes is not a very effective use of one's energies. So of course one should not refrain from signing an ad protesting, say, Syria's actions in Hama, and even more so one shouldn't offer apologetics on behalf of the Syrian government; but to write reams of pages criticizing Syria for its atrocities in Hama is pushing against an open door. There probably wasn't a single U.S. commentator who praised Assad for his butchery. So there was nothing really to debate. In the case of Israel, however, there are a large number of commentators who loudly defend everything that country does. There are celebrated moralists like Elie Wiesel who have gone on record stating that it is improper to criticize Israel outside its borders.[27] When Stalinists of old used to reflexively defend the Sov
no matter the circumstances, it was easy to see apologists at work. Unfortunately, there are many prominent commentators in the United States who have this same sort of slavish devotion to Israel. Those willing to speak the truth accordingly have a greater obligation to refute the lies that are so common in our public discourse: and that means criticizing Israel.


Anti-Semitism is one of the world's foulest ideologies. But if we want to minimize it, then instead of attacking those who criticize Israel's abuses, it would be far more effective to join those critics in urging Israel — which calls itself the state of the Jewish people — to end its abusive policies.


Yossi Alpher, "A Message for Washington, Brussels and Cairo as well as Jerusalem," Bitter Lemons, Feb. 23, 2009.
Both the United States in Iraq and Israel in Gaza violated two separate moral and legal standards: international humanitarian law and the prohibition against aggressive war. (To use the language of just war theory, they violated both jus in bello and jus ad bellum principles.) Neither war had a just cause, if for no other reason than that their stated goals – destroying weapons of mass destruction and preventing the firing of rockets into southern Israel, respectively — could have been readily been achieved without resort to war. For discussion of the Gaza case, see Stephen R. Shalom, "Unjust and Illegal: The Israeli Attack on Gaza," Logos: A Journal of Modern Society and Culture, vol. 8, no. 1, 2009; and Jerome Slater, "A Perfect Moral Failure: Just War Philosophy and the Israeli Attack on Gaza" [extended, footnoted version for the Tikkun website].
See Ephraim Yaar and Tamar Hermann, "Peace Index / Most Israelis support the attack on Iraq," Haaretz, Mar. 6, 2003. Martin Kramer irrelevantly challenges this poll, by citing another poll that shows a minority of Israelis opposed to immediately going to war ("Israel and Iraq War," Sandbox, April 2, 2006). For international comparisons, see Gallup International, "Iraq Poll 2003″ (checking their actual data, rather than their press release.
Ben Lynfield, "Israel sees opportunity in possible US strike on Iraq," Christian Science Monitor, 8/30/02. Back in 2003, Yossi Alpher wrote about some of the "positive linkages" between the Iraq war and the Israel-Palestine conflict: "suicide bombings perpetrated against American forces in Iraq, and the inevitable tough reaction toward the Iraqi civilian population that they engender, tend to soften Israel's image in the eyes of international public opinion by portraying the harsh Israeli reaction to suicide bombings within the context of an international norm. By the same token, the US occupation of Iraq and civilian 'collateral damage' it causes there act in a way to justify Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza that would otherwise be criticized mercilessly. When an Israeli attack in Gaza that kills a terrorist along with six innocent Palestinian civilians is relegated to page 18 of The New York Times, the war in Iraq is definitely distracting attentio
n from
the confrontation here." "Linkages Good and Bad," Bitter Lemons, Apr. 14, 2003.
Dexter Filkins, "A REGION INFLAMED: STRATEGY; Tough New Tactics by U.S. Tighten Grip on Iraq Towns," New York Times, Dec. 7, 2003.
Barbara Opall-Rome, "Marines to train at new Israeli combat center," Marine Times, June 25, 2007.
Efraim Karsh, "The Palestinians Alone," New York Times, Aug. 1, 2010.
James Zogby, "Arabs Don't Care About Palestine? Don't Bet on It," Huffington Post, Aug. 2, 2010.
Avi Shlaim, Collusion Across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and the Partition of Palestine (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988).
See Mark Tessler, A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994, pp. 308-11; and sources in Noam Chomsky, Towards a New Cold War, New York: Pantheon, 1982, p. 462n33.
Quoted in Jerome Slater, "What Went Wrong? The Collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process," Political Science Quarterly, vol. 116, no. 2, 2001, pp. 173-74.
Quoted in Slater, "What Went Wrong," p. 174.
Jerome Slater, "Benny Morris, Former Historian," On the U.S. and Israel, Oct. 5, 2010.
Robert Malley and Hussein Agha, "Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors," New York Review of Books, August 9, 2001.
Slater, "What Went Wrong," p. 184, citing Haaretz, Nov. 24, 2000.
"Excerpts From Begin Speech At National Defense College," New York Times, August 21, 1982.
Donald Macintyre, "Secret memo shows Israel knew Six Day War was illegal," The Independent (London), May 26, 2007. [back]
Dean Rusk, As I Saw It, New York: W.W. Norton, 1990, p. 388.
See Security Council Report, "The Middle East 1947-2007: Sixty Years of Security Council Engagement on the Israel/Palestine Question," Special Research Report No. 4, Dec. 17, 2007. Security Council Report is "an independent not-for-profit organisation in affiliation with Columbia University's Center on International Organization."
Reuters, "Israel's UN ambassador slams Qatar, praises U.S. envoy Bolton," Haaretz, May 23, 2006.
Edmund Sanders, "Israel considers U.S. proposal; Netanyahu presents his Cabinet with an American incentive package to resume talks with Palestinians," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 15, 2010, p. A3.
Double Standards: How the International Community has Taught Israel that it is Above the Law. A report of the Negotiations Affairs Department Palestine Liberation Organization, Sept. 24, 2002. This study was published by the PLO, and so its analysis is obviously partisan, but the tables, assembled by Dr. Barbara Metzger, provide a good summary of the situation.
The lack of serious criticism of Israel's domestic policies is not because its domestic policies are blameless. For example, even apart from matters allegedly relating to national security (like censorship, torture, and repression), Israel has separate and unequal segregated schools (Human Rights Watch, "Second Class: Discrimination Against Palestinian Arab Children in Israel's Schools," Sept. 30, 2001), and more than 250,000 Israeli citizens and residents are currently barred from marrying in Israel (Asma Jahangir, Mission to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, A/HRC/10/8/Add.2, Jan. 12 2009, available here).
In 1965, the Mossad helped the Moroccan regime capture and assassinate exiled opposition leader Mehdi Ben Barka. Israel provided Morocco with military aid in its efforts to control the Western Sahara. See Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, "Israel and Morocco: A Special Relationship," The Maghreb Review, vol. 21, nos. 1-2, 1996, p. 40; Michael M. Laskier, "Israeli-Moroccan Relations and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1977-2002," Israel Affairs, vol. 10, no. 3, Spring 2004, pp. 43, 52; Xavier Cornut, "The Moroccan connection," Jerusalem Post, June 22, 2009.
See the list on Wikipedia.
For example, Noam Chomsky and Stephen Zunes.
Cited in Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle, Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Z. Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
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Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine, and Alice Walker's statement

"The Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RToP) is an International People's Tribunal created by a large group of citizens involved in the promotion of peace and justice in the Middle East. These past years, following, inter alia: the international community's failure to implement the International Court of Justice's 2004 Advisory Opinion on the construction of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory ; the lack of implementation of the resolution ES-10/15 confirming the ICJ Opinion, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 20 July 2004 ; and the Israeli offensive on Gaza in December 2008 – January 2009, committees have been created in different countries to promote and sustain a citizen's initiative in support of the rights of the Palestinian people, with public international law as a legal frame of reference."
The rest of the description of the Tribunal can be found on its website, at:

Alice Walker's statement to the Russell Tribunal on Palestine says, in part:
"It has been an honor to be invited to join the present session as part of a
jury hearing testimony on international corporate complicity in the
destruction of the Palestinian people, who, since I visited Gaza a year and
a half ago, have become part of the earth¹s peoples to whom I have felt duty
bound to show up for. What has happened to them has happened to countless
others. Including my own tribes: African, Native American, poor European
immigrant. It is because I recognize the brutality with which my own
multi-branched ancestors have been treated that I can identify the
despicable, lawless, cruel and sadistic behavior that has characterized
Israel¹s attempts to erase a people, the Palestinians, from their own land.
For isn¹t this what the US military was ordered to do to the ³Indians² of
America? Did not the British burn out communities of Scotts and
horrifically oppress the Irish? Did not wealthy and powerful Whites,
generally, for a time, rape, kill, capture, and/ or enslave Africans? And
are not some of their descendents, at this very moment, stealing and
confiscating African and Indian and poor white land, and harming people,
using many of their ancestors¹ ancient tools of brute force and deceit?..."

The statement in its entirety is to be found at:

Racheli Gai.

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Z. Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog:
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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gabriel Ash on who is to blame for Israel's ever growing racism / mondoweiss

Gabriel Ash is an activist and writer. Ash is a core member of IJAN (Inrternational Jewish Anti-Zionist Network), and he co-writes the blog Jews Sans Frontieres.

In this article Ash points out a tendency within the Israeli left to blame groups - other than the ruling elite - for the growing racism of Israeli society. Ash claims that it's the policies of the ruling class ("AHUSALIM" - secular Ashkenazi veteran socialist nationalists), not various other groups, even ones who are more overtly racist than those in control, that are responsible for Israel's perpetual motion towards ever growing racist reality. Any strategy aiming to deal with the underclasses - the religious, the emigrants from the former Soviet Union, or the Mizrahim, ends up propping up the ruling class, and is self-defeating. In Ash's words: "The upshot of this analysis is also clear. Supporting white Ashkenazi (ahusalim, if one prefers) domination in Israel, in addition to having no moral justification, is, to the extent that the past is any indication, a recipe for further disaster."

Racheli Gai

Gabriel Ash: Israel's ashkenazi elite, not Russian immigrants, are responsible for the country's ever increasing racism
Nov 22, 2010

Before syphilis was baptized with its modern name, it used to be called the "French disease" in Italy, Poland and Germany, the "Italian disease" in France, the "Spanish disease" in the Netherlands, the "Polish disease" in Russia and the "Christian disease" in Istanbul. Something quite similar appears to be today the fate of overt racism. Bad people always seem to be bringing it from elsewhere. For some unfathomable reason nobody wants to claim ownership.

Thus, of all places in Israel, Yossi Gurvitz informs us that "disregard of human rights, contempt for democracy and the democratic process, and rampant racism towards 'uncivilized people', such as Asians or Muslims" are symptoms of the Soviet system, the portrait of a homo sovieticus.

To be clear, I don't call Gurvitz "a racist," a term that I believe should, for reasons of discursive hygiene, be reserved to those who advocate racial discrimination. "Identify the racist" is often a loser's game, and merely replacing the figure of the homo sovieticus with that of a homo ashkenaz would achieve little that is worth achieving. What is worth achieving is understanding how racializing reinforces relations of power and domination. To do that one must start with dismissing Gurvitz's defense, not in order to prove that he is indeed a racist, but to understand the work expressions such as homo sovieticus perform.

Gurvitz's main defense is that he cannot be a racist because he has the facts on his side. Russian immigrants have measurably more racist attitudes. To argue with such facts would be to defy common sense. But racism almost always proceeds from facts. To be sure, fictional racism exists, witness Joan Peters, Alan Dershowitz and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. These however are the exceptions. Racist arguments are generally based on facts, badly selected, misused and misinterpreted, but nonetheless facts. Racism is not ignorance of the other. On the contrary, it is a form of knowledge.

Russian immigrants do hold more authoritarian and racist news than average Jewish Israelis, but what Gurvitz does with facts such as this is crude. He presents a one tone stereotype of a "Lieberman voter." Do really people vote for Lieberman because they are "isolated from the outside world?" Do issues of class, resource allocation, power and identity have nothing to do with that vote? Then he attributes that caricature to "the soviet system." Is "blind acceptance of claims made by authority" really the result of living under the soviet system? I was born in a communist country, and the people I know took from the experience a general belief that claims made by state authorities are lies. Perhaps I am not as well informed about Soviet life as Gurvitz. Finally, he asserts that these racist attitudes inherent in Russians made Israel more racist, a very questionable claim. What motivates Gurvitz's anger?

Gurvitz assures us that he knows all about Israel's history. Unfortunately he shows little effort to draw insight from this knowledge. Let us begin with the end: Gurvitz says that "there is something exceptionally loathsome in an émigré whose politics are based on the idea of expelling the native population."

Israel exists by virtue of Jews arriving from Europe and expelling the native population. Granted that what Lieberman is proposing is loathsome, how is it exceptionally loathsome relative to the very foundation of Israel and its continuing refusal to allow the return of the expelled Palestinians? Were not the Palmach troops composed of and led by émigrés? Isn't the very expression of "exceptional" outrage here a mean to normalize and naturalize the original outrage?

The expulsion of 1948 is not only the foundational act of Israel's creation. Crucially, it is the foundation of the distribution of wealth in Israel. By and large, Israelis possess wealth to the extent that they or their families were close to this act of original dispossession. The wealthiest, most powerful, most connected Israelis, which Gurvitz identifies, following Kimmerling, as "ahusalim" (secular Ashkenazi veteran socialist nationalists), were those whose families directly profited from the expulsion. The domination of this group over other subordinated groups was and is based on the control of the resources primarily grabbed through that expulsion. Itzhak Laor, reviewing Kimmerling, explains what happened next:

One by one, Kimmerling enumerates the sequence of cracks that appeared in Ahusal rule: Gush Emunim, the ultra-Orthodox, the Mizrahi Jews who have their origins in the Muslim countries and Shas, the immigration from Russia, the deprived Arabs. All these groups were created by the Ahusalim, or more precisely, were shaped by the Ahusalim into dependents, potential voters in return for loyalty, and turned into forces that at one stage or another shook off the need to kiss the hand of the Ahusal.( )

Gurvitz thinks that being an "ahusal" is a pejorative. It needn't be. It is the naming of a sociopolitical configuration. If you want to change a society, a good starting point is understanding it, mapping it, and indentifying how power flows in it. Political strategies follow from political analysis. For Gurvitz, the reason Israel is becoming more and more racist is because of the rise of various groups that are inherently more racist than the original ethnic cleansers. These groups are primarily religious Jews and Russians.

A clear political strategy follows from this racialized analysis of racism in Israel: we need to strengthen the power of the original ethnic cleansers and the people who benefitted most from that ethnic cleansing. The more power they have, the more liberal and democratic Israel will become. This is the upshot of Gurvitz's homo sovieticus putdown for Lieberman. It is a plea for people outside Israel to support "ahusal" domination.

The alternative analysis that I propose, following Kimmerling, Laor, and others, is that, rather than other Jews being inherently more racist, it is precisely the various maneuvers of the ahusalim seeking to defend their privilege against challenges that has progressively moved Israel to ever increasing racism and violence. The original settlers opened the country to Arab Jews in order to avoid having to let the Palestinian refugees back in. Then the elite chose the economic path of militarization and war primarily to avoid having to share wealth with these same Arab Jews. Militarization lead directly to the occupation of 1967. After 1967, the territories became the tool for keeping the peace between the different sections of Israeli society, and in particular for building an alliance with religious Jews. This became even more important during Oslo, when settlements became an alternative welfare system while Israel itself went the neoliberal way, allowing the wealthiest Israe
lis to
become ever wealthier. Finally, the Russian immigration itself was welcomed and encouraged in order to check the rising power of Shas and restore white power.

The often noted absence of a class and race perspective from the analysis of the conflict presented by the Israeli left is not merely a matter of a moral failure. The Israeli "left" cannot deal critically with its own class and race position because it is the political expression of racially constituted elite. This elite is looking for "peace" when and to the extent that it perceives it as a useful strategy for maintaining power and privilege, not only vis-à-vis Palestinians but also vis-à-vis all other sectors of Jewish society. Unfortunately, this very strategy explains why reconciliation with Palestinians has such a small constituency in Israel and why challenges to the power of this elite manifest themselves primarily as expressions of anti-Arab racism.

The upshot of this analysis is also clear. Supporting white Ashkenazi (ahusalim, if one prefers) domination in Israel, in addition to having no moral justification, is, to the extent that the past is any indication, a recipe for further disaster. That is a good reason why the racialization of "fascism" in Israel as a Soviet import that Gurvitz offers as analysis should be politely turned down.

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Z. Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog:
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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Non-Accountability and Un-Democracy

Non-Accountability and Un-Democracy

The two items below present what I see as telling, if limited and even evasive, probes into the extent and depth of Israel's militarization, each revealing a different manifestation of it.

The first item (truncated in the English version which omitted the passages of personal testimony from soldiers and police, included in the Hebrew original) looks at the confusing, contradictory maze of authorities in charge of the checkpoints that monitor the passage of West Bank Palestinians into Israel. Chaim Levinson erroneously calls these Green Line checkpoints, despite the placement of some of them inside the West Bank, as part of Israel's ongoing drive to re-draw the Green Line to its convenience. These highly sensitive, loaded meeting points between Israeli authorities and the stateless, non-citizen Palestinians whom they control are, Levinso says, operated under an entangled-to-non-existent chain of accountability. He lays the blame with bureaucracy and extremely faulty administration. These "checkpoints are … run by no fewer than six different agencies, and no single body coordinates their work. … Adding to the confusion … two different bodies are responsible
checkpoint: One is in charge of operating it, while the other is responsible for security."

Some of the bodies in question are no longer state agencies but, rather, privatized "security" contractors. Following detailed research on such contractors (published 2009; see:, Chapter 9) I hold these private "security" firms, relatively new players in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to represent a new phase of militarization. Precisely because they serve to sow confusion and dilute transparency, they make a key contribution towards dissolving the state's accountability for deploying organized violence. Even without them, though, "Haaretz found that none of … [the relevant state] organizations were certain who has overall responsibility for these checkpoints." Put more bluntly, no one is certain who is responsible therefore no one is responsible. While this may look like an exercise in logic, its practical implications have direct and horrific impacts on the thousands of lives and bodies being herded, literally, day by day,
these checkpoints. Rather than limiting or undermining the use of force wielded by the agencies in question, dissolved responsibility effectively gives them free or freer reign. Tangled bureaucracy, then, would seem to be a useful policy rather than "just" the result of inept administration.

Reign is indeed the key question arising from the second item. Whose is it? The "people's" through our/their elected representatives? While journalist Ari Shavit insists that, "Even though Israel looks and acts like a banana republic, it is not a banana republic," his item – in spite of itself – indicates the opposite; that militarization has already successfully destroyed the infrastructure of democracy in Israel.

More insinuation than information, more innuendo than fact, Shavit's item sounds an apparently informed, "insider's" opinion on what lays submerged under the iceberg-tip of a recent scandal concerning the appointment of Israel's new Chief of Staff. By no means left-leaning, journalist Ari Shavit, writes that this scandal has revealed all of the following: "corruption was rampant in one of Israel's most sensitive security establishments … some of the state's most highly classified secrets were leaked in a reckless manner ... The IDF's arbitrary, tribal and unfair enforcement of moral norms has emptied them of content and deprived them of validity … Even when the chief of staff appeared before the General Staff at the moment of truth, he did not tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

He is discussing internal Israeli and organizational affairs. If all this is true within the confines of "the tribe," what kind of conclusions are implied regarding the army's corruption, recklessness, arbitrary tribal morality and lies in its dealings with Palestinians.

The whole truth, Shavit claims, has not yet emerged, intimating that he himself is privy to it or to parts of it. His piece, however, pointedly avoids disclosing it, while characterizing it as terrible enough to entail a series of very serious questions once it comes to light. Questions about "the media's zealous protection of those in power" (which possibly includes his own evasiveness in the present piece), about the "powerful military-media combine [that] gained control of the public discourse by blocking and deflecting information." About the High Commissioner of the Police who, Shavit hints, may be implicated. About the Attorney General and the military advocate general.

Shavit, who has criticized dissent at least as often if not more so than he has censured state policies, is presenting a very serious claim. His item describes a clandestine structure of deference to an exclusive group of high-ranking (ex-)soldiers on the part of all of Israel's key democratic institutions and the best part of its mainstream media. A military regime or reign in all but name, this hasn't even required a military coup to be put in place. It has been fully normalized and legitimized by Israel's continuous militarization.

Rela Mazali


Published 02:44 12.11.10
Latest update 02:44 12.11.10

Paper jam: Bureaucracy causes checkpoint chaos Confusion reigns as several agencies share responsibility for security arrangements.

By Chaim Levinson

Though a Defense Ministry unit was set up five years ago to oversee checkpoints between Israel and the West Bank, these checkpoints are still run by no fewer than six different agencies, and no single body coordinates their work, Haaretz has found.

The agencies running the checkpoints include the Israel Defense Forces, the Defense Ministry's Crossing Administration, the Border Police and the regular police. In addition, staff work is carried out by the Counterterrorism Bureau, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the Crossing Administration and the IDF Central Command. Haaretz found that none of these organizations were certain who has overall responsibility for these checkpoints.

Unlike checkpoints within the West Bank, which are all operated by the military or the Border Police, checkpoints on the Green Line, which separates Israel from the West Bank, deal exclusively with Palestinians seeking to enter Israel. They are positioned at every crossing from the West Bank into Israel.

The Green Line checkpoints are under the purview of the defense minister: He, together with his staff, is the one determines their location, size and operating procedures, the number of people allowed through, and so on.
In addition to the minister, three other organizations have responsibilities in this area, but are not connected to each other. The first is COGAT, headed by Brig. Gen. Eitan Dangot, who answers directly to the minister. COGAT's main component is the Civil Administration, which answers both to Dangot and to the GOC Central Command.

The second is the Crossing Administration, which is mainly an operational body, but can occasionally influence policy. The third is the Defense Ministry's political-security department, which deals with issues affected by the checkpoints, such as the West Bank economy.
And alongside these agencies, which fall under the Defense Ministry, is the Counterterrorism Bureau, which is part of the Prime Minister's Office.
In 2003, the state comptroller published a report urging the development of an overall strategy for checkpoint administration. But only in 2005, when the comptroller began working on a follow-up report, did the cabinet finally decide to set up the Crossing Administration. It also decided to replace the soldiers at these checkpoints with private security companies answerable to the Defense Ministry.

The administration was formally established in July 2005, just a month before the comptroller released his follow-up report. This report attributed the delay in dealing with the problem to disagreements among the relevant ministries.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that two different bodies are responsible for each checkpoint: One is in charge of operating it, while the other is responsible for security. At the Tarqumiya checkpoint, for example, the body responsible for security is the Defense Ministry, but the actual operator is a private security contractor. In Shuafat, the organization in charge of security is the Jerusalem police, but the operator is the Border Police.

A large number of new checkpoints were set up around the outskirts of Jerusalem following the cabinet's decision to build the separation fence. All of these fall under the purview of the Jerusalem police, which set up a special administration to deal with them.

A visit to the checkpoints around Jerusalem revealed that each organization involved sends representatives to every checkpoint. Thus military policemen stand alongside civilian security guards, Border Police officers, representatives of the special police administration and COGAT staff. A checkpoint known as the Rachel Terminal is operated by the regular police, while the nearby Wallaja checkpoint, which is closed to Palestinians, is run by the Border Police.

• Published 02:44 12.11.10
• Latest update 02:44 12.11.10

The military-media combine

Just as in the years before the Yom Kippur War, today's chief of staff wields control over several communications outlets.

By Ari Shavit

Three in-depth investigative reports by three different media outlets over the past three days painted an identical picture of reality: Boaz Harpaz was a disreputable officer. According to these reports, he was suspected in the past of leaking highly sensitive classified material, of forgery, of obscuring his tracks, of corrupt use of special military means and of defrauding the Israel Defense Forces.

IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi granted his protection to this shady character. Both as deputy chief of staff and as director general of the Defense Ministry, he intervened on Harpaz's behalf and protected him. This led the army's top brass to conclude that the two had a very strong, close relationship. It gave them the impression that it was dangerous to oppose Harpaz and best to get on his good side. Many thought this dubious officer had clout and influence in the chief of staff's bureau.
Gidi Weitz (Haaretz ), Ronen Bergman (Yedioth Ahronoth ) and the Raviv Drucker-Ofer Shelah team (Channel 10 ) have now completed the jigsaw puzzle on which Ayala Hasson (Channel 1 ) worked courageously for months. And it is a worrisome picture.

It shows that corruption was rampant in one of Israel's most sensitive security establishments. It shows that some of the state's most highly classified secrets were leaked in a reckless manner. It shows that the IDF's ethical standards have become selective ones. And it shows that the IDF was not always scrupulous about telling the truth.
Corruption: Personal considerations and vested interests have penetrated the IDF's operational networks and defiled them. State secrets: An unprecedented problem of field security has developed at the heart of the national security establishment, one that could have strategic implications. Selective ethical standards: The IDF's arbitrary, tribal and unfair enforcement of moral norms has emptied them of content and deprived them of validity. Telling the truth: Even when the chief of staff appeared before the General Staff at the moment of truth, he did not tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

A drama took place behind the scenes of these investigative reports' publication. Heavy pressure was exerted on at least one journalist to refrain from publishing the truth. And this pressure was effective: The whole truth was not published.

Once again, it has been proven that it is difficult, perhaps even dangerous, to cross the chief of staff. Just as in the years before the Yom Kippur War, today's chief of staff wields control over several communications outlets. Just as in the year before the Second Lebanon War, the chief of staff has the power to create an image of the IDF that has no connection to reality.

At the week draws to a close, this armor-plated immunity has been cracked, but it remains strong. The general public does not yet know how deep the rot runs in Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi's kingdom.

The truth will come to light. It is not possible to fool all the people all the time. Even though Israel looks and acts like a banana republic, it is not a banana republic. It will not bury a scandal that is many times more serious than the Shin Bet affair of the 1980s or the Lavon affair of the 1950s. It will not ignore an attempt by senior officers to undermine Israeli democracy.

But when the truth does come out, trenchant questions will be asked. How could it be that even after the disengagement from Gaza and the Second Lebanon War, the "etrog syndrome" - the media's zealous protection of those in power - continued? How could it be that even during the age of transparency, it was possible to tell the public that black is white and white is black? How could it be that in the Israel of 2010, an extremely powerful military-media combine gained control of the public discourse by blocking and deflecting information?

Personal questions will likewise be asked. Where was the military advocate general, Avichai Mendelblit? Did the police under Commissioner David Cohen and head of the investigations department Yoav Segalovich show sufficient courage? Did Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein act with neither fear nor bias? Did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak behave like leaders?

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss is now faced with a tremendous mission. He must immediately obtain all the testimony and evidence police have gathered. He must separate the wheat from the chaff, the information from the disinformation. And when he has completed his work, he must present the public with the truth that has been hidden from it.
Only the light of day can heal the IDF of its affliction. Only the light of day can dismantle the military-media combine.

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Z. Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog:
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to

Monday, November 15, 2010

SHereen Naser: A perspective on the Jewish Federation General Assembly from its only Palestinian Attendee / Mondoweiss

The previous post we sent included a link to a video of the action by 5 young Jewish dissidents at the Jewish Federation General assembly
in New Orleans, as well as comments by a few participants.
To read more in the Jewish activists' own words, go to
The site also includes extensive coverage the action got in the media.

I would like to draw your attention, as well, to a report on the General Assembly by the only Palestinian participant.
Shereen Naser, a young Palestinian-American woman, describes the great difficulties she had in gaining permission to attend. She then proceeds to describes what being there, in the midst of discussions of Palestinians as the "other", and their supporters as "extremists" and a great threat to Israel and to Jews, felt like.

Racheli Gai.

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Z. Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog:
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Young Jewish Voices coming from New Orleans, ringing loud and clear ( and making waves, too!)

Young Jewish Voices coming from New Orleans, Ringing Loud and Clear (and making waves, too!)

As I watched the action, by 5 young Jewish activists, inside the hall where Netanyahu was busy disseminating his pile of tired platitudes, I was imbued by a sense of thrill, tinged with some anxiety as the temperature in the room was rising with each interruption. The last activist, Rae Abileah, was put in a chokehold by one in the crowd, eager to defend Israel at all costs from the 28 year old menace.

My cathartic experience has to do, no doubt, with a long history of frustration and rage at the way my local JCC and The Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona have for decades kept people such as myself from speaking in forums on Israel/Palestine and from expressing our views on the role we feel organized Jews should play in working to end the atrocities committed in our name. It was decided from above, time and again, by the (unelected) leadership, that opposition to Israeli policies is beyond the pale, a political act! while support for Israeli policies, even when delivered by Israeli politicians is never characterized as such.

Hence the excitement!
The video of the action can be found at
The demonstration got amazingly wide coverage - especially considering the fact that most work and action by left wing activists gets ignored, or hardly reported on.
It's important to mention that many other activists - under the wing of Jewish Voice for Peace - have taken part in preparing for this and related activities.
To see an account by one of the 5, read Rae Abileah's Jewish Values vs. Israeli Policies: Why five young Jews disrupted PM Netanyau in New Orleans, at

I've included an account, some in prose and some in the form of a poem, by activist Rachel Roberts.

Racheli Gai (who is, by way of disclosure, a JVP activist.)

Rachel Roberts: Challenging the Jewish General Assembly

on Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at 10:48pm
By now, almost all of you have certainly heard that I am one of the young Jews who went to New Orleans this week to challenge the exclusivist, anti-Palestinian, fear infused, anti-peace space created by the mainstream Jewish community at the Jewish General Assembly. Together, our collective wrote poetry to express how we feel, not only about our strong objections to American Jewish complicity in unjust Israeli policy, but to express our dismay at what the American Jewish community has become. Sadly, my many responsibilities in Los Angeles meant that I was unable to stay for the disruption of Netanyahu's speech, but I wrote this poem for the brave young Jewish students who took part. Since the disruption there has been an outpouring of love for us, but some within the mainstream Jewish community have chosen to critique us for not being civil enough. They assert that if only we massaged them in the right way, if we jump through their various hoops, they would respect us. I know,
however, that they need to hear our rage and our bitterness. They need to know that we believe that they have failed us, because their ears and their hearts are closed. These are my words and I hope they will inspire you to stand up tall against their agenda, for it truly is what threatens world Jewry.

Let Them Know

Today let them feel both our bitterness and our love, for both are our tools.

Let them know our faces and hear our truths.

May they stop pretending that we are invisible, that they can provide us with pre-recorded talking points for us to simply playback.

Do not allow them to forget our anger and disappointment at the way they have failed us, because they must know.

Let them know about the young Israelis who speak fluent Arabic so that they might hear Palestinians, with whom they march every week, in their own words.

Remind them that the soft skin burned and melted because of the white phosphorous thrown on purpose is also our skin.

Remind them that each slab of concrete in the apartheid wall separates them from us.

When they feel our anger and disappointment, may they also feel our electric faith- our thrill at the prospect for a truly just future.

we are not their bastard delegitimate children, but the beautiful future.

May they someday realize that we have saved them and hold their legacy so dear that we could not let go.

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Z. Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog:
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Deepa Kumar: The US to Gaza Initiative and the Hillel Controversy at Rutgers

This article discusses Hillel's efforts at Rutgers university to prevent a "pro-Palestinian" event from taking place.
This is at least the second time in a few weeks where a Hillel chapter is making an effort of that nature. A few weeks ago
Hillel at the University of New Mexico made an attempt to get the university to dis-invite Ali Abunimah from coming
and speaking.
Hillel pretends to be speaking for all Jewish students on campus, but as Kumar's essay shows, there are plenty of Jewish
students who disagree with Hillel's stance. It seems that the rigid politics of supporting Israel right or wrong are repelling
young people, rather than attracting them to support Israel and its blind followers.

Racheli Gai.

The US to Gaza Initiative and the Hillel Controversy at Rutgers
Deepa Kumar: The US to Gaza Initiative and the Hillel Controversy at Rutgers / Monthly Review Magazine.
November 5, 2010

Last night I attended a fundraiser for the US to Gaza mission that intends to bring humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza. It was an incredible success. About 150-200 mostly young people had crowded the hall, most of whom stayed on past 10 pm to listen to the invited speakers.

The presence of so many students who had chosen to attend the event despite intimidation by those claiming to represent Rutgers Hillel was truly heartening. Colonel Ann Wright, who was one of the featured speakers, said that this was one of the largest and most well attended of such fundraising events she has been to.

This speaks volumes to the potential that exists right now to build a genuine grassroots movement that will not be bullied and that will stand up against the inhumane conditions that the people of Gaza have had to endure under Israel's blockade.

Hillel's line of attack was predictable. In a press release Andrew Getraer, the executive director of Rutger's Hillel, argued that there were "serious legal issues" involved. First on the list was the claim that the "blockade runners will attempt to deliver goods, services or technical assistance to Hamas, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO)."

This is a standard rhetorical ploy: trot out the bogeyman of Hamas in order to obscure and paper over the horrendous conditions under which Palestinian people in Gaza live. In fact, the press release does not once make reference to these conditions and why it is so urgent and important to raise money for this humanitarian crisis. Instead, it asserts that "Hillel is vehemently opposed to this event."

Which leads me to ask: what kind of person would oppose an event that tries to bring much needed aid to people who are suffering from malnutrition, lack of access to clean water, inadequate housing and health care facilities, and massive unemployment?

International agencies from the UN to various human rights groups have documented the impact that Israel's blockade (begun in 2007) has had, shedding light on the extent of the crisis. A recent report by the United Nations Development Programme explains:

The blockade [has] resulted in the closure of most of the manufacturing industry, which was deprived of materials and export markets, and led to a surge in unemployment which currently stands at 40%. John Holmes, the United Nations Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, described the blockade as "collective punishment" of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. The blockade has created shortages in a number of critical items and constrained the rights of Gazans to education, health, shelter, culture, personal development and work.

The Red Cross recently pointed out:

The closure imposed on the Gaza Strip is about to enter its fourth year, choking off any real possibility of economic development. Gazans continue to suffer from unemployment, poverty and warfare, while the quality of Gaza's health care system has reached an all-time low. The whole of Gaza's civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel's obligations under international humanitarian law.

"The closure is having a devastating impact on the 1.5 million people living in Gaza", said Béatrice Mégevand-Roggo, the ICRC's head of operations for the Middle East.

Why would anyone be opposed to efforts to not only bring aid to Gazans but also challenge the blockade? As many commentators have pointed out, it is the blockade that is illegal and not efforts to challenge it. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a leading figure in the South African struggle against Apartheid as well as a UN envoy, called it "a siege" and a "gross violation to Human Rights."

Yet, none of this is worthy of mention in Getraer's press release. There is neither empathy nor compassion for the plight of the 1.5 million men, women, and children who live in what is nothing less than a prison camp in Gaza.

Getraer's second line of attack has to do with the environment for Jewish students at Rutgers. He criticizes BAKA (Belief Awareness Knowledge and Action) for not only organizing this fundraising event but for holding other events as well on campus that he alleges "contribute to creating an environment that is becoming increasingly anti-Israel, and supportive of terrorist organizations, such as Hamas." One of the events that he lists, a talk by Prof. Gilbert Achcar on Nov. 10th, has been organized by me.

This line of attack is also utterly predictable and is in line with the now well-established argument that criticisms of Israel's policy are unacceptable and are automatically anti-Semitic. And in this instance apparently automatically supportive of "terrorist organizations" as well.

In making these unfounded charges against BAKA, Getraer claims to represent and speak on behalf of the 6000+ Jewish students at Rutgers. He ends the press release by stating that his aim is to ensure that the atmosphere at Rutgers "remains a safe one for pro-Israel students."

This is truly a despicable accusation and one made in bad faith. Neither myself nor any of the students that I know in BAKA would ever participate in creating an unsafe environment for Jewish students.

Hoda Mitwally, a leading member of BAKA, who has worked with me as a research assistant for the last two years is an outstanding person. She is extremely well read, thoughtful, and compassionate -- to paint her and others like her in BAKA as attempting to create an "unsafe" atmosphere is insulting.

Perhaps Getraer might have spent a little more time talking to the people he is attacking, or for that matter talking to the Rutgers Jewish student body to elicit their opinions before putting out a press release that has now drawn national media attention. If he had done so, he might have found that his views don't strike a chord with everyone.

For instance, Avi Smolen, a former president of Rutgers Hillel, wrote a letter to the Rutgers campus newspaper the Daily Targum offering his support for the BAKA fundraiser. In the letter titled "Allow BAKA event to continue," Smolen takes on all the points raised by Getraer and refutes them, stating at the outset that the blockade of Gaza "violates international law."

He adds:

Some people will also be quick to say that this event will be "anti-Israel." First, this "pro" and "anti" dualism is rarely useful in any case. If a U.S. citizen doesn't support the war in Iraq, is she "un-American" or is she simply expressing her views on a single issue?

Second, the aim of the event is to challenge the actions of Israel in enforcing a blockade against Gaza. I recognize Israel's positive movement in easing the restrictions on Gaza, but the blockade does still exist, and those who disagree with it have every right to protest it.

Smolen is not a lone voice among the young Jewish American students who attend Rutgers University. If anything, he is part of a new generation that is open to having an honest discussion about Israel and its policies. As Peter Beinart in an article in the New York Review of Books points out, today's younger generation of liberal college-age Jewish students have "imbibed some of the defining values of American Jewish political culture: a belief in open debate, a skepticism about military force, a commitment to human rights." He adds that, "in their innocence, they did not realize that they were supposed to shed those values when it came to Israel."

Beinart also states that "several studies have revealed, in the words of Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College and Ari Kelman of the University of California at Davis, that 'non-Orthodox younger Jews, on the whole, feel much less attached to Israel than their elders,' with many professing 'a near-total absence of positive feelings.'"

Smolen has some good words of advice at the end of his letter. He states: "I encourage all current University students, faculty and staff for whom this issue is meaningful to speak about it openly and with compassion for people with different viewpoints. If we listen to one another, instead of shouting past each other, we may understand each other better and find a way to work together for the common good."


In the face of what is now universally recognized as a horrendous humanitarian crisis in Gaza, I urge the Rutgers administration to permit BAKA to donate the money raised yesterday for the US to Gaza initiative and not give in to Getraer's pressure tactics. In my view, this is simply the right thing to do.

Deepa Kumar is an associate professor of Media Studies at Rutgers University. This article first appeared on her blog

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